The Power of Empowering

With the new normal of “working from home” in South Africa, arriving in the light of Covid 19, many organisations are being forced to transition from being an input-based time watchdog to an output-based productivity matron.

In my experience, the “old school” directors who I currently (and previously) worked with, and those within my network, are now entering uncomfortable zones in which they no longer physically see employees in the office. The fact of the matter is, many have had no choice BUT to adapt to this new norm, especially with cashflow restraints.

Many organisations are cutting costs to stay profitable (or to conserve cash) as the economic impact of the pandemic spreads around the globe. Office space appears to be a popular cost cutting target. The lockdown has forced us to use technology for communicating with both internal and external stakeholders. Have a look at the spike in Zoom users over the last 3 months, and you can quickly see how profound and, in many cases, successful this communication pivot has been.

Within our own organisation and many of my executive colleagues we have been called upon to diversify our leadership style, to what I personally refer to as bottom up leadership.

What is bottom-up leadership?

The concept of bottom-up leadership has not shown much popularity in recent scholarly studies. However, as leaders implement this new norm of operating their business remotely, this leadership style may well be called upon more frequently.

In my personal experience, the 3 steps below are the leadership fundamentals to this approach succeeding should you move to remote work in the long term:

Step 1: Set up your employees to succeed

This step may sound simple, but it is easy to fall short on! Upfront investment of time is required to correlate what tools and technology are required for employees to deliver efficient and effective results that will drive the organisation’s overall success. This may require a period of “trial and error” before deciding the infrastructure that works best for the entire organisation. In identifying the best fit infrastructure, joint research from all employees often provides a quicker timeline to decide what works best. As each department shares their input, this is an ideal time to standardise critical internal business processes (assuming they are not) i.e. take note of the communication tools your employees were using before working from home.

In our organisation, we had individuals who used Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Grafana, Trello, Asana, Wrike etc. All these tools are great; however inefficiencies were identified with duplicate workloads, individuals having to report and manage different data (a real pain in reality). With the move to working from home, we now use Microsoft Teams and Wrike as our two functional communication and planning tools. The combination of a “central” live time integrated operational, financial and sales reporting system meant our employees are now empowered to work efficiently and effectively from home, with minimal oversight required.

The time invested in this step should be viewed as a long-term investment that avoids churn in the future.

Step 2: Invest in your employees


Investing in your employees is an ongoing process, not once off! Many leaders ignore this aspect of leadership, missing out on the long-term benefits of an effectively skilled workforce. Investing in upskilling provides employees with ongoing training that helps them from both a work perspective and a personal perspective. Training can be combination of formal and informal. It ultimately depends on the level of complexity within the organisation.


A suggestion brought to my attention by my mentor was not to underrate the value of an employee wellness course. Actioning on his advice, we very soon noted the benefits that an employee wellness course brought, including uplifting self-confidence within our employees as individuals, together with self confidence in their ability to execute on their roles within the organisation. There are many choices to fit varying budgets. We used the Proctor Gallagher Institute Paradigm Shift courses and found them very effective.

Recently, CFO.University conducted a poll of both finance employees and their employers regarding their approach to professional development. Benchmark your approach against the individuals and companies that participated in the survey by studying their responses in Professional Development for Accounting and Finance Leaders in a Post Covid-19 World

Step 3: Employees need to be in right headspace

In my opening paragraph, I mentioned the output-based productivity matron. A productive employee is one who is in the right headspace i.e. their wellbeing is taken care of.

Some employees may find it difficult adapting to the remote work lifestyle, whilst others may adapt quickly. As leaders, assuming our personal working environment suits our deliverables may not necessarily mean our employees environments are similar e.g. we may not have children or other family members to take responsibility of, however other employees do. In South Africa, the concept of Black Tax places significant social pressure on individual bread winners to provide for their extended families.

To overcome the above, identifying employees’ personal challenges (either via a survey, or one-to-one discussions) can potentially reduce the negative impact on employee productivity. In identifying the various challenges and implementing the required solutions, an employee in the right headspace will lead to notable outputs delivered = notable outputs desired.

Employees are reflected in our financial statements as a labour cost. Many leaders are beginning to view their spend on labour as an investment. The ROI we earn on this investment is controlled by the leaders of the business. By empowering our employees to be at their best, our labour spend can become an invaluable intangible asset. Learn more about valuing your human capital as an asset, rather than expense in this article, What is the Human Capital Net Worth of Your Business?

Conclusion

So, to empower your employees, set them up to succeed by providing them with the right tools; invest in the professional and personal development that suits each individual’s needs; and help them find their right headspace by understanding who they are.


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