The Hybrid Workplace Challenge

Strategy and Decision-Making

What does going back to work look like? What is a hybrid workplace, at its core? What does all of this mean for leaders? What do we have to do differently? 

These are the top questions we address in today’s episode of The OT Kung Fu Podcast.

This is the time to get rid of the policies that don’t work and the systems that are no longer serving the team. Question everything before reopening, or introducing big changes like a hybrid workplace.

There’s no going back to normal. You’re never going back to the same thing. It’s not going to be the same because no one is the same. We are all thinking differently about work. We are all feeling differently about what’s important. Just by virtue of changing as people, how we think about work, what work needs to be for us, and what’s going to create meaning for you, has shifted. Just because you’re returning to a building, doesn’t mean the job, or the environment, will be the same.

There’s a big balancing act between the short-term and the long-term when it comes to leading and decision making. What are the short-term decisions that have to be made? What are the long-term decisions that have to be made? Do they conflict? Will they be too much to handle at once? How do they relate to one another?

Reshaping Your Organization

The changes that have occured in the last few years have been a challenge, but they have also created  an opportunity for companies to rethink how they want to structure their culture. It’s an opportunity that most leaders never get: the chance to restart, a totally clean slate. The things that we previously held as gospel truth have now been proven incomplete, and companies must respond in a fearless, open-minded way.

Communication and Leadership

These two come hand-in-hand when it comes to successful restructuring. Making changes, while necessary, can be incredibly difficult without support and unity, both within leadership and the team as a whole.

What is most important to your employees? What has their experience as a team member in the last couple years taught them? 

How are you starting the dialogue and conducting the conversation? Are you just sitting in a room of leaders making decisions on your own? This might have been necessary as teams and companies had to simplify to survive, but for growth, you need as much information as possible.

Moving out of Crisis Management

Next, it’s time to move on from the strategies that worked when you were in crisis-mode. 

For a while now, the norm has been a group of four or five people making the decision for the whole organization, without engaging with the rest of the team. While this is helpful to keep things moving in complicated times, this tendency isn’t good for the long-run. 

Many leaders were so focused on pushing through, and were often so desperate to keep their organization alive, they’ve now continued to use the same strategies. 

As companies are focusing on transitioning out of this phase, they are tapping into their workers, doing a lot of tiny pulsing and surveying, and are investing in their employees as people.

Before, leaders simply told them what to do, but now the principle of leading with empathy is considered a necessary and important piece of success.

Essential Skills

Empathy is a great example of the shifting values and essential skills in the workplace. 

Across the board, flexibility has been identified as the number one skill for effective leading.

Especially in the United States, there’s this idea that, when it comes to empathy, wellbeing, health, and problems in general, “there’s a department for that”. It’s not necessary to make it a priority, and the leaders certainly don’t want to “waste their time” talking about things that aren’t directly business-related. 

The conversation really starts there: how do you really allow people to be forthcoming?

Things that would have been the typical water cooler talk back in the office are even more underground because it’s an online chat now, or a text between coworkers, sharing their discomfort with returning to the office.

From a manager’s perspective, the training that is needed is on flexibility and empathy.

Addressing Burnout

In Jen and Sandi’s experience, 100% of people they’ve talked to have experienced burnout.

People feel exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed, even to the point of hopelessness. Burnout, naturally, leads to a series of questions:

Can I keep going like this?

Do I want to?

Burnout is a huge thing, and utilizing a hybrid workspace hasn’t been the solution to that problem.

In fact, all of the over-communicating, the distractions, all of the ways life begins to blur into your workspace, the disconnectedness, the isolation, and even the apathy that can grow over months all adds fuel to the fire, leading you closer to complete burnout.

You’re pushing outside your own comfort zone. You don’t feel like you’ve mastered anything, and you’re not sure what’s permanent and what’s temporary.

While there’s only so much that can be done to help, there are practical ways for leadership to invest in their team members to lend support and prevent burnout. 

When it comes to maintaining those work/life boundaries, having a designated home office space is incredibly important. Unfortunately many people are still working from the kitchen table, in crappy chairs. 

The goal is to avoid death by a thousand paper cuts. 

It’s all the little small things that pile on top of each other that leads to burnout, when a small gesture of empathy can relieve the burden.

