Engaging employees and retaining talent at all levels is paramount as the impact of 2021’s Great Resignation continues to be a real business concern for leaders and organizations heading into the new year.
Leading with purpose matters now more than ever. In a recent McKinsey survey, nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based employees reported that COVID-19 had caused them to reflect on their purpose in life, and nearly half said that they were reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic1.
Progressive organizations recognize that at all levels, people today want to work for organizations where they can live in accordance with their values and where authentic leaders align with, uphold, and support those values.
Dana M. Smith, ECC Affiliate Executive Coach, sees the challenge more than ever for today’s leaders. “Aligning to purpose is a tough road for many leaders as it can be very personalized and therefore difficult to ascertain at an individual level. It necessitates asking powerful questions, getting to know your people, and seeing them as multi-faceted. It also requires dedication, intentionality, and time - a precious commodity in today’s frenetic, fast-paced work environment.”
Dana offers 4 suggestions that leaders can begin to implement today:
1. AUTHENTICITY - Be your own authentic leader.
Leaders must be true to themselves before they can lead authentically with purpose.
- Introspection - think about what you value and how that may have changed through the pandemic. How does that inform your leadership style and how you choose to “show up”?
- Alignment - evaluate how your organization’s purpose and values align to your own. Consider where they meet, where they do not, and how best to reconcile.
- Empathy - identify ways to be more vulnerable, compassionate, and transparent. Understand people as they want to be understood.
- Live it - Words matter, but actions matter more. Carry yourself in a way that is congruent with who you are and what you have articulated.
2. CONNECTION - Build relationships more holistically.
Impacts of the pandemic on a personal level range widely. For some, impacts may be minimal. Yet for others, whether projected or not, impacts may be extensive and deep including loss, illness, grief, stress, anxiety, burnout, and continued uncertainty.
- Get to know and connect with people beyond the business.
- Take time to ask your team/organization how they are doing, what is their overall sense of well-being, and where they might need support.
- Recognize and acknowledge the level of work-related stress and burnout.
- Ask and listen. Pay attention both to what is said and what is unsaid. Meet people “where they are at”.
3. PURPOSE - Create a purpose-driven environment conducive for people to bring their best selves.
While change on an enterprise-wide level takes time, leaders can positively impact the working environment within their teams, their departments, and their divisions.
- Conduct listening sessions to uncover what values are important to people and if/how those have shifted.
- Assess purpose/value alignment. How do the values that drive people align (or not) with yours and your organization’s? How much are people conforming to corporate culture versus being true to themselves within the context of what the organization values?
- While it’s important to honor individuality, determine if there are gaps in alignment that are cause for concern. How might you collaboratively seek to understand (and not judge) those gaps? Where do they need to be closed? Where is it acceptable for them to simply “be there”? What impacts are there on the business?
4. COMMUNICATION - Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Leaders can improve connection and engagement through establishing and maintaining open lines of communication on key topics including:
- Company purpose and values - and the leader’s own connection to the company’s purpose.
- Connecting individual purpose to company purpose to better match people to assignments, make work more fulfilling, and drive the business forward.
As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”
Dana’s advice: “Make time for introspection and purpose/values discussions. Weave them into the fabric of your leadership. Amidst the continued talent drain and labor shortages, it is increasingly important to unlock answers your people already have - to really see and hear them. They will help you if you invite them to do so. In the end, both you and your organization will reap the benefits of a more engaged, motivated, and retained workforce.”
1 Help your employees find purpose - or watch them leave. McKinsey, April 5, 2021.
- The New Meaning of CEO: Chief Empathy Officer - 4 Reasons Leaders Need Empathy Now. Forbes, Sept. 28, 2021.
- ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours. McKinsey, September 8, 2021.
ECC has an experienced global team of executive coaches who are certified, trained, and highly skilled in providing specialized support for executive leaders. If you or your organization are looking to onboard or prepare an executive leader to drive business results and accelerate success, we’d welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.
Dana M. Smith is an ECC Affiliate Executive Coach based in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. Prior to ECC, Dana led HR and other functions for a number of publicly traded companies focusing on advancing culture, strategy, and organizational development. She has seen organizations from the perspective of operating businesses and private equity/venture capital as well as throughout full economic cycles. She has also acquired new businesses, liquidated a company, and sold two publicly traded organizations in back-to-back transactions. Dana was named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record for her professional achievement, community leadership, and mentoring. She is a Board Director and also a public speaker and has been featured in or contributed to publications including Smart CEO Magazine, Employee Benefits News, The Washington Post, and Washington Business Journal. Dana holds a MS in Organizational Counseling from John Hopkins University and a BS in Economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.