Many business leaders will end the year with the same concerns they started with: how to retain employees and create a work culture that motivates them, makes them feel included, and brings out their best work. In every industry, and particularly in tech, quit rates are climbing, and fierce competition makes employee recruiting and retention two very daunting tasks. So what leadership and culture strategy will you choose to win the war on talent?
You may have tried a variety of perks to appeal to employees, such as free lunches and happy hours. Or perhaps you’ve made policies more flexible, creating mentoring programs and trying to better align employees’ job descriptions with their strengths or with the company mission.
But you’ve probably discovered that perks and processes alone aren’t the answer. As companies continue to question how to better manage employees, they’re starting to look at who is managing them. Managing means to handle (as in horses) or to get by, neither of which are indicative of a leader’s role. Do you have the right people in place, not to just manage, but to lead employees at this critical time?
Just as employees’ expectations are changing, the skills and behaviors of managers must also change. In years past, a person might be promoted to manager because they were successful in their current job. They were a superior salesperson or analyst.
But the skills needed for that job are not the same ones that are essential for effective leadership—particularly in today’s business environment where leaders must constantly adjust to rapid change.
As a leader, you’ll have to sift through a wealth of information to make speedy, yet good decisions, and anticipate/meet high customer and employee expectations while simultaneously creating a thriving, inclusive culture.
So what are those must have modern leadership skills? What key concerns should every leader make sure they are proactively addressing, regardless of industry? And how do they make sure that culture includes all employees’ voices—a particular challenge in today’s political climate?
For perspective, we took a look at five top 2018 articles from leadership and culture gurus. In case you missed it, or could use a refresher, here are words of wisdom to ponder as we prepare for the new (and ongoing) challenges awaiting us in 2019:
Playfulness isn’t an aspect you usually think about in the same breath as leadership, but Matt Symonds, co-director of Fortuna Admissions, a boutique MBA Admissions consultancy, says that it is vital.
In his article, he talks with David Brown, director of executive education at Imperial College Business School in the U.K., who says that business leaders—both new and experienced—need to bring back a sense of curiosity, fun, and innovation in their work.
Every business, regardless of industry, is undergoing transformation and leaders are being called upon to understand and harness new technologies, and to foresee the potential of combining different technologies in new ways. Understanding the complexities of a rapidly changing world is essential, as are an inquiring mind, imagination, and a sense of playfulness.
In her Forbes article, Liz Ryan, CEO and Founder of Human Workplace, describes Brian, who is a boss-but-not-a-leader. He has the technical chops but not the leadership acumen.
Other signs that he’s a boss, not a leader? He’d rather code than have a conversation with his employees. He doesn’t ask for employee feedback, lacks a desire to develop employees, and lacks empathy and a vision for the department. He’s tactical; not strategic.
Because the team usually meets their goals, Brian’s lack of leadership isn’t an obvious deficit. Consider the opportunity cost of what the team could achieve if their leader actively involved the team and sought out ideas to solve problems. Brian’s lack of leadership, and focus on employee growth and development increases the likelihood of disengagement and turnover.
The responsibility also lies with the executive team who do not ensure people in leadership positions have the skills and desire to lead, or at least a commitment to gaining those skills. As we consider the changing workforce and organizational needs, the Brians of the world need to be matched with positions that align with their strengths—leaving leadership to those who excel at it.
Micah Solomon, customer service consultant and keynote speaker asks, in an arm wrestling match between leadership and culture, who would win? Solomon’s answer? Both. Leadership and culture work bi-directionally, he says in his article, with each affecting the other.
When a new leader comes into an existing culture, they have three choices; attempt to destroy the existing culture, nurture the existing culture, or evolve it. Success here depends on the strength of the leader, the strength of the culture, and how the leader approaches the issue.
The state of the work culture can determine which approach to take, but Solomon advises that evolving the culture is frequently the only choice for leaders who want to effectively make changes.
Since we know leaders are responsible for creating their culture, it’s only fitting to look at Alexa von Tobel’s article on how to get that done. The culture has to meet the needs of the employees—granola bars and cold-brew coffee on tap only go so far.
Employees are looking for work that fits their life, with flexible schedules, von Tobel says. And if employees have to go to work, they want it to matter. They want to be connected with a bigger sense of purpose and want to be mentored in their own career growth.
Von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest.com, a personal financial planning company, says concentrating on these five areas will help you hit the mark:
1.Create work-life flexibility. It doesn’t have to be a completely remote work arrangement, but giving employees control over their schedules results in them having a greater commitment to you and to the company.
2. Understand family needs, which in addition to flexible work schedules, may include benefits like elder care, adoption, on-site daycare, and domestic partner benefits.
3. Invest in employees. Showing appreciation for employees doesn’t have to be a drain on finances or time, but should be thoughtful and personal. Whether by recognizing a work anniversary, providing online learning, or even offering sabbaticals, companies that show they care about employees invoke loyalty.
4. Find capable mentors for your employees. Have an established path for employees to seek out mentors and give them sanctioned time to meet during the workday.
5. Don’t be afraid to not be the smartest in the room. Hire the best and be open to ideas from others.
As co-founder and CEO of Project Include, a nonprofit that uses data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion in tech, Pao says that in today’s climate, building a healthy organizational culture doesn’t just mean focusing on what happens within the company’s walls.
In her article, Pao says that today’s political environment creates fear, tension, and anxiety for employees, and the culture is influenced by how those leaders handle those issues.
Should you ban or limit political discussions or offer resources and outlets for underrepresented groups? Or should you allow the discussions and try to make them productive? If you choose this route, Pao says, determine what parameters and boundaries you want to set, and determine what you’ll do if someone offers information that conflicts with the company values.
Finally, as a leader, how comfortable are you sharing your personal views, knowing that shows your deeply held values? What may be right for one company may not be the right answer for another company, Pao says, but doing something is better than not doing anything at all.
As you approach the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, think about how you are developing your modern leadership skills. Do you use playfulness to encourage curiosity and innovation? Do you intentionally use leadership skills to help your team progress and not just manage processes? Do you appreciate how your very presence influences the culture?
Ensure that an emphasis on leadership and culture doesn’t stop with you, but trickles down within your team. Today’s leaders must develop and use these skills well, but they also set the bar for others to do the same.
David is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. His articles have also appeared on The Next Web & The Economist. Follow him on Twitter @davidmizne.