Going Forward with a Hybrid Workplace

Even in the hybrid workplace, new cultural norms are being built up. Right now, individuals, teams, and leaders are both actively and passively deciding what is now acceptable and what’s not. 

Is helping your kids in the middle of the day an acceptable thing in your work environment? Maybe, maybe not. They probably won’t be using online school anymore, but they may still have toddlers at home because daycare isn’t an option anymore. 

All of these pieces need to be considered when deciding what works for your organization. You can put together what you think is a good, meaningful, purposeful strategy for their organization and yet still lose some critical talent because they want to work on-site 100% of the time, or because they feel too insecure with the technology when it comes to working remotely.

Sandi and Jen believe there’s going to be a huge shift or upheaval of key talent, unless you can master your strategy. As a whole, this process is a test of test of your values.

You have to ask yourself, your leaders, and your employees what is really important. There’s been a change in what we see as doable, which impacts what is actually doable. People have taken stock of what is truly important to them, organized their priorities, and values, and they’re able to stand in them a little bit more than before. 

The question is, will workplaces respect their newfound priorities, and empower them?

Short-Term vs. Long-Term

In general, the best thing you can do is encourage the heart. The whole practice of supporting people, developing their skills, and creating meaning with them in the organization requires critical conversations. 

You need to balance the ability to make the best short-term decisions while maintaining the best long-term vision you can.

There are very few people, very few leaders, who are actually skilled in this way innately. Training these principles should be commonplace, rather than a last resort. 

When shit hits the fan two years from now, or whenever the inevitable issue arises, will your leaders and employees have the skills and tools they need? Will they be able to hit the ground running?

Regardless of what stage your business is at, building and maintaining your team is the key to short-term and long-term success. There needs to be a creative, open, flexible environment where no one is getting judged for their differences in perspective, opinions, needs, or skills. 

You have to create an environment that will utilize opportunities to reshape the hybrid workplace culture into something empowering, something your team can believe in and dedicate themselves to.

For more resources like this, head over to OT KungFu’s website for podcasts, blogs, and more. To find more about Sandi and Jen, you can find them on their respective sites: Satori Consulting, and Management Possible.

Jen is the owner of Management Possible® focused on training and coaching multi-level management and leadership individuals and teams nationally and globally. Sandi is the owner of Satori®  Consulting inc. a global consulting firm focused on helping organizations solve complex problems in strategy, leadership and governance.

Episode 23 – The Hybrid Workplace Challenge

Sandi and Jen discuss the opportunities and issues of coming back to work after the pandemic. They talk about the opportunity to remake and restart the workplace culture, that we are never going back to the same workplace, that work and home have collided, that short an long term decisions need to happen as a manager and how are you standing in the company values as you reshape the workplace. 

Episode 22 – Diversity Equity and Inclusion Revisited

Episode 22 – Diversity Equity and Inclusion Revisited

Sandi and Jen speak with expert Renee Bazile-Jones about Diversity Equity and Inclusion in the workplace.  They describe what DE&I is, how is it being done, what is currently right and what is wrong. They discuss leadership and DE&I and unconscious bias. Renee discusses data for good DE&I. She also relays an example about good DE&I practices. They also discuss the uncomfortable conversations about understanding this issue with leaders and managers. 

The Customer Experience

Is Customer Experience Strategy More Than a Trend?

This week on the OT KungFu Podcast, we spoke with Ray Kong about customer experience strategy. Ray is a seasoned marketer and strategist with over twenty-five years of experience in consulting at the executive level of major Canadian corporate institutions, currently working with clients in a number of different sectors in customer experience strategy, brand development and measurement, and operational improvement.

He served three years as an adjunct professor at York University in Toronto, and he speaks regularly at consumer-to-consumer events and marketing organizations.

What does it mean for an organization to be customer-led? 

In January 2020, Harvard Business Review put out an article about the need to emphasize the importance of measuring and managing the worth of your customer, however most organizations undervalue the power of the customer experience, focussing on  and succumbing to the pressures that companies have concerning profit. Profit led decisions often to the shortchanging of customers. 

When people are really focused on the quarter, it can erode loyalty and reduce the value that customers actually create for the business. It’s kind of counterintuitive. This research shows that loyalty leaders, the ones that focus and measure customer loyalty, actually grow two and a half times faster than their peers in the industry. So, why don’t all organizations lead with customer-first strategies?

