Over the past two decades, organizations lauded for their progressive cultures and people-first workplaces have offered glimpses as to what the future of work might look like. These organizations cultivated purpose-driven, inclusive and emotionally intelligent leaders; their diversity and inclusion efforts were rooted in building belonging and equity through authenticity and long-term commitment; and they implemented remote work options before it was required.
Until recently, these organizational traits were scattered and atypical, mostly found at companies showing up on the annual “best places to work” list. But, everything has changed in 2020. COVID-19, a revived racial justice movement, and an economic downturn have forced organizations to rethink the way they work, urgently requiring them to adopt practices and priorities previously deferred. Many companies were not ready for these monumental changes, and their leaders did not have the tool set required to manage in this reality.
Jack Welch, the famed, former CEO of GE once said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” The changes we have experienced in 2020 will only continue to accelerate making it a business imperative to invest in and develop leaders capable of navigating this new world and helping their organizations to thrive.
Now is the time to lean into your leadership development initiatives. Here are 3 reasons why.
1. A more distributed workforce is here to stay
At least 50% of us are working from home and have been since April of 2020, and many executives indicate that a full transition to remote work is likely for a sizable portion of their employees. Before COVID-19, only 7% of US workers had the ability to work remotely, and many executives anticipated that less than a third of their workforce would choose to work from home if presented with the option. Post-COVID, the landscape shifted dramatically. A recent remote work survey by PWC indicated that 83% of office workers want to continue to work from home at least one day per week, and over half of executives surveyed expect their employees to continue to work remotely in some capacity in a post-pandemic world.
Remote work, and the challenges that come with managing a distributed team, will be the new normal, and leaders need a new toolkit for this reality. How do leaders foster connection and keep their teams engaged? What needs to change in terms of communication, meetings and collaboration? How do managers handle conflict in our new distributed environment?
Developing these competencies in your people will be an investment in their ability to lead effectively and in your organization’s short and long-term success.
2. Employees expect a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
When protests against the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery broke out across the US at the end of May, many companies immediately made statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Time will tell whether or not these words of support will lead to long-term action and change, but it is clear that employees now expect a deeper commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and are willing to leave organizations that aren’t serious about it.
A serious commitment to racial justice, gender equity, and workplace diversity and inclusion are essential for organizations to thrive in today’s new reality. And this requires leaders with emotional intelligence, who can cultivate psychological safety and trust within their teams. The research shows that people leave managers, not companies, therefore it is your frontline managers who will need to live out this commitment to diversity and inclusion. Do they understand how bias may be impacting their decisions? Are they taking proactive steps to cultivate belonging? How are they using their privilege and do they promote allyship within your company?
Cultivating leaders who have both the competence and character to lead in areas of diversity and inclusion is essential, and now is the time to make this investment.
3. The pace of change will only accelerate from here
Our world today is changing more rapidly and in more significant ways than ever before. Comparisons of technological and cultural change between centuries are now talked about in terms of decades, or even years. 2020 alone has brought us massive changes that have required leaders to adopt new mindsets and develop new skills, and it would serve organizations well to assume that continuous change is part of our new normal.
In early May, many leaders expected to get back to “business as usual” by the end of the summer, or fall at latest. But here we are heading into the last quarter of the year with continued uncertainty, no clear timelines and questions about how to navigate the months ahead. What is clear is that your organization’s leaders will play a critical role and investing in their growth and potential impact your ability to effectively thrive in our rapidly changing world.
A report by McKinsey in early May cited that given our changing reality, organizations needed to focus on developing leadership skills of emotional intelligence, resilience, critical thinking and problem solving.
The best leaders are agile, they learn and adapt quickly and they navigate change, challenges, and opportunities in ways that foster sustainable growth for their organizations. Today, we need leaders that focus on the well-being of their people, have the tools to collaborate on complex problems, and do so with creativity, compassion and resilience.
What You Can Do, Today
Distributed work is here to stay. Employees expect a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The pace of change is only going to accelerate. These realities, coupled with our current economic uncertainty, require that organizations not pull back, but double down on the learning and growth of their people. And the great news is that you don’t have to break the bank to do it.
When you approach your leadership development initiatives with a growth mindset, you find opportunities for learning everywhere. It can come by fostering conversation with colleagues through Donut, a tool that provides serendipitous connections for virtual coffee, peer learning, DEI discussions, and more. You can invest in one-on-one coaching, which provides significant value for individual leaders and ultimately benefits your organization. At sr4 Partners, we understand the importance of innovative and cost-effective leadership development designed for the current work environment, and have reworked our offerings to help our clients and their leaders hone their strengths, develop needed skills, and thrive in today’s challenging world.
Organizations that choose not to develop their leaders can measure the loss through decreased productivity, reduced quality of work and the employee turnover. But the organizations that adapt through these swiftly changing times by supporting the leadership development of their people will thrive.