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Posted by on May 19, 2021

Cultivating Motivation While Navigating the Second Wave of Change

Cultivating Motivation While Navigating the Second Wave of Change

Shot of a group of young businesspeople standing together and clapping in a modern office

Throughout the pandemic, leaders faced the major challenge of motivating and engaging people while transitioning into new workplace conditions. While new strategies to complete work emerged, we saw some people seized by COVID-19 fatigue, and resources everywhere were stretched thin.

As survivors return to the workplace and shape new versions of collaborating both virtually and in person, employees often find more responsibilities have been added to their roles. The “other duties as assigned” bullet point on federal position descriptions comes to the forefront. Survivors must tap into their resiliency yet again and discover new ways to endure and thrive with shifting workloads while transitioning into post-pandemic work cultures.

As leaders, it’s vital to strengthen our motivational skills and continue to build trust. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us to provide foundational needs, such as physiological and safety needs, as well as a strong sense of belongingness.

What can leaders do to boost motivation and engagement while navigating through this second wave of unprecedented change?

Here are five tactics to use today in preparation for the upcoming changes:

  1. Communicate what you know as early as possible and as often as possible. Be honest about what you do know, and reassure others you’ll provide updates to fill in the missing blanks. The following statement can go a long way when proven with follow-up action: “You’ll know as soon as I do.”
  1. Be available. In a virtual environment, establish “office hours” like those of professors. Employees can visit during those hours for a coffee chat or bring work-related questions to you and anyone present. Take advantage of this time to get to know people on a human level. If no one shows, consider inviting people for one-on-one chats. In the physical work environment, you don’t say you have an open-door policy but then leave your door closed most of the time. A feeling of isolation, a lack of belongingness, is a productivity killer ― ensure people stay connected whether they are behind a screen or in the office.
  1. Get feedback regularly – anonymous feedback. Asking for pulse checks about how people are feeling has become a leadership norm during the pandemic, and this action should continue with the second massive wave of change. Don’t assume people will want to return to the physical workplace. As the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results showed, there was an increase in engagement and job satisfaction.
     
    Ask for direct feedback about the new processes and procedures. Ask for any process improvement ideas and discover new ways to increase productivity. Boost confidence by accepting ideas and turning them into action. Giving others the power to help shape the future can be a big motivational booster. Surveys can be routinely done, but a more effective method can be to check productivity levels and create anonymous surveys when productivity stalls or backslides. Anonymity brings truth, and action behind ideas boosts trust throughout the workplace. With this second wave, there is the opportunity to create a new culture. As a leader, ask yourself what type of culture you want to shape. Ask employees: “What’s the one thing you would have changed about our pre-pandemic culture?” Then, create the new post-pandemic workplace culture together to ensure high motivation and engagement.
  1. Don’t be wooed by mediocrity. Often, supervisors want to give their survivors a break, and that may indeed be what’s needed. Accommodating during difficult times of change is expected, but don’t allow complaints to lower standards. To combat negativity, celebrate successes showing when challenging deadlines have been met and how impactful the team can be. Sometimes, people want a new challenge to increase their competencies and gain a sense of efficacy. That’s the opposite of backing down from an established expectation. Instead, boosting motivation can come in the form of a new challenge or praise. When leaders allow complaints to lower expectations, lower productivity is the eventual result. Instead, don’t be wooed by mediocrity! Find ways to set and meet those high expectations with motivational boosters.
  1. Be positive and allow space for sharing concerns without retaliation. Yes, leaders are the cheerleaders of change and aim to support people while accomplishing organizational goals. But, if supervisors are always positive, it eventually seems fake. Don’t try to “rah-rah-rah” your way into acceptance. Create time and space for people to feel safe venting to one another (and hopefully to you). Eventually, leaders will gently shift the conversation into action.

For example, give this approach a try: “I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday regarding the new procedure we have. If you’re comfortable sharing some insights with the team, let’s have a meeting to determine how we can take action for improvement.” This level of patience and listening skills results in motivating others to resolve problems and take action for better outcomes. When people feel heard, they have a strong sense of belongingness, and often, there’s increased productivity and progress.

During times of change, it’s vital to regularly ask yourself, “What have I done in the last week to motivate and engage others?” As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily!” Use the five tactics noted above, and secure high motivation and engagement levels in your workplace.


Angela E. Kochuba, Managing Director of Federal Training Academy, is a mission-driven, people-focused leader with a client list including every major U.S. federal department. She is committed to positive job-related results linking mission and people with custom solutions. She earned her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and her Bachelor of Science (BS) from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. Keep up with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

30 Comments

  1. Angela, thank you for this. I especially appreciate your insight on using this second wave as a chance to create a new culture. I immediately read that and thought, that it was so ingenious. As we begin to return to normalcy, I am hoping to use these tactics to create an even better work environment for my officers.

