Hands-off management did not motivate people then and doesn’t motivate now. In our diverse, multi-generational, COVID-19 world, we must manage and lead better than anyone ever managed us. Four approaches work today.

Manage with empathy: Our world is upside down, and we do not know when it will right itself. Being able to understand and share the feelings of another person is more important than ever before. Each person on your team needs you to look them in the eye and ask, “How are you doing?” Don’t settle for a response of “fine.” Not one of your team members is fine right now. When you listen, you show you care. Only when they feel cared for will they be able to get back to caring for their responsibilities.

Build relationships at work: In the absence of relationships, interactions become mere transactions. There are three crucial relationships to nurture: between a leader and team member, among your team members, and between departments that work closely together. As a leader, make sure that not every conversation is a project update. Ask about families, hobbies, vacation plans, or the weekend. Be ready to share the same information briefly. When was the last time you hosted your team for lunch or drinks after work? Many restaurants provide a fun, socially distanced environment. Personally invite each one. Build relationships both within your team, your department, and the department they work with most closely by organizing an outdoor retreat, softball game, corn hole tournament, or other fun activities. Without relationships, individuals, as well as departments, become siloed.

Overcommunicate: The more change your organization and team members are experiencing, the more frequently you need to communicate. Your team members need at least weekly—if not twice weekly or even daily—meetings with you. They need your guidance, coaching, support, and affirmation. They need to hear from you about their role in the future of the department and organization.

Talk about the changes and the constants of your work world: Repeatedly remind your team about what will never change. Is that your mission? What else? What needs to change? Directly address their concerns. Engage your team in developing solutions for required changes and contingency planning if “X” or “Y” changes by surprise. Build your team’s adaptation skills by conducting practice runs of the different plans. Build their engagement by involving them in needed changes.

Uncertainty requires excellent management and leadership skills. Management skills are needed to get work done today; leadership skills are used to move the organization beyond today’s structure and strategy to the new future state.

Empathy is your best management tool today. Use it liberally. Relationships are the key to building trust and flexibility. Overcommunication—repetition of key messages—is what your team needs to stay focused on. Last, ask your team, “What needs to change—and how can we implement that change?” By involving them in developing and practicing contingency plans, you build your team’s resilience and adaptability for whatever comes.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, works with Progression Partners, LLC, a national leadership development and management consulting firm, as an Organization Development Advisor for change and talent management strategies.

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