I’m fascinated personally by how we as individuals can optimise our productivity and do amazing work while also taking care of ourselves, our families, and living a balanced life. On a larger scale, I see the same challenge for companies and employers, in trying to balance effectiveness and financial results on the one hand with improving the employee experience along with areas like wellbeing, flexibility and other important areas. This will be among the top priorities for organisations in 2023.
With talk of the Great Resignation last year, the cost to companies of losing good employees is significant, while the more subtle quiet quitting and disengagement can also have a big impact on overall performance and productivity. At the same time as the expectations of younger generations especially, but really all employees, are changing, the economic climate is challenging, and the pressure is on to deliver results.
At the start of this new year, I’m looking at the priorities for organisations right now, the challenges that they will face, and how they can move forward.
Priorities for organisations in 2023
1. Flexibility as a non-negotiable
In the post-pandemic office landscape, working from home has become the norm and an inescapable feature of modern working practices. It’s no longer reasonable to demand that employees in the knowledge economy are in the office Monday to Friday.
At the same time, the move towards increased flexibility and hybrid working needs to be implemented without losing the company culture, a sense of belonging and connectedness, and team effectiveness. Employers need to be intentional about when and why they expect employees to be in the office to maximise collaboration and employee visibility, while allowing for true flexibility.
What does this new hybrid style of working look like? While there is no clear answer yet, and each company can decide this for themselves, it’s advisable to be proactive and lead the way in coming up with that answer; resisting flexible working at this point will put you at a competitive disadvantage.
2. Changing generational expectations
There has been much talk of the differing priorities of younger generations. The fact is that there is a palpable difference between what new hires want compared to the motivations of their managers.
The old frame of reference for most of us was to desire a long-term career with the promise of promotions and salary increases, and this was accompanied by a willingness to put in the hours early on in your career. The famous Generation Z, however, is demonstrating a genuine aspiration to enjoy their life and pursue their own personal fulfilment. The expectation of an employer now is to enable this while also demonstrating true commitment to values of sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We are seeing shifts in other generations too, as people are embracing a more holistic and healthier relationship to work. We want to feel valued and included, we want to grow and feel like we’re making a difference, and we want to be adequately rewarded for our efforts.
To attract and retain the best people, the whole employee journey must be considered, from the very first impression of a young graduate at a careers fair through to how a decision to leave and the subsequent exit from the organisation is handled. The value proposition for the employee needs to evolve, with a people-centric approach focused on flexibility, purpose, and holistic wellbeing. And employers will need to find a way to communicate these benefits to attract and retain talent.
3. The skills of the future
Through all of this, organisations must prepare for the future of work, and most traditional development approaches will not prepare leaders for that future. The most important skills will include digital and data literacy, critical thinking and complex problem solving, creativity and imagination, leadership and social influence, collaboration and fostering inclusiveness, flexibility and resilience, becoming more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty… The business will need to make sure it has the right capabilities and skills to achieve its objectives, while individuals need to make sure that they are continually learning and upgrading their skills to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.
It’s not just the skills themselves but how these are being taught that needs to change. Organisations will need to rethink learning in the workplace, reinventing traditional methods and embracing new approaches including microlearning and mentoring. With lack of career development and advancement still featuring as a major reason why people quit their jobs, learning will also need to be tailored to the individual with a more personalised approach supporting them in their specific objectives and interests.
Challenges that can get in the way
1. A volatile environment
We are facing war in Europe, disruption to the supply chain, and widespread inflation, all adding to the uncertainty and ambiguity of a post-covid world. Financial targets must be met while keeping workload to a reasonable level and ensuring that we avoid employee burnout. The pressure is on to continue delivering to shareholders while also addressing the needs and changing expectations of employees, investing in the employee experience that is so critical for engagement, retention, and long-term competitiveness.
2. A traditional mindset
It’s all very well to have catchy mantras on culture put up around the office, or nicely worded policies written down on paper. Real culture is reflected in the informal values and behaviours of a company’s people, and how things get done in practice in the workplace. The fact is that in a high-pressure working environment where leaders have grown up with a workaholic mindset, new behaviours are not being role modelled. The reality of what is acceptable will often differ from any formal prescriptions. Experienced leaders and managers need training and coaching to become as comfortable in the new world as they were in the old, and to be able to support their teams (while avoiding burnout themselves).
3. Difficulty measuring
How can you accurately measure wellbeing? Culture? Even productivity, especially when it comes to more creative roles? While everyone recognises that these are important notions, there is no clear consensus as to the right metrics. Organisations are relying on employee surveys, retention rates as well as intent to leave the company and reasons for leaving, along with core business metrics. Without clear metrics, it becomes difficult to capture an accurate picture of the current landscape, to compare companies, and to assess how things are improving.
4. True transformation
In the top-performing companies, any obvious steps have already been taken; the low-hanging fruit have already been picked, as it were. Organising yet another one-off workshop on time management or wellbeing is simply not going to be move the needle at this point. To see a true transformation, we will need to move beyond such a piecemeal approach to look at how we can effect real change in mindset, behaviour, and culture across the organisation. How do we as individuals manage our energy and focus? How do we work effectively across increasingly diverse organisations? How do we maximise connectedness and collaboration while also allowing for flexible working?
A way forward
1. A partnership between business and HR
In the absence of obvious answers and a clear and comprehensive prescription from global HQ, organisations are being quite pragmatic as to how they approach these challenges. There will need to be a strong partnership between HR – who can articulate the guiding principles and provide the framework – and business leaders – who will need to find a working formula for their department within that framework. While HR is facilitating internal conversations, the business needs to make the right decision for their department.
2. The need to focus
Given the economic climate and the balancing needs of delivering financial results as well as investing in the employee experience, it is imperative that we focus on the highest priority areas. That means as an organisation, as well as each individual understanding how to make the most of their time.
There is also a degree of focus needed in terms of going where the energy is. Focusing on specific change agents within the organisation will be much more effective than trying to influence all leaders. The leaders who are passionate about changing the paradigm will create a success story that can inspire the sceptics.
(This reminds me of my own experience with digital transformation… In my corporate work on digital marketing capability, I initially tried to effect blanket change across the organisation. I soon realised that it was much more effective to go specifically to the teams that were open to change, and then create a successful case study that would inspire others to follow suit.)
3. Listening for feedback
Surveys remain one of the most valuable tools in gathering feedback from the organisation and listening to the voice of the employee. Rather than making assumptions, we must talk to our people. Get a focus group together of employees who are new to the organisation and get them to tell you what’s important to them. Drive a culture of upward feedback. Organisations will also need to get comfortable with bringing new ideas earlier to market and then learning and adjusting with time, rather than trying to package things up perfectly and launch new initiatives fully baked.
It’s a challenging time for both individuals and organisations, a period of transition with a great deal of ambiguity and more change still to come. With this upheaval comes an opportunity to reimagine the way in which we work. And that, I think, is exciting.
Many thanks to the HR leaders in top FMCG companies who gave so generously of their time to share their insights with me in my research calls.
To discuss how you as an individual can balance your productivity with your personal priorities, or how your organisation can balance team effectiveness and financial results with the changing expectations of flexibility and the employee experience, message me today and let’s talk strategies for 2023.