Now more than ever, people need effective leaders! The situation we expected to pose a few weeks of problems back in March 2020 is throwing more questions at us than an eccentric Batman villain in a green suit. And the last thing you need is another riddle around the leadership trends and challenges you need to keep up with in 2022.
But if your people could shine a leadership signal into the night sky, they’d be using it to highlight their desire for purpose, progress, positive culture and a better employee experience. And this ultimately means a shift in leadership styles and how we manage relationships with employees everyday to support their performance, mental health and desire to stick with us.
Hopefully, this article is like the helpful butler who helps you figure out how you’ll do it just in the nick of time, setting up current and future leaders for success.
“Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees we surveyed said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic.”
This McKinsey study hits the nail on the head in just a few lines – people are far more driven by a sense of purpose than they were pre-pandemic. We’ve all seen the lines between personal and professional blur, and that’s reflected by 70% of employees stating that what they do at work defines their sense of purpose.
The truth is that it’s all linked, with McKinsey defining three areas that influence an employee’s sense of purpose and fulfilment – which help explain its status as a key leadership trend. And this ultimately means a change in communication and leadership skills! How are you going to get people to buy in and understand why the work they do matters and give them the job satisfaction they crave?
Firstly, there are the things we do outside of work, such as hobbies, volunteering and caring for others. Next up, we’ve got the purpose we take from the work itself, driven by whether we are making progress on projects that provide meaning and energy.
We know what you’re thinking, it’s hard for leaders to have a direct influence on either of those. That’s where the final part of this fulfilment trinity comes into play, and that’s the purpose that comes from the organisation itself. Company culture, employee experience, mission and values, these are within our control and key drivers of purpose.
As you’ll see from the image below, the size of their influence can have a huge bearing on the overall sense of fulfilment – hence why it’s one of the biggest leadership challenges right now.
As leaders, we have to focus on growing our organisational purpose circle and getting it close to the size of purpose gained from work. Tick that box, and your people are not only more likely to be fulfilled, but they’ll be more likely to expect meaningful experiences and purpose at work – partly through better alignment with the organisation’s purpose. As a bi-product, you’ll be a stronger company culture, foster that environment for encouraging employees and better harness people’s intrinsic motivations!
On paper, it’s easy, but expanding the circle means turning a big old purpose ship around. While 85% of executives and management agree that they can live their purpose in their day to day work, the same proportion of frontline managers and employees are either unsure or disagree that they can do the same.
The particular leadership challenge has to be the organisational culture, given that it’s the only leadership lever we can really pull on! Open the door to genuine dialogue, deliver more opportunities for people to find purpose in their work and make sure you’re doing it authentically.
Are we finding ourselves in an employee turnover crisis? Quite possibly, yes! And it’s one of the more concerning leadership trends on this list.
In 2021, Glassdoor revealed that the US voluntary turnover rate reached 25%, more than double the 12% reported in 2018. In April, just under 3.5 million people in the US left their job, close to double the amount a year earlier. In the same month, the UK posted 1.3 million vacancies, 300,000 higher than April 2020. If that’s not a leadership challenge, we don’t know what is…
The temptation is to look at this as a short-term crisis of retention and reach for whichever incentives might make people stick around. Those who plan ahead probably realise that planning ahead could be the long-term solution, namely through a combination of career pathing, succession planning and effective leadership development. A core component of mastering leadership development is building effective approaches to employee development.
Kayshia Kruger, Director of organisation Development at ORC, providers of real estate solutions for infrastructure explained that “Over the last two years, periods of instability and uncertainty for organisations and employees have grown. While organisations have pivoted their people strategies to address retention, one key leadership trend that will be important for organisations moving forward into 2022 is a focus on succession planning and career pathing.
“Employees want to know they have a place in their organisation and that comes with a better understanding of not only where employees can go in the company (career pathing and succession planning), but how they can grow (learning and leadership development).
“Organisations and leaders that can provide transparency and clarity around these processes will be positioned as competitive in their market.”
LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2020 report highlighted how powerful internal mobility can be, with 81% of talent professionals agreeing that it helps improve retention and 69% stating that existing employees stepping into a new role drives productivity. A similar LinkedIn report a year later revealed that 51% of L&D pros now believe it’s a greater priority than it was pre-COVID.
Meanwhile, their 2021 workplace learning report revealed that internal hires made up almost 20% of all hires from April to August 2020, a 16.5% increase on 2019 levels.
For employees, this matters! And it might be the reason why they stick around… 74% of employees feel a lack of development opportunities is stopping them from reaching their full potential, 87% of millennials believe that workplace learning and development is important, and 76% think companies are more attractive if they offer additional skills training.
This leadership trend poses a challenge around how managers can not only offer those pathways to progression but how they’ll ensure they’re personalised to make an impact for each employee and their goals. Career planning and conversations are critical leadership skills right now. We need to know where people are now, their current skills, their aspirations and how we can help them get there.
