Every week brings more reminders of how unique and challenging a time we are living in. How and when will things stabilize? It’s becoming harder to know which indicators to trust. Momentum around the vaccines has been met with increasing concern over Delta and now Omicron. Lately, it’s a tough call even among some very smart people about when the pandemic itself will be over.
The pandemic has also helped fuel two issues that will continue to have some level of impact on your business. One, the troubled global supply chain, is unlikely to be resolved any time in the near future. The second speaks to supply challenges of a different order.
On the heels of pandemic-induced workplace disruption comes the so-called “Great Resignation,” aka the “big quit,” and along with it, a fierce war for talent. That alone makes the pre-pandemic challenges around Baby Boomer retirement look like a walk in the park. Workers across generations are at risk of leaving now, too.
The pandemic didn’t just change the environment and logistics of how people work. It was also the catalyst for a major transformation in how many people view their lives and the world at large. Flashes of insight that Texas A&M professor Anthony Klotz dubbed “pandemic epiphanies” are leading people to search for a deeper purpose in their work and more meaning in how they spend their time. As the Great Resignation shows, a lot of people are having to leave their job to find it.
Every year around this time, leaders take stock and look ahead at what’s on the horizon. With all of these realities in mind, here are some strategies to put you in a position of strength and set your team up for success in 2022 and beyond.
1. Focus on purpose. I find that most people don’t have a clear sense of what they’re doing and where they need to go in their jobs, even in the best of circumstances. Now it’s even harder for people to stay connected. As a leader, it’s your job to bring purpose back into focus and help people see the higher reason for what they’re doing.
A simple goal achievement system is a great place to start. By clarifying goals and building people’s beliefs that they can achieve those goals, you’ll help them see how their inner purpose aligns with the broader mission — and how what they do makes a real impact. In my experience, it’s one of the best ways to keep talented people and keep them highly engaged in their work.
2. Lead with a coaching mindset. We’re asking people to do more, to stretch, to take on new challenges. As a result, we need them to push themselves, but we also need them to believe they can do it or else they’ll quickly feel defeated and burn out. You play a key role in helping them build that self-belief.
Adopt a mindset of seeing more in your people than they see in themselves. Encourage their commitment by recognizing their strengths and focusing on the rewards they’ll get, not just the obstacles they’ll face along the way. And most of all, do more listening than talking. Most people know deep down what they need to do to achieve their goals. Ask your employees, and then help them hold themselves accountable to that plan.
3. Build a truly customer-focused culture. In a world where customers have more options than ever — and more avenues for venting their frustrations publicly — most leaders would likely agree that customer-centricity is a key pillar of any thriving business. Yet so many companies still fall short in this area. Part of the reason is that culture can be difficult to pin down into tangible actions.
In companies that have customer-centric cultures, I find there’s always a clear understanding of how their unique value proposition makes a difference. These organizations know their place and, because of it, are admired by both their customers and employees. This really ties back to that focus on purpose. Define your culture in terms of how the mission creates value for your customers, then you can begin to link it more directly to a customer-centric strategy. From there, it’s a matter of providing employees with the coaching and development to understand and align their own purpose and personal brand with the organization’s brand.
4. Excel at virtual. You can’t talk about culture without some discussion of virtual. Even if your workforce is shifting to hybrid or returning en masse to the office, virtual is here to stay in many significant areas, from selling and working with customers to coaching, team-building, training and leadership.
With remote work diminishing the opportunity for casual, face-to-face interactions, studies show trust in the workplace has eroded. But it’s not just that people have lost faith in their colleagues and leaders. Work itself has changed, and many employees are now grappling with a crisis of confidence in their own abilities to adapt. These internal questions can quickly turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. To help everyone excel at virtual, make sure your teams have the tools, preparation strategies, skills and mindset to shine in a virtual world.
5. Rethink retention and hiring. Employees know there are lots of job opportunities out there, and they may be just as likely to leave for a more flexible environment, a stronger sense of purpose or more challenging work as they would for higher compensation. Do you know what your team members want, both personally and professionally? Are you providing the challenge, sense of purpose and coaching that will lead them to stay?
Equally important is finding out what job candidates really want and highlighting how you can fill those needs. But beware: if you oversell the job or don’t understand their situation, they might quickly leave.
Most of these aren’t new. They’re fundamental principles that have stood the test of time. How well have you mastered them? Now’s the time to take a hard look at your organization and your skills.
By Mike Esterday