Covid-19 has caused major disruptions in the workforce all over the world which required leaders to quickly adapt their leadership styles to keep the status quo and my department’s leadership team deployed Situational Leadership competencies which enabled for the most productive while keeping a balance on the worker’s needs during the transition from working in the office to working at home. The evidence will be discussed later on but the facts of the situation is our leadership team had only a few weeks to transition 100+ employees to their homes. These associates are inbound call takers at a major bank and the vast majority of them do not have laptops to work from home. It is also key to note this business cannot go radio silent or shut off the phones due to the supporting the constant needs of our small business clients who were also going through this extreme situation and needing our services to stay afloat. The 2 options on the table, keeping folks in the office or sending them home, have many pros and cons. For instance, keeping everyone in the office would allow for business continuity but at the same time, it put everyone at risk for contracting COvid-19. The theory of Situational Leadership was on display during this time and is the best suited theory for this situation due to the fact that there were many different competence levels at play coupled with varying commitment to the goal levels. Would sending 100+ people home result is lower production due to the lack of commitment? Below we will discuss the transitions between the Situational Leadership II model. Specifically, from supporting to delegating, delegating to coaching, and then coaching to directing.
In our normal business as usual environment, our Unit Leader acts in alignment with supporting leadership. For instance, this Unit Leader is responsible for 100+ associates at any given time yet they have an ability to connect and support each and everyone of them. It is fair to say, this individual has the ability to tell you one interesting fact about everyone in the department. Another fact is this leader is consistently bringing associates into their office to go over resumes, talk career options after this current role, and dissecting problems they are facing. I myself have had my resume reviewed three times by this leader. Regarding the competency levels of the department, most of the time, this leader is dealing with moderate to high competence among her followers due to this position not hiring people right off the street. This is a role where you have to earn your place among your peers by working at the bank for a few years before applying for an interview. The job itself is taking inbound calls and attempting to approve applications. Once you get through training and some on the job experience, most of the remaining questions these individuals would have are one-offs. It is fair to say the job is repetitive and mechanistic. There is still varying commitment among followers in the role due to different levels of motivation among everyone present. For instance, there are some individuals that have been in this role for 15+ years and some others, just a few months. There is a majority of associates that are just looking ahead and doing what they need to in this current role to get to that next level. Once rumors started spreading that us associates might be sent to work from home, things changed in the requirements for the leadership’s style and an alternative style was needed: delegating. You could see an acute shift in the Unit Leader’s style. No longer were they walking the floor talking to everyone but instead they became hunkered in their office, on calls with their leadership on what must be done next. As you can imagine, there was a lot of uncertainty during this time. Considering all these factors, our Unit Leader had to begin delegating the transition plan to their leadership team in order for them to keep up with everything that is happening while making sure production remained high. The alternatives to delegating under the Situational Leadership II model are coaching and directing. Coaching would not have been a good option because the needs of the associates came second to continuing to achieve our department’s goals while working through the hourly changes. Directing would not be suitable also due to the fact that direction to perform goals could not be given from behind a closed door. Thus, the unit leader had to ensure their leadership team could carry out these objectives using a delegating approach. Considering things were changing rapidly and the fact that there was now direction that we will be working from home (something none of the associates have done and not able to do in the current environment without laptops), there needed to be another transition in leadership styles.
How are we going to train 100+ associates while maintain the open phone lines to work from home? This was the question our Unit Leader had to answer. First, they had to come up with a plan for transition 100+ associates’ home and then they had to train these associates on how to perform the job from their homes. To accomplish this, our Unit Leader transitioned to a coaching style leadership. For example, this leader held training sessions with everyone on the floor on how to use new systems to take calls from home. A decision was also made for everyone to bring their own monitors from work to their homes. Coaching is the best option in this situation because there was high guidance from our Unit Leader as well as supportive behaviors since they made sure everyone was comfortable with the new systems before releasing everyone home. Everyone was comfortable working from their desktop at work but no one had ever done that before at home. Therefore, there is moderate competence from the associates since they have used this computer before in the office but just not from home on the new systems. There are alternatives that could have been used in this situation yet are they the best choice? For instance, this Unit Leader could have used a supportive leadership style but that is better suited for moderate to high competence in the task at hand which is not the case. They could have also used delegating leadership style as before but in this instance, the associates on the floor needed more supportive behaviors which the delegating style lacks. Once the transition home was successful, a new factor was added that needed to be addressed: accomplishing goals in a new environment.
Once everyone transitioned home, we learned that we would be doing a 100% different job. We were to begin helping with the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses to retain their payroll as part of the new Covid-19 stimulus package. For everyone in the department, this was new and everything about it was different from what we were doing before. There were no credit files to look at nor inbound calls to take and definitely not any 1:1 time with our leader. It became an environment of we need to hit our goals as efficiently and accurate as possible. This was due to all the banks in America where small business owners do their banking were competing for a limited number of funds. It was a first come, first serve basis and it was of our leadership’s mindset to obtain as much funds as we could for our customers in need. Considering all of the factors going on in this portion of the transition, it is clear that directing leadership is the best option here. This is because people needed a directive in order to know what to do next. We needed to know how to do the role but also what the goal was – helping our clients obtain funds before the pot runs dry. There was clearly low competence among everyone in the department since none of us have done this job before but we were highly commitment to achieving this new goal. This could be partly due to the new environment of home and it could also be attributed to the many opening speeches we received from our leader, letting us know how big of an impact our work will have with our clients. A more supporting leadership style may have worked here but that style is better suited when the followers have a moderate to high level of competence in their tasks. Delegating would also not be a good option here because it is better reserved for situations where there is the highest levels of competence and commitment. In this state, none of us are competent therefore we required more direction and task identification. After reviewing the actions of our Unit Leader during this time of crisis and transition, it is fair to say they implored the necessary behaviors and leadership style for the given situation with the current circumstances.
There is a common link between this situation. Our Unit Leader adapted their behaviors to suit the current situation even as it changed hourly. Their normal business as usual style is supportive considering that the followers have moderate competence in their roles with variable commitment. When the Unit Leader walks the floor talking to everyone around them, they build up follower support by imploring behaviors to earn their trust. When things began to hit the fan, delegating was the style chosen to lead. The managers in the department had to step up and be the voice of the Unit Leader since they were stuck in their office behind closed doors. To become a manager requires a certain level of competence that is not obtained by the masses on the floor. When we transitioned home to the new role, a more coaching leadership style was needed to get everyone up to speed. Directing was required next due to everyone having low competence in the new subject matter but high commitment from the consistent vocal goal setting sessions. Overall, our Unit Leader used different Situational Leadership style effectively to lead 100+ associates through a potentially rocky transition yet their use of imploring different behaviors allowed for this transition to be as smooth as possible and our bank securing the most funds for our clients.