March 6, 2023
Conversations around how work and leadership will change in the coming years have inevitably been accelerated by the pandemic. Companies all over the world have been urged to seek new digital tools, solutions and methods for communicating, making decisions, and activating projects remotely. The companies that emerged most successfully from the Covid era were those that, despite all the uncertainty at the time, decided to adapt and view the pandemic as an opportunity for change rather than an obstacle. When it comes to the future of work, we need new guidelines for building change-ready and vulnerable leadership.
Here, I outline six skills that will be required of management teams to effectively lead their workforces in the future.
- Flexible approach – Since the pandemic, we have gradually shifted away from the ‘office versus remote work’ debate, in favour of workplace flexibility. This is inevitably adding new challenges for leaders in the future of work as they are forced to adapt or change their organisational culture. Not having all of your employees available in the same room anymore will lead to new debates around how to best evaluate team performance and the most effective methodologies and tools for cross-team decision-making. The digital tools we have at our disposal for team communication – e.g. instant messaging platforms, and tools for storing/sharing files, managing team objectives, creating visibility, and enabling asynchronous work – will certainly become instrumental as we embrace the future of work.
- Navigating ambiguity – Leaders and companies will have to learn to embrace change and new trends quickly by practicing so-called agile leadership: this concept, initially rooted in software development and referring to self-organised teams, is now used to denote an approach that focuses on enhancing adaptability in highly dynamic and complex business environments. For leaders, this also translates into feeling comfortable not having immediate answers, and instead practicing collaborative decision-making, fast ideation, trial and error, and sharing mistakes as learnings. Instead of focusing on long-term projects, it will be increasingly important to learn to move at a moment’s notice and to avoid making predictions for the long-term future: it is a difficult, yet necessary change of mindset.
- Vulnerable leadership – For some time now, we have been moving away from the idea that the leader of a business is the ultimate expert in a specific field. Instead, their role today is to enable and build team security, ensure that people are motivated, and see that decisions are made collaboratively. In this context, one of the first skills leaders will have to learn is vulnerability. Risk is an integral part of success, and each leader is always called upon to consider the possibility of failure. Leaders that are able to face this reality by embracing their vulnerabilities and openly sharing their weaknesses with their team will strengthen the culture within the organisation and enable a more transparent workforce.
- Data as a resource to ensure diversity and inclusion – Data will be a huge pillar on which future leaders, supported by their HR teams, can rely on to ensure diversity and equal treatment of employees. With the use of data, one can analyse employee promotion rate, verify the existence of healthy salary inclusion, or ensure the presence of a healthy gender split in leadership positions. As talent searches open up globally and teams are established all over the world, it will become increasingly important to work on the concepts of collaboration, belonging, employee experience, and inclusion to ensure people are treated transparently and fairly.
- Internal and two-way communication – In a volatile world, communication is increasingly important to ensure that employees feel supported and motivated, and understand the business’s direction. Balancing how and what messages are sent is vital. People want to understand and have context for what is happening. It is also important for leaders to have a dialogue with their team and understand what motivates them. One phenomenon which sparks debate in all the talk about the future of work is ‘quiet quitting’. This is a practice in which employees are willing to do only the bare minimum within contractually defined hours, refusing to work overtime, join extra projects, or take on extra responsibilities. We need to rethink the relationship between leaders and employees and create new forms of involvement and interaction. For example, employees are often only interviewed when they leave the company, when it is already too late. Instead, it would be more useful to offer opportunities for constant dialogue because employee satisfaction increases if employees feel supported and encouraged. In such cases, having the latest tools and software available can be very helpful in speeding up the process and offering timely, accurate and relevant data gathering and to convert that into actionable insights.
- Clear corporate mission – The corporate mission is a key aspect within strategic planning. Allocating resources and ensuring that everyone is working towards common goals and objectives has become critical. However, for strategic planning to be effective, two elements are vital: a clear corporate vision and a mission. It is therefore important for leaders to ask themselves how clear the mission is for their employees and how aware they are of the value their work adds to the company. This also connects to internal communication, because these messages often need to be repeated and linked to everyday work.
Lea Kimpele is Head of People Development, People Tech and Analytics at SumUp. Lea dedicates a particular passion to empowering people, especially women. She dedicates much of her leadership time to enhancing female talent.