CIOs are no stranger to pressure. However, organisations’ typically strong appetites for technology and innovation have turned insatiable this year, to meet the urgent workforce and consumer needs brought on by the pandemic.
The CIO Advisory Council, comprised of CIOs across the globe brought together by Experis, met recently for a frank discussion about how to be an effective leader in times of crisis. Council participants shared the struggles they’re facing as technology and people leaders, what’s working to keep their teams on track and how they can persevere as leaders as the pandemic continues.
Leadership in the ‘Next Normal’ has arrived
Now that we’re ten months into the pandemic, leaders and employees have moved from operating in a state of shock to acceptance of the ‘next normal’ and defining what that looks like in each organisation. When it comes to meetings, leaders need to resist the urge to bring everyone to everything. When the nature of remote work turns every interaction into a meeting, leaders need to be intentional about setting meetings and selective about who needs to attend. Leaders can also try the Ringi System of agreeing upon and delivering solutions in a bottom-up approach to keep meetings smaller and more efficient. Shortening 30-minute meetings to 20-minute sessions can help fight meeting fatigue by providing people with an opportunity to get up and walk around between meetings to decompress.
To maintain a sense of community, Council members suggested:
Drive-by video chats to mimic dropping by someone’s desk
Recreating the “water cooler” with five minutes of chatter built into the front-end of team meetings
Being deliberate about one-on-one conversations
Engaging in frequent town halls.
Keeping high performers motivated
The dust has settled, but the demand for IT resources has not. The group lamented the double-edge sword of leading high performers and, as a leader, sometimes feeling like you’re overloading your most valued team members. This predicament can feel compounded when leading a team in the public sector or an organisation facing lean times, where monetary rewards may not be allowed. When leading a team through times such as this, how do you recognise and reward these people in a way that is meaningful? The Council agreed the key is to know our people and their individual motivators.
Soft skills for hard times
Leadership is about more than driving output. Below are three universal soft skills CIOs should practice (and encourage their teams to practice!) for leading in crisis.
The pandemic has brought a level of intimacy between teams that didn’t exist before; we’re now in each other’s homes every day. As leaders, it’s ok to let your guard down a bit and connect with your team on a personal level. This will drive engagement and understanding.
Resilience and endurance. Practice endurance and challenge yourself to lean into the discomfort a little bit longer. If you feel like you want to mentally check out of a meeting after 45 minutes, overcome and stay present. If you don’t survive the discomfort, you can’t grow.
Optimism. Find people who can remain optimistic in the face of challenges, prop them up as leaders and set that example for your team. We cannot control the circumstances we face, but we can control how we react to them.