In the current phase, many businesses are bringing remote workers back to their company offices. Clearly, there are advantages to working on site, mainly because the physical interaction of people is of utter importance. At the same time, returning to the “old normal” is a wasted opportunity. It means going back to established business routines, at best complemented by some new home office rules and regulations. 

Working from a distance quickly reveals how important it is to create clarity in various areas. Today, leadership still requires numerous ad-hoc decisions, which are often taken in a rather unstructured way. Simply walking into the office next door or discussing something in the corridors has been and still is a part of common leadership practices. As are endless meetings with too many participants and unclear responsibilities.

Modern leadership can do better than that! Read on to find out what matters most and what has proven to be successful.

1. Create identity and orientation

Most companies have glamorous vision and mission statements. However, employees are often unaware of such and don’t base their actions on them. In turbulent times, as we are currently facing, this may cause people to stray. 

Answer the following questions for your area of responsibility with maximum clarity: Which problems do you solve for whom and with which desired effect? Define your answer briefly and succinctly.

This simple question may sound profane. Really, it is nothing but your company’s purpose. It creates fundamental clarity for your employees on why your company, department or team even exist. This adds purpose to any job. It facilitates orientation on what really matters and what doesn’t. It provides the fertile ground for successful leadership.


2. Build trust

Trust is the certainty of being able to rely on someone. As such it is a key success factor for companies. There is actually empirical evidence for that. It’s time to move trust off the philosophical shelf and into your daily leadership practice!

How can you build trust and create a trusting environment for your teams? Remote or hybrid teams require an especially strong foundation of trust.

In the course of several consultation and training programs for virtual leadership, I recently accompanied 100 leaders in their purpose-finding process and helped them to create a trusting environment for their areas of responsibility. After some initial skepticism, leaders realized that this would significantly improve team coherence and performance. It also makes it easier to onboard new members. Keep working on orientation and trust. It will pay off.


3. Promote effective communication

One particular challenge faced by leaders during this home office time was how to efficiently exchange work-related information and actively maintain work relationships. In my opinion, the main problem consisted in a lacking communication architecture and uncoordinated media use.

Create a system that facilitates a smooth transition between remote and on-site work. This will result in a hybrid work organization that is highly flexible. Makes sure you also reserve enough time and space for socializing and team bonding. Members of your teams might get together in a virtual break room or during a regular morning check-in. The possibilities are endless.


4. Clearly define responsibilities and decision-making processes

Unclear responsibilities and decision-making processes may hinder smooth collaboration in various ways. This becomes particularly apparent when people are working from different locations and there is no informal ad-hoc coordination.

Seize this opportunity to establish a clear framework for efficient and effective cooperation. As an example, I’d like to provide a role description I’ve been using with one of my clients to define clear responsibilities.

  • Role
    Name of role
  • Purpose/Effect
    Why does this role exist?
  • Result
    What is the result of this role if completed successfully?
  • Success criterion
    How will success be measured?
  • Responsibilities
    List key responsibilities (max. 5)
  • Authority
    Which decisions is this role entitled to make?
  • Role description
    What else is important in connection to this role
    (e.g. availability, exact description of individual tasks if helpful)?

Applying a RACI Matrix, originally a project management tool, will clarify interfaces and overlaps. It can also be used for other forms of leadership and management. Conducting an initial RACI Matrix can help you take inventory and reveal any blurred areas. This will serve as a foundation for (re-)defining roles and responsibilities, which will be transparently accessible to anyone within the company. They will be regularly revised to stay relevant.


5. Focus on results

If there is one thing I would like modern leadership to attain, it will be a radical shift toward an output- and outcome-oriented approach. There tends to be too much focus on mere input. This leads to wrong priorities and well-intended but poorly performed output.

The last few months have shown that we can no longer afford the luxury of focusing simply on input. When the going gets tough, we know how to set priorities and focus on what’s relevant and essential. So why not do the same during normal operations? Especially since “normal” no longer seems to serve as a yardstick in the dynamic times we live in.

Ask yourself:

  • How do you measure your success?
    Or even better: the effect of your success?
  • How do you prioritize limited resources to attain this effect?
  • What can you eliminate because it is ineffective?
  • Which framework conditions are conducive versus hindering?

Critically examining your performance management system will help answer this last question. Most of these systems do not achieve the desired effect. Consider some alternatives such as Objectives and Key Results and Kanban. Make sure you don’t copy paste another company’s system but tailor it to your circumstances and needs. The experience with my clients has shown: It’s actually easier than expected once you’ve understood the underlying logic.


Small steps toward a great vision

So much has changed in the past months! We’ve learned to adapt. Now is the time to stay on it and consistently pursue this new way of leadership. Don’t wait until an opportunity for radical change finally comes along. Begin today with some

first small steps

and a great vision of modern leadership.


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