In March of 2020, CEOs faced the reality of shelter in place orders that required most of their employees to work from home. The initial assumption of many was that the situation might last a few weeks. Today, countless companies are in the same place or in some stage of either mandating that employees come back to the office full-time or negotiating a hybrid approach of stay-at-home and in-office work.
To that end, a recent PwC Pulse Survey revealed that 65% of employees are looking for a new job and 36% of CHROs see building inclusive leadership as a top priority. They are doing this mainly because the balance of power has shifted to the employees. Right now, employees want a work situation that meets their personal preferences. If they can’t find it in their current job, they know they have options – lots of them. As a result, CHROs are laser-focused on retaining and attracting good people now more than ever.
This situation is a dilemma for many CEOs who feel as forced to reimagine how to lead their companies as they did to close their offices to in-person work 18 months ago. For those inclined to order people back to the office, they risk a mass exodus. For others who are ready to embrace remote or hybrid work more intentionally, there’s the question of how to make that happen.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” I believe CEOs can do both.
Stand Like a Rock
Still, amid a storm that continues to present its challenges, most CEOs have learned a great deal about their people. They marvel at their employees’ commitment to the company, dedication to one another, and ability to be even more productive despite working from home and facing personal challenges of their own during the pandemic. But, most of all, they never wavered from the organization’s purpose and what everyone was trying to accomplish together.
This common purpose, joined by the values, traits, and behaviors that have kept the company strong during the most challenging circumstances, is where you have to stand like a rock. For the sake of your employees, customers, vendors, shareholders, and the communities you serve, there can be no compromises here. You build a strong culture from the inside out. It’s what’s inside each of us, no matter how and where we get our work done, that truly matters. For this reason, the only way to retain and attract high-caliber people who will lead your organization into the future is to swim with the current.
Swim With the Current
Swimming with the current doesn’t mean standing along the shore and letting your employees swim past you as they decide for themselves how they want to work. Instead, swim WITH them by leading intentional conversations grounded in your purpose and uncompromising values that your people have already shown you they hold dear. When employees regard the CEO as a part of the team, rather than apart from it, it sows a seed of trust that allows for productive dialogue grounded by an unwavering commitment to the company’s values and shared purpose.
Facilitating deep conversations using Peernovation’s Five Factor Framework will help you chart your best course for a future that your employees will have had a hand in creating. Illustrated as a reinforcing loop, start at the beginning.
- The Right People – Identify what it takes to be a successful employee and team member in your organization. You will not only inspire a renewed commitment of the individuals to their work and one another, but you’ll also set a new standard for any new hire who wants to enjoy the privilege of being part of such an incredible team.
- Psychological Safety – Regarded by Google and countless others as essential to high-performing teams, the ability for your employees to ask questions, present ideas, and challenge the process and its leaders for the good of the organization, without fear of reprisal, is essential to unlocking the individual and team talent within. In addition, conversations about psychological safety among peers and with the organization’s hierarchy will drive productivity and a healthy culture of accountability.
- Productivity – How will any changes in where and how people work improve productivity? Engage one another in reinventing what cooperation and collaboration look like based on your experiences during the pandemic, newly available tools, and how to balance synchronous and asynchronous work.
- Accountability – When everyone is committed to the organization’s purpose and one another, you can create a culture of accountability that doesn’t make your people feel like they are playing defense every day. Instead, they’ll regard it as a support system for individual and organizational success.
- Leadership – Ask your employees what you can do to support their success. After having had the first four conversations, your team will likely ask for a balance between challenging them and supporting them in a fashion that fuels their growth, bolsters their confidence, and brings joy to their world.
Revisit these conversations frequently to assess how the team is doing and adjust along the way as necessary.
Seth Godin says, “You don’t need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.” The approach recommended above will yield several commitments you and your employees will make to one another. It’s time for you all to write your own version of the future of work. If you do, you’ll keep the great employees you have, attract new talent to your organization, and achieve the kind of results that only a dedicated ensemble of people can realize together.
Written by Leo Bottary.
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