Anne Bloom’s Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Show gratitude by exchanging uplifting appreciation messages with your peers, managers, and employees. Reassure them that they’re doing great and don’t need to stress about productivity.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Bloom.
Anne Bloom has worked in human resources in Toronto, Canada for over 30 years. She has led the function in large, global organizations and now works as a Principal at a small consulting and interim executive firm called The Osborne Group. Anne leads talent, culture, and operations projects in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. She is a trusted, forward-thinking advisor and excellent relationship manager who builds cultures characterized by inclusivity, diversity, equity, and collaboration to help organizations succeed. Anne has her finger on the pulse of many HR issues and has written about How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work. She looks forward to providing thought leadership and lessons for organizational leaders and employees as they try to navigate the challenges of this tumultuous time.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Like almost everyone I know in Human Resources, my HR career started by accident. Early in my working life, I was working as a financial statement typist in a chartered accountancy firm, and they needed to hire another typist. The office manager asked me if I wanted to sit in on the interview — I said sure why not — and the rest is history. I got involved in all interviewing and hiring and the company promoted me to HR Specialist without any training. I made the decision to return to school, received my certification in 1993 and continued to build my HR career. Since then, I have been very fortunate to work in companies of all shapes and sizes, roles of all shapes and sizes and I continue to learn and grow and love that HR is now People and Culture which makes so much better sense. When I started my HR career, we hired and fired — that was it. Today, people and culture employees are trusted advisors, growth and success initiators and the go to people in the company. The world of people and culture is ever-changing. The only thing I know for certain is that change is inevitable, growth is optional.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Unfortunately, this is not a funny mistake or story. This is a story of learning best practices and how important communication is in an organization. Early in my HR career, I received a phone call from an employee about an issue he was having with his manager. We talked about possible solutions, and I asked him to sit down with his manager and have an open conversation about his feelings and impressions of work style and the impact it was having on his ability to do his job well. It was the best solution I could come up with and I know it was the right advice. However, it was late in the day and I wanted to go home. I “forgot” to tell my manager about the conversation. That forgetfulness led to a discussion on the importance of sharing crucial information that always come back to bite you. The lesson learned is one that I still follow today in everything I do — communicate, communicate and communicate some more. If you think you have communicated enough, you probably haven’t. Open, honest, transparent communication is so important to building strong working relationships. Leave a voice mail and follow up with an email.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I was fortunate to have two people in my life who I consider to be strong supporters of my career. The first person who shaped me was my grade 12 teacher. I still remember his openness, his ability to make you feel like your opinions and thoughts mattered. He taught me to be the person I wanted to be and not what everyone else expected of me. The second mentor was an HR leader I had many years ago. He taught me the right way to manage, the right way to deal with conflict, that people are all different and you can’t manage each person the same way. We had philosophical conversations on life and leadership and how to best accept my own limitations. Both of these people shaped me as a leader, as a person and as a woman.
They were brilliant and the fact that I still remember their wisdom today speaks volumes to me. Early on in my career, we had an employee who unfortunately lost her life under tragic circumstances. As I was the only HR professional in the office that day, it was left to me to inform her department and friends. I arranged for EAP to be on site, and I called all employees into a meeting room. This was the hardest message a leader ever must share with friends and colleagues. I reluctantly said the words, there was shock, tears and a lot of disbelief. I brought our EAP provider into the room, set up counselling, sent employees home for the day, gave each employee a day off with pay to attend the funeral and let them mourn the best way for them. Lots of tears, lots of stories, lots of laughs and memories. I couldn’t have done this without the support of my HR leader. He trusted me to have compassion, be thoughtful and do the right thing.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
As a self-employed HR professional since 2008, my vision was to provide HR services to my clients that met their needs and provide the best advice I could for success. My purpose was to ensure that I kept my clients out of trouble, that I remained the trusted advisor to leaders and that I provided top notch HR services to ensure clients were meeting their employee needs. My purpose and vision hasn’t changed over the years. What has changed is the expectations clients have and what they are prepared to provide to their business, employees and the bottom line.
