Nine months ago, I wrote an article on the latest Leadership topic “à la mode”: The Great Resignation. If you want to be up to date nowadays, the new theme is “Quiet Quitting”. A Friend recently sent me an article of Gallup, relating to it. Whereas, in the Great Resignation, people actively look for another job or aim at taking a more or less long sabbatical, in Quiet Quitting, people are still on your payroll, they do enough not to be singled out but no more. They leave their brain, creativity, entrepreneur spirit and passion at home to come to work since you have to “Sing the Blues to Pay the Dues”.
The phenomenon isn’t new, back in the 80’s, IMD Professor, Chris Parker, was already referring to it under the name “Discretionary Effort”. What concerns many, however, is the size and generalisation of it and this, at the very moment businesses would most need the engagement of their people. A worrying mismatch…
Following Gallup, the young workers are reporting a disengagement level, even higher than their predecessors, feeling, in particular, “not cared for”! Not surprisingly, remote/hybrid workers are amongst those most touched by this distance of their organisation’s ethos, purpose, values and strategy.
So what can be done about this, bearing in mind that, most probably, hybrid or remote working will not go away that easily and are ?
One of the first learning of “leading remote teams” is that the role of leaders changes. From focusing on objectives and the business at large (Content Leadership), leaders have realised that spending time on co-creation, keeping spirits high, identifying and supporting those team members on the verge of “silently quitting”, have grown to take an enormous percentage of their time. So, feeling at peace about it is the first thing to do: this is switching from a “Content Leadership” mindset to a “Context Leadership” one. In other terms, “Leaders of a remote team focus on creating conditions for their people to do and be their best”.
In order to lead/create the right context, at a distance, it is fundamental that for the leader to “tick the boxes” of Logos, Ethos and Pathos.
As the Gallup study suggests, remote working lays a big challenge on “knowing what is expected of them at work”.
Sending mails, reports and PowerPoints will not be sufficient to engage your remote team members into getting the job done.
Engaging at the Logos (Intellectual Clarity) level means co-creating Clarity, Meaning and, consequently, ownership. In a remote context, this requires more questions, listening, and summarising than simply throwing orders. Those moments are critical, not only for objectives clarity setting but also, because they are amongst the rare moments your people will have a conversation with you. So do take the time. They are as much about objective setting (Content Leadership) than relationship maintenance (Context Leadership).
No leader can impose Meaning by balking orders… Meaning happens by realising why the work I am asked to do is important, “meaningful” to the team or the organisation. This is also an opportunity to spend quality moments with your subordinates, helping them understand why they matter, how they can make a difference and why the team relies on them, JFK’s famous Cape Canaveral Janitor’s “sending a man to the Moon”.
Ethos (behaviours and values) is your credibility test. People are more sensitive and interpret behaviours more in a remote context than face to face. In a face to face context, you may catch the surprise, disappointment or anger expression of your subordinate, reacting to your behaviour. It is far more difficult to perceive such an instantaneous feedback through a MS/Teams’ screen. And, in the absence of a factual observation and possibility of expressing feelings, participants will be prompt to interpretate, attribute intentions etc. And from there things may go sore. Hence, if behaviours matter in a general context, be aware that this is even more of the case in a remote settings. Likewise, the Transactional way of communication (matter of fact, direct, to the point, business related) fails to address the need for care, purpose and clarity of your people. Switch to a far more relational one!
Pathos (emotions and passion) is the ultimate Engagement Test. Following Prof. Antonio Damasio, one of the most renown neuroscientists, aligning Pathos behind Logos is what moves people from intention to action. But, sadly, very few Colleges, Universities or other Polytechnic and Business Schools are able, leave aside willing, to include Pathos on a heavily biased Logos curriculum. In the age of Disruption Economy, when “Leading when I don’t know” is as frequent as “Leading when I know”, focusing almost exclusively the development of future leaders on technical, scientific and other cognitive themes, is a mistake. Giving undivided attention to our subordinates, spotting the weak signals emitted by someone about to drop out, being capable of empathy, understanding, making people feel that they matter, that they contribute to a worthy project is as important as being able to make a decision, take a stand, or being capable of thinking strategically.
During these times of confinement, all over the World, leaders have discovered how much time and energy was expected from them, to support their people in this new situation. This has become one of the strong learning of the Covid crisis and should be a powerful hint on what to do to re-engage Silent Quitters. In times of uncertainty, in times of doubt or fear, let your lieutenants reflect on the best way to… and focus on the Pathos of your people.