Like everyone else, you probably rang in the new year full of new hope. Especially in the United States, where we entered the first quarter of 2020 on an economic high. Unemployment continued to run at an all-time low, and nearly every industry experienced high capital gains.
Of course, then came a global pandemic that thrust the economy into a quick spiral, forcing us into a long-predicted recession. As you know, many industries floundered during the first half of the year. Countless companies closed their doors forever, unable to survive the new and unprecedented challenges of a changing world.
However, companies that remained nimble were able to quickly adapt and recover due to the top talent they hired who possess the right skills. Following in suit, many companies are adapting their hiring processes to recover as quickly as possible. And there are notable trends across the most successful employees during challenging times.
A 2020 Research Report by SurveyMonkey reveals curious and agile employees thrive. They’re quite simply more able to look for quick solutions and adapt to uncertain situations. Furthermore, Survey Monkey found successful companies are releasing updates or improvements to their products/services (46%), pivoting on strategy (44%), and gathering feedback (44%).
In fact, June 2020 research from the PwC US CFO Pulse Survey revealed thriving companies plan to change their products and services (65%) and make remote work a permanent option (54%). When asked what about the current situation would make their company better in the long run, respondents stated work flexibility (73%) and better resiliency and agility (72%).
Effective and resilient teams possess agility from the folks on the ground up to leadership. Leaders’ emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a major role in how effectively teams adapt to the rapid evolution of hiring processes and workflows. Especially during a time of crisis, employees need a strong leader who relates and rides the waves at the helm but always at their side. When hiring for leadership skills, recognizing high EQ in talent ensures your team can rise above adversity.
With 2020’s landscape continuing to change and the unexpected becoming the norm, flexibility must be demonstrated across industries. In order for companies to survive and employees to thrive amidst the global pandemic and economic recession, hiring for agility, curiosity and emotional intelligence is vital.
For the purpose of their research, Survey Monkey defined agility as “To act with enough speed and commitment to uncertainty and adapt to volatility.” Agility in the workforce translates to a team of employees ready to pivot to changing needs. Whether it is market demand, consumer feedback, or, in the case of 2020, a global pandemic, barriers don’t stand a chance against agile teams.
Despite more than 33 million people filing for unemployment in the last 6 months, the majority of Americans were still working at the height of COVID-19. As of May 2020, Economic Policy Institute reported essential industries retained more than 55 million workers. And in September 2020, Statista revealed over 140 million US citizens reported being actively employed.
This means, despite the economic upset, the majority of essential and non-essential workers maintained employment and work responsibilities. And even better news, Americans remain optimistic! According to a May 2020 Logica report, 67% of respondents are confident their jobs will exist in 6 months.
What does an organization of agile employees look like during a pandemic? Besides hard-working, motivated, and ready to carry out their duties, agile companies respond creatively to stay relevant and accessible to their consumer market.
For example, during the pandemic, AMC’s revenue plunged 98.7% due to lockdown. When reopening, the company charged only 15 cents for admission and played classic movies like Grease and Ghostbusters to incentivize people to come back to the theaters.
PepsiCo also responded to their falling sales in an innovative manner. Seeing a decrease in grocery store profits, the team created two new outlets for direct sales, Snacks.com and PantryShop.com, reaching consumers directly instead.
With the new restrictions on social distancing and closed dining rooms, Chipotle bravely accelerated their “chipotlanes” initiative that increased drive-thru locations. Each of these teams seized the opportunity to try new solutions and improve on current practices.
When building your team, you want employees who are able to problem solve on the fly and be ready to change direction. During interviews, you need to look for the following in candidates:
Continuous self-improvement: What skills have they learned? Where do they specialize? How have their skills changed over time?
Continuous self-awareness: How often/much do they contribute to problem-solving? What self-reflection do they do?
Continuous reinvention: What does their work history look like? What does their career path include? What goals do they have, personally and professionally?
Get to the conversations you need to have about agility by asking the right questions of your candidates. These questions might include:
- What cross-functional responsibilities would you like to take up?
- How do you see yourself accomplishing that goal?
- What are your metrics for personal growth?
- How did you prepare for this interview/role?
- What do you wish you did differently?
- What solutions do you propose for how information was made available to you?
- How would you apply your ______ experience to _______ situation?
- What would be your first response if that didn’t work?
Look for evidence of creativity, clarity, holistic-thinking, decisiveness, humility, and emotional response. These types of skills will allow new hires to pivot and adapt.
For the purpose of their research, Survey Monkey defined curiosity as “To uncover and pressure test the solutions that can help them find success.”
