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Leading Your Team Post COVID: From Surviving to Thriving
Ron Pizzo

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” - General George Patton, Commander US Third Army

Ron Pizzo
These are anxious and uncertain times for the economy and the workforce. A virus, invisible to the eye, is changing the landscape of work. Not only has the impact been immediate, but it is likely to be permanent.

Workplaces are undergoing systemic change with the rise of videoconferencing and work from home - viable options for getting business done. Organizations are concerned about whether they will recover after the economy is taken off life support. These changes are happening, and they are beyond our reach to stop.

How has your organization been planning to deal with this COVID crisis? Has the primary focus been on such things like preparing budgets and projections to get control over the turmoil? Have the needs of your people and teams been considered?

There are three insights to consider in your post-COVID planning:

To be productive people need to have a sense of control

In his book, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, Charles Duhig was concerned about the science of productivity. He looked at the questions of how to motivate people and the teams at work. He found a link between control, motivation and productivity. He wrote (at page 19):

“The need for control is a biological imperative,” a group of Columbia University psychologists wrote in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences in 2010. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster.

Allowing your teams and people to make decisions is important for motivating them at work. This is especially the case as we try to recover from COVID a crisis that has taken away so much control.

Tell-sell does not motivate

There is no doubt that leaders are committed to the recovery cause and are working hard to create what they believe is the best roadmap for a productive and safe return to work. As people return to work, it is human nature to want to layout the return plan and explain why the plan is the best way forward. It is also human nature to want to sell and convince people, who don’t get it or who disagree, with why the plan offers the best option for success.

In his book, Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything (Little, Brown and Company, 2011) wrote (at p. 19):

Three decades of scientific evidence clearly demonstrate that tell-and-sell methods not only fail to motivate; they also lower motivational levels. Using the wrong type of encouragement can actually make a person want to do something less.

The tell-and-sell approach is not an effective way to sell a plan.

Understanding shared purpose – a critical key to for getting buy-in

To make a group a group function at its peak, the group has to understand its shared purpose. Dr. Atkins, et al. in their book, Prosocial: Using Evolutionary Science to Build Productive, Equitable and Collaborative Teams (Context Press, 2019) writes (at p. 36):

A group functions best when its members clearly understand its purpose and perceive that purpose as worthwhile. A group also functions best when it offers a strong shared identity that helps group members… guide and coordinate behaviour through shared norms or values.

When people understand and buy into the why, that’s when things start to happen. It has to be the group’s why, self-authored by the group. When group members get what is important about the work they do and why its importance within the organization, they are empowered and motivated to act in service of their shared purpose.

The prescription for your post-COVID plan

When your organization comes back to productive life, make sure your people have input in creating the team's shared purpose. Involve them in the process of identifying what is important about what they do. Set and agree to clear expectations with input and discussion from your team. Give your people some control and decision-making authority. Even something as simple as letting them choose work schedules and tasks can give restore a sense of control. Try on General Patton’s approach: tell your team what you want them to do and give them the chance to figure out how to get it done.

Ron Pizzo is a lawyer, certified coach and facilitator. He works with Pink Larkin in Halifax as a labour lawyer and as a workplace restoration facilitator. He can be reached via email at

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AB: Project Maps Newcomers to Opportunities in Digital Economy

SK: Day of Mourning Honours Workers Who Lost Lives

MB: Online Tool Matches Employers and Students for Jobs

ON: Prov. Gov’t Helps People Impacted by COVID-19 Get Back to Work

ON: Province Protecting Child Care For Parents When They Return to Work

ON: Province Supports Job Creators as People Start Returning to Work

NB: No New Cases of COVID-19; Top-up Funding for Front-line Workers

NF: Prov. Gov’t. Announces Support for Businesses Impacted by COVID-19

Canadian Employees Share Views on Current and Post-Pandemic Workplace

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