By J.D. Geertsema – Senior Consultant
During an online Human Logic™ coaching session on April 1st , 2020, I spoke with a client who complained that the error rate in his company has dramatically risen since the COVID-19 stay-at-home order for California was issued on March 20. Since that day, most people in sales and in administrative functions are working from home. To minimize the risk of infection the essential warehouse and shipping staff on the various packing locations had started working in smaller and shorter shifts.
My client, let’s call him Jim, is the founder and CEO of a 600 million USD producer, packer and shipper of agricultural produce in California, USA. Jim was having a hard time getting used to the new reality in which he felt he could no longer control what was happening in his company. Jim was complaining about how the sales executives, who normally share an open office space in the company’s headquarters, were completely out of sync with each-other regarding product allocation and pricing, and he complained about how the shift workers in the warehouse and shipping department were making mistake after mistake in processing and shipping orders to retailers throughout the country, who of-course were dealing with their own volatile dynamics, and were getting increasingly frustrated with getting the wrong products shipped. Apparently, the errors were caused by insufficient handover between shifts and by hampering communication between customer service and logistics working from home and the shifts working on-site.
How Jim’s Leadership Style Was Getting in His Own Way
Jim, who is a highly engaged Driver-style leader, is known for his hands-on leadership style, in which – under normal circumstances – no detail escapes his scrutiny. But now, with all of his key sales and administrative people working from home, Jim felt that he completely lost control.
For our MS Teams meeting Jim called in from his office at the deserted company headquarters, and I listened to his story. At some point I asked him how often he speaks with his key people. Jim answered that he could hardly reach them because their lines are always busy. In normal circumstances he would just walk over to their cubicles to get things fixed off-the-cuff, but since March 20 those cubicles are empty. In an attempt to regain control, Jim frantically started calling his people on the phone many times a day, getting increasingly frustrated with the fact that he could hardly reach them, or they simply wouldn’t return his calls. I suspect that some of Jim’s people indeed no longer answered his barrage of calls, simply because they were getting annoyed by the controlling nature of the calls, and because they felt that it didn’t serve any purpose to answer.
Based on a behavior style assessment we made prior to our call, Jim and I discussed the strengths and internal blockages of his personality, and how his Driver-style leadership under pressure may become overbearing for others in its need for autonomous control, clarity and immediacy. We analyzed the behavior styles of his direct reports and defined the communication needs of each of them. We worked out a new way of working for him that is more acceptable for his co-workers, in a way that would restore his sense of control. The first and most important practical measure was to schedule a daily half-hour morning video call on MS Teams. We made it mandatory for all his key staff to participate each morning, and each call should never take more than thirty minutes. In case topics would take too much time, those topics would need to be taken off-line and discussed between the people who are directly involved.
The purpose of the daily call is to evaluate the past day, define priorities for the current day, share essential documents and statistics, coordinate actions across functions, and define topics where troubleshooting is required. We worked out a list of fixed topics which include staff health updates, sales progress, pricing, product allocation, inventory and logistics.
But most of all, the daily morning call serves as a way to maintain the social fibre in the team and simply stay in touch with each-other. I suggested Jim to refrain from making calls during the rest of the day, and simply trust his people to carry out what was agreed in the morning briefing.
How It Worked Out
Jim and I evaluated the results in our first follow-up meeting, the day before Easter. Jim sounded calm and confident. He told me how -after some initial technical hick-ups- the half-hour morning briefings had become more productive than he expected and how everyone seemed increasingly engaged. It led to improved coordination, and results were much better than the week before.
To Jim’s surprise people started calling him during the day with questions and volunteering short updates, and Jim was surprised how everyone took full responsibility for making things better.
Probably the most surprising side-effect of the morning briefings, however, was that everyone got an informal sneak peek into the lives of their co-workers, simply because many of them were video calling from their kitchen or living room tables, with family members and pets going in and out. It actually led to a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, which perfectly synergized with productive work coordination. Many of Jim’s people were happy with this arrangement. It gave them as sense of direction, and they felt like a team in spite of the fact that most of them were working from home. But most importantly: Jim regained his calm as a leader.
The Bottom Line
By explaining Jim the differences between his personal leadership style and the behavior styles of his direct reports, Jim learned to crack the code of human behavior, and become more socially versatile. The daily updates gave him a sense of control, which in turn made him regain his calm and sovereignty as a leader, which in turn gave his people a sense of direction and stability.
In our next follow-up meeting, Jim and I will specifically discuss some issues between him and his Analytical-style CFO. Due to the differences between their personalities there is a lot of friction, certainly since they have to work remotely. Jim is more confident now that he will crack this behavior code as well and will be able to respond better to the needs for professional recognition, evidence, details and time of his CFO.
(This case study is based on real events. For privacy reasons we changed the name of our client)