Nobody is immune to leadership challenges, and although the world has largely emerged from the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and has settled into “a new normal,” there are still roadblocks to work through.
So, we asked high-level leaders to share a leadership challenge they have faced in the post-pandemic workplace landscape – and more importantly how they’ve worked to overcome it.
1. Challenge: Communicating purpose and value
Today more than ever, employees seek purpose and value in their work. Employees want to know:
- What’s the vision?
- Where are we going?
- How do I fit into these plans?
Employees need the inspiration of a shared vision and encouragement to achieve goals as a team. This is easier said than done as a leader, who can also face challenges like:
- Maybe not always feeling inspired
- Unsure of how things are going to turn out
- In the same boat as employees, juggling new and different complexities of hybrid work
Additionally, in remote or hybrid work environments it can be more challenging to bring employees together – even virtually – to discuss a shared vision and purpose. More agile work schedules and employees working in different time zones mean that everyone may not be available at once.
Leaders have an obligation to ensure that employees understand their place within the bigger picture and how their contributions help the business reach goals and succeed.
From a people perspective:
- Remember that employees are emotional beings, with highs and lows.
- Meet your team where they are at; be present and celebrate small wins.
- Practice active listening.
- Be purposeful in your recognition of employees. Make a genuine effort to help the team see the awesomeness in their contributions that enable the business.
- Tell employees often that they and their work matter and that they are seen, heard and appreciated.
From a work perspective:
- Engage with individuals and teams to provide clarity on your shared purpose, including your mission, vision and goals.
- Explain why you all exist as a team, how each person offers value as a contributor, what it means to perform at their best and what winning looks like.
- Furthermore, describe the non-negotiable values that lead everyone to do their best work in the way you believe in doing it.
Director, Performance Improvement
2. Challenge: Fear of messing up
We are living in a time in which people may have heightened anxiety and a potential fear of making mistakes. And if that’s not enough, the desire to be seen as a valued part of the team can quickly move someone from stressed to distressed – fearing failure before they even start.
A culture defined by no room for failure – without considering how we learn and grow – often presents itself as team members not asking questions or speaking up.
As leaders, we need to be careful not to create a culture where failure describes the person. Failure is an event, not a person.
Conversely, we need to engineer an environment in which no one is defending themselves out of fear of belittlement or retaliation, but instead the culture champions each other in the pursuit of excellence.
When employees are comfortable enough to raise their hand to say, “I made a mistake,” “I need help” or “I don’t understand, can you explain it again,” leaders have engineered a safe environment. This is where people feel safe enough to ask questions that will allow them to continually learn, stretch and grow.
This culture is created by leaders in three ways
- Know yourself. Have self-awareness to know that a temporary failure or setback is not a threat against your leadership.
- Choose yourself. There are two choices when it comes to viewing failure: You can either react negatively or respond positively. The choice you make sets the tone for all those you lead.
- Give yourself. As a leader, decide how you want to be remembered during this interaction. What’s your brand – what do you want people to say about you?
A couple of quotes to remember
- Failure is simply a test of your commitment to succeed.
- Because it impacts you and it impacts your team, it’s worth repeating: failure is an event, not a person.
- Finally you could say, sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.
Thought Leadership Director
3. Challenge: Overcoming talent shortages
Companies are going to be competing heavily for limited numbers of talented workers.
A snapshot of what’s going on:
- Record numbers of Baby Boomers have left the workforce since COVID-19. For example, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), in the third quarter of 2020, 3.2 million more U.S. workers over age 65 stopped working compared to the same quarter in 2019. It’s unclear whether and when those numbers will reverse, or if older Americans did indeed retire earlier than planned.
- Women’s mass exodus from the labor market has been dubbed “the SHEcession.” SHRM reports that women accounted for 63% of jobs lost during the pandemic and, as of January 2022, are still “short by more than 1.8 million jobs lost since February 2020.”
- The prospects for the future aren’t that promising either. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. birthrate has plunged to a 35-year low. On average, American women have 1.71 children, which is not enough to replace previous generations.
To prevent critical gaps in knowledge and responsibilities, companies must, more than ever, focus on:
- Internal mobility
- Workforce redeployment (reassigning employees to different roles or teams that require more assistance)
- Higher pay
- Other incentives, such as flexible schedules or reduced workweeks, mobility and employee recognition
This is an important opportunity for businesses to evaluate how they can become a workplace where employees want to stay for the long term. Businesses must focus on doing the types of things listed above that help to retain current valued employees – and not just focus on hiring new people.
