Published on 22nd February 2021
A recurring theme during the Covid-19 crisis has been the intense and unprecedented challenges facing political and business leaders. Reflections are now turning to the pandemic’s legacy in terms of the skills, capabilities and mind-set expected of future leaders and managers. This is just one of the topical debates where the global HR services can inject practical insight and expertise and make a real impact.
How has the crisis reshaped the leadership debate?
The importance of empathy, with a genuine focus on people and worker well-being, has been a big theme for a number of years. According to a Mercer survey, 64% of employees felt they were at risk of burnout even before the crisis. The pandemic has cranked this up many notches and even the most ‘old-school’ and hard-nosed business leaders are having to adjust. The implications of not doing so were illustrated in the recent ‘empathy-fail’ and subsequent resignation of KPMG’s UK Chair (ex-Chair!) Bill Michael.
Maintaining worker safety is top of the agenda for most. But the ongoing health crisis, evolving government protocols and diverse employee concerns mean that organisational leaders need help. Ensuring that the global HR services sector is at the forefront of delivering this much needed external support was at the heart of the World Employment Confederation’s Alliance Taskforce. There are specific opportunities here for career management specialists who have been increasingly called on to provide psychological support to those staying with the same employer but wanting to refocus their career aspirations as well as to those moving to pastures new.
The opportunity is there to build on this in the post-pandemic era. The focus on well-being, mental health and on responding to the views and concerns of the workforce will remain paramount for all ‘purpose-driven’ employers.
The rise of the ‘purpose-defining’ leader
In the words of Deanna Mulligan, former CEO of Guardian Life and author of Hire Purpose “Future leaders need to be good at reframing what specific roles are really about at creating genuine purpose. They also need to learn, adapt and model growth mindset”. There’s a lot in that statement, not least the need for authenticity, self-awareness and excellent communication. Again, these were hot topics pre-crisis, but will only increase in salience and urgency.
What does this new era of purpose-driven organisations and purpose-defining leaders mean in practice? It means recruiting on values, it means being able to identify these skills and attributes when hiring senior level staff or potential future leaders. And there are clear opportunities here for amplifying the role that executive search and career management professionals can play. The focus on purpose, ethics and values will (hopefully) create an additional collateral benefit for the recruitment and HR services sector, namely a focus on quality and compliance rather than cost. This was the theme of our recent ‘Skills, Bills and a Davos Debrief’ blog.
New leaders = new approaches to workforce management?
As well as building strong ‘listening skills’ and dialling up employee engagement, business leaders are having to address one the most obvious causes of work-place stress: workforce shortages. Nothing cranks up the pressure more than trying to do a job that is basically un-doable because there are not enough staff and not enough support to do it well. The core role of recruitment and HR service providers in helping business leaders pre-empt and address workforce shortages has never been more important. As part of this, providing agile and speedy solutions via access to temporary, contract and interim management staff remains a vital outlet, especially at a time of extreme volatility.
Speaking on one of Jacob Morgan’s high-energy webcasts, Jeff Schwartz, Deloitte’s leader for the Future of Work in the US, made the following point: “Business leaders are now managing a workforce ecosystem, not just employees; it is about accessing, curating and engaging talent – not acquiring it!”. This is a fundamental truth that needs repeating and reposting. Driving recognition for the wider workplace ecosystem will not only lead to better management and hiring practices; it will drive recognition for those who enable this diverse ecosystem to breath, grow and replenish – ie: the global HR services sector!
There is no doubt that increased flexibility and remote working will be a legacy of the crisis. How will this pan out and how will leaders deal with so-called ‘context collapse’? Interestingly, the majority of business leaders and HR professionals on the recent Mercer Talent Trends webinar said that remote and flexible work had enhanced employer engagement, with less than 20% reporting a negative impact. The debate on maintaining organisational cohesion and culture in an atomised work environment will continue to simmer. And getting this right will tick the box on one of the most underlying priorities for business leaders which Lisa Lyons – Workforce Transformation Leader at Mercer – identified as “energising the work experience”.
One final reflection… Industry leaders within the global HR services sector will also make a difference by modelling what good looks like when it comes to building collective energy and purpose and creating positive narratives. The fact that – even in the midst of a global pandemic – the industry has helped thousands of individuals into temporary and temporary jobs and thousands of employers fill crucial front-line role is a good starting point!
This post is part of a series where we explore the key themes that emerged from the conversations with national federations and corporate leaders within the Alliance Task Force. The series is signed by Tom Hadley, an external advocacy and campaigns consultant and former Director of Policy & Campaigns at the REC, the professional body for the UK’s recruitment and employment industry. He is currently leading the World Employment Confederation’s ‘Alliance Task-force’ project.