We all have a trust problem. Given what we've just experienced through the recent events of COVID-19, we haven't been willing (or able!) to walk next to each other on the street. We've crossed the road. We may have even held our breath. When we see someone walking towards us, every time we hear someone sneeze or cough or sniffle, we're wondering, are they going to give me a deadly virus? Quite frankly, we've become a little sceptical and scared of everyone around us.
This has placed an imprint on how we relate and interact with other people. This is just on a day to day basis in our local communities outside work. Where we usually feel safest and most secure. What does that mean when your people come back into the workplace? Inherently, they will bring into work this natural attitude of hesitancy.
Why is this so important? High performance thrives in a high trust environment. As we approach 30 June, we not only need performance, but we need efficient performance. So the question is: how do we rebuild the trust, in a landscape where trust has been eroded? If we don't have trust, our teams will operate slowly. They'll worry about every move and even more worried about making mistakes. Their lizard brain controls their thoughts and actions. In a high trust environment, your teams thrive, and they move through the work efficiently and confidently. They have access to the prefrontal cortex of their brain, which means they have the executive function of innovation, professional scepticism and judgement that are so important in their finance roles. What we’re going through is bit like after a bad breakup. You know, when you’re little bit burned but you know you need to get back out into the dating game. You're a bit hesitant and worried that you're going to mess it up. The date is doomed to be slow and clunky…at least at first.
What is the role of leadership?
Not only are we faced with the trust issues resulting from the physical challenges, but what does that mean for leadership? It's fair to say we've seen some pretty questionable leadership demonstrated by our country's leaders starting all the way back to the New Year bushfires and then continuing through to COVID-19. The lack of transparency of information made it really hard to operate confidently in our daily lives. The inconsistency in behaviour demonstrated by our leaders when compared to the advice they were giving us was frustrating. It all contributed to the crazy behaviour we saw where our supermarket aisles were stripped of toilet paper, flour and pasta. That response was fueled by a lack of certainty and clarity caused by the lack of leadership provided by our heads of state.
This is not an article about politics. I use these very real and current examples to demonstrate the effect we have all seen as a result of the lack of leadership experienced in our everyday lives. And the opportunity, therefore, it provides you as a finance leader, to proactively address the concerns of your staff and communicate clearly and walk the talk.
3 questions to consider
If we think about what we personally have gone through, and that's what our teams have gone through, over the past five and a half months, I would ask yourself the questions:
What are they feeling? And what level of transparency and leadership do they need in order to move them forward and accelerate that rebuilding of trust. Particularly as you approach that real crunch time, where the stress levels are high, where long hours, and long late nights are frequent. This is in a normal environment and we are still in very abnormal times. How do you create that psychological safety when your teams need at most?
How do you embrace the new and different ways of working we're currently operating in? There have been a lot of positives that have emerged from this very difficult time. How do you use that for your team's advantage?
How can you celebrate and reward success? This is a very stressful time. Take the moments to savour and celebrate the wins. Even just a 10 team call at the end of the day to look at each other in appreciation and relief will go a long way to refuel the tank.
Trust does involve a leap of faith
I was speaking with a friend this week and suggested we catch up for a drink at a local bar next week. She said to me, “I’d love to…but you know what, I’m a bit scared. It sounds silly, and I know I need to get over it, but that’s what I’m feeling.” She knows she needs to take a leap of faith. But she needs to feel safe enough to take that first step.
Help your teams take their first steps. It will be worth it.