Leadership skills to navigate the new working world image

The working world has changed dramatically in recent times, with the pandemic driving a shift to remote and hybrid working. Many teams are now spread out across disparate locations and employees may rarely meet colleagues and managers in person. 

This trend toward more virtual workforces, with fewer in-person touchpoints, has put leadership skills in the spotlight. Gone are the days when managers could simply call over a desk to check on the status of a project, or glance across the room to note the mood and energy of team members. 

So, what does the modern work landscape look like, and what skills do leaders need to be effective in it? In our recent webinar, ‘Leadership skills to navigate the new working world’, we investigated these questions with: 

  • Graham Lucas, Managing Director at Michael Page 
  • Liz Reynolds, People Director at twentysix
  • Steph Evans-Hill, Head of HR at Nestlé

For the whole session, check out the on-demand version today. Here, we provide some highlights from the discussion.

The labour market in 2022

Graham Lucas headshot imageAlthough many economies are predicted to struggle as 2022 progresses, the labour market has thus far remained buoyant, with a post-pandemic boom in hiring. Graham noted that the unemployment rate remains at historic lows, and an extremely candidate-short hiring market has emerged. 

The reasons for this are various. One is Brexit, which has shrunk the pool of candidates from abroad. Another key factor is the ongoing impact of the pandemic – Graham pointed that over one million workers are estimated to have left the UK payroll since its onset. 

With so much choice available to them, many workers have re-evaluated their careers, culminating in the phenomenon referred to as the ‘Great Resignation’. Professionals across almost all sectors are increasingly looking for employers who offer flexible working and strong people propositions, especially around equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I).

To help viewers understand how to meet these expectations, the panel discussed the key pillars of effective leadership in hybrid workplaces:

Leadership skills hybrid working infographic

Empathetic leadership is essential 

Liz Reynolds headshot imageDuring the webinar, Liz highlighted the need for modern workplace leaders to exhibit and practice empathy, compassion, and care for their people. 

But what does this mean in practice? Well, if you are a leader or an aspiring leader, it means connecting with employees in a human way, while being relatable. But remember that you can’t make people feel motivated and engaged. All you can do is create an environment which generates engagement naturally.

This begs the question: what makes a working environment truly engaging? Here are four key enablers:

  1. Leaders who can articulate an organisations journey and purpose.
  2. Managers who can stretch and coach their staff with interesting work and by treating them as individuals – remember, it’s managers who connect people to the organisation.
  3. Giving employees a voice and allowing them to be a part of the solution.
  4. Organisational integrity: an employer’s willingness to revisit its own values and ensure that they are aligned with those of the modern workforce.

Sarah Bradley, Partner at Page Executive commented:
“Business leaders are facing a multitude of complex and ever-changing strategic priorities post-pandemic. In today’s era of hybrid working, ensuring employees remain connected and engaged is an art that leaders must continue to master. Maintaining a balance of authenticity, connection, and inspirational leadership has never been more important than it is in this time of economic and political uncertainty.”

How employers can promote flexibility and equality

With both flexible working and ED&I so prominent on today’s business agenda, it might seem hard to know where to start, and which to focus on. But in truth, the two are closely intertwined: a truly inclusive environment is inherently flexible, and a flexible environment will find it that much easier to attract and retain diverse talent.

Liz noted that after the pandemic caused such a massive dislocation of our ways of working, many workers have struggled to re-engage with the world of work. This is especially the case for workers from underrepresented groups, such as ethnic minorities, women, the neurodiverse, older workers, and younger workers. 

We do know, however, that these groups have a strong preference for flexible and hybrid working. This presents an opportunity for employers to access new and underutilised talent pools by promoting themselves as flexible and inclusive employers. 

Don’t neglect learning and development and professional networking 

One of the most significant but underdiscussed challenges that the pandemic has created for workers is the break it forced in learning and development journeys. Many now feel that their professional growth has been on hold for the past two years. 

