Leaders: Will You Win The Race or Fall At The Final Hurdle?

No-one doubts that the current pandemic has created all kinds of challenges for leaders and the businesses they lead.  Some have fallen by the wayside, including some big-name brands, but in the main many businesses have so far survived – many just by the edge of their teeth. And whilst some might be thinking of celebrating this success, I would caution that because there are still some challenges looming on the horizon, which if not addressed could cause your business to fall at the final hurdle.

Just imagine, you’ve spent literally weeks transitioning your team members to work from home. You’ve upped your communication, re-iterated your strategy, praised your team, adopted remote working practices, embedded flexible working, invested in technology to implement all this, pivoted your working practices, and in some cases product offering, all to accommodate the new world we find ourselves in.  As a leader, you’re proud of what you have achieved, and then suddenly it all comes tumbling down. 

This is exactly what happened to jockey Dick Francis in the 1956 Grand National - one of the most prestigious horse jumping races in the UK, noted for its difficult and very challenging fences. An enthusiastic crowd thought they were about to witness the first royal victory in the world-famous race for more than 50 years when Francis’s mount Devon Loch owned by the Queen Mother, took up the running three fences from home. But the packed stands were shocked into silence when Francis's mount suddenly seemed to take a bad step 50 yards from the finish, before losing his footing and slithering along the turf to an embarrassing halt as his rivals galloped past to win the race.

So why do I think companies could falter?

At the start of the pandemic employee engagement levels were high as all the team became united behind a shared purpose – to beat the COVID virus and ensure their businesses’ success. However, in recent months employee engagement levels have started to fall, and what we are beginning to see a global crisis in culture begins to emerge. Productivity levels are falling, employee wellbeing is coming under scrutiny and team members are beginning to challenge whether their business culture is really aligned with their new-found aspirations. 

The irony is that this is all occurring just as there is some hope that we will emerge from the pandemic and business is on the brink of recovery.

The Four Forces Eroding Culture Today

The team at Engagement Multiplier has identified four forces that are eroding culture today.

  1. Fatigue – rising burnout and exhaustion leads to employee fragility. According to LinkedIn Glint employee burnout, signs have increased 33% in 2020.
  2. Misalignment – rapidly growing misalignment between employers and employees, the latter who are looking for some form of recompense for all the additional work they have put in over the last 10 months. Many companies adopted necessary austerity measures at the start of the pandemic curbing pay rises and halting bonuses and other perks
  3. Resistance – concerns about returning to the workplace. Employee preferences vary dramatically regarding returning to the workplace, some don’t want to return, others want a hybrid approach
  4. Misunderstanding – employee expectations have shifted dramatically as many people have re-evaluated their priorities in light of the pandemic.  They are expecting many of the changes like remote and flexible working to become permanent

Understanding and keeping abreast of these evolving employee expectations will make or break a leader’s ability to retain and attract top talent because if you can’t find a way to embrace the new normal of work, your employees will find a way to make it work elsewhere.

So how do you avoid falling at this last hurdle?

There are four steps leaders must take if you want to take back control of the pandemic and its impact on your business:

  1. Acceptance – there needs to be a realization that these challenges exist and that they need to be addressed as a matter of priority
  2. Understanding – the truth
  3. Communicating – what matters
  4. Taking Aligned Action – where it will make a real difference

Plus leaders must also recognize that employee engagement drivers are rapidly changing and this is impacting the business culture. Issues that are top of mind for employees are:

  • “a sense of inclusion”
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Support for employee mental health

So please don’t wait but grab the reins and tackle these issues right now before they blindside you later in the year and potentially cause the demise of your business.

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