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Four leadership trends successful managers must follow in 2022

Now more than ever, people need effective leaders! The situation we expected to pose a few weeks of problems back in March 2020 is throwing more questions at us than an eccentric Batman villain in a green suit. And the last thing you need is another riddle around the leadership challenges and trends you need to keep up with in 2022.

But if your people could shine a leadership signal into the night sky, they’d be using it to highlight their desire for purpose, progress and a better employee experience. Hopefully, this article is like the helpful butler who helps you figure out how you’ll do it just in the nick of time, setting you up for success in 2022.

Leaders will need to connect people to purpose

“Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees we surveyed said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic.”

This McKinsey study hits the nail on the head in just a few lines – people are far more driven by a sense of purpose than they were pre-pandemic. We’ve all seen the lines between personal and professional blur, and that’s reflected by 70% of employees stating that what they do at work defines their sense of purpose.

The truth is that it’s all linked, with McKinsey defining three areas that influence an employee’s sense of purpose and fulfilment. Firstly, there are the things we do outside of work, such as hobbies, volunteering and caring for others. Next up, we’ve got the purpose we take from the work itself, driven by whether we are making progress on projects that provide meaning and energy.

We know what you’re thinking, it’s hard for leaders to have a direct influence on either of those. That’s where the final part of this fulfilment trinity comes into play, and that’s the purpose that comes from the organisation itself. Company culture, employee experience, mission and values, these are within our control and key drivers of purpose. 

As you’ll see from the image below, the size of their influence can have a huge bearing on the overall sense of fulfilment.

MicKinsey drivers of employee purpose
Source: McKinsey

As leaders, we have to focus on growing our organisational purpose circle and getting it close to the size of purpose gained from work. Tick that box, and your people are not only more likely to be fulfilled, but they’ll be more likely to expect meaningful experiences and purpose at work – partly through better alignment with the organisation’s purpose.

On paper, it’s easy, but expanding the circle means turning a big old purpose ship around. While 85% of executives and management agree that they can live their purpose in their day to day work, the same proportion of frontline managers and employees are either unsure or disagree that they can do the same. 

The starting point has to be the organisational culture, given that it’s the only leadership lever we can really pull on! Open the door to genuine dialogue, deliver more opportunities for people to find purpose in their work and make sure you’re doing it authentically. 

Creating career paths and driving succession planning

Are we finding ourselves in an employee turnover crisis? Quite possibly, yes!

In 2021, Glassdoor revealed that the US voluntary turnover rate reached 25%, more than double the 12% reported in 2018. In April, just under 3.5 million people in the US left their job, close to double the amount a year earlier. In the same month, the UK posted 1.3 million vacancies, 300,000 higher than April 2020.

The temptation is to look at this as a short-term crisis of retention and reach for whichever incentives might make people stick around. Those who plan ahead probably realise that planning ahead could be the long-term solution, namely through a combination of career pathing and succession planning.

Kayshia Kruger, Director of organisation Development at ORC, providers of real estate solutions for infrastructure explained thatOver the last two years, periods of instability and uncertainty for organisations and employees have grown. While organisations have pivoted their people strategies to address retention, one key leadership trend that will be important for organisations moving forward into 2022 is a focus on succession planning and career pathing.

“Employees want to know they have a place in their organisation and that comes with a better understanding of not only where employees can go in the company (career pathing and succession planning), but how they can grow (learning and leadership development). 

“Organisations and leaders that can provide transparency and clarity around these processes will be positioned as competitive in their market.”

LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2020 report highlighted how powerful internal mobility can be, with 81% of talent professionals agreeing that it helps improve retention and 69% stating that existing employees stepping into a new role drives productivity. A similar LinkedIn report a year later revealed that 51% of L&D pros now believe it’s a greater priority than it was pre-COVID. 

Meanwhile, their 2021 workplace learning report revealed that internal hires made up almost 20% of all hires from April to August 2020, a 16.5% increase on 2019 levels. 

For employees, this matters! And it might be the reason why they stick around… 74% of employees feel a lack of development opportunities is stopping them from reaching their full potential, 87% of millennials believe that workplace learning and development is important, and 76% think companies are more attractive if they offer additional skills training.

The biggest question for leaders is how they can not only offer those pathways to progression but how they’ll ensure they’re personalised to make an impact for each employee and their goals. A good start would be booking yourself in for a demo of HowNow! Our all-in-one learning platform empowers you to build development pathways for each employee, measure their skill progress and integrate with the tools your people use every day.

In the meantime, how about some ‘Zoom Out’ conversations with employees? This is a term LifeLabs Learning use for meetings held with direct reports each quarter. LeeAnn Renninger, Founder of LifeLabs Learning, recommends asking questions like the below to craft career conversations.