In the meantime, how about some ‘Zoom Out’ conversations with employees? This is a term LifeLabs Learning use for meetings held with direct reports each quarter. LeeAnn Renninger, Founder of LifeLabs Learning, recommends asking questions like the below to craft career conversations as part of your leadership development plan.
When something gets a label as cool as “The Great EX Awakening”, it’s normally a sign that we need to sit up and take notice. EX, in this case, meaning employee experience, something every leader worth their salt needs to think about given the huge shift towards hybrid and remote working.
It’s Willis Towers Watson who take the credit for crowning this leadership trends gem, following their research that revealed 92% of organisations are prioritising employee experience (EX) over the next three years. Future leaders, take note!
So, what’s causing companies to awaken from their EX slumber?
The huge ringing alarm clock that was COVID and the actions companies took once the pandemic hit. Steps like those below led respondents to reel off a whole list of ensuing problems, such as negative effects on financial performance, employee experience, organisational culture, productivity and wellbeing. So if you think empathetic leadership isn’t a tool you’ll need in your arsenal, you might get an awakening of your own.
Source: Willis Towers Watson
Pre-pandemic, just 52% of companies had made employee experience a priority over the next three years. Today, businesses are recognising the sizeable impact it can have on both employers and employees. 81% of employers view it as a driver of engagement, while wellbeing (80%), productivity (79%) and overall business performance (78%) weren’t far behind.
Source: Willis Towers Watson
So, how do companies ensure they’re becoming transformative EX organisations? According to the study, they’re more likely to do so if they possess senior leaders who set and communicate strategies effectively, but they’re also typically effective at helping their employees understand the company’s objectives. Testament to our other trends so far, they’re also better at helping people reach their full potential at work!
Another issue is the conflict between needing to move to hybrid working but not being quite ready! The pandemic sent many companies into survival mode when it came to policies and processes, with 79% reporting that they’re yet to return to the workplace and end the temporary procedures brought into play.
The problem is, the longer this rumbles on, the longer we’ve got disparity between in-person and remote employees. And that disconnect can be damaging for company culture, mental health, employee engagement and wellbeing!
When we spoke with ORC’s Kayshia Kruger, she also made the great point that 2022 is a year in which senior leaders should be focusing on “building change as an enterprise capability.”
And you won’t hear us arguing! Our motto is that the fastest learner wins, especially when the rules and landscapes we’re operating in are shifting so fast, and that has to influence leadership styles.
Cast your mind back to March 2020, the companies who adapted their products and processes for remote working in the most efficient ways succeeded. Restaurants pivoted from eat-in to cook at home kits, some pubs even started delivering pints, gym classes moved to a live Zoom format, and the list goes on. But even now, we never know what’s around that corner.
Kayshia summed it up perfectly when she said that “change is a constant, it’s not going anywhere, and leaders are in a unique position to support and equip their employees to manage change more effectively and it starts with leaders becoming agile, understanding, and open to change themselves.”
In this Washington Post article, Laurie Leinwand, a licensed professional counsellor based in Denville, N.J., presents the leadership change as one of our mindsets: “We have to let go of the need to plan from A to Z and learn to be okay with planning from A to B.” because things might have changed by the time we reach B anyway.
So, which other traits should leaders be focusing on to ensure they’re not only adaptable to change themselves, but they’re driving a culture where their people are prepared for it too as they keep up with this leadership trend? Keith Keating believes adaptable leaders have three traits:
Another way to think about this is energy management, a term LifeLabs Learning use to describe how we channel our own and our team’s energy. LeeAnn Renninger, founder of LifeLabs Learning, explains the process as one to:
“Train your team to have what LifeLabs Learning calls dopamine engineering. This means setting up projects to be brain-friendly in terms of progress phases and pauses. Celebrate the end of each project phase. Encourage the team to analyse their micro, meso, and macro pausing habits.”
For more expert insights and our final thoughts on the leadership challenge landscape, we turned to Ian Forshew, Founding Partner at T-minus and Disruptive Leadership Expert, asking him for an industry scoop on change in a changing leadership landscape.
“To navigate complexity, organisations need to be far more adaptable. Traditional organisational structures, leadership styles, HR, finance, product innovation are slow, static, and no longer appropriate.
“Recent trends like systems thinking, complexity, agility, resilience and adaptability highlight the need for leaders to consider all facets of their organisation and consider how to evolve organisational culture, products, services and efficiency.
“Leaders who do this well will disrupt others and positively disrupt their own organisations. Doing this requires high situational awareness of external market and constraints, and internal organisational dynamics and the capabilities to create feedback loops for both. Being able to quickly diagnose, prioritise and adapt is essential and can be overwhelming.