Originally published in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics on March 1, 2023.
By Leah Gladu and Patricia Campbell
It feels like we’ve been having the same conversation for years now, doesn’t it? Discussing workplace trends, how business is evolving and where we’re going next.
Too often, all these predictive conversations leave us with is a pile of empty guesses. Even when predictions are based in careful research and trend analysis, leaders have a 50/50 shot as to whether they’re any help at all.
If predictions only get you so far, how can you prepare for tomorrow’s challenges? Instead of preparing your team for one thing, make them ready for anything.
For years, we’ve been helping businesses and leaders adapt to changing environments and keep employees engaged through ups and downs. We know from experience there’s no silver bullet solution, no right or wrong way to lead.
But if you understand your people – really understand them as individuals, not as a generalized group of employees – and create a change-resilient workforce, anything is possible.
It comes down to answering two fundamental questions: why and how. We’ve seen leaders debate which is more important. But the key is not identifying or prioritizing one question over the other – it’s understanding how both work together to unlock success.
Starting with the “why”
It goes without saying that a clear purpose is critical to an engaged workforce. No one wants to feel like a cog in the wheel, and asking teams to work on something seemingly insignificant is a sure-fire way to drastically reduce productivity.
But we don’t quite buy into the idea that employees need to be personally passionate about what they do. Controversial? Maybe. But the idea of finding a job you love so you “never have to work a day in your life” sets an unrealistic standard.
How many people are personally passionate about their company’s business goals? Delivering fiber connectivity, manufacturing paper products, providing pest control – they’re all important and are the foundation for some outstanding corporations. But is playing a role in that process really what your employees’ dreams are made of? Probably not.
Most, if not all, of us will work for a living. But that doesn’t have to mean an unfulfilling existence for 40 hours a week. What inspires an invested, engaged workforce? What drives eager participation in the company’s success?
We believe it’s awareness of the “why” that matters most to your teams, communicating the impact of what they’re doing and to whom it matters. When employees understand how their day-to-day work affects the company’s goals and drives bottom line results, they’ll be far more motivated to contribute. Checking items off a to-do list doesn’t mean anything if leaders aren’t clear about the impact of those to-dos.
By answering why it matters, you paint the bigger picture in brighter tones. And the clearer that picture, the easier it’ll be for people to keep an eye on it when an unexpected change inevitably happens.
Now for the “how”
It can be tempting for leaders to try to identify one way to work together, one way to communicate, one way to resonate with your workforce. But the workforce is not one entity – it’s a group made up of individuals, each with their own perspectives, needs and experiences. The quicker leaders become comfortable with this idea, the more easily organizations can adapt.
Remaining open to new and better ways to work enables teams to remain connected and strong regardless of where the rapidly shifting workplace takes us.
We encourage leaders to consider all kinds of differences to inform how they can best interact with employees. Think about things like:
- Generational divides – What do Boomers respond to vs. those in Generation Z? How will Millennials manage differently than those in Generation X?
- Social preferences – Are team members introverted or extroverted? What environment will foster the greatest productivity? How can those who need different things still collaborate effectively?
- Motivation – What are employees working toward? Is it a corner office? A seat at the table? Resources to enable their personal passions outside of work?
- Strengths – We use Clifton Strengths, but there are plenty of other systems out there to inform a better understanding of what your employees bring to the table.
As you explore the differences across your teams, leaders must also establish a common language with which to discuss these differences. Without a common language, you run the risk of accidental judgment and misunderstanding. But, when everyone is familiar with how to talk about intrinsic differences, it can be transformative for the entire team.
What works today might not work tomorrow. What works for Sally might not work for Chad. But finding what will work best while continuing to assess and improve will create that change-resilient workforce that is ready for what tomorrow brings.
The question of how is never answered permanently, only temporarily. Set that expectation when your team starts seeking the answer.
Brokering both sides
Communicators are often in a unique position when it comes to navigating and informing conversations about the future. We bring a broad perspective to the table that is often less siloed than that of any one team or department. And, as a group who works closely with executives and senior leaders, as well as communicating with employees at all other levels of the company, communicators who wield influence strategically can broker both sides of the conversation.
Bring to the table qualitative understandings of employees and back your recommendations up with quantitative data to support them. Lend your communications prowess to translate conversations when what’s being said doesn’t match how the message is being received. When we help organizations consider more than just one perspective and keep sight of the bigger picture, the outcome can be huge.
In a world that is changing so constantly, everyone becomes a change agent. The greater buy-in and understanding we can facilitate, the more affective any change will be.
And the next time someone tries to envision the workforce of the future, no matter their prediction, you can rest assured your team will be ready for anything.
Read more from Leah in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics or connect with Leah and Patricia on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.