High-Performance Executive Leadership in the Workplace
Welcome to the 2040 Thought Leadership Series created to spark innovation and critical thinking about today’s business environment. As we adapt to the evolving post-pandemic mindset, the opportunity is to learn from the past months of pandemic-crisis thinking, adapting to new behaviors and marketplace realities … and leaving behind what doesn’t work any longer.
Much of the past 19 months has been focused on tactical adaptations for business continuity and little time was spent on strategic thinking and plans that recognized where tactical adaptations led to new opportunities and alternative ways of conducting business, even managing operations. Some tactics have been successful, others may have failed, but in the end, we learned a lot and have an improved grasp of what may be needed to strategically transform in today’s dynamic and ever-changing marketplace.
CEOs Face Workplace Challenges
Today’s leadership challenges are made even more complex by existing and emerging external pressures. Leadership is under pressure to balance providing stakeholders with a stable, profitable, fair, empathetic and innovative workplace. Just consider a few of today’s societal and consumer-driven issues that have emerged for both workers and leaders:
- The pandemic and staying healthy in the workplace.
- Information and identification security for remote or hybrid work arrangements.
- The move of tangible services to online-everything.
- Increased investment in automation and digital transformation that could change. business models and employee job descriptions and organizational structures.
- The post-pandemic economic recovery: Who benefits and who is left behind.
- Inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability.
The New Role of Leadership
To address this new and emerging environment, stakeholders – members, customers, partners, board members, employees — expect more from today’s organizational leaders. The Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that organizations are under pressure to “save society.” This not only affects your own business, but the customers, subscribers, the industry sector, and professions your organization serves, interacts with, and supports.
In a global survey conducted in April 2021, “Most people (77%) say their employer has become their most trusted institution, putting more pressure on CEOs to prioritize societal and political issues in addition to shareholder value.” Furthermore, “People now expect organizations and CEOs to keep focusing on big social and political issues, even after the pandemic.” Advocating and taking strong positions is clearly more of an expectation than ever before.
Indeed, leadership is facing how to implement ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) best practices at a time when no definitive scorecard exists. At 2040, we help leaders understand how to build strategies that reflect the needs and concerns of all stakeholders, including members, customers, partners, the board and employees—but also fulfilling their financial and leadership responsibilities to all.
Post-pandemic, business leaders will be measured, even judged by their leadership performance; how they recruit and hire, construct teams, manage the board and how they satisfy stakeholders whether they be internal or external. The potential trap here for any leader is bias, both unconscious and conscious, based on the values, experience from past actions and institutional knowledge she or he brings to the organization. Here’s just a taste of the potential problem: Seeing is believing – but the opposite is truer, what you believe you see.
Transformation and adaptation to an evolved workplace is more critical than many would have considered pre-pandemic. As we have resurfaced over the past weeks, expectations and even the consideration of personal life values have changed. These changes revolve around what is truly important to an individual and adjusted work-life balance goals. Significant changes in leadership actions, tactics and strategies are required because of the higher levels of societal issues within the broad public consciousness, which have led to an uncharted work environment.
The first step in effective leadership should be to step back and use critical thinking to understand people, process, and culture. All cultures have similarities, but each culture is unique. The collection of individuals who comprise a culture are intrinsically tied to the focus of the success of the organization; what worked in the past and in similar situations may fail miserably in the current structure. The true litmus test is for leaders to examine their own biases to see how these embedded beliefs inform and influence their performance and decision-making.
Personal bias can creep in under the radar and influence a leader as it does to every individual regardless of their conscious thoughts to the contrary. An organization’s workplace success is measured by employee engagement, fairness, how connected people are to their jobs and their employers. The original engagement surveys began in 1980s by the HR firm Watson Wyeth. Gallup, Harvard Business Review, and others have tracked this index over the years.
The annual survey shows that there is a clear connection that the companies and organizations with a higher index of engagement outperform those companies and organizations with lower scores. In pre-pandemic America, organizations were losing an estimated $1 trillion per year due to the sinking rate of employee engagement. And that was before everything we lost to Covid-19.
According to Robert Raleigh Ph.D., CEO of PathSight Predictive Science, “Work may be one of the last refuges where we don’t get to choose whom we sit next to for eight to 10 hours a day.” He adds, “Modern work culture finds itself today at the intersection between a great promise of reinvention and the last gasps of an aging set of institutions, norms and structures. The fragility of our traditional connective tissue within our country — from government, across media platforms and our own personal, shared expectations and experiences — has presented us with a unique set of challenges.”
The choices facing leaders are self-evident: they can continue to follow a historical path towards the same way they have always led and conducted business. Or they can create a future powered by new models, tools and expectations designed to navigate the current environment powered by strategy, transformation, adaptation, design and ensuring technology and digital become strong enablers.
Science-based leadership is possible. Raleigh explains, “The challenge for leaders is not the lack of science to help them understand the context of their employees’ lives, but which science to pay attention to. The temptation to bow to news headlines in managing a demanding shareholder and workforce will backfire. Similarly, taking direction from academic studies and research can fall short of meaningful change as the studies and research may not reflect the practical and true nature of the organization or company culture. The sad reality is that many leaders are unprepared to tackle the onslaught of demands with lasting solutions and instead have short-term kneejerk reactions.”
Short-term gains may be achieved but the cost is high. Short-term thinking is a significant challenge and requires a disproportionate focus across a company or organization that detracts from longer-term strategies, plans and tactics that may result in even better performance at dramatically lower personnel and operational expense.
A new model is emerging. Raleigh advises, “Instead of measuring behavior, measure why employees do what they do. Why is the context of their actions.” This is also true for members, customers, subscribers, internal and external stakeholders and, of course leaders. Understanding the concept of why is easy to say, but hard to master. It takes the discipline of understanding the whole-person perspective, which is multidimensional and not reliant on a system built on a single factor that claims comprehensive understanding and behavior typing.
If the why is asked, what is often discovered is that critical thinking hasn’t been applied and instead, historical practice promulgates despite producing less than expected results.
Context is the key and unlocks understanding how things will influence the world of work. At 2040, we help our clients understand how important active listening is in understanding the context of how personal bias and world events influence and impact their workforce. Context correlates directly to the why and demonstrates critical thinking as well as a clear understanding of the ecosystem and all its parts.
Understanding context (why) helps leaders ratchet up performance. And we are loaded with context post-Covid. Just consider how to manage these scenarios:
- Engage workers suffering from Covid-19 detachment?
- Understand the impact of structural racism on workers?
- Manage the range of tribal self-identities of politics that influence our teamwork?
- Define the concept of diversity? Race? Gender? Worldview?
- Understand technology’s influence on all of these?
We advise our clients that understanding and accepting the why provides critical clarity in motivating and managing all stakeholders. Active listening is key. We have the science to better understand our employees and customers. We know that accounting for these macro societal challenges and stress points will be the litmus test for business. Business can lead the way to cultural transformations in the broadest sense. It’s up to enlightened leadership that starts at the top, and then is executed by management that is sensitive to, empathetic and responsive to the workforce.
Connect with us to help you rethink high performance and understanding the new world order. The bottom line is that adopting new practices isn’t nice, it’s necessary because the workforce demands it.
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2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues. We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.
Onward and upward from the 2040 Team