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  • Writer's pictureBruce Langevin

Because I said So - Leadership Integrity in Times of Uncertainty

I have benefitted greatly over the last 24 months from a monthly meeting of like-minded leaders where we discuss current issues with a high-performance leadership lens. Having access to the experience of others, and learning from both failures and success, provides a richness of growth that the current pandemic-initiated isolation sought to limit.

The topic for our most recent gathering was “Adapting to Tomorrow’s Workplace,” and was based on the most recent Pulse of the American Worker Survey[i]. Gerry, a long-time friend and colleague, shared concerns over employee retention and their career advancement opportunities within the context of the future of work. During the course of the discussion, Gerry was asked why these issues were so important to him. His response impacted me significantly.

He simply said that he understood that several key performers on his current team were looking elsewhere for the career opportunities he had committed to when they were recruited, but which had been stalled due to the realities of 2020-2021. “Simply put” he continued, “I should have found a way because I said so.”

We all understood what he meant. He had made a commitment and he was going to realize the results of not being able to follow through. What impacted me the most was the fact that he was far more upset over not being able to keep his word, than he was with the potential loss of key performers – Leadership!

No one would suggest that the stalling of career growth was in any way Gerry’s fault, but he had said so, said he would do something, and he realized he had not. It reminded me with laser focus on the critical need for leaders to show integrity, even and especially during times of uncertainty.

Nearly half of all workers surveyed in the most recent American Workers Survey indicated they were concerned about their Career growth.

That should not come to anyone as a big surprise. That being said, making those opportunities happen during the last year and a half has proven a challenge at the very least.

As our discussion, prompted by Gerry, continued, we identified

3 critical action items for any leader facing the loss of key resources:

1. Immediately start the discussion.

Sit down with your key performers, acknowledge previous expectations and commitments along with articulating the current challenges. If a new approach is required, talk those options through and agree on a way forward.

2. Equally important, if it has not happened already, have that sincere discussion about what is important to that individual.

As we know it is not necessarily title or money – especially not today!

The American Workers Survey suggests the following top 3 priorities:

1. Flexible work schedules - 31%

2. Mobility opportunities - 25%

3. Remote-work options - 22%

73% of all workers, and 83% of remote workers agree employers should continue to offer and expand remote-work options even after the pandemic is over

It is altogether possible that the current challenges in making career advancement more difficult can and should be offset by providing other priority benefits. It all starts with the important first conversation.

As our group continued to unpack those commitments we had made in previous recruitment discussions, the second theme that immediately presented itself was culture.

The preponderance of recent research has clearly shown that the majority of our current workforce is looking for culture alignment with the organizations they decide to join.

As we have met with potential new resources, we would have done our best to have positioned ourselves as a place people would want to work. If the case was well made, and the result was a decision to join our teams, are we still a place our top talent wants to work? Have we maintained the culture that attracted our best in the first place?

Maintaining company culture during the past 18 months would have required effort, adaptability and commitment. Our survey provided good news on this front, with more than half of respondents reporting that connection to company culture has improved.

Moreover, 70% of workers rated their employers’ efforts at maintaining culture throughout the pandemic as an “A” or “B.”

3. Be ready for the “Great Resignation.”

First suggested by Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz, the idea of the pending mass move of employees from current positions to new opportunities seems to be straining at the gate like a thoroughbred waiting for the starter. Some have suggested it has been overstated,

but whether overstated or not, most critical to our discussion today is to ensure our key resources are not prompted to leave by the fact that we didn’t follow through on what we promised in the past.

Dr. Klotz’s theory suggests that people stay in place during times of uncertainty, which we have certainly all been a part of over the last 18 months, and then move when opportunities suddenly present themselves. Only time will tell, but without a doubt many in my professional sphere are suggesting they feel stalled having lost over a year of progress. As leaders, we have an obligation to follow through on what we committed to pre-pandemic in terms of career trajectory.

Most recently, research indicates that Manager resignation rates have increased during the pandemic: As of December 2020, the resignation rate for managers was nearly 12% higher than the previous year.

While increased responsibilities and burnout likely played a major role, gender differences were also a factor. Female managers were more likely to leave the workplace altogether to take care of their families during Covid-19, while men were more likely to jump ship to another role. This supports Visier’s earlier public polling findings, which uncovered that one in three female managers were considered exiting the workforce altogether.[ii]

Why is this important to us who lead, especially as we come out of this lockdown? Simply put because we said so! We recruited top performers because we wanted to build the highest performing teams we could. We knew that with performers comes ambition and a desire to see upward career trajectories. Those expectations may have taken a beating, but pandemic or not, the most successful leaders will find a way to continue to make those expectations realities.

Ensuring the retention of those who trusted their futures to us by joining us in our vision, is not just the right thing to do, but could very well be the differentiator between those who experience the Great Resignation and those who do not. Even so, our word as leaders needs to stand even during unprecedented and difficult times – In my case I want to see this through simply because I said so!

[i] [ii]

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