Remote and hybrid work arrangements have shifted the role of manager in our uncertain COVID world. This shift is likely to threaten managers of knowledge workers. Our brains constantly scan for threats to keep us safe. The limbic system fires up when it perceives danger. A social threat may be more intense than a physical threat according to David Rock, Ph.D. founder of the Neuroleadership Institute. Rock developed the SCARF model to identify social triggers. Status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness is the framework that activates social threat or reward. The brain distinguishes whether to avoid or approach something based on whether it’s a threat or reward.
Managing a remote workforce may create each of these social threats. Status may be threatened because the manager is no longer visible. Certainty may be threatened because the manager can’t see the work getting done. The workers may be rewarded by increased autonomy at the manager’s expense. Everyone is feeling a loss of connection, relatedness. And the extra effort may feel unfair. Each of these threats feed off of each other that exacerbates the outcome of the threat response. When feeling threatened perception, cognition, creativity, and collaboration all decrease.
The manager’s ability to manage diminishes just when knowledge workers need reassurance. One reaction of the manager’s threat response is to micromanage. Micromanaging will threaten the workers’ status, autonomy, and relatedness. Or the manager may avoid, resulting in workers feeling the threats of certainty, fairness, and relatedness. In a hybrid situation, both onsite and remote workers may feel they are being treated unfairly. Remote workers may feel excluded from things in the office and people in the office may be envious of the freedom working from home allows.
Managers must make the shift from a surveillance to an outcome mentality. And shift from process to people focus. And shift from fixed to growth mindset. That’s a lot of shift! Start with outcome. Goals should be stretch goals with a clearly defined purpose. Name that “why.” Give people the “why” and let them have the autonomy to figure out the “how.” Work together to break large goals into short-term outcomes. Instead of surveilling, establish check-in dates to reward success of the short-term outcomes and help remove obstacles.
Shift your focus from process to people. Check-on employees. See employees as part of our human family first. Then build a unity of purpose around goals. Have higher level conversations about what is being created and who benefits rather than directing the process to get there.
Carol Dweck who coined the term Growth Mindset said, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well is the hallmark of a growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive in challenging times. “ These are challenging times. Improve yourself, look after each other and focus on what matters.