In a recent State of the Workplace report we ran with YouGov, the challenges leaders are facing were laid bare. We polled 1,000 employees at US businesses with the aim of painting a clear picture of what companies today need to do to be successful in the long term, and what we found was striking.
Employees gave their employers relatively low performance ratings for the things most critical to achieving long-term sustainability –namely purpose, connection and collaboration. And what was just as telling is that the things leaders are paying attention to and performing well at, namely those tasks related to old-fashioned expediency, will have no real bearing on company performance over the next five years.
What does this tell us? To begin with, it is important to note that leaders are not underperforming as such. The way they are spending their time is more a reflection of the extent and rate of recent systemic changes than it is of the competence of the leaders themselves.
Leadership needs in 2021:
Leaders have a knowing/doing problem and faced with this they fall back on the approach that has served them well in the past. In extreme cases this might be called hubris, but it would be unfair to claim that in all leaders. We live, after all, in strange times.
But change is needed, and sooner or later something has to give. Leaders need to approach their work in a fundamentally new way with the aim first of achieving maximum inclusivity – helping employees understand and shape the purpose of their company – and secondly, of making their business ‘future-proof’ through data-driven transformation and a commitment to continual improvement.
How? They need to measure themselves against the standards set by their business, not themselves. The days of the autocratic leader who goes it alone, tucked away in the big corner office, are gone. Today they need to have the values, vision and purpose of their business in their bones.
That makes them accountable to their organisation, but it will also help them to articulate these things to the wider team and allow that team to shape them.
In a wider way, leaders need to have a broad understanding of their organisation as a complex entity, more than the sum of its parts. They need to break down walls and flatten hierarchies and embrace a collaborative and open working environment in which honesty and respectful criticism – especially of the leadership – is valued.
This bridges the gap between the leadership of the business and the rest of it, but it also prevents leaders from slipping back into old habits. There is no room for ‘yes-men’ in this new world. Leaders must be humble and listen to what their teams have to say.
This holistic understanding of the organisation is a necessary prerequisite to knowing what data to gather, how to gather it, what that data means, and how to use it to drive change. In turn, that data will strengthen the leader’s understanding of the business.
Together, they will paint a clear picture from which leaders can deduce what exactly needs to change and begin a cultural shift towards one that aims for improvement and constant adaptation. This is the only way to survive in a volatile world.
Of course, all this requires new tools. Changeshaper, Dare’s proprietary diagnostic and approach, is one of them. It is an enabling tool that gives businesses the means to understand what makes them tick culturally. It relies on comprehensive, deep-dive data and the blending of old and new insights to produce actionable results.
This is not just about survival. It is also about opportunity. Those leaders who lean into the future and move swiftly towards a model that combines radical inclusivity with a commitment to constant data-led transformation will flourish. And their flourishing might just change the landscape in exciting and creative ways.
Rita Trehan is CEO at Dare Worldwide