It’s not a novelty that at this time personnel management takes place in a VUCA environment. But under Corona / Covid19 conditions, this can suddenly be experienced much more drastically! Subsequently there is the need for rapid change, the sense of urgency is given, and everyone feels thrown in at the deep end! A lot is unexpectedly difficult, some challenges require changes in attitudes and are difficult for individuals, at last. Unquestionably there is also quite some rejection of changes. And typical of such upheavals, there are neither any rules nor procedural instructions how to go forward. Likewise, some official laws suddenly seem out of time. Experience is simply not yet available, and must henceforth be piled up again. So: let’s throw old habits overboard, finally develop creativity and pioneering spirit – haven’t we longed for all that? In the following I would like to work out some challenges and fields of action that have appeared in my consulting work with managers – and show preliminary solutions. The list keeps growing henceforth …
Firstly, there’s a lot to do promptly: Retrieving commissioning engineers from operations abroad, complying to service contracts, applying for “special permits” (there are police checkpoints on the streets in some places!). To ensure the distances between people in production reliably and organize alternating shifts. Preventing direct infection at customer counters by installing plexiglass panes. All of this is urgently required and consequently executives must ensure that it is initiated, checked and tracked! A lot has indeed been achieved, nevertheless …
Personnel management: The challenges described certainly arise from the ambiguity of Corona circumstances, and their volatility. On the other hand, beyond the implementation of clear hygiene instructions, detailed specifications and close monitoring are not so helpful. In contrast, target agreements with great degrees of freedom for the teams have to be negotiated. Instead of “That’s how we do it!”, an honest “What do you suggest?” is recommended thus. Attention: between the abovementioned enforcement of rules and creative problem solving, a compromise is not really the viable option, instead situational management is required!
Undeniably, drastically more is required here than the exchange of emails. In particular communication and cooperation software allowing to moderate team sessions, e.g. MS Teams or Zoom, fosters completely new forms of interaction. Still, when selecting such tools – if they are not specified by a central IT department – certainly scepticism and caution with regard to security is appropriate: at least obtain the experience of other users, also of IT staff from “friendly” companies, even check Wikipedia.
Evidently there is often some rejection of new tools. But subsequently under Corona there is a whole new impulse to try out, make progress in learning, achieve first successes and develop new skills – for managers and employees! In many companies, some of the existing programs had been paid little attention and were left unused. Yet, finally their benefits are eventually recognized, these thus gained acceptance and were used. And concurrently, the fixed network phone is experiencing some renaissance… In other words, you have to go through all this: “With a little help from my friends.” – Otherwise, virtual collaboration is nothing new: only the tool landscape, which has not yet been standardized, is new!
But be careful: once permanent accessibility is technically ensured, under home office conditions it may straightaway be misinterpreted as permanent availability. Consequently, customers, managers, employees know that e.g. middle managers are simply “there”. In some organizations, seven to eight one-hour meetings a day have become custom, regardless …
Personnel management: Nevertheless, there is still the topic of acceptance of new technologies or methods as such. In other words: resistance to these. However, it has turned out that resistance to such innovations can suddenly lessen or evaporate because they have become unavoidable. Particularly so if the innovations actually result in relief and not additional stress.
With respect to the capacity of the “always present”: discipline of managers is also required! Originally, the term home office had meant individual work. And that has to be respected consequently. Perhaps the unsolicited setting of appointments in Outlook is not the method of choice … In general: henceforth executives have the chance to trust and to say goodbye to any micro management. At this point it simply does not work, now less than ever before.
The markedly required virtuality of collaboration that is suddenly called for can also slow down processes. Making eye contact in the event of minor disturbances, getting up to simply approach someone, look for and find missing paperwork – all of this is obviously no longer possible.
