The labor market is nuts. Employee satisfaction, recruiting and performance probably have you staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night. Employee attrition has the ability to completely upend your planned expenditures or production - or both - for this year and maybe next. What do you do?
The Global pandemic and remote work culture has invaded nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives, prompting us all to reexamine what is truly important to us. However, even before that, Gallup research told us that “70% of the variation between great workplace engagement and lousy workplace engagement can be explained just by the quality of the manager or team leader,” and “only 15% of employees are engaged at work…[meaning] that 85% of employees either aren't engaged, or worse, they are actively disengaged.”
COVID-19 has changed the entire landscape, introducing accelerators and decelerators that demand change.
So let’s take a quick inventory. How has the added uncertainty, complication and stress impacted you as a leader? How has it impacted your company? What does it take to recruit, hire, train, retain and grow productive employees in this environment? What is it that employees want that their leaders are failing to give them?
Atlassian’s Kim Seeling Smith’s 5,000 exit interviews told us that employees today demand to work for people and companies that 1) have aligned values; 2) share trust and respect; 3) they like; 4) appreciate them; 5) give them a voice; 6) are clear about what success looks like and how it’s measured; 7) provide opportunity to learn, grow and develop; 8) inspire them to go the extra mile; and 9) allow them to spend most of their day doing what they love.
Oh. Is that all?
No matter your position or industry, you’ve likely experienced difficulties managing the stress of massive change and uncertainty. It’s during the most trying times that we turn to the leaders who instill confidence and manage the level of urgency on the team to facilitate focused decision-making and execution for reassurance and direction. So where do leaders learn how to be like that? And what if everyone is looking to you to be that leader? The answers come from somewhat surprising places and the methods can be counterintuitive to the paradigms we inherited from our parents’ generation. But they work. And they are accessible to all of us.
The competitive advantage in a fierce labor market is a fully engaged and highly productive employee base who wants their network to come work with them. Some companies are spending disproportionate amounts of their available cash and lines of credit in order to fight turnover and provide incentives to motivate their workers, but are failing to invest in leadership development that will prepare them for the actual challenges of today and tomorrow. This idea is backed by big research projects, like Google’s Project Aristotle, that showed the keys to productive teams and organizations are 1) psychological safety; 2) dependability; 3) structure and clarity; 4) meaning and 5) impact.
There’s no shortage of stirring concepts that make sense generally, but in order to be successful, they need to be applied at the organization, team and individual levels in ways that are specifically appropriate for them. While some leaders have a natural gift for this kind of leadership, companies need consistency if they’re to have sustainable success or scalable growth. So how do you ensure that all of your leaders are equipped to show up this way? How do you actually do this - at scale - across a big organization? It starts at the top but also must translate to your front-line management in order for it to work.
Remember the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? This prevention recommendation may sound simple, but it isn’t easy, and it’s the difference between the winners and the losers in today’s market. Here it is: Make investments in the kind of leadership development that turns managers into coaches, at all levels of the organization.
Why? Great coaches are emotionally intelligent and self aware. They are more focused and less reactive, giving them a better edge in competition because they create a thriving environment where everyone on the team feels included and safe enough to speak up. And they don’t need to be micromanagers because they know how to communicate clear expectations. But where do they actually learn how to understand their own inner landscape enough to intuitively listen to their own instincts as well as the people around them? Leaders who get this right are better positioned to identify and understand underlying patterns of behavior that are at the root of the results they’re seeing in their business unit. Where do leaders learn how to ask the kinds of questions that allow them to effectively articulate problems and then lead a collaborative effort to create solutions?
Great coaches have the awareness to notice or even maneuver the distinction between fear and excitement. They know how to approach a team with compassion and wisdom, have the difficult conversations, design smart compensation plans, manage performance-related issues, set up processes that leverage or free up talent and resources for better work, and build or acquire systems and tools that make work more effective.
An extensive inquiry done by Gallup concluded that 1) nothing works in the absence of great managers; 2) millennials are the largest generation in the workforce and for them, purpose will trump paycheck; 3) employees want career development and self improvement - not pingpong tables and free lunches; 4) maximizing potential begins with understanding strengths - not fixing weaknesses; 5) culture changes when bosses become coaches.
Important work in the field of mental performance and mindfulness is producing remarkable, repeatable results in leaders. Yes, you can even read about it in HBR, but it isn’t complicated. When managers are equipped with foundational mindfulness methods and basic coaching tools, and they are taught how to actually use them in their environment to become great coaches to their teams, they build teams that thrive in highly competitive markets. Programs like Turn Your Leaders into Coaches are designed to equip leaders to do just that and are customized to complement individual corporate cultures.
It may seem counterintuitive, but self-compassion and the grounded wisdom that emerge from mindfulness disciplines and mental fitness routines actually make practitioners much more resilient, focused and effective in their work and relationships. A workforce that is resilient, focused and effective in their work and relationships tends to love what they do because they can’t help but build camaraderie, connectedness and enjoyable wins.
Are your current leaders fully equipped to coach the people within your organization? How do you know? Here’s an interesting test for you to try. List 3-5 of your leaders. One by one, evaluate: Is this leader safe enough and confident enough in their role to hire people that are stronger and more qualified than them? On a scale from 1-10, how much do they feel completely at ease to identify and actively groom a successor for themselves that is different from them? If they are, for example, a 7, ask yourself what would make them an 8? If they are 9.5 ask yourself, what is it that makes them better than a 9? Do they know how to do this? Do they have the tools to do this? Do they want to do this?
More than ever, it is imperative for leaders to strike the balance between compassion, wisdom and effectiveness that will allow them to “do hard things in a human way” as Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Nick Hobson so expertly explain in their HBR article, Compassionate Leadership is Necessary, but Not Sufficient.
The local, national and global economies have all changed dramatically in the last two years, and while there is so much that we don’t know, there’s a lot that we do know, and a lot that is fundamentally the same. We can use the fundamentals of what we know to identify opportunities. Some companies have done the work to develop adept leaders throughout every level of their organization and will leverage that position to catapult ahead of the competition. Some leaders will be out of position but will work like hell to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this market. Some are just going to get left behind for the next five years because they read it wrong. The knowledge and tools are available and there’s still time. Turn yourself and your leaders into coaches. You and your company will never be the same and the people who work with, for and around you will thank you.