    • I’m thankful for your reading the article, Jennine. You’re one of DHS/TSA’s shining stars, and it was a privilege spending time with you and your supervisory colleagues. I admire how you often take time to ensure growth and create benefits for your team. Please say hello to everyone for me (& Joe).

    • Thank you for this. Such a smart and intelligent approach. I love the positive motivation throughout the article.

      • Thank you, Ryan! I appreciate your reading the article and your perspective as a DHS supervisor.

        • A very thoughtfully written article with excellent insights based on personal experience. Thanks for sharing your insights, Angela.
          What people need from leaders during the time of uncertainty and change is honest communication and leader’s making themselves available. This gives hope amidst uncertainty for the followers.
          As Zig Ziglar once quoted “If there is hope in the future, there is literally power in the present.” That’s what leaders do and you covered it well in your article from many facets. Keep up the good work!

          • I’m grateful for your insights and compliments, Paul. Thank you for taking the time to read the article and provide a thoughtful review/comment. I thoroughly enjoy and value the work you and @HarvardBiz do. Here’s to more hope and bright futures for all.

    • Excellent insights on navigating our re-entry into the workplace and the added responsibilities facing many of us as we do. Your thoughts on “Don’t be wooed by mediocrity” are especially relevant to my world. With the pandemic our associates have faced new challenges but also experienced unexpected opportunities for growth. Celebrating successes and new achievements keeps motivation and momentum moving in the right direction. I plan to share this at our next leadership meeting. Thank you, Angela!

      • Thank you so much for sharing this amazing article. I especially resonated with your thoughts of being positive and allowing space for sharing concerns without retaliation. In virtual meetings, giving credit when credits due (praising the small achievements) goes a long way to motivating teams as well as reassuring the teams that you are available to chat about any individual questions or concerns (open door policy). As a project manager, it feels great when your team members can feel safe to vent, creating a culture of transparency and collaboration in turn making a more effective project team. Again, thank you for the fantastic read.

        • Wise insights, Victor. Thank you for adding your perspectives as a project manager in the federal workforce. The NRC is lucky to have you!

      • Thank you, Kit! I appreciate your taking the time to read and reply. I’m thrilled you found it may be valuable to your teams. I absolutely agree that celebrating successes tap into the intrinsic motivation of a sense of progress; you’ll keep your organization moving in a positive direction for improvements and progress. How exciting!

  2. Angela, this is a great article and captures many great observations of the upcoming transition back to the new normal in the government workplace. It will be a new challenge to those leaders who have to continuously adjust their leadership style for each individual. As a non-supervisory 14 who is very independent and self motivating, we tend to fall through the cracks sometimes and supervisors need to be aware that we like an atta-boy every now and then as well. Another suggestion would be for the supervisor not to forget their employees are people as well and to get to know them personally goes a long way and is a form of motivation as well. Again, thank you for a great read and I look forward to future articles.

    • Hi, Dan. Thanks for reading and commenting! Your leadership while in active duty as an Officer in the U.S. Navy as well as a GS-14 in the civilian DOD workforce provides insight, and I’m thrilled to see your comments about the need for leaders to be flexible and know their staff as individuals. It’s a challenge indeed, and excellent leaders strive for those connections that can make a huge impact.

  3. Angela, thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. I actually shared it with my team the following day. As a leader I didn’t realize how important some of the points above were to my team. With Covid not knowing ‘what’s next’ causes so much anxiety, so sharing any information versus waiting for the complete knowledge will be my new choice.
    Many of my team have formed new norms and enjoy the aspect of working virtual, while juggling home. Others are ready to jump back in. Your article made me realize we could have office hours, surveys and discuss how are new normal will be together to get best results. I shared across other sectors, so will share feedback when I receive

    • I’m grateful for your insights, Laura. Thank you for engaging with the article and for sharing it across your organization (IBM Global Svcs). Wow! I’m honored, and I look forward to any other comments that may emerge.

  4. Thank you for sharing your leadership acumen in this new era. It never ceases to amaze me how something so simple (communication) is often the most underutilized tool in the domain of leadership. I truly believe that the majority of the issues in the standard work environment can be settled by simply employing consistent and effective communication within the workplace. People want to be heard and they also want to know what is going on. Most workers do not like witnessing secrets being kept at the workplace and they especially do not like it when new information, that applies to their work duties, is not shared with them when it is applicable. It really is not that hard of a concept to grasp, but it seems like an insurmountable obstacle for a lot of our current leaders in the workplace. Nevertheless, keep up the great work!

