Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker).
In an era of the Great Resignation, this has never been more true. Workplace culture is what creates the “sticky” factor, determining whether employees stay or go. (And by the way, employees staying and being disengaged is hugely problematic in its own way).
But for leaders right now it can be really hard to “cut through the noise” and understand where to focus their efforts and resources.
Here is my list of the top 4 things leaders should be focussed on in 2022:
Invest in leadership development for anyone who is a “boss”. Focus on EQ skills.
EQ is the new “strategic thinking” or “results orientation” or (insert other must-have skill attributed to leaders and high potential professionals). Emotional intelligence is a meta-skill – a master skill that magnifies and activates other skills and improves performance significantly. Conversely, a lack of EQ can cause all sorts of issues including disengagement, lack creativity, innovation and people holding back discretionary effort.
We cannot presume that because people are (1) nice (2) good at their job, or (3) have achieved a certain level of educational achievement, that they will be good at something as complex as influencing other humans. Yet organizations make this presumption all the time. And its costing them – we know that a direct manager accounts for up to 70% of variance in employee engagement and 64% of people are disengaged or actively disengaged (statistics from Gallup).
Organizations need to equip all “bosses” with the skills and supports to lead others, especially in the complexity of our times. This should not be a “one and done” – this should be an ongoing effort to create a culture with leaders at all levels equipped to unlock the talent, discretionary effort, creativity and innovation of our people.
Build psychological safety
Psychological safety means that fear is not present in the workplace and people feel safe to take interpersonal risks – like being their fully expressed selves, expressing their opinions, contributing in meetings and challenging matters of importance. Its needed more than ever:
For business reasons – because its the #1 driver of team effectiveness, which drives creativity, innovation, productivity and profitability. And for ethical reasons – because its a prerequisite for true inclusion and belonging – so if organizations are truly committed to their DEIB efforts, they need to understand and cultivate safety.
But here is the thing - statistics indicate that 70% of leaders will over-estimate the degree to which safety is present.
As a consultant and coach, I see a lack of psychological safety come up over and over in my work with teams – and its wasting time, costing money and leading to employee disengagement.
Do not presume that safety is present. Its something that needs to be actively and intentionally cultivated. You can start building it by having brave conversations and building the language and behaviors into your company’s culture.
Support and resource your Human Resources / People & Culture teams
We know that the world of work is changing, and organizations must keep up in order to retain talent. Your HR teams are the bridge between the business and employees - they have critical insight and ideas as to what changes need to happen to improve company culture. But they have had *a time* with COVID and the Great Resignation. There have been incredible demands, pressure, and additional workload put on HR departments over the last 20+ months and much of it is emotionally-taxing work. Many have absorbed significant additional pandemic-related work without additional resources.
Organizations need to treat their HR team like the top talent that they are right now (well, always). Please ask your HR teams not only how they are managing, but also what resources and support they need to do their best work for your employees and your business through this unprecedented time.
Get under the hood of what is not working in your organization. Then take steps to change it.
Let’s be honest – much of the time organizations know where things are “broken”. And we get caught up in the day to day or the issues feel so big that we avoid confronting them. Maybe its a lack of flexibility in when and where people work. A lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. A toxic leader that is causing all sorts of issues. A lack of structure and clarity around career paths. A culture of burnout. An outdated rewards system. Employees not having the right tools or technology to effectively manage their work. More often than not, the leaders I speak to know what the issues are in their organization.
Now, I am not suggesting that any of these issues are easy to fix or that they can be fixed immediately. But my fear is that many organizations ignore these deeper issues or throw resources at superficial programming and benefits hoping that will fix the problem. That is a temporary fix at best. And in the lack of action, a big message is sent to employees.
My invitation to leaders is to be brave in confronting the issues that they know exist, to reflect not only on the expense to fix the problem, but also the cost of status quo now and in the future.
Then, prioritize the issues that can have the biggest impact and start the courageous work of addressing them, one by one.
I’ll conclude with a quote of Einstein’s that applies: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions. Its the Great Resignation - now is the time for a different way of thinking.