By Brent Gleeson
If the chaos of 2020 – which bled quickly over into 2021 – has prompted your organization or leadership team to reconsider people priorities such as employee well-being, resilience, or purpose, then you’re in good company. And don’t think that your employees haven’t been reconsidering just about everything as well.
In any organization or team, leadership is always the problem and the solution. Leadership is either effective and focused on people and mission, or ineffective and responsible for mission failure. Period.
This is just as relevant to high-performing business organizations as it is to the special operations community, non-profits, or professional sports teams. But if your employees are under fire on the battlefield and they radio for air support, they might just mention a deep desire for a renewed focus on purpose, career pathing, and overall employee experience.
According to a McKinsey report, almost two-thirds of employees in the United States claim that the COVID-19 experience has driven deep reflection on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic. And millennials were three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work. Shocker.
Findings like these have significant implications on any organization’s talent acquisition and talent management strategy – and even the bottom line. As a former Navy SEAL, and in talking to senior leaders in Naval Special Warfare, we’re already seeing similar impacts due to the end of twenty years of conflict. It sounds strange, but when warriors can’t live their purpose at work, as high-performers, they will seek it somewhere else.
In my new book, Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to An Extraordinary Life, I dive deep into an individual’s purpose and values related to embracing adversity and finding success and fulfillment. In this article, we’ll look at those concepts related to the workplace. People who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at the company. Moreover, when employees feel that their purpose is aligned with the organization’s purpose, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, higher performance, heightened loyalty, happier customers, and a greater willingness to recommend the company to others. This sounds a lot like profit to me!
So, listen up leaders. Here are the top four trends you need to not only be aware of, but to build into the strategy.
Connecting People to Purpose
If you’re like me, and most senior executives, you haven’t given the individual purpose of your employees much thought. The topic is intensely personal – possibly even inaccessible – unless leaders take an appropriate approach. This can’t be another corporate mandate. Managers must remember their role is not just about execution and results, but also teaching, coaching, and mentoring. And all of these elements, intimately combined, drive team performance.
The majority of leaders, managers, and employees we’ve worker with at TakingPoint Leadership, in organizations all over the world, claim that what they do at work defines their purpose. Ultimately, an employ’s sense of purpose and satisfaction comes down to three areas:
(1) their purpose outside of work such as hobbies, relationships, and giving back;
(2) their connection to the work itself such as engaging in meaningful project execution and meeting goals; and…
(3) the purpose of the organization itself such as mission, values, employee experience, and culture. Unfortunately, the third area is the only one that leaders can clearly influence.
The starting point has to be the organizational 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.
Focus on Employee Experience
In the past, I’ve typically referred to this area of leadership as “employee engagement strategy” but its all the same. It comes down to the ability to acquire, develop, and retain top talent organically through creating a cultural environment of high-performance. An environment that’s not just seen from the inside, but from the outside looking in. The Navy SEAL teams are the best organization in the world at talent acquisition and management – where top talent doesn’t just say, “Gee, that seems like a good organization to be a part of, maybe I’ll give it a shot”, but rather, “I have to be a part of that organization and will do anything I can to get in.”
But according to Wilson Towers Watson, the pandemic placed some major roadblocks in front of any organization’s ability to focus on employee experience.
56% of employees worked fully remotely or in a hybrid model, way up from only 9% three years ago
Nearly half (46%) of organizations cut people or hours
44% of companies restructured – 36% being major transformations
Roughly two thirds (39%) cut pay or benefits
In my first book, TakingPoint: A Navy SEAL’s 10 Fail Principles for Leading Through Change, I focus heavily on the importance of culture and engagement related to successfully leading change. Before COVID, employee engagement was a big leadership topic, but no one could have anticipated how important it would become.
Pre-pandemic, just 52% of companies had made employee experience a priority over the coming three years. Today, businesses are recognizing 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.
So, how do companies ensure they are becoming an organization that’s successful at prioritizing employee experience in a measurable way? The best and most powerful way is to have senior leaders who can clearly articulate the company’s vision and everyone’s role in mission success. In addition to that, it comes down to leaders having a skill for helping people reach beyond their “full potential”. Usually, this requires an ongoing investment in leadership development.
Career Pathing and Succession Planning
Today, I was speaking to a dear friend and former SEAL teammate about this very topic related to the Naval Special Warfare community. He is a very senior leader now within NSW – a man who not only put me through advanced training but who I had the privilege to fight alongside in Iraq. Not only has he dedicated his adult life to being a combat leader, but now also has multiple masters degrees in the fields of leadership and organizational development.
He mentioned that part of NSW’s significant and ongoing organizational transformation success has been attributed to enhancing our career pathing and succession planning tactics.
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 leadership development professional now believe it’s a greater priority than it was pre-COVID.
The leadership challenge here is to not only have the ability to offer these unique opportunities to each employee but to personalize them for the highest impact on the individual and the organization. Not any easy task!
Creating a Culture of Adaptability and Accountability
Hopefully, you’re working on these culture pillars already. Why? Because they are core tenets of any high-performance team. One of the most important elements of what we do at TakingPoint Leadership is coaching leaders in being more successful at creating a culture that’s not just accepting of change, but craves it. Always thinking with the mindset of adaptability and continuous improvement.
Defining or redefining the culture of a team or organization is a very complex undertaking. Its much more that an announcement at the company meeting and some new core values slapped up on the website or conference room wall. It takes deeply authentic values-based leadership and a measurable strategic plan. And no culture transformation can be successful without trust, great communication, consistency, and high degrees of engagement and participation. Hence, everything we’ve cover in the article already.
Change is and always should be a constant in high-performing organizations. And if leaders aren’t continually improving, the organization has no hope for accomplishing the mission and fulfilling its vision.
So take these four trends to heart, reflect on them, discuss them with your leadership team, and take action!
Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put – A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.
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