3 Focus Areas for Leaders Who Want to Empower Their Teams in 2021

These days, it feels like the fastest land speed record (it sits at 760 miles per hour, for those curious) can’t quite compete with the speed of change.

Did you know that 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies from the 1950s have since closed, merged, or been reorganized? And consider your current access to technology: today’s speed of delivery for everything from internet connectivity to a library of your favorite shows and music are dramatically changing our expectations for our personal lives and our work.

And then came 2020.

The global pandemic, social and racial injustice movement, political instability, and increasing concerns about our climate have all shined a bright light on a glaring need for transformation. With our world rapidly changing around us, our workplaces must do the same.

According to McKinsey, we progressed how we work about 10 years over just 4 months of 2020. Working from home has been normalized on a global scale that no one ever anticipated.

We might be feeling some whiplash, but on the bright side, a whole world has woken up to the fact that they have more choice and less limitation on their career horizons. Many of us can take more ownership of our work-life harmony than ever.

As an HR professional, and especially as chief human resources officer at Relativity, I see so much opportunity now that these important foundations have taken root in our economy. I firmly believe that organizations and leaders who build muscle in a few critical areas will lead the way in navigating the future of work.

Read on to take a look at a few critical focus areas for today’s forward-thinking leaders, and how they can help make your organization a happier, more successful place to work.

Focus Area #1: Resiliency

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg summed it up well: “It feels like the whole world is tired. Cultivating resilience requires emotional rewiring: understanding the difference between urgency and importance; balancing comfort with containment; and finding new ways to energize yourself and others.”

In many ways, change creates chaos. And the rapid acceleration of change, which is happening all around us, certainly doesn’t help. We may have finally hit the tipping point of exponential change. Right now, all we can be certain of is that wherever we end up in the future is probably going to shock most of us.

But there are ways to ride the waves. If we are going to navigate this well, it will be made possible by our ability to believe we have the strength to get through it—and then act accordingly.

Managing your energy levels, and creating an environment where employees have tools and support to manage theirs, will be increasingly important. This means being transparent with your team about your bandwidth, while also giving them confidence in your confidence that you can all adapt and succeed together. Doing so will help them feel seen, encourage them to be honest about their needs, and inspire them to share in your confidence.

Focus Area #2: Wellness

In an environment of constant change, stress, and distraction, the only way we can become better leaders and humans is by being aware of our physical, emotional, financial, and social wellbeing. Many companies have historically stayed away from these areas, considering them almost too personal given the previous divide between “work” and “life.”

Well that divide has been blown up spectacularly. We all know each other’s families, pets, curated “backdrops,” and sometimes pajama choices by now.

So, at Relativity, we have introduced our Wellness Framework in support of our employees’ journeys to truly well-rounded wellbeing.

Of course, it’s also critical to stress that wellness is not a one-person show. There’s no substitute for a good support network of advisors, mentors, therapists, coaches, friends, and/or family.

Every second, more and more humans around the world become socially connected across a variety of platforms. The notion that we must keep certain aspects of our wellbeing private, and that asking for support is a weakness, is quickly transforming. Organizations should implement mechanisms that equip employees to “build their village.”

Focus Area #3: Range

One of my favorite books, The 100-Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, is both illuminating and terrifying. The authors hypothesize that the notion of the three-stage approach to life—education, work, retirement—is breaking down. As we find ourselves needing to reskill roughly every five years, thanks to the exponential disruption of new technologies, our careers just don’t look as linear as they once did.

Thus, now is the time for us to be intentional about how we develop range—in ourselves and in our organizations. What is range? It is the habit of pursuing curiosity, of trying new things, and of being open to new experiences outside of your comfort zone.

Range by David Epstein (another read I highly recommend) posits that the way to succeed is by “sampling widely, gaining a breadth of experiences, taking detours, experimenting—or, in essence … developing range.”

So how can organizations nurture range for their team members? Here are a few practical ideas:

  • Create programs where employees can shadow colleagues whose work they find interesting (even better if these shadowing exercises mindfully blend exposure to both technical and non-technical skills).
  • Incentivize employees to explore the multitude of online learning that has virtually exploded over the last 10 months.
  • Implement virtual tools to facilitate career development and mobility in new and more self-directed ways.

Building a strong reflex of self-directed, just-in-time, micro learning will be key to adapting and retraining ourselves to cope with what the future will throw at us.

Many of us ended last year newly skilled in hobbies like home repair, cooking, gardening, or even soap making—thanks largely to resources like LinkedIn Learning or YouTube. We probably did not think twice about diving in when necessity and curiosity compelled us to pursue new interests or cultivate new skills. This passion for learning and self-improvement can easily translate into our professional spheres as well.

Don’t Wait—Innovate

Times of great challenge bring times of great change. Organizations have a unique opportunity to take the power of the lessons learned in 2020 and enact real transformation to enable their employees’ success in 2021 and beyond.

One final piece of advice: Look for all the silver linings during this chaotic time. Acknowledge them and make the most of them. When we look back at this period, it may prove to be a time that provided the most opportunities for learning, as professionals …

And as humans.

With more than 20 years of human resources experience, Beth Clutterbuck joined the Relativity team as CHRO in 2020. She is passionate about employee experience and putting talent first as an organizational imperative.

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