We’re in a pivotal historical moment: the dynamic between employees and employers is radically, and possibly irreversibly, shifting. This is evidenced in part by the great resignation, but more broadly by decreasing tenure and increased attrition.
Here in Canada, over the last two years, we’ve experienced some of the most extensive lockdown restrictions in North America and extended periods of remote work. These have affected many workplace cultures, resulting in mass departures and a leadership crisis.
Many organizations have found themselves in difficult and unprecedented positions, and we’re seeing a divide within leadership teams in how they believe they should respond. Out of necessity, many are focusing on immediate, short-term actions, like prioritizing significant recruitment efforts to put a band-aid solution on current talent shortages. Others are more focused on the many scenarios that could develop as their business context and the labour market both shift in the long term, unsure how to effectively tackle the pressing talent issues of the moment to be successful in the years to come.
Organizations need to do things dramatically differently than they did pre-pandemic, and leaders need to shift their mindset to tackle these challenges and understand their workforce. But this isn’t just a task for your organization’s chief human resources officer—you need to involve your entire leadership team.
The key to navigating the significant business strategy and model changes many organizations are facing post-pandemic is an integrated and well-considered workforce or people strategy. The last two years have shown us how critical it is to have an engaged, skilled and healthy workforce. Going forward, it will be up to leadership teams to make sure their people are front and centre.
How do leaders build a workforce strategy to differentiate their organization in a post-pandemic world? A natural starting point is to rethink and reframe your employee value proposition and how it relates to your business strategy.
The value proposition of today needs to focus less on the bells and whistles of offerings and more on driving fundamental people principles.
At its simplest, your organization’s employee value proposition should be about the principles your organization stands behind for your people. But many Canadian CEOs have fairly traditional views about how to build trust with their employees. In our recent 25th CEO Survey—Canadian insights, we found that, when it comes to building employee trust, Canadian CEOs are focused on updates on company direction and rewards. Only 31% feel policies about where, how and when employees work are important to address to build trust, and only 25% agree that encouraging diverse perspectives in decision making is important.
The value proposition of today needs to focus less on the bells and whistles of offerings and more on driving fundamental people principles. It’s about going back to basics: understanding what matters to people and helping them navigate their careers and lives in an ever-changing post-pandemic world. If this basic foundation isn’t solid, any recruitment or retention strategies will be fraught with challenges.
More and more people are looking for meaningful, motivating work that feels important to them in an organization that’s trying to achieve something aligned to their personal core values. This connection to purpose is one of the biggest drivers of engagement and, in some cases, it will surpass compensation as a prime motivator. Throughout the course of the pandemic, many workers have re-examined what really matters to them, and we’re seeing the consequences of many of these self-examinations play out in the workplace.
There are a number of ways to tackle this—with varying degrees of effort. Ultimately, organizations should think about how to optimize operations and processes so mundane work can be automated or done elsewhere. A highly effective starting point is to make sure managers throughout your organization take the time to understand what work is actually important to their people, give them a say in defining what their days look like and help them connect that work to their organization’s purpose.
Meaningful connections are important. People, even the highest performers, are experiencing burnout in overwhelming numbers and missing their colleagues and connections to their organizations. Creating a sense of community and building back employee connections are key to alleviating this, but leaders must recognize that managers need the time and support to do this effectively, as they’re likely experiencing the same burnout.
Building meaningful connections isn’t one size fits all. Many younger employees need to feel connected to their organization through their relationships with their peers, building a network that will see them through their career. Yet it’s more common for older employees’ primary relationship to be with their immediate supervisor.
Give your managers the space and time to have meaningful coaching and career conversations with your people, and understand that flexible working arrangements might fundamentally change the way your people interact with one another and with your clients. It’s difficult to carve out space to do anything extra in days packed with back-to-back meetings, but making time to connect is one of the most valuable ways leaders at all levels can spend their time.
Our world is changing, and leaders will need to change with it. Human capacity and skills are currently limiting success for many organizations, where in the past, organizations were often limited by process inefficiency and a lack of technology. It’s time for leaders to shift their mindset and recognize that without an effective, integrated workforce strategy, their business strategy won’t work. This isn’t a situation organizations, or people, will be able to just tough through.
So how does this all translate into action? We’ve identified two key steps for leaders to take today.
Human capacity and skills are currently limiting success for many organizations, where in the past, organizations were often limited by process inefficiency and a lack of technology.
First, think very critically about how to align and integrate your business and workforce strategies. The past two years have taught us you can’t have one without the other. This is a far-reaching conversation for your entire executive team—not one to outsource to HR. In the same way that all leaders must live the mission, vision and values of an organization, they must also work together to drive its workforce strategy.
Second, make sure your managers are part of your workforce strategy. Equip them with the tools, skills and time to bring your employee value proposition to life, understand what work is important to their people and build back meaningful connections. Each of these actions is a business imperative and will need to be communicated—and modelled—from the top.
Talent forces are quickly reshaping our world, and workforce strategies will be key to building trust in the short term and sustaining outcomes in the longer term. It’s time to prioritize and start taking incremental steps, while balancing these steps with broader discussions focused on mid to longer-term initiatives to deliver your updated and integrated workforce strategy.