Businesses across the world are now at a post-pandemic inflection point with respect to their most precious commodity: their talent. The immediate uncertainty and chaos, underpinned by personal and societal anxiety about the impact of this terrible disease, will moderate as people return to work. But they will do so with at least one major difference: employees will have significantly higher expectations of their employer. Leaders that are unable to meet the needs and demands of this ‘new normal employee’ will lose the competition for talent and ultimately limit their ability to grow and prosper. This is the post-pandemic talent reckoning.
Confronting the Disruption Paradox
Disruption isn’t new, but the pace at which it’s forcing change is significantly accelerating. This presents a clear and, in most cases, new challenge to leadership. How do you mitigate the impact of multiple disruptive forces while seizing the opportunities they present? This cognitive balancing act is challenging enough for an individual, let alone someone charged with leading an organization out of months of chaos and into an uncertain, changed world.
Traditionally, we have admired leaders who paint a compelling vision of the future and put in strategies to deliver it. Now, those are just table stakes. CEOs who need to transform their organizations must master a set of new capabilities that, on the one hand, have always been characteristic of a few rare CEOs but, in the highly disrupted world of today, are no longer optional.
Values-based leaders who can authentically connect with many different stakeholder groups and who intentionally and with integrity balance people with profits will be the most effective at transforming their organizations and attracting and retaining the best people.
Leadership itself is being disrupted…
The requirements of leadership in today’s world of continuous disruption demand a complex combination of capabilities and skills. In many respects these are skills that are hard to calibrate, tricky to nurture and have seldom been widely appreciated. They are the epitome of the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of leadership.
The disruption balancing act is but the tip of the iceberg. Political polarization and the resultant unsettling and uncertainty have put business leaders at the very center of their people’s lives. It is no surprise that, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, a person’s employer is now the most trusted institution in their life. The responsibility this places on the transformative leader is colossal. Not only must they provide a sense of security, but they have also become the modern ‘tribal leader/elder’ – personifying values and culture, and serving as role-model for both.
While actively avoiding controversial topics for decades, CEOs and executive leaders are now expected to formulate and articulate their organization’s position on political and social issues. In many cases these are visceral and emotive topics, the likes of which businesses have typically approached with a ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ mindset. Taking an active stand is a non-negotiable for CEOs among their Millennial and Generation Z employees; failure to do so is no longer accepted.
The generation game
The other critical challenge facing leaders, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic, is the need to manage intergenerationally. It’s very easy to generalize about generations. By and large, there are arguably more similarities than differences but there are nuances. Leaders need to appeal to each group according to their expectations. It’s true servant leadership, complicated by the need to be at the forefront of change in an organization. For many leaders this is a significant test of their talent – another reckoning, if you will.
The four principles
This new form of leadership – driven by multiple disruptions for the foreseeable future – is composed of four essential capabilities that each executive leader must master.
Setting a compelling vision and effective strategy and holding people accountable is now expected. The next level of leadership is built on these four capabilities:
- Capture: Leaders must capture the energy and imagination of their employees through their communications and visible actions, the alignment of their behaviors and decisions with their values, and their ability to put the purpose and mission of the organization into their own words.
- Connect: Leaders need to really listen to their employees, understand their needs and priorities, and not use a one-size-fits-all approach for anything. This is where they need to demonstrate they know how to balance people with profits.
- Cascade: Through their executive team and the next levels below them, CEOs need to cascade the right behaviors, based on the firm’s values and purpose, so that there is alignment with key decision-makers throughout the organization. These behaviors need to drive an organization system that rewards, selects, develops and recruits in an aligned manner, all driven from the top.
- Catalyze: CEOs will, by definition, then, need to drive and accelerate the transformation of their organization: reinforcing a new or renewed culture. Their organization will transform – to some degree – and it is through this transformation that an effective antidote to disruption can be realized.