    • “I truly believe that the majority of the issues in the standard work environment can be settled by simply employing consistent and effective communication within the workplace. People want to be heard and they also want to know what is going on. Most workers do not like witnessing secrets being kept at the workplace and they especially do not like it when new information, that applies to their work duties, is not shared with them when it is applicable.” I absolutely agree, Joseph! I’m thrilled to see your perspectives as someone in a supervisory role at DHS/TSA. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the article.

  5. To rephrase your words:

    Transparent.
    Authentic.
    Open to new ideas from new voices.
    Approachable.
    Reproachable.
    These are keys to leadership at all times, but most certainly in times of uncertainty and change.

    Typical human nature desires answers, solutions, & certainty because they give us hope, confidence, and comfort.
    We desire to be known and heard, and thus to be valued.
    We desire connection and meaning, in whatever form that takes for each of us.

    A leader who is sensitive to these things and knows how to put them into action to motivate their people has the potential to lead others to accomplish great things in a healthy and sustainable way.

    Great blog post, Angela.

    • Thank you, Anthony. I appreciate your recap and insights above too!

  6. Great article, Angela. All of your ideas are timely support for the next wave. I especially appreciate the Office Hours suggestion to simulate the open door policy. One of my clients implemented this and found this was a great way to get to know her team on a personal level. You are spot on that it may take time for the team to catch on, but once they do, it can be a game changer. Virtual Morning Coffee Chats .. no business allowed … are also very impactful to help the team start the day with energy and connection.

    • Hi, Veronica. Thanks for reading and responding to the blog post/article. I’m glad you found value in it, and virtual morning coffee chats sound like a fantastic start to a productive and connected work day. Wish you and your teams the very best!

  7. This concise article is right on. It’s difficult for an organization to manage between a laissez-faire approach to a uncompromising style of management.

    The 5 approaches of managing subordinates, customers, and superiors that you mentioned: communicate, availability, feedback, expectations, and positive
    are best methods for preventive maintenance for a cohesive working relationship.

    I look forward to more articles from Angela.

    • Thank you, Jeff! Glad to see you like the article, and your comment is spot-on! “It’s difficult for an organization to manage between a laissez-faire approach to a uncompromising style of management.” Here’s to shaping “cohesive working relationships” and ensuring positive results for a successful transition as leaders practice agility.

  8. A very timely article that addresses significant concerns being raised as staff return to the workplace. Communicating, listening, and responding are key elements necessary for a successful transition. Coupling these aspects with new strategies, positive actions, and recognition of accomplishments will align resources and challenges to garner “high motivation and engagement” along with job satisfaction and performance in the changing workplace environment.

    Managers will be well served following the tactics presented in your article.

    Thanks Angela for the opportunity to read your article.

    • Bill, I’m honored you read the article! Your comments (especially after all your years as a Manager at DHHS) absolutely ring true, and your encouragement and comments are greatly appreciated.

  9. Angela, this blog is appropriate not only for these difficult times but always. Well done! This especially resonates with me: “Be positive and allow space for sharing concerns without retaliation”. When leaders are optimistic realists and engage in conversations with the team, magic happens!

    • I’m honored you read the article. Thank you! Your comments as an Executive In Residence at the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley shine light on the need for leaders to be “optimistic realists” who take time to engage in vital conversations. Keep waving your magic wand, and here’s to us all keeping the magic alive!

  10. Thank you for sharing your insights and tips for leaders as we transition to this new norm. It is essential leaders continue to engage all employees, those returning to the office, remaining remote and those taking a hybrid approach. The business world as we know it is in the space of change, and your tips to keep employees engaged and continuous check-ins will be pivotal in withstanding the change. Creating and fostering a culture that prioritizes employee psychological safety is beneficial to employees, leaders, consumers, and the organization as a whole.

    • Thank you, Kristan. It’s wonderful to see your comments as a PhD who works in the organizational behavior field. I look forward to us continuing to learn from one another as we explore and grow in this “space of change.” I greatly appreciate you!

  11. Thank you for sharing these insights, Angela. This is a roadmap for leaders to increase psychological safety within their teams, which is a proven way to build engagement and innovation. Creating a culture where all staff can share concerns and challenge the status quo without fear of retribution (your Tip 5) will be essential as we move out of our pandemic work-from-home environment – I believe that those organizations that fail to do this will be at a disadvantage.
    Looking forward to your next article!

    • Thank you, Bob. I appreciate your time and comments. It’s been great to work with like-minded people such as yourself, and I wish all of World Bank Group a smooth transition. With leaders like you, the chance of success soars.

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