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What a wild year this has been in the world of work! Of course, it started on shaky ground, with economic pressure triggering widespread layoffs in tech, retail, and other vulnerable industries. Then turnover peaked, engagement sank, and “quiet quitting” settled in as employees pushed back on return-to-office policies. Not surprisingly, all of this has taken a toll on leadership. And now, scores of managers and executives are no longer willing to lead through uncertainty.
What gives with all this turmoil? After making it past the dark pandemic years, you’d think we’d all be breathing a collective sigh of relief. The optimist in me even hoped organizations would emerge stronger, more connected, and more supportive than ever. But we’re not there yet. Far from it.
The Gap Is Growing
Frankly, it’s hard to blame anyone for being weary of workplace challenges or disappointed by a lack of progress. But the distance between expectations and reality continues to increase, which isn’t a good sign.
For instance, Gallup says the number of workers who are angry, stressed, and disengaged is still climbing. And research from BambooHR indicates that employee satisfaction is now lower than before the pandemic, dropping 10% this year alone.
So, what will bridge this growing divide? It won’t be easy, especially if employee experience takes a backseat to other business priorities. Yet sadly, that’s exactly where organizations are headed.
In fact, Forrester analysts predict a full-on “EX Winter” in 2024, as companies start to freeze their employee experience investments. Yes, you read that right. Ironically, this is starting to happen precisely when our weary workforce needs more attention and better solutions. That means anyone who cares about the future of work will need to be especially creative and resourceful.
How Do We Lead Now?
Strategies that helped organizations thrive under different circumstances are no longer relevant. But with internal and external factors continuing to change, how can you preserve what’s valuable and unique about an organization? How do you lead through uncertainty?
These questions were top-of-mind for organizations a year ago, when I invited Ronni Zehavi, Co-Founder and CEO of HiBob to join me for the first #WorkTrends podcast of 2023. Little did I know then that this topic would become even more important as we look ahead to 2024. But as I look back now on that conversation with Ronni, it’s clear how enduring his management advice is.
But that’s not surprising, given Ronni’s background. With more than 25 years of experience in launching and leading successful technology companies, he knows first-hand how to guide organizations through volatile, uncertain circumstances.
Today, as we look at workplace challenges that lie ahead, I think you’ll agree that Ronni’s unique perspective and expertise can help others continue to lead through uncertainty…
One Solution: Resilience
According to Ronni, a key to surviving and even thriving through chaos is resilience — the capacity to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of adversity. But resilience doesn’t occur by chance. It takes a particular mindset. It also takes a commitment to developing skills and processes that help your organization remain viable and competitive, especially in a fluid, uncertain environment.
In a world filled with disruption, it’s impossible to predict what’s ahead. That means we need to build resilience so we can weather the storm. Ultimately, it pays to prepare for the worst, even as we hope for the best.
Resilience matters even more now. So how can you leverage it as you continue to lead through uncertainty? Check these takeaways from my conversation with Ronni:
Manage Multiple Unknowns With Caution
It’s a bit like driving a car. In 2020 or 2021, driving fast may have been easier because the road was clear. But today it’s bumpy and cloudy, so you need to slow down.
Uncertainty means nobody knows when this will end. We may see a recovery in 2023, or maybe 2024. So how do you deal with this uncertainty? It’s a big challenge for leaders.
First, read the map and then adjust your plan. How long is your runway? Do you have enough cash? Do you have funds to weather the storm?
Then look realistically at the environment. A slowdown will impact your customers as well as your organization. Will you be able to generate the revenues you expect?
When Slowing Down, Consider Your Culture
As you adjust to a difficult environment, layoffs are only one option in a CEO’s toolbox. First, you may decide to slow down hiring. If that isn’t enough, then you may need to freeze hiring or freeze salary increases, or both. And if needed, the next option could be salary cuts or layoffs. One or both.
But it is important to think about the people who stay as well as those who are laid off. Retention can be affected when those who remain are expected to do the job of two people or even more.
Communication and transparency are critical to preserve your culture.
Prepare Now for Better Times
It starts with your people. Invest in them. Make sure you can retain all of them. Or if not all of them, focus on your most important people. Because you’ll want them to be with you when the tailwind comes.
And more than anything else, think positive. What goes down comes back up. So optimism is critical.
Flexible Work Can Help
Flexibility was a nice-to-have perk a few years ago. Then the pandemic proved that organizations can deal with it. So I think hybrid work is here to stay.
The ultimate combination is two or three days at the office or two or three days remote. It offers flexibility, but also promotes engagement and collaboration.
Focus on Finding a Balance with Hybrid Work
It’s a journey. It will take time until it becomes a standard. But flexibility is all about what we call The Three T’s:
Trust. Transparency. Teamwork.
If your organization follows these values, it will help you create a flexible work culture.
More Ideas on How to Lead Through Uncertainty
Ronni Zehavi isn’t the only expert who has generously shared useful real-world lessons with us lately. Here’s helpful guidance from others in our community:
1. Resilience Starts Within
If you want a resilient business, ask yourself this central question: What are you doing to elevate employee mental health and wellbeing?
2. A Great Employee Experience = A Strong Business
To deliver an exceptional customer experience, focus on building a culture that puts employee experience first.
3. Resilient Work Cultures Put Humans First
Leadership is hard, but the most effective leaders invest in what matters to their employees: purpose, empowerment, recognition, positivity, and growth.
4. Gamification Can Defeat a Gloomy Culture
By getting serious about gamification, organizations are bringing hybrid teams together, boosting productivity, and lifting engagement.
5. Managers Need a New Toolkit
Employee growth is essential for organizations to thrive in the “Post-Everything” Era. That means managers need to embrace a fresh approach.
6. Choose Change Methods Wisely
Change management is tricky. Successful leaders bring people along by matching the method to the situation.
7. Individuals Can Develop Career Resilience
Everyone has the potential to recover from setbacks. It helps to practice proven strategies before you need to apply them.
8. A Flexible Talent Pipeline Fuels Productivity
In a fluid business environment, how rapidly can you adjust to changing talent requirements?
9. Onboarding Is Where It All Begins
No one can afford to lose great talent. For stronger retention through challenging times, start at the beginning and level up your onboarding game.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more in-depth information about how to lead through uncertainty, visit the HiBob website, where you’ll find all kinds of helpful resources for employers. And for more #WorkTrends insights, check our growing collection of podcast episodes at Apple or Spotify and subscribe!