Dave UlrichGuest AuthorLeadership

How do leaders respond to employees feeling personally overwhelmed and organizations having too many initiatives?

By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization

As the pandemic persists beyond what most imagined in early 2020, we are hearing some of the following comments from thoughtful leaders:

  • One of my goals (for me and my people) is to stop having to work such ungodly hours.
  • I don’t know how to manage my (and my employees) work life with personal life. I am now expected to work my job, home school my kids, and have a personal life all at the same time. Something has to give.
  • I feel emotionally drained much of the time; there seems to be a constant demand of what work I should be doing and I can’t really keep up. I find myself being more cranky and less patient with others
  • Virtual work is nice in that I don’t have to spend time commuting, but I am feeling isolated from others and I wonder what that might mean for relationships and my career
  • I don’t really know the new rules of the game at work anymore
  • (fill in your emotional response)

Early research confirms these anecdotes. Mental health challenges are up with depression at three times pre-pandemic numbers; six months into the pandemic, 53% of adults are experiencing stress related to the pandemic. In addition, anxiety has also gone up dramatically. These mental health challenges affect sleep, energy, personal relationships, and overall well-being for individuals.

When feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted, employees often shut down, have little discretionary energy left to dedicate to work, and reduce emotional demands by simply “doing” the basics of work to get by and not exploring innovative ideas. At a time when work creativity is most needed, many are becoming less so because they feel overdrawn in their emotional bank account.

How can leaders help their employees discover opportunity with these present demands?

We (and many others) have talked extensively about tending to the emotional well being of employees by being empatheticpersonalizing workharnessing uncertainty, and providing resources to help employees cope with demands. 

In addition to these personal supports, we believe that leaders can attend to personal demands by improving how their organizations operate. 

Just as individuals may be consumed with an onslaught of “to do’s”, organizations often respond to pressure with a deluge of new initiatives intended to help, but actually draining organizational energy. We have found that organizations spend about 1% of their gross annual revenue on people and organization initiatives each year often without managing, measuring, or targeting where to spend it. 

Creating and using an organization guidance system (OGS)

In this activity mania challenge, leaders can discover opportunity by accessing an organization guidance system (OGS).  An OGS prioritizes initiatives so that leaders know where and how to invest and measure progress on initiatives with precision.  

The OGS requires that knowledgeable individuals complete four 12 to 15-minute assessments on initiatives in four pathways: talent, leadership, capability, and HR … see www.rbl.ai. This data then results in a remarkable initiative portfolio report (for free) that highlights where an organization should invest to deliver employee, strategic, customer, investor, and social citizenship results.  In the figure below, there are five outcomes (columns) and 36 initiatives in the four pathways (rows) that lead to 180 choices an organization could make to deliver improved business outcomes. The OGS displays green boxes to indicate where this exemplar company should invest. For example, the firm represented in the figure should focus on talent more than organization to deliver their desired results. The data also point to building a business case for improving leadership and helping HR professionals improve working relationships as having more impact on the five results.

Figure 1: Example of A Company Organization Guidance System Report

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Recognizing the return on time invested for OGS

As we have pursued this OGS we have run into the inevitable challenge that individuals are feeling “over surveyed” and too overwhelmed to complete these assessments. 

Organization improvements run smack into individual pandemic fatigue!

Leaders seeking to improve their organizations need to face and overcome this pandemic fatigue by managing the return on time invested (ROTI).

Sometimes, it is useful to expend a little effort to get a large return. To build positive relationships, instead of merely tweeting or offering an elevator-like exchange  “hi how are you? fine, and you?”; it is useful to spend 10 to 15 minutes with a colleague to truly listen to them and build connection. Instead of a microwave pre-packaged meal, it is sometimes useful to spend 10 to 15 minutes preparing a more tasty and healthy meal. Instead of skimming headlines, it is sometimes useful to spend 10 to 15 minutes to dive into a story and learn about it more deeply.  Instead of casual exercise, it is sometimes useful to commit to 15 minutes a day of high-intensity training which leads to dramatic results. 

The same logic applies to the profusion of organization initiatives. We have found that a simple but useful filter for sifting organization activities are the dual criteria of [1] impact and [2] quality. First, organization initiatives without clearly defined results are low on the impact criterion. Too often initiatives are done to have a “best practice” or “be innovative,” without rigorously testing the impact of the initiative. Second, some hot-topic initiatives have a thin veneer of viability but lack the real depth of theory, research, and experience. They are like billboard or fortune cookie solutions that lack substance or sustainability.

But, discarding all initiatives because some lack impact or quality is like assuming all relationships, meals, headlines, or exercise is the same. We have spent the last 18 months carefully curating our theory, research, and experiences into an OGS that has high impact and high quality. 

As a result, the relatively small time requirement to fill out assessments for the OGS (10 to 15 minutes each pathway) will result in incredible time, budget, and energy focus that delivers results that matter.  OGS employs a digital operating model to help organizations use precise targeting of their resources to improve business outcomes. OGS algorithms will trigger alerts when metrics begin to trend in the wrong direction so that teams can take immediate corrective actions. 

Leaders who care about ROTI will see the OGS assessments less as a burden and more as a beneficial navigation tool to make better decisions. To get started simply go www.rbl.ai and take the four assessments to receive a free report. 

When leaders model how to prioritize organization initiatives, individuals may also be able to gain a measure of control of their personal demands and prioritize their activities as well, thus affecting some of the emotional malaise people feel in this stressful year. 

Republished with permission and originally published at Dave Ulrich’s LinkedIn

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