The current pandemic has turned the world upside down and forced business leaders into doing major restructurings of their organizations. In fact, where we once saw the future of work unfolding slowly over years, COVID-19 has been the accelerant that has brought the future of work into today. That calls for a transformation in leadership as well.
Figuring out how to lead in times of great change and uncertainty is arguably one of the biggest challenges for business leaders at the moment, but it’s also an opportunity that, if handled properly, can lead to more sustainable and resilient organizations now and in the future.
To help guide you in setting a responsible course of action for the future of leadership, we’ve put together a set of five principles.
1. Be at the forefront of technological developments
AI and machine learning have the power to fundamentally transform how your business operates, essentially enabling your organization to achieve greater efficiencies, scalability, and productivity at lower costs.
Some business leaders fear that technology will be like the Terminator, taking over our lives and destroying jobs. But the future of leadership is all about understanding that technology will make lives better for both businesses and people.
First, because past technological revolutions, from the automobile to the computer, have ended up creating more jobs than they have destroyed. And secondly, because technology will free up time for people to do what only humans can do. This requires an increased focus on the ‘high touch’ human skills, such as creativity, empathy, and adaptability.
Your challenges as a business leader lie not so much with deploying the right systems, but with finding people who will work with it. A workforce that embraces change is going to be particularly important when it comes to handling the disruption that comes from more AI, automation and robotics entering the workplace.
2. Talent acquisition is about access, not ownership
In the time of the Industrial Revolution, workers were chained to their desks (or the factory line) eight hours a day, five days a week, but today work can be done from anywhere at any time thanks to technology.
Remote working, flexible workers, and flexible hours are becoming more and more of the norm. In fact, flexible workers now account for around 15 per cent of the working population in the UK. Workers with the most in-demand skills, such as experts in big data, AI or digital transformation strategies, are increasingly choosing to work as freelancers.
Combine that with the fact that both Generation X and Generation Z increasingly demand greater flexibility from their employers, and you’ve got a workforce that has a whole new set of priorities.
To prepare for the aftermath of COVID-19, your business will need to push recruitment beyond the confines of the enterprise wall to include the new hybrid workforce structures consisting of both permanent employees and flexible workers.
The key to success is to shift your talent strategy to focus less on talent ownership and more on talent access.
This will supply your businesses with instant access to the right talent and provide the advantage of scalability to meet fluctuating demand. It’s also a great opportunity for you as a business leader to introduce a more agile, flexible and collaborative mindset to your business that will bring new levels of efficiency, productivity and innovation – for your workforce and clients alike.
3. Focus on purpose to attract top-talent
While companies used to be able to attract top talent with the promise of a high salary, that’s no longer the case. Workers now want to work for an organization that offers purpose and meaning, and they’re even willing to take a pay cut to get it.
Purpose often includes things like investing in workers, making a difference in the world, or driving innovation. Workers want to see that their efforts are impactful and contributing to the overall purpose of the company.
The key is to connect the worker’s mission to the company’s overall purpose. It’s about focusing on creating an employee experience that will seem valuable to them so they get that sense of fulfillment.
Workers who feel like their work makes a difference in the world are more likely to feel fulfilled and recommend their employers to others. In fact, studies have shown that engaged employees are almost three times more productive than those who are dissatisfied.
Just imagine if you could triple your current workforce’s productivity, just by making them more engaged.
4. Adopt trust-based leadership
With greater flexibility in your workforce comes the need for more trust-based leadership. While controlling leadership styles may have worked in the past, leaders won’t find this approach effective in today’s workplace.
Remote working will likely be an option in many businesses even after COVID-19 recedes, as it can be highly efficient – and cost effective – with distributed teams. But for it to work, leaders need to say goodbye to micromanagement, and instead wellcome trust-based leadership.
Trust-based leadership increases your workers’ commitment to your business’ goals. Communication improves, and ideas flow more freely, increasing creativity and productivity. Perhaps most importantly, workers are more comfortable with change and more willing to embrace a new vision, when they feel trusted.
In some of the most successful startups and even large enterprises, you can visibly see greater levels of delegation and decision making at all levels.
Leaders who focus on trusting their workers, while guiding and communicating the vision, leading large client projects and finding new ways to develop their staff, will be the ones to succeed in the future.
5. A holistic approach to sustainability
As the world continues to face the ever-increasing environmental threats of global warming, pollution and climate change, the greater the need is for ethical practices to be demonstrated by business leaders. All of these forces are pushing a shift in social values as a whole.
But sustainability is much more than environmental issues – it’s also a matter of health and safety for your employees.
If climate change is a consequence of human activity, then that activity is, to a certain extent, work-related. And if work is the predominant cause of climate change, then inevitably it must be central to strategies to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to it.
For example, policies that promote remote working saves businesses time and money, while also benefiting the environment and overall employee wellbeing.
Succeeding with the sustainability agenda takes dedication, commitment, and follow-through from the business leaders. However, if your business can do it, morale and productivity will improve even as sales increase and costs decrease. It’s the ultimate win-win achievement for clients and workers alike.
Amidst all of the difficulties that this pandemic has brought with it, there’s also an opportunity to change, reflect, learn, grow, and build better and more robust solutions for the future. If guided by the right leadership principles, the COVID-19 scare may just show us a better way to work.