Liz commented that being an effective leader in a post-pandemic world means addressing this and going above and beyond to help your people make up for lost time. It also means understanding flexible learning and the different forms it can take. For instance, flexible learning might include:

  1. Knowledge sharing with colleagues.
  2. Hard and soft skills development, ideally in person and on the job.
  3. Agile learning, encompassing ‘try it’ approaches and feedback

Alongside a renewed focus on learning and development, both employers and candidates will benefit from the creation of professional networks. With the support of leaders, these networks can provide mutual learning opportunities for professionals from different backgrounds, while also reinforcing connections within teams and between teams. 

Using hybrid communication 

Communication has always been key to success for all organisations - but it became clear during the webinar that our understanding of what constitutes effective communication has changed massively since the onset of the pandemic. With hybrid working now the norm and employee engagement becoming a key priority, leaders need to be thinking hard about their approach to communication. 

While remote working has created distance between teams, the technology involved has also made it easier than ever for remote teams to talk to communicate and collaborate. Colleagues don’t have to share the same office or even the same time zone to work together successfully. 

The next step is for leaders to take charge of streamlining this process and taking advantage of these new opportunities. For instance, in organisations with hybrid working, office spaces could be redesigned to better facilitate collaboration and reflect preferred ways of working. Successful teams communicate, and the better they are able to communicate the more successful they will be.

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How to build a future-proof culture

Workplace culture is one of the most important factors in talent retention. And while it is hard to measure and manage, getting it right will have a massive impact on your overall success. Culture is what brings people together, making it all-important at a time when so many are reconsidering their roles and moving on. 

So, what does an effective culture look like? Each one is different, but Steph identified a few key traits:

  • Purpose: A strong culture will be built around a sense of shared purpose, with strong reasons why employees should work for you  
  • Recognition: Feeling that their efforts are going unrecognised can demotivate any employee. That’s why it’s so important to recognise and celebrate the behaviours you want to encourage. 
  • Stories: Storytelling can be a powerful tool for workplace leaders. It communicates the journey of the organisation and the place of the workforce within that journey.
  • Connection: Wherever possible, encourage your teams to connect with each other, especially in a hybrid working environment.

Enabling your people to learn consistently 

Steph noted that another critical element of a strong workplace culture is the capacity for colleagues to learn from one another. How can leaders ensure that this isn’t damaged when workers aren’t in the same physical spaces? 

Here are four strategies that help many hybrid working employers encourage learning:

  1. Gamification: Make learning fun and interactive to bring learning to life
  2. Introduce breaks into training courses: Regular breaks from learning and development sessions will help keep people’s attention
  3. Recognise different learning styles: Different people work differently, and they also learn differently. Ask your people what their preferred style is and weave it into training courses. Encourage feedback and follow ups.  
  4. Encourage reflection: To help your teams manage their own progression and development, encourage them to keep a learning log. This will help them to see where the gaps are and where improvements have been made.

Q&A highlights

At the end of the session, the audience had the opportunity to ask the speakers a series of questions. Here are some of the highlights: 

How does flexible working impact ED&I progress? What are the risks and opportunities?

Liz: Don’t just do the instinctive thing and talk to the person next to you rather than the person who’s working remotely. Think through your interactions and make sure you’re doing what you can to level the playing field between those who are in office and those who aren’t. 

Steph Evans Hill headshot imageSteph: I saw a quote recently which describes the situation well: “If you don’t intentionally include, you will unintentionally exclude”. Remember that those who are in the office less often will likely be carers, parents, those with disabilities or neurodivergent, and those who live far away. Think of all the talent you could potentially be excluding if you are biasing those in the office.

Talent and development teams are coming under a lot of pressure - are new focus areas emerging as the necessary leadership skills change?

Liz: It depends on an organisation’s journey and how they are trying to develop their employees. There’s a big lack of candidates on the job market right now, so learning and development, and training early in people’s career, is key. Companies also need to invest in leadership and management. We are focusing more than ever on problem-solving and collaboration skills.  

Need top talent to join your team?

In such a fast-moving market, it’s critical to stay up to date with the latest leadership trends. At Page Executive, our consultants can give you all the insights you need to build a high functioning team, or to move your career forward. 

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