Personnel management: Firstly, it is possible to continue many operational processes virtually, slightly adapted. Especially R&D and design, engineering, procurement … mostly need access to the company network (SAP, CATIA, …). However, many commercial and some sales tasks require contact “to the outside world”, which is already done to a considerable extent with IT support. Lastly, the personal visit is no longer absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, it is all the more urgent to maintain lively contact: with short calls, small niceties …
Not so surprisingly, managers and employees have quickly developed new forms for the described informal contacts to solve everyday problems. Thus, they ensure mutual trust and, particularly, operational efficiency: short phone calls, text messages, but not so much e-mails or scheduled virtual conferences!
Furthermore: work is a tried and tested remedy for gloom! A lot can be done virtually and without major losses, other tasks will expire altogether (at least temporarily!). But important issues that have always been left on the backbench in favor of urgent issues can now be tackled at last: strategic, fundamental tasks … Warning: this kind of personnel management is about high-quality initiatives, not about “activity” only!
A downsized or idle production, caused by the pandemic, likewise does not require material replenishment … Consequently, this alters routine processes, often in an unforeseen manner – “sailing close to the wind” instead of a structured approach!
Personnel management: For many employees, their tasks, challenges and working conditions have not only changed, but also inescapably so, due to the VUCA corona pandemic, all of a sudden. Out of a blue sky, unforeseeable and surprisingly complex problems must be solved. A “danger” is that employees particularly request solutions from management. In short they delegate their area of responsibility back “upwards”. A quick standard reaction helps subsequently: the question “What do you propose yourself?”. Meanwhile, getting into a coaching session is a bit more elaborate: “What is it about, what is the goal? – What is the difficulty? – What could you do, what would be a workaround, what could a really unconventional solution look like? – So, What are you going to do now?”
Daily stand ups, “morning round tables”, management team 9 o’clock meetings etc. serve to exchange information, plan, monitor progress and kick off initiatives, of course – and for necessary small talk also.
Personnel management: These rounds must be continued or even expanded forthwith (in frequency), as “close to the original” as possible. Pay attention about duration, still: the meetings can well take longer, perhaps because all participants are drilling deeper – a welcome effect! The structuring of the working day is another benefit! Management acts as role model indeed: their punctual appearance for video conferences, constant presence there, full concentration (mobile phone off!) lastly lead to exactly the same behaviour among employees.
Such meetings in the workshop, office or laboratory, although happening almost without notice, keep the engine running. And that includes office gossip also!
Personnel management: Employees will subsequently create similar informal opportunities in the realm of virtuality as a substitute. Virtual coffee, likewise posting their own lunch. Small funny exercises for everyone are straightaway invented: take photos of your desk, do yoga and gymnastics, play online games (which you don’t have to install on your (company) computer) …! Consequently, initiatives of this kind may also be management “responsibiliy”! Leadership should indicate interest and foster such initiatives among employees emphatically. Note: whichever employees can organize, motivate and discipline themselves in the workplace can also do this in the home office. And besides: humor helps, as long as it doesn’t slip into silliness or an end in itself.
Presently, a special problem in personnel leadership arises: amidst the strictest Anti Corona prophylaxis long since agreed summer holidays will accrue.
Such vacations would not be really fun at the moment – not a big change compared to home office, significantly. Conversely, there is a risk that “everyone” would like to go on their postponed vacation just when the Corona crisis has been overcome business is catching up and booming, and labor is urgently needed. Still, labor law is undisputed that a holiday once granted by the employer cannot be reversed unilaterally by the employee.
Personnel management: this dilemma is only looming, however. Let’s pay attention: “Clear decisions” made at the moment can quickly turn out to be wrong or superficial – an epidemic is obviously a dynamic process. So contrarily, I recommend negotiating preliminary agreements with the employees, guaranteeing the necessary flexibility for both sides.
None of this can be a guideline, let alone a strict company regulation. Rather, I would like to pass on current experience and provide recommendations for further action, but also for reflection of one’s attitudes. Please tolerate the interspersed funny comments! In addition, the text should be understood as a work in progress, to which the reader is emphatically invited to contribute! I look forward to emails and Zoom / MS Team invitations – and in the above sense to phone calls, indeed!