Companies may also need to be open to workers and working arrangements they may not have considered previously. For example, this may include employees:
- Who work part-time schedules, as opposed to full-time schedules
- Who live and work remotely, potentially in other cities, states or even countries
- Who need additional training to successfully carry out their job functions
Older employees can be an advantage to businesses as well. For many, their expertise is still peaking at age 65 and beyond. Mature adults can continue to bring experience, insight and value to a company in ways that younger, less seasoned talent can’t. Cultivating, reskilling and retaining older workers can help businesses prevent and fill many of the talent gaps that companies face.
Mary Kay Engelhardt
Vice President, Recruiting & Selection
4. Challenge: Keeping a pulse on your remote or hybrid team
How do leaders maintain a close and successful working relationship over the long term with team members they may not see face to face regularly?
When managing remote or hybrid employees, it can be challenging to spot when something may be “off” with a person or entire team and quickly address the small things so they did not escalate into bigger challenges.
Be deliberate in when and how you connect with people, using some of the below techniques:
- When engaging with direct reports, ask about each individual team member to reinforce the importance of taking care of people.
- Schedule a routine appointment on your calendar to connect with at least two different individual contributors each week. This can be a Skype message, an email, a videoconference meeting or a phone call. The only rules are that it is one-on-one and, if you detect anything that indicates uncertainty from a team member, to have a conversation.
- Practice social awareness.
- Build up your emotional intelligence.
- Become adept at proactively addressing problem behaviors.
Managing Director, Human Resources Operations
5. Challenge: Recruiting in a competitive market
These days, it’s more difficult than ever to attract top talent in a competitive job market.
Job seekers have leverage and can afford to be choosy. They don’t have to spend long periods searching for a position. At any given time, they could have multiple opportunities or actual offers on the table, so recruiters have to act fast.
How do candidates want to see the application process improved?
- Candidates want an easy way to apply requiring the shortest amount of time – if the application can be completed with a cell phone, even better.
- Candidates will no longer entertain lengthy processes with five or more interviews. If you can’t make a decision based on one or two interviews, candidates will likely move on.
Furthermore, the single, major differentiator for candidates when multiple offers are on the table is workplace flexibility.
- Allow for remote work, hybrid work and flexible scheduling.
- Simplify (and shorten) your job application.
- Make your application mobile friendly.
- Remove any other roadblocks that you’ve identified during the application process.
- Implement an applicant tracking system, which can automate and streamline much of the recruiting process and deliver a consistent candidate experience.
- Reduce the number of interviews (two maximum).
Managing Director, Recruiting Services
6. Challenge: Maintaining motivation and focus
Early in the pandemic, there was an increased effort to keep employees motivated and focused. People were afraid for loved ones, adjusting to remote work and overcome with uncertainty of the future. In this case, we can steal a play from our pandemic rule book for maintaining motivation and focus, which continues to be a business challenge.
- Stay optimistic
- Be consistent in connecting with people regularly via individual and team motivational conversations
- Ask for employees’ feedback and opinion
- Implement some type of group activity once per week to engage the team (for example: my own team has started a tradition of light-hearted joke emails on Friday mornings).
Director, Recruiting Services
7. Challenge: Leading through change
During the pandemic, we were given a crash course on how to manage employees through a work environment transformation while maintaining business continuity. We quickly moved into high-functioning mode and had to consider:
- Employee safety and wellness
- Flexible workspaces and scheduling
- Increased client demand
- Workflow changes
- Technology changes
- Staffing shortages
Although employers have always faced catastrophic events, none have been as intense and far reaching for leaders of today as the impact of COVID-19. The experience helped us know that we can overcome, and now we have a great roadmap on how to lead through change, which continues to be a post-pandemic challenge.
There are unique solutions to each of the changes listed above, but the main driver of smooth change management is:
- Good teamwork
- Streamlined decision making when needed, including any necessary pivots when challenges arise
- Encouraging and modeling interactions with coworkers, clients, etc. that is caring, genuine, sensitive and timely
- Abiding faith and trust
- Reaching out to additional resources for support
- Consistent and transparent communication
Director, HR Administrative Compliance
Summing it all up
With changes in the larger workplace come unique leadership challenges. Our Insperity leaders have identified seven areas in which leaders may struggle in the post-COVID landscape, and have offered solutions for each.
To learn more about adapting to workplace changes and overcoming the challenges that come with managing people in a rapidly evolving environment, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to managing change.