Curious teams tend to make fewer decision-making errors by removing the element of confirmation bias, as curious people tend to consider all perspectives before making a decision. They work to understand the domino effects and often include others in the decision-making process.
This team-based approach leads to less team conflict, as communication and collaboration are heightened. As a result, stress and defensive behaviors decrease, and greater trust is built. With more trust and respect, there’s less drama and more focus on finding new solutions.
A scaled US study by the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, released in 2017, revealed that compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, 106% more energy at work, and 76% more engagement. Additionally, research reported in Harvard Business Review found the three elements of trust are positive relationships, good judgment, and consistency. And with that perfect recipe for success, innovation soars.
Front-runner of demonstrating curiosity during the pandemic, Amazon didn’t see their sales drop at all. In fact, as more Americans hunkered down in their homes for safety, Amazon saw an increase in demand for online goods. They had a profitable problem to solve (but a problem none-the-less): keeping up with demand.
In response, Amazon looked to buy up vacant JC Penney and Sears stores in order to create more distribution space to get shipments out faster and more efficiently. An overall great investment, this move also sets Amazon up to troubleshoot supply/demand issues during a crisis, ensuring more people have fast, contactless access to home goods, groceries, and emergency/medical supplies in the future.
In order to excel in any circumstance, you need to build a team that asks questions rather than just accepts outcomes — good or bad. You want employees to constantly look for ways to learn more and do more. During your interview, look for evidence of curiosity by observing whether your candidate is:
- Fully present in the interview
- Listening without judgment
- Asking questions
- Brave enough to say, “I don’t know”
Prepare the right questions to reveal more of their curious side. Consider asking candidates:
- What is your response to different perspectives?
- Are you self-taught in any skills?
- Why were you interested in learning that skill?
- Explain your process for learning it.
- What can you bring to this role based on that experience?
- Tell me about a time you challenged the status quo.
- What are you most passionate about?
Look for evidence that they want to fully understand where your questions stem from and they put thought into their responses. You want to bring on people who are open to both being challenged and challenging ideas. These types of skills exist in individuals who are passionate about innovation and improvement.
In order to recognize and encourage agility and curiosity in talent, team leaders need to exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence — the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Especially during a time of crisis, employees need strong leaders who relate and are able to take the helm but also collaborate, problem-solve, and innovate in the trenches. Most importantly, effective leaders provide safety and security for agility and curiosity to thrive.
During the pandemic, a number of organizations rose to the challenge of supporting their employees and communities, demonstrating high emotional intelligence.
Verizon, for example, did not lay off any of its 135,000 employees even months into the shutdown. Instead, they offered extra compensation for full-time employees in the field. They launched a COVID-19-specific leave-of-absence policy that provided 100% pay for up to eight weeks and reduced pay for up to 16 weeks. Their empathy also extended to customers, as they held back on cutting services for those struggling to pay because of the pandemic.
In an interview for Forbes, CEO Hans Erik Vestberg, said, “When it comes to our work in the society, helping communities, that’s also extremely important right now. Large corporations need to take the responsibility.”
Similarly, Sam’s Club’s President and CEO, Kathryn McLay, reflected on the nation’s need for more empathy and responsiveness: “Our associates’ efforts have been exactly what the country needed during this historic and uncertain time. They’ve made a real difference.”
True to its message, Walmart hired 200,000 workers, many of them coming from hard-hit industries such as restaurants and hospitalities. Additionally, they committed almost $1 billion for special cash bonuses for US hourly associates and also established a COVID-19 sick-leave policy with up to weeks of full pay.
When hiring new talent, it’s critical you recognize leaders who can relate to the needs of the team and the customer-base, control their own emotions during any situation, and positively influence the reactions of others.
During your next interview, take note of evidence of high emotional intelligence:
- They know their own strengths and weaknesses
- They are a good judge of character
- They let go of mistakes
- They are difficult to offend
- They don’t seek perfection
- They are able to disconnect
Ask the right questions to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their high EQ.
How do you celebrate success?
- Question for hiring pro: do they talk about their own success or that of others?
How do you respond when challenged?
- Question for hiring pro: do they talk about how it makes them feel or how they actually respond to others?
How do you neutralize a difficult situation?
- Question for hiring pro: do they talk about what they physically do or do they talk about how they address emotions?
How do you handle bad news?
- Question for hiring pro: do they talk about delivering bad news or receiving it?
You’re looking for evidence this person can step into a leadership role and handle any situation, not by controlling what’s happening but rather by being present and creating a calm environment for the thinkers and the doers to solve problems.