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The benefits of listening to your people is evident when we look at Coca-Cola’s decision to rebrand. Back in 1985, Coca-Cola decided to release a reformulated coke which became known as New Coke. However, the public rejected this formula. Coca-Cola listened to the people and within months, they rebranded to the popular Coca-Cola Classic and were rewarded by surpassing their competitor, Pepsi. 

With new COVID variants emerging, the workplace is changing again and as leaders, we need to listen to our employees. Coca-Cola came out on top because they listened to the people who mattered, and right now, our people matter. Our employees are adapting and coping to the new variants and repeated waves of the Coronavirus in their own way, which means a one-size fits all approach of leadership won’t work.

I have an employee who is very concerned about new variants of the virus. She is most comfortable wearing her mask at all times in the office and uses the protection of plastic shields around her desk. She designed and placed the shields on her own accord, doing what she feels is necessary to protect herself.

These extra precautions are important to this employee because they allow her to feel safe while at the office so she can continue to be a valuable member of the team. As leaders, we need to assess our workplace and determine what we need to do to protect the safety of our people and if there are employees that require more, we need to adapt to those requests.

Not all employees share the same concerns, however, and we need to make sure we are addressing everyone equally.

Understand your people

With the politics, media and our own logic and beliefs surrounding the pandemic we are going to see a natural division between those that are concerned about COVID and those who may not believe in it at all. As leaders we need to balance these opinions and navigate those beliefs. If we can lead with respect, our people will interact with respect too.

By listening to concerns and supporting our employees’ individual concerns we can begin to move forward and create a safe and comfortable environment that works with everyone’s beliefs. Allowing some employees to use extra protective measures certainly doesn’t affect the functionality, safety or productivity of the business and allowing others to be physically distanced in a collaborative environment doesn’t either.

In fact, by allowing our people to feel safe we emphasize our culture. 

We are the first employers to lead companies through this global pandemic and perhaps now more than ever, we need to lead by listening. By having conversations and listening to our employees we open the doors to a happier, more loyal workforce, which paves the way to increased productivity and better retention. If our culture is about our people, we open doors to more employees, eager to be a part of the team.

Ask the right questions

The very nature of leadership involves guiding and motivating your team and should include appreciation, empathy and flexibility. As leaders, there are several questions you can ask yourself to ensure you are meeting these requirements, such as:

  1. Who are you listening to? 
  2. What have I done to show I am listening?
  3. In what way am I leading? Do I lead with a dictatorial style, a democratic style, an affiliate style?
  4. What effects do the decisions I make have on the team?
  5. Am I listening to everyone?

Make the needed changes

As leaders, knowing what our employees need and want is unlikely unless we ask them directly, obtain feedback and take their opinions into consideration. This doesn’t necessarily mean making big changes to your benefits program, it could be something as simple as providing free COVID-19 testing within the company.

Or even allowing an employee to surround her desk with plastic shower curtains.

Coca-Cola’s leaders didn’t hesitate to listen to the public and quickly brought back their original recipe, even though they had spent a considerable amount of time and money formulating New Coke. Sometimes as leaders our decisions are not always right for the company and we need to be flexible and prepared to make necessary changes. 

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