  • What were some of your biggest learnings this quarter?
  • How do you feel about the amount of feedback you are getting, on a 1-10 scale. Where do you want more feedback?

Shifting the focus to employee experience

When something gets a label as cool as “The Great EX Awakening”, it’s normally a sign that we need to sit up and take notice. EX, in this case, meaning employee experience, something every leader worth their salt needs to think about in 2022. 

It’s Willis Towers Watson who take the credit for crowning this term, following their research that revealed 92% of organisations are prioritising employee experience (EX) over the next three years. 

So, what’s causing companies to awaken from their EX slumber? The huge ringing alarm clock that was COVID and the actions companies took once the pandemic hit. Steps like those below led respondents to reel off a whole list of ensuing problems, such as negative effects on financial performance, employee experience, organisational culture, productivity and wellbeing.

Willis Tower Watson drivers of the EX awakening
Source: Willis Towers Watson

Pre-pandemic, just 52% of companies had made employee experience a priority over the next three years. Today, businesses are recognising the sizeable impact it can have on both employers and employees. 81% of employers view it as a driver of engagement, while wellbeing (80%), productivity (79%) and overall business performance (78%) weren’t far behind. 

Willis Tower Watson results of an EX strategy
Source: Willis Towers Watson

So, how do companies ensure they’re becoming transformative EX organisations? According to the study, they’re more likely to do so if they possess senior leaders who set and communicate strategies effectively, but they’re also typically effective at helping their employees understand the company’s objectives. Testament to our other trends so far, they’re also better at helping people reach their full potential at work!

Another issue is the conflict between needing to move to hybrid working but not being quite ready! The pandemic sent many companies into survival mode when it came to policies and processes, with 79% reporting that they’re yet to return to the workplace and end the temporary procedures brought into play.

Preparing for change and creating a culture of adaptability

When we spoke with ORC’s Kayshia Kruger, she also made the great point that 2022 is a year in which leaders should be focusing on “building change as an enterprise capability.”

And you won’t hear us arguing! Our motto is that the fastest learner wins, especially when the rules and landscapes we’re operating in are shifting so fast. Cast your mind back to March 2020, the companies who adapted their products and processes to remote in the most efficient ways succeeded. Restaurants pivoted from eat-in to cook at home kits, some pubs even started delivering pints, gym classes moved to a live Zoom format, and the list goes on. But even now, we never know what’s around that corner.

Kayshia summed it up perfectly when she said that “change is a constant, it’s not going anywhere, and leaders are in a unique position to support and equip their employees to manage change more effectively and it starts with leaders becoming agile, understanding, and open to change themselves.”

In this Washington Post article, Laurie Leinwand, a licensed professional counsellor based in Denville, N.J., presents the leadership change as one of our mindsets: “We have to let go of the need to plan from A to Z and learn to be okay with planning from A to B.” because things might have changed by the time we reach B anyway.

So, which other traits should leaders be focusing on to ensure they’re not only adaptable to change themselves, but they’re driving a culture where their people are prepared for it too? Keith Keating believes adaptable leaders have three traits:

  1. They have flexible ways of thinking. Meaning that they use different mental frameworks and thinking strategies to approach different problems, especially useful when they need to consider how they, their employees and customers think.
  2. They have multiple plans for reaching the end goals. They’re not married to a single approach and are capable of divorcing a plan when it’s clear it’s not working.
  3. They’re curious, allowing them to listen to the input of others in finding the best solution to a challenge. 

Another way to think about this is energy management, a term LifeLabs Learning use to describe how we channel our own and our team’s energy. LeeAnn Renninger, founder of LifeLabs Learning, explains the process as one to:

“Train your team to have what LifeLabs Learning calls dopamine engineering. This means setting up projects to be brain-friendly in terms of progress phases and pauses. Celebrate the end of each project phase. Encourage the team to analyse their micro, meso, and macro pausing habits.”

For more expert insights and our final thoughts, we turned to Ian Forshew, Founding Partner at T-minus and Disruptive Leadership Expert, asking him for an industry scoop on change in a changing leadership landscape.

“To navigate complexity, organisations need to be far more adaptable.  Traditional organisational structures, leadership styles, HR, finance, product innovation are slow, static, and no longer appropriate.

“Recent trends like systems thinking, complexity, agility, resilience and adaptability highlight the need for leaders to consider all facets of their organisation and consider how to evolve organisational culture, products, services and efficiency.

“Leaders who do this well will disrupt others and positively disrupt their own organisations. Doing this requires high situational awareness of external market and constraints, and internal organisational dynamics and the capabilities to create feedback loops for both. Being able to quickly diagnose, prioritise and adapt is essential and can be overwhelming.”