The pandemic has changed the way leaders lead. It has changed expectations and outcomes. Employees’ expectation is to be provided with a safe, healthy workplace; to be provided with the means to develop their careers and to be allowed to work from anywhere. A good majority of employees don’t want to return to an office. Leaders have different wants — they want employees in the office, they want to return to pre-pandemic working conditions. Some want to recoup their revenue and continue to grow. These are not unrealistic objectives. But we still need to maintain what we learned over the last 3 years — empathy, listening, understanding and compassion. These attributes won’t change and should be incorporated into the playbook of all leaders.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
When I was the HR Head of a technology company, the leaders wanted to change the hours, the way the work was being accomplished, and reporting structures — a full 100% flip of organizational design. The message to employees from the parent company in Asia was there will be change. However, there was no explanation given. As usually happens, the rumour mill went wild. After speaking with head office to find out how to deal with this mess of employees being scared for their jobs, not understanding the changes that were coming and not knowing the impact to them — we crafted a communication in the form of a Q&A to all employees asking and answering the questions I was hearing from employees. This helped to stem the tides of uncertainty.
During times of uncertainty, I return to what was said above — communicate, communicate, communicate some more. Deal with the uncertainty head on. It is important to answer all questions even if you don’t yet know the answer. As leaders we must admit what we don’t know but will get back to employees when the answers are found. Keep the lines of communication open. Have focus groups. Provide a clear way of asking questions. HR needs to be the voice of reason. HR needs to deal with the issues to provide the answers the very best they can.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Sure. I am human. Giving up, changing jobs, leaving the current employer are all common thoughts and sometimes become the reality. Motivation comes from within. Everyone enjoys being recognized and paid for a job well done. I don’t need the accolades, but I do sometimes need to be told that all is going well. Sure, I have made mistakes and misread the situation, who hasn’t. A leader needs to understand the good and bad. Make decisions based on actual fact and not feelings. You need to think about the alternatives — good and bad — write down the pros and cons and make sure your decisions are the best for you and your family. I have involved my family in my decisions. They know what I am thinking and why. My drive for success is sustained from my belief that I have a lot of good years ahead of me, that I can continue to be the trusted advisor that my clients expect.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
Over the years I have read a number of insightful books that have helped me in building my practice and in providing top notch advice to my clients. There are two books that come to mind — Leading to Greatness by Jim Reid and Great Mondays by Josh Levine. Both may not be so well known but I found them to be insightful, packed with great knowledge and easy to use suggestions that have helped me day to day.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical aspect of a leader’s role during challenging times is to keep an open mind. Listen to your employees as they often have the answers. Ask questions to clarify. Be open to new possibilities. Be present. What I mean by be present is let your employees see you. Get out of your chair and walk the halls, talk to people face to face, even if means having to use Zoom.
I recenlty started an assignment with a start-up. I was amazed by the Head of the company who walked the halls, introduced himself to new people, asked them questions, wanted to know their names and the best of all, remembered those names and what he was told. By meeting employees, he made himself approachable with an open door policy. This is what spells great leadership.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Leaders should admit their limitations. They need to admit they don’t have all the answers. They need to ask the questions and listen to the answers. Leaders boost morale by being human too. Leaders need to follow the Golden Rule — treat others how you want to be treated. Don’t assume. Have realistic expectations. Its not always about the bottom line, but it needs to be about the people that help reach the bottom line.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I believe in simply delivering the message. Provide information on what you know at that point in time. What isn’t known will be provided when able. Employees and all people alike just need to know the facts. Once you have provided that and answered questions to the best of your ability, all else will fall into place. It is not easy to give difficult news of any kind, but sounding real, transparent, and honest goes a long way towards acceptance, healing and understanding.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I am a strong believer in that plans can be changed as they are not written in stone. In this ever-changing world leaders need to accept that change is inevitable, growth is optional. If leaders make a mistake in judgement, it can be reversed and changed. No harm, no fowl. It’s not about asking for permission; it’s about asking for forgiveness. People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you treated them. Be human.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I recently read a Robert Wessman, Founder and Chairman of Aztiq, article that provided the following advice:
Don’t be busy being busy. In times of uncertainty, it is easy to constantly be in fighting mode. This is a dangerous slope. If you are too busy to tackle long-term issues, you will lose sight of the key drivers in your industry and the key future growth platforms. You also risk losing any advantages you do have in a crisis to more agile and forward-thinking competitors and market disruptors. Even in the toughest times, be sure to factor in a moment to step back and consider the long-term health of your organisation.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
There are many mistakes that leaders can make. I will highlight the top 4:
- Lacking humility. …- the need to be human and show understanding for others is so important to leadership success.
- Avoiding conflict. …- Conflict isn’t always about arguing. It is about having healthy discussions on differing opinons. Listen to what others are saying. Ask questions, don’t tell.