Ray believes it’s not because they’re being malicious or that they don’t care about customers,  but rather  it’s done relatively unconsciously. It’s not a natural behavior to consider customer experience as a strategy. This is why he loves the Kung Fu analogy for the podcast because it requires discipline to do something which is unnatural or counter-intuitive. 

There are reasons to look elsewhere for strategies. Reasons such as  time, energy, legacy, and infrastructure. Not to mention that MBA Students learn about providing value to their shareholders not about being customer-led or customer focused.

Every organization has its own unique set of circumstances, or excuses, for not being customer-led, which means it’s important to recognize what those might be and deliberately begin to make change.

Everybody seems to have a balanced scorecard strategy, and a big piece of that strategy map is focused on the customer. So the question becomes should an organization apply the same weight to all strategies and the answer is no, the weightings should be and need to be different for each unique company. 

What needs to happen to be truly customer-led?

In some ways, it’s about being more extroverted looking from the outside in than the inside out. It’s easy to say, but when you actually put that into action, everything vastly changes. It’s very, very different. 

Many people ask:

What’s the first thing that you need to do in order to be more customer-led? What’s the one simple step?

Ray recommends hiring somebody off the street, having them experience your organization in the way that your customers do, and then talk to them in-depth about their experience. A customer experience strategy really does mean experiencing, and driving your decisions based on how your customers, your stakeholders, your members, and your employees experience your organization and then by making educated changes based on their feedback. 

How do you measure a customer experience strategy?

Loyalty is a popular measure, as measured by a recommendation, but that’s an outcome. That’s not an input. The most common complaint we hear is “our score is going down, but we don’t know why or what to do about it.”

The truth is, there are lots of different kinds of loyalty, but in the end, it’s more about when you measure it, and how you measure it. Many organizations measure the wrong thing, at the wrong time, at the wrong cadence, and they end up getting frustrated.

If an organization really does need specific information for really good reasons,  efficiency and speed of average handling time, for example, you need to balance that off with the experience. 

This might sound a little bit alien to smaller organizations, ones that are naturally  service organizations because they’re typically more attuned to what their customers are looking for and to their customer experience. But even then, having a third-party or external view of how your customers experience your brand is very insightful. It is important to note that being customer-led doesn’t necessarily have to lead to big, expensive fixes, they can be small and be extremely impactful. 

What is Journey Mapping?

A journey map is starting with the task and running it through from the perspective of the customer to understand the positives, the negatives, and the roots of truth.

The temptation, and what organizations tend to do, is try to do everything. Instead, to start the journey towards becoming more customer-centric or more experience-led, pick one journey  and run through the journey map. Then, identify what needs fixing, fix it and then move on to the next one.

When choosing where to start, pick what you believe to be the most important thing you offer, or do  for your customers, or the most important strategy for the organization. . Maybe you want to attract  new customers. This is a very popular starting point. What is the new customer journey and onboarding process? How do people go from being somebody who doesn’t know your brand  to becoming a customer? Start by looking at that process from the customers perspective and then move on  from there. 

So many organizations are trying to boil the ocean. They’re just trying to do too much. 

5 Things to Consider

According to Ray, here are the top five things to consider when assessing your customer experience strategy: 

  1. Being customer-led is a philosophy, not a thing. It is a way of thinking, not a number of activities. 
  2. Start with the long-term, start with the journey map, and go from there. Don’t start the process if you’re not ready to be in it for the long-run.
  3. Don’t be in it for the flavor of the month, because the flavor of the month isn’t going to help you. 
  4. Get a third-party look at your organization. Don’t use your executives. 
  5. Always remember it’s an unnatural act. It doesn’t come naturally to organizations, so you need to be persistent.

Strategies work when they’re top-down, bottom-up, side-to-side, and everybody buys into it. Understanding the need for the change in philosophy and how it transcends through the organization is the first step.

Ray is on Sandi’s team, so if you’re interested in learning more about this, find Ray and Sandi at Satori Consulting inc.  Don’t be afraid to put your questions out there: this is the future of business and a key piece to a successful growth strategy. 

From more conversations and examinations of current movements in business management, you can also visit Management Possible

Jen is the owner of Management Possible® focused on training and coaching multi-level management and leadership individuals and teams nationally and globally. Sandi is the owner of Satori®  Consulting inc. a global consulting firm focused on helping organizations solve complex problems in strategy, leadership and governance.