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What Leaders Should Focus on in 2022

What Leaders Should Focus on in 2022

by Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • Communicate often and clearly
  • Develop managers to lead and retain their teams
  • Workplace wellbeing is a differentiator; make it a priority

A couple of years ago, we all thought we'd be back to normal by now. Trauma and disruption would be behind us, and 2022 would be business as usual. Few of us expected that upheaval would be normal now.

It's true that businesses can thrive in turmoil -- earthquakes reveal gold deposits, after all -- but most people do better when they know what's going on and what will happen next. And they're looking to you for answers.

Yet when the Great Resignation, consumer spending and the market are setting record highs, the supply chain and inflation are sounding alarms, and new coronavirus mutations, AI advances and Web3 lurk in the wings, answers have a brief shelf life.

If you find uncertainty hard to swallow, we have a suggestion: Don't focus on what you can't know -- focus on what you can do.

Lean on the leadership actions that are empirically proven to stabilize organizations and help them succeed. Specifically, communicate often and clearly, develop your managers, and support wellbeing.

Do those things with skill, and you'll have a more resilient organization that can capitalize on change better. Here's how.


Communicate consistently and clearly

Since COVID-19 erupted, Gallup has only detected a six-point increase -- from 13% to 19% -- in the percentage of U.S. employees strongly agreeing that their organization's leadership communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. Perhaps the lack of communication is due to a lack of information. Authority figures ought to sound authoritative, but it's easy to be wrong-footed in this business environment. So, leaders may avoid saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing.

That's logical, but it leaves employees uncertain about the organization's plans and their future in it. Uncertainty creates anxiety, and anxiety torpedoes performance.

Neutralize that anxiety with clear, ongoing communication. More words are better than less, and even if you repeat yourself, you'll expand your influence. Let people know that you care about them, and when you can't give solid answers to business questions, talk about your culture and goals. Those are business issues, serious ones. Communicating them establishes social norms that keep your company resilient and -- if you incorporate the 12 elements of engagement -- inspires performance.

Lean on the leadership actions that are empirically proven to stabilize organizations and help them succeed. Specifically, communicate often and clearly, develop your managers, and support wellbeing.

By staying in touch with employees -- and reiterating that you have their back -- you'll light a path through uncertainty that people are desperate to see.

Bear in mind, however, that your managers light that path for employees every day. For years, they've done it through shifting directives, workplace norms and administrative tasks, while balancing employees' mental and physical health against hard targets and evolving federal, state and local COVID-19 regulations.

And the staggeringly high quit rate means many managers are doing more with less, and less, and less. It takes a toll.

Develop your managers

The best thing you can do for managers in 2022 is to develop them for the environment they face. Few were properly trained for managing a hybrid workplace. Most don't know how to capitalize on employees' strengths, much less coach them. And when a member of their team is hurting -- through burnout, illness, family conflicts or a lack of skills -- the manager hurts too.

The staggeringly high quit rate means many managers are doing more with less, and less, and less. It takes a toll.

This climate is creating deep wells of angst among managers, Gallup's work with clients shows. Many managers feel that their old familiar techniques and tools just don't work as well anymore. Some managers never had (or wanted) a shipping budget, for example, until their team went remote, and now mailboxes are a critical human resource interface.

It goes to show that managers need different resources than before because their teams have different needs than before. Helping managers get a grip on those needs and giving them agency over their resources enables better performance with less friction. And it will help them adjust to change, reduce their stress and improve their overall wellbeing too -- which, it's painfully clear, is a business imperative.

Leaders run the play on wellbeing

Wellbeing is based on five elements (career, social, financial, physical and community) that work in tandem to create thriving lives. It's no surprise that wellbeing generally dipped during the pandemic, which damaged organizations.

So, if you focus on fortifying wellbeing this year, your company can regain the wellbeing it lost, as well as a shockingly effective security system: Gallup finds that higher levels of organizational wellbeing track with lower levels of employee burnout, stress, worry, anxiety and depression -- while boosting trust, innovation and resiliency. Even engaged employees who are not thriving in their wellbeing have a higher risk of burnout.

Just know that you'll have to run this play: Wellbeing is a leadership issue. Your HR function is probably well stocked with EAPs, but fewer than 10% of employees use them, according to SHRM. You have to bring wellbeing to people, not wait for them to seek it, and the messenger is the manager. Managers know employees better than anyone else, so they can coach wellbeing in the right way, at the right time -- provided they have the development they need.

Without it, managers can flounder. Some are simply unnerved by the intimate nature of coaching wellbeing. For these managers, employees' physical and emotional wellness are a black box and should stay that way. That's understandable, but it doesn't fix problems.

Development does. Well-designed, ongoing manager development sensitizes team leaders to the intersection of work and life, helps them initiate quality conversations that build trusting relationships, and shows them how to open doors to resources employees need. Development turns bosses into coaches. And highly effective coaches, Gallup data show, achieve better wellbeing, engagement and performance outcomes.

Profit follows all those qualities. But there's an intangible benefit too: the confidence that comes from competence. Confidence is a pretty scarce resource these days.

Even, sometimes, among leaders.

What you can do now

What we used to believe -- about location and productivity, about reasonable employee expectations, about social norms in the workplace, about consumer demands, about leaders' realm of necessary expertise -- just doesn't hold up very well. When so many workplace truisms collapse, confidence takes a hit. Did you expect you'd have to be a public health and legislative expert on top of everything else?

Yet you still have decisions to make. Those decisions still have consequences. Maybe greater consequences than ever before. And you can't wait until the ground stops shaking.

What you can do -- with confidence that outcomes will improve -- is communicate more often and clearly, develop well-prepared managers, and make wellbeing the business of your business. Those are going to be the biggest near-term demands on leaders. When all else is uncertain, that much you can be sure of.

For more proven workplace advice:

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