The last two years have wrought incredible changes on the world of work. Companies have changed their business models, jobs have been reimagined, systems and processes have been re-engineered or replaced, and employee expectations have shifted.
Whether it was the simple act of leaving the office itself or the changes necessary for the workforce to connect and communicate, we discovered we can no longer take for granted what we experienced as the natural, almost accidental benefits of being physically together to work. For example, how much of the company culture revolved around the physical spaces and the time we spent in the office? What spontaneous feedback and coaching do we miss from not being there in person? How does work-life balance happen? Even if we weren’t certain of the answers, we knew our approaches to performance management and collaboration needed to be rethought. And we began to question how great they were to begin with.
To be true to our culture and values and to thrive as an organization, we must be more thoughtful and deliberate about everything we do. Intentionality is critical for managerial and leadership effectiveness. And the TD function is responsible for preparing them to be great at it.
What Managers Have to Be Deliberate AboutCommunication. Managers need to be candid, transparent, and respectful. They have to provide timely, reliable, and fact-based communication. They need to be better at anticipating what needs to be communicated, at “explaining the why,” and then making people feel heard.
They must listen actively and with humility. CTDO Next member companies report great results from their efforts to improve manager listening and communication skills. It’s important to have several moderate weekly meetings with agendas that include time for informal and personal connection. At Florida Blue, the TD function generates weekly emails to managers called “Living Our Values.” Based on the company’s five leadership belief statements, the emails give managers powerful stories to share.
Care and deeper concern for people. Managers need to model empathy, respect, and understanding. They need to be compassionate, accept and act on employees’ needs for physical and psychological safety, and be more flexible when responding to the individual needs of employees. “Maybe you can’t teach people to care,” says Michelle Braden, CTDO Next member and vice president of global talent at WEX, “but you can teach empathy, listening, embracing gratitude, and considering the whole person.”
More active connection. Managers have to maintain an environment of equity, diversity, and belonging. They need to create connections. Some CTDO Next companies have been helping managers schedule virtual open office hours that invite employees to drop in to talk about business issues or simply to connect. And they must offer coaching, feedback, and a wide array of opportunities for development. At N.F. Smith, the TD function created a facilitated peer coaching program that works on real-life cases and provides a host of support resources.
More explicit direction. Managers need to provide clarity on work hours and locations, how their team(s) will work together, and how collaboration and communication is expected to happen. They must be clear about where there will be flexibility and where there can’t be. The rules they set will make well-being a priority, fostering a sense of belonging and demonstrating the values and the purpose of the organization. WEX has revolutionized their development programs, adding emphasis on things like leading though disruption and psychological safety.
What Managers Must Do but Leaders Have to Do Even MoreLeaders must be more self-aware than ever before. They must be aware of their power and influence and act accordingly. They must be clear about what they believe in and what they stand for.
They have to be intentional about modeling and promoting the organizational culture in everything they do and say. They need to be deliberate about communicating and reminding employees of the mission they share and the powerful purpose it supports. They need to tell the stories that show how much employees are valued and celebrate wins.
They need to build trust and break down obstacles that limit their connection to employees and that limit team success. They need to own up to what they don’t know and admit when they make mistakes and learn from them. One CTDO Next member company sponsors monthly fireside chats. Another offers coaching on habits for effective leadership in the new world of work.
Leaders need be agile and do what works best for employees rather than what is most comfortable for them. They need to embrace new ideas and be willing to scrap old ones. They need to focus on what matters most and be more careful to deliver on promises. CTDO Next members have redesigned their leadership development offerings and have added new frameworks and tools to support these critical skills. One offers an interactive guide for leaders to help them improve their effectiveness.
Team Members Must Do Their PartsIt is worth remembering that intentional management is often a team effort. Teams share a responsibility to each other and to the organization for communication, connection, transparency, and clarity of direction. Together, managers and teams create the environment that allows everyone to succeed.
What TD Has to Do to LeadIf our leaders and managers are to succeed, there is critical work for the TD function to do. It is about building their skills, and so much more.
Yes, the capability development task is critical. We can help leaders and managers master the technology of the new workplace and use it to do their jobs in new and better ways. We can teach the skills needed to succeed at the entire array of newly intentional responsibilities listed above. We should have a plan to do so.
But in the process, we can do more. We can teach them how to reach out to employees and foster new kinds of connections as well as how to be more authentic in their communication. We can show them ways to communicate more often and how to create occasions for connection (even informally). We can make sure they understand the support systems available to their employees and how to leverage them.
We can co-design with them the new rules of the road for how teams and functions will work. We can help them to rethink processes and systems, work roles, and job structures.
And we can help them to reflect, take stock, and improve their abilities as intentional managers and leaders.