Lack of support, lack of development, a fast-moving environment and personal limitations are all common leadership challenges. Do they sound familiar? There’s nothing new here, leaders have been facing these particular problems for decades.
What IS new are some of the challenges created as we automate, innovate, and take our businesses global. Today, we are experiencing new leadership challenges, and unless you act now, they are only going to hold your business back in the future.
1. Remote working
There are currently 1.54 million people in the UK working from home - that’s up from 884,000 ten years ago, according to the Office for National Statistics. And it’s a trend that is only continuing to grow. By 2020, half of the UK workforce is expected to be working remotely - most are likely to be down the road, but others would like this to be further afield.
It's rare to find a company that doesn’t have some degree of remote working. For employees, it’s becoming an expectation rather than a “perk”, Students at secondary school and younger are often now completing assignments “remotely” - logging in to their school’s virtual learning environment and collaborating with others online. With this experience and expectation coming through with our younger employees - organisations need to be more open to offering remote working if they want to attract the best talent.
The benefits of remote working are well-documented, from improved productivity and efficiency to lower stress rates and better team morale. Remote working enables us to attract a more diverse and flexible workforce, but as we become more remote and less reliant on the office to bring everyone together, it does present a new set of challenges for modern-day leaders.
How can leaders effectively support their teams if they don’t see them? This is not a case of checking up on them and how they’re spending their working time, but being in a position to offer real managerial and leadership support to drive performance and develop your leaders of the future. One of the most frequent challenges facing more traditional leaders is the ability to let go of the control, learning to trust people enough to do their jobs without you feeling the need to monitor their every movement?
The solutions may sound quite simple, but we know they take some work. Here are three things you can add to your leadership skillset to get more comfortable with remote working:
1) Set clear expectations for your teams. Make decisions and communicate the expectations of availability, contractibility, and when you will be in touch. Make sure people know when they are expected to be “online” and contactable by others. Communication is key.
2) Technology is and will continue to be your friend as your teams become more dispersed. Just because you’re not working in the same physical space doesn’t mean you can’t see people. Make as much use of video technology as you can - video allows us to be face-to-face even when we’re the other side of the world. Remember we get more than 55% of our communication from non-verbal cues – we need to see someone’s face to communicate well. Real time communication is important too, enabling your employees to ‘chat’ and follow conversation threads even if they weren’t awake and working at the same time. There are lots of ‘chat tools’ available these days; tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams enable collaboration and decision-making without needing everyone in the same room at the same time.
3) Hire people to trust them. The biggest controversy around remote working has always been the trust issue. Many old school managers worry about how they can trust people to deliver on outcomes if they can’t see them? The answer is clear – you trust them. You focus on outcomes and deliverables not clock watching and micro-management. You give people the benefit of the doubt. You assume they’ll do the right thing. Only if they aren’t delivering on outcomes should you need to ask questions.
The question then becomes: how do you build trust if the people you lead can’t see you? It’s important that people know they can depend on you even when you’re not in the office. Keep lines of communication open and show the same support and transparency you would in person. It’s also a really good idea to create relatively regular opportunities to see each other in person too - an annual team get together, quarterly meetings in different locations, or just taking the time to go see your people in their environment to show them you care.
2. The new generational mindset
In the world of instant gratification, employees are coming into organisations and wanting to make an impact right away. For younger generations, work isn’t just about making money. They want to do work that has a purpose, that is fulfilling, and where they can see and feel that they make a real difference. If not given these opportunities, they’ll get itchy feet, and they’ll move on. And you’ll lose out on potentially great talent.
As Simon Sinek summed up, “Smart kids in their entry level jobs want to quit because they feel they are not making an impact… when they’ve only been there 8 months!”
If they don’t find these opportunities within your company, they’re not afraid to look elsewhere. This idea of a job for life is gone. Today we’re advised that we’re likely to have five careers in our lifetimes, let alone how many actual jobs or companies that will include. If you don’t develop growth opportunities and make a concentrated effort on succession planning and talent development you’re setting yourself up to lose great talent. What are you doing to keep this talent interested and loyal to you?
The challenge for leaders today is how they can ensure that everybody is given the opportunity to make a real impact within their jobs - and make this impact early on. The answer is two-fold:
1) Offer a clarity of purpose that makes it so super clear that people can’t help but see the difference they are making. Show that golden thread from core organisational vision and strategy to the person who sorts the post. Why are you asking everyone in your business to work so hard and how does their effort move that needle forward?
2) Give people a voice. As a leader you can create a welcoming space for all employees to share their ideas and feedback. The next step is of course, to then actually listen to them and take on board what they have to say. If people are able to say “I had this idea” and “I made this happen”, they will want to stick around and see it through. They’ll also be looking to your ‘what next’ helping you to avoid risk and spot opportunities for your future – together.
3. Constant change
Over the next decade, the already rapid pace of change is only going to accelerate. The challenge for leaders is how to help themselves and their teams to get comfortable with the constant change and avoid any skills gaps or low productivity levels whilst they’re at it.
Changing customer and environmental demands means a need for changing skillsets. This means leaders need to support staff in regularly updating their skills through regular training opportunities, as well as making sure they get their own opportunities for development. This is where blended learning solutions are becoming even more powerful. By combining face-to-face learning with online learning, we can deliver sustainable training solutions that can be adapted to match evolving training needs - even when operating in different time zones, age-brackets, and any other signature strengths of a diverse workforce.
This ongoing need for change can have a cumulative effect on both leaders and their teams. People can experience change fatigue – where they’ve been expected to change too many things at once for too long without any moments of certainty and calm. Creating those moments of calm amidst a whole host of change can offer them a lifeline of certainty and “rest” where they know how to get something done and can feel their own progression. Leaders need to be able to support people through this process - whilst maintaining their own sense of stability too. Connection across teams and being a leader who can build nurturing relationships with their employees will be pivotal to your organisation’s ability to evolve, succeed, and maintain relevance in a modern age.
Arguably, leaders today have a tougher job than their predecessors. This is due to the ever changing expectations of customers, employees, and the technology and systems we use to support them. These challenges might be relatively new, but they are only going to increase in pace and complexity. Organisations who act now to develop their current AND their future leaders will win out over those that put their head in the sand and keep on doing what they’ve done before. What can you do today to make a difference tomorrow?