- Being too friendly. …- Employees are not your friends, they are your co-workers, colleagues. Learn from them but don’t spend family time with them.
- Not offering employee feedback. … — Employees oftentimes have the answers to solving issues. Provide feedback on what you hear, learn or observe. Feedback is important for growth, learning and understanding.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay in touch — Communication is key to success. Letting employees know that you are there for them, that they can see you and speak to you as needed is so important.
- Empower others — Let your employees know they are accountable for the work they do. Empower them to make decisions that benefit the company. Give employees an opportunity to shine and present their worth to the company.
- Ask questions — I live by the golden rule of ask, don’t tell. Your employees have great ideas and recommendations. All that is needed is the opportunity to voice them in a safe, collaborative environment.
- Don’t take on others’ problems — It is so important for employees to come to leaders with solutions to their problems. A leader should never take on the problems of subordinates but should insist upon hearing the solution(s). Discuss the different options that is best for the company and arriving at a solution together.
- Provide psychological safety — Employees need to know they have a safe haven to discuss solutions. They should never fear retribution for voicing a thought or opinion. The one safe haven in any company is People and Culture. Listening to hear and then respond is one way of providing psychological safety.
- Take care of yourself — Take that mental health day when needed. Schedule that vacation time. Be with your family and friends. Take the time you need to unwind and be yourself. Ensure you have the work/life balance that works for you and yours. Listen to your body — it will always tell you when it is run down and needs the rest. Don’t ignore the signs.
- Stay in the loop — keep up to date with the things that are important for what you and your group. Let your employees know that you understand their successes, struggles, challenges. Hold the all-important team meetings to learn what is happening with team dynamics. Be present.
- Be clear about what you know and what you don’t know — It is ok to say “I don’t know”. That is how we all continue to learn, grow. As a leader be vulnerable, learn from others. Richard Branson once said that we hire people that are smarter than us so that we look good. Trust your employees to make you look good.
- Embrace uncertainty — learn to cope better with uncertainty brings benefits in the short and long term. We all have had times when we couldn’t visualize the outcome but through perseverance we continued to grow, learn and advance in our careers. Through clear thought, the answers always come to us. Uncertainty is not a bad thing so long as you continue to think through the process and find the right solutions.
- Build collaboration — There are 8 ways to build team collaboration:
- Establish common objectives.
- Set expectations.
- Focus on the strengths of each person.
- Foster fresh ideas.
- Create a trustworthy and trustful environment.
- Build around established relationships.
- Arrange only necessary meetings.
- Honour collaboration.
- Keep team members engaged. In today’s world of uncertainty, there are ways to build engagement even on a budget:
- Recognize and appreciate. …
- Offer the opportunity to make a difference. …
- Target continuing education. …
- Offer flexible schedules. …
- Implement job rotation. …
- Small gestures go a long way. …
- Organize team activities.
- Build morale during and after the pandemic
- Initiate strategies to strengthen employee health and wellness. Provide access to mental health resources and counseling.
- Provide flexible work practices that give employees more room to take care of their personal lives. This can be in the form of reduced working hours, unlimited time off policies, no-meeting days, and more.
- Encourage your employees to practice mindfulness. Being mindful helps employees stay grounded in the present moment and build resilience. It also helps them process their emotions better.
- Show gratitude by exchanging uplifting appreciation messages with your peers, managers, and employees. Reassure them that they’re doing great and don’t need to stress about productivity.
- Take extra care to address all employee concerns during these times. Stay connected with them so they are reminded that you are a support resource for them if they need help.
- Create a sense of safety in the workplace — Safety in the workplace is important. Ensure your DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) is in place and that employees understand the strategy and policy.
- Acknowledge uncertainty — be open and transparent about what you don’t yet know. If there is uncertainty about returning to the office, say that. Let employees know that you will communicate when you know about any change that will impact them.
- Be open, transparent — Be clear, be concise, be logical in thought and communication. Say it like it is. Don’t camouflage or be unclear.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are two quotes that I regard highly:
No regrets in life, just lessons learned. Author unknown.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. Maya Angelou
How can our readers further follow your work?
I can be followed on LinkedIn — https://linkedin.com/in/annebloomcphr and through The Osborne Group website at www.osborne-group.com where I am a principal consultant providing People and Culture consulting to small to mid-size clients in the not-for-profit and for profit industries.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Anne Bloom’s Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.