The Future Workforce: How Leaders Can Make or Break a Company
Russel used to be the Vice President of a renowned banking and financial services company in the Greater Chicago area. When the pandemic hit the markets hard in March 2020, Russel’s firm faced challenges in transitioning to remote work due to logistical and security constraints. While other leaders took HR direction on offering flexibility to their employees, Russel felt that he could make it work without too much disruption to the way things were. With regular sanitization and social distancing rules in place, Russel felt he was taking all the necessary precautions and that his team could continue its normal operations without the flexible work model.
Staying hyper-focused and vigilant on keeping his clients from leaving for his competitors, Russel did not notice the growing distress and decreased engagement within his team. Without paying attention to his employees’ changing needs with schools going remote and increased domestic responsibilities, Russel was blindsided when some of the best performers handed over their resignations. Despite a fragile job market with record unemployment, these employees were unwilling to work for an organization and a leader who chose to prioritize profit over employee experience and safety. Those who chose to stay showed lower performance while employee morale sunk drastically.
Unfortunately for Russel, despite all the precautions he had set in place, the pandemic hit home when one of his employees tested positive. This affected 20 more coworkers who had exposure to their colleague, at which point Russel had no option but to shut down the office and go into quarantine. The team was affected in more ways than just morale and the bottom line. Before the end of the year, Russel had no choice but to resign.
Russel’s story is not uncommon among certain leaders across the country. When the pandemic posed a threat to their businesses, they took a short-term approach that did not prioritize the team. This failure to look at the long game is a key factor in leaders missing the mark when obstacles arise.
What could Russel have done differently to equip himself and his team for the ‘new normal’ and rise up to a different kind of success?
Let’s take a look.
Foster Employee Engagement
Instead of ignoring the employees’ fears and inhibitions, he should have spoken to them first to understand their thoughts about the situation.
It’s time for leaders to prioritize human connections and relationships. Though investing in technology is necessary, working towards shaping an emotionally intelligent workforce is still a key indicator of success. The people who can truly make a difference are those who can think, collaborate, compete, create, and innovate. Driving growth is easier and more impactful when it is supported by personalized experiences of the employees who can buy into the organization’s big picture.
Instead of trying to handle everything on his own, he should have split the responsibilities with the budding leaders within the team.
Establishing autonomy plays a significant role in attracting and retaining talent. Most organizations experience a gap between their goals and achievements because they fail to match tasks with competent talent. Delegating work to the right employees and giving them more responsibilities will not ensure accountability and build trust among employees. They will also be more driven to make better decisions that align with the team as well as the organization.
Drive Growth Using Workforce Analytics
Instead of doing everything manually, he should have made use of the right analytics tools to measure and evaluate the nuances of employee performance and engagement.
Every leader should tap into the power of data analytics, particularly predictive analytics. Making use of workforce analytics to perform temperature checks and read into the employee work patterns and engagement levels can help the leaders identify and eliminate the risk areas that exist within the workforce. Investing in digital tools will also help leaders make the right decisions about talent selection and elimination during the recruitment process by saving time and eliminating bias.
Nurture Adaptability and Agility
Instead of sowing doubt and fear within the team, he should have encouraged the top performers to push their boundaries and discover new methods to work their way around the crisis.
A leader’s focus is not just to survive, but to thrive. For this to happen, they should be able to nurture agility and adaptability in their workforce. Employees should be given the guidance and the tools to improve and broaden their skillsets, transcend their areas of expertise, and be more resilient. Every leader is responsible for making their employees understand that change is constant and learning is perpetual. Staying current is not a choice anymore, it is a necessity.
Get “Smart” Coworkers
Instead of focusing on manpower alone, he should have sought out the help of technology, particularly AI to automate monotonous tasks and prevent employee burnout.
There is a limit to what humans can do and how well they can do it, which is why machines are created to help augment human capacity. In this era of machines running the world, leaders will do more harm than good to their organization if they choose to resist automative technology. It is predicted that by 2028, the majority of businesses would embrace the “smart” way of getting things done—using AI-integrated machines, software, avatars, and apps. Soon, employees will be able to carry their personal workspaces using cloud communities, augment administrative tasks with the help of intelligent virtual assistants, and completely interact with coworkers or clients as their virtual counterparts. Letting these “smart coworkers” do the heavy lifting of mundane tasks will leave more room for employees to focus on areas that require a human touch.
Join Forces with Business and HR Leaders
Instead of taking the HR Team’s directions as optional suggestions, he should have taken feedback from his own team regarding their needs and how he could implement the flexible work model without compromising the employee or client experience.
For an organization to fully tap into its potential, both HR and business leaders should bridge the gaps between their views regarding the scope of progress and business issues. Leaders should ensure that the initiatives to shape the future workforce are clearly communicated, regularly revisited, and accurately evaluated. Only when the in-house leaders combine their strengths and ideas will they be able to grow the workforce effectively.
Encourage Flexible and Innovative Talent
Instead of coaxing the employees to stick to a rigid working model, Russel could have reached out for some extra help that would have granted the employees some flexibility in their work and time schedules.
With the concept of ‘work’ becoming more fluid, leaders should be able to recognize and implement new types of relationships and working models rather than sticking to rigid traditional models. Recognizing and employing flexible talent is going to be a big part of the business in the future. Develop a fluid working model that could seamlessly engage with potential external talent when required. Leaders should also train themselves to be more open to adopting innovative ideas from skillsets from the global market; not just from the existing talent pool.
Build a Company Narrative
Instead of following the existing working model, Russell should have devised a plan along with the HR department to accommodate the shifting market demands, uncertain external factors, and evolving employee expectations.
Leaders from various departments should put their heads together and come up with a solid people-centered narrative that will dictate how their jobs, as well as the organization, will change in the future. Running an organization is not just about meeting deadlines and increasing returns. As a leader, you should become synonymous with the organization and help the employees understand and embrace the new technologies that will help them in their roles and effective strategies that will prepare them for the future.
When envisioning the ‘future workforce’, one major factor leaders need to keep in mind is that the future workforce is taking shape right now. With 2020 having witnessed the largest digital boom in the last few decades, there is no stopping technology or innovation anymore. Leaders need to gear up by bringing together the right strategy, talent, technology, and organizational goals to lay the foundation of success. They should also go the distance to build confidence and instill trust within their team members to establish unity.
Let’s hope that the next time Russel takes on a management position, he will be ready to embrace reality, experiment with innovation, and envision a multifaceted workforce.