By Caroline Esterson, co-founder of Genius Learning, which supports ethical and caring teams and brands globally to bring out the best in every employee from entry level through to managers, directors and CEOs.
No-one could have predicted the seismic changes that have hit organisations over the past two years.
These changes have not only challenged strategic goals, they have also remodelled the way people relate to work. Change is afoot and great leaders need to recognise this.
To help you prepare for 2022 here are five key leadership predictions for leaders to get ahead of the game as you enter the New Year.
1. Caring is the new value-added commodity:
From genuinely asking "how are you feeling?" or "how can I help?" to being fully present and connected. Those leaders that can manage beyond the numbers and fully engage their teams will be the ones who thrive in 2022.
According to new survey data from GLINT, employees are placing care as a top employee engagement driver. Those who feel cared for are 3.2 times happier at work and 3.7 times more likely to recommend working for their company. These are significant rises on data pre-pandemic.
People who are cared for are less stressed and more resilient which are critical skills for navigating future uncertainty. People want to be treated as individuals and not just workers. A new partnership approach to the employer/employee relationship is needed to drive sustainable high performance.
As we move through this pandemic, we predict the next pandemic will be mental health and that will matter in the workplace. After lockdowns and isolation, loneliness and lack of contact things started to open and we were allowed to go out and be with people in person, even go back into the office. For some that brought joy, for others this brought unexpected fear. Many of us had to get used to 'peopling' again. This rollercoaster is continuing and we may be flip flopping between these two scenarios throughout 2022. Organisations need to support leaders to connect and care for their teams to ensure performance isn’t damaged irreversibly.
2. Flexibility is king:
Hybrid working, increased talent mobility, and remote working, mean that leaders need to be constantly flexing to maximising team contribution as people's needs, drive and motivations change. This flexibility will help organisations move beyond just surviving to thrive. Without it, success is being left to chance.
Zoom, Teams and other collaboration apps opened the big wide virtual world, even to people and organisations who had resisted operating virtually, and in doing so it connected people to another world - a big wide world of possibilities!
We now have more FLEXIBILITY in how we live, work and connect. And with more flexibility comes more choice.
As we often remind participants on our programmes, "Those with the greatest FLEXIBILITY have the greatest CHOICES."
Coined 'The Great Resignation', people have been armed with a deeper sense of the important things in their lives, a clearer vision of what they really want, greater flexibility in how they can make things happen and strengthened resolve to 'do things whilst they still can'.
Many people have chosen to take a leap of faith and quit their jobs. Some have moved organisations, others have chosen different roles entirely in different organisation, some have chosen to be their own boss starting up their own businesses, whilst others have decided to retire.
Organisations now have a war on retaining talent in addition to the war on retaining customers. More than 50 per cent of people (according to GLINT) still want flexible work arrangements after the pandemic. Finding this balance helps people reduce stress, increase job satisfaction and, for the organisation, provides higher productivity.
As leaders operating in an ambiguous climate, your own flexibility and response to challenge, role models the way for others and helps you to manage expectations.
As human beings we need hope; hope of something better in the future to get us through the dark days.
3. The pain of climate change will increase:
Whether from increased legal, reputation or regulatory risks or directly from the impact of climate change, there is increased pressure for organisations to act and reduce the impact of their own carbon footprint.
The world is at a tipping point when it comes to climate change, and more than 80 per cent of executives are concerned, according to Deloitte Global's 2021 Climate Check report.
It is hard to ignore the increasing number of catastrophic, climate-related events affecting populations and geographies all over the world - from wildfires to increased hurricane activity to droughts to extreme winter storms.
A warming planet creates a wide range of risks for businesses, from disrupted supply chains to rising insurance costs to workforce challenges. However, there is still a hesitancy for organisations to act due to concerns over shareholder attitudes and short-termism inherent in our financial system. The impact of the pandemic has, in some cases, reversed investment that companies had committed to for environmental sustainability.
Environmental sustainability is now a mainstream concern with many organisations moving the green agenda from being a 'nice to have' branch of corporate social responsibility to a key strategic driver affecting all areas of their business.
Particularly for younger people, the green agenda is being prioritised in their decisions. They really care about the steps employers are taking to tackle the climate crisis and their frustration will only get stronger.
Leaders at all levels are instrumental in promoting positive green practices from simple things like turning off equipment and lights, recycling and encouraging cycling/walking to work.
Leaders can open the debate and encourage experimentation about how to work in a more sustainable way and reduce waste throughout the operation and its supply chain. In the long term, sustainability is good for business. Business can only succeed if our society thrives.
4. Expectations continue to rise:
We now have infinite choices available to us. Whether from customers or employees, expectations will continue to rise. This places a significant demand on leaders to focus on enhancing relationships because results revolve around relationships. People are seeking immediacy and quality not just in their purchases but also in their interactions.
Leaders need to be role models in all their activity to lead the way in staying connected with these expectations and adapting to rising expectations. A desire to be the best for your customers starts with the way you treat your staff.
Traditionally organisations invested time, effort and money into the areas that were profit producing, for example, sales.
In some organisations, customers are sold the dream, the sales experience can be captivating, setting the customer up with an expectation that this is the experience they will have. Then comes the installation of the equipment, or provision of the service or the dreaded time when something goes wrong… if the experience the customer gets is anything less than excellent then the company is in trouble.
Customer experience is critical to not just the survival of an organisation, it is essential to ensure the organisation thrives.
We can safely predict 2022 will bring more challenges to businesses especially those in retail and hospitality. The companies that regard customer experience as a profit centre rather than a cost centre will be the ones who ride the storm and come out stronger than ever.
Companies that do not prioritise the after sales customer experience in this way often find they have a hole in their bucket - with new customers pouring in from the motivated, supported sales force while existing customers leak out the bottom.
When something goes wrong, and it is fixed brilliantly, a customer's loyalty is redoubled. Contrast this to when something is dealt with really badly it leaves a serious dent in the relationship - according to the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management, it can take up to a further 21 good experiences to turn the bad one around and restore faith.
Also remember that everyone is a mystery shopper thanks to smart phones and social media where news and experience travels like wildfire at a single touch.
5. The way ahead continues to be choppy:
The ability to navigate ambiguity has, over recent years been a high-ticket item for organisations. Now, more than ever, the uncertainty in the world means that leaders not only have to have the flexibility and resilience to cope but also be able to drive change.
They need to horizon scan, adapt and develop the influencing skills to be able to get traction for their ideas and help maintain their team(s) performance levels.
Ambiguity will not disappear, the pace with which our world is changing continues to accelerate. Even without 'black swan' events like the pandemic or the financial crisis, change is here to stay and the resilient leaders will be sought-after assets to help organisations thrive.
To help with these challenges, Genius Learning has developed a digital programme, Velocity, for leaders to develop the mindset, skills and toolset to adapt and thrive in these challenging times.
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