Leaders already know that keeping their teams motivated, engaged and driven to succeed is a demanding task in itself. But in today’s world it’s even harder, because leaders have to keep their people engaged while responding to huge, disruptive changes in how we work and what we care about in the workplace. It’s a big challenge, but the first step to overcoming it is knowing what the changes are. In Hay Group’s new book, Leadership 2030, we’ve identified six “megatrends” that are transforming societies and the global business environment as we know it.
The six megatrends leaders must be prepared for
- Globalization 2.0 — Economic power is shifting from mature Western economies to emerging markets, so we’re seeing more diverse market needs, more collaboration across countries, and global competition for talent
- Environmental Crisis — The world is facing a disruptive combination of climate change and scarce raw materials that brings the perfect storm of challenges for businesses: increasing costs, fluctuating values and concerned stakeholders
- Demographic change — Aging populations are changing the face of the global workforce and exacerbating the war for talent
- Individualism — Growing freedom of choice is eroding loyalty and forcing organizations to respond to individual needs in an increasingly diverse workforce
- Digitization — Work is going remote, and the boundaries between professional and personal lives are blurring, as people increasingly live life online
- Technology convergence — A combination of nano, bio, information and cognitive (NBIC) sciences is set to spur a wave of powerful technological breakthroughs — speeding up the pace of change and creating new product markets
Right now, employee engagement is already a moving target. To take a line from The X-Files, “The future is out there.” To successfully keep people engaged and on track to deliver business results, leaders must respond to trends outside the organization, because they will affect what happens inside it. The six megatrends bring about a multitude of challenges – here we’ve identified four core responses to help you, as leaders, successfully navigate them.
Employee Engagement and the New Imperatives for Leadership
Imperative #1: Instil confidence in the direction your organization is taking
How engaged employees feel is influenced not only by their current work experiences, but also by their view of the future. For people to commit, especially over the long term, they need to have confidence that a company is well-led, heading in the right direction, and well-positioned to deliver products and services they know customers want. Unfortunately, given the pressures that come with change, communicating regularly about the changes with employees can often slip, leaving them confused about the priorities for the organization. Demand for information often outstrips what you and your managers are able to supply: the consequence is a lack of clarity, which erodes confidence in leadership and strategic direction.
Technology convergence won’t just create new product opportunities; it will also increase the challenge of staying ahead of the curve. And in an increasingly global business environment, new competitors can be expected to emerge regularly. So how can you respond?
As well as having a clear and compelling vision, you need to communicate regularly and personally about changes in your organization and what they will mean for individuals and teams. Making sure you and your peers at all levels know about changes and receive the same messages about them is essential to promote consistent understanding across the organization. Managers in particular play an important “sense-making” role in times of change, helping employees understand new developments in the organization and their implications for teams and job responsibilities. You must make sure that managers at all levels are aware of and engaged with planned changes, and that they understand the importance of reinforcing key messages with their teams. If middle managers and supervisors signal to employees through their words or actions that they lack faith in their leaders, employees’ trust will decline rapidly.
Imperative #2: Have integrity
Socrates said: “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you could possibly be possessed of.” That advice applies to companies just as much as individuals. Consider a quote from Miles White, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Abbott: “Today we’re in an all-out war for reputation, our companies are battling – to an unprecedented extent – for our most vital assets: our own identities.” That battle is playing out on many different fronts. Companies are facing increasing pressure from the media and from political and regulatory scrutiny. But increasingly too there is a power shift in play, brought by digitization, toward consumers and employees. A single voice can undermine a company’s reputation. Individuals can make a huge impact with the click of a mouse. And so companies need to be ever more careful in managing their reputation, because hard work to make a good name can be undone in seconds.
To foster employee engagement, you need to give your people the sense that they are contributing to a purpose larger than themselves. The desire to work for an organization that stands for something and makes a difference is not limited to Millennials, but extends across generational groups. So, in a transparent world, where reputation is increasingly at risk, organizations need to prove they operate with a high level of integrity. For leaders, this demands high levels of openness and sincerity, demonstrated through consistent values, words, and deeds.
With critical natural resources becoming scarcer and climate change more threatening, the environmental crisis will highlight the need for all organizations to demonstrate that their operations are sustainable. Pressure will come not only from outside (societies, governments, and customers) but also from within. Showing employees that you are responding effectively to sustainability issues will be necessary to build confidence in prospects for future success. “Greenwashing” will not cut it – and in fact will damage trust.
Imperative #3: Be transparent
Importantly, employee engagement is an exchange relationship. If you want your employees to do and deliver more, it’s essential that they feel valued, believe that their extra efforts are appreciated and that, over time, there will be a balance between total rewards and contributions.
In a digital world, the four walls of an organization will have increasingly large windows. And interested eyes will be looking both in and out, which puts additional pressure on companies from an engagement and retention perspective. Social media allows your employees, especially those with highly desirable skills and experience, to promote their knowledge and accomplishments – making key talent more difficult for organizations to hide. Likewise, online resources make it easier for your employees to compare what they currently get in terms of compensation, career development opportunities, and work environment with what is on offer elsewhere.
To respond, you need to develop and reinforce strong employer brands, showcasing the unique attractions of working for your organization. You also need to recognize that rewards extend well past compensation and benefits and you should build core organizational messages around total reward offerings. In this context, line managers can effectively reward team members outside of the confines of compensation and benefits. Total rewards statements, for example, can be powerful resources for selling the rewards you offer beyond merely salary.
Imperative #4: Be flexible
Leaders are increasingly challenged with overseeing 4G workforces, with four generations of employees working side by side, each with their own needs and motivators. And, with increasing acceptance of the idea that a career should be tailored to the individual, all employees, regardless of age, are likely to value fulfillment, meaning, self-development, and recognition in their jobs
As a result, a one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement is doomed to fail. Engagement will need to be more personal, tapping into each employee’s drivers, outlook, and expectations.
It’s important you balance traditional roles of directing and organizing team activities with more listening, coaching, mentoring, developing, and advocacy. You’ll also need to be flexible in responding to employee needs. Keeping the skill sets and expertise of Baby Boomers nearing retirement in the organization, for example, may require exploring part-time, work-from-home, or contract employment arrangements.
Finally, recognize that there are limits to the “mass customization” of engagement on the part of organizations and empower people to take responsibility for their own engagement, connecting them with the tools and resources available to help them manage their work experiences, development and careers in a personal, positive way.
Don’t Be Caught Out
To motivate and retain employees, you need to rethink your engagement strategies — because a changing world is changing the game. As part of our research looking at how the external environment is transforming engagement, we conducted a survey of 300 leaders responsible for employee engagement in Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 companies:
- Over 80% agreed that their company needs to find new ways to engage its workforce in light of the changing environment
- Yet just one-third feel their organizations are adapting to the megatrends
- And only a quarter have personally started to drive change
You can avoid being caught out by:
- Considering which megatrends will have the biggest impact on your organization and workforce
- Identifying the changes needed in your approach to employee engagement
- Building networks or taskforces that involve the right people and functions to make change happen
- Regularly talking to your people across the employee lifecycle to understand how their motivators and behaviors are changing in light of the megatrends
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For more information on how the megatrends are transforming businesses and engagement and to find out what you can do today to respond, download our new rules of engagement report or view further materials here.