When it comes to managing people, many assume that effective leadership skills are effective leadership skills, regardless of the situation. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Yes, it is true that what is fundamentally required to be an effective leader remains constant. Effective leadership skills will always need to include the ability to set direction, execute business plans, and manage people. However, your organization, and the work world at large, are constantly changing. The skills emphasized in your leadership development programs five years ago may not be the skills you should be focusing on today. This is especially true if your organization now has a hybrid work program in place, and you need to manage talent differently than you did in the past.
Managing talent in hybrid teams is different
If you had spent your entire career working within the traditional “butts in seats” model, you may have found the recent abrupt shift to work-at-home or hybrid work quite jarring. Suddenly the energy of lively in-person meetings was replaced with what can be the coldness of Zoom and Teams conferences. Quick in-person chats became short text exchanges. Team building became much more challenging.
It’s no wonder many managers are struggling to effectively support and optimize their talent within hybrid teams. Leadership development and leadership practices need to evolve.
Today's talent has unique concerns
Many people have found that working remotely at least part of the time is the key to achieving the greater work-life balance that they strongly desire. Like anything, though, there are trade-offs. Two of the most common concerns are:
Will I receive fewer career opportunities? Hybrid or remote work makes it much harder to build the type of professional relationships that can advance your career. Workers are concerned that it will be a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” Will the opportunities go to those who are physically present at the job site?
Will I be “out of the loop”? Related to the career opportunities concern, remote workers can miss out on the positive aspects of the company culture. This includes everything from departmental birthday parties to general feelings of camaraderie.
Managing engaged talent requires specific skills
Against the backdrop of these and other challenges, what leadership skills do managers at all levels need to improve talent retention, engagement, and satisfaction for their teams?
We recently participated in a research report in partnership with The Conference Board, “Effective Leadership in a Hybrid World of Work.” This report validates what we have seen in the field: The five leadership competencies described below are all vitally important. These skills should all be emphasized in your leadership and talent development programs.
#1: Working well with people
All leaders need to build relationships with and between the individual members of their teams. While it should go without saying that leaders need to have strong people skills and be good at interpersonal leadership, this becomes even more important in a hybrid work environment.
Interpersonal skills for leaders are vital when you’re not necessarily interacting with someone face-to-face. This is especially true for any manager with remote teams, as these managers are the ones who set the tone and expectations that either lessen or feed into workers’ concerns.
An empathetic leadership approach helps build engagement. Empathetic leadership focuses on the importance of communicating with empathy and trust. This often involves personalizing the message based on the needs and personality of the team member. It also establishes psychological safety and creates an atmosphere in which employees are comfortable sharing challenges and asking for support when needed.
#2: Giving productive feedback/coaching
Leaders must take an active role in coaching their team members for success. Regular one-on-one check-ins should be used to offer timely feedback and coaching on performance. These check-ins are also useful for addressing employee concerns, such as stress, burnout, and the potential negative impact of not working on-site.
This is another opportunity for empathetic leadership. Empathetic leaders get to know their team members and offer the type of productive feedback and coaching that can keep them engaged and satisfied with their jobs.
#3: Fostering an inclusive environment
With today’s emphasis on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), an “inclusive environment” often means an environment in which a diverse group of people all feel welcome and included. In the hybrid work context, an “inclusive environment” has an additional meaning. Leaders must ensure that all team members are included in meetings, networking, socialization, and other events and opportunities, regardless of where the team worker is located.
For example, say you are running a meeting in which some people are physically present in a conference room and others are logged in via videoconference. How do you ensure that those who are “on screen” are part of the conversation? This is one of the leadership skills that today’s effective leaders need to have.
#4: Leveraging technology for connection and collaboration
At this point, everyone should know the basics of how to use your company’s communication and collaboration technology platforms. But does your leadership development program teach leaders how to make the most of these platforms’ capabilities? How do you use these platforms to keep team members engaged and connected? How do you use them to support and build your company culture?
Leaders must leverage technology for positive connection and collaboration – without leaving team members feeling frustrated instead. Then, as new and evolving technology platforms emerge, they can incorporate these into their teams’ processes as well.
#5: Creating innovative career development paths
The members of today’s teams expect their leaders to provide structure and flexibility in terms of the way in which work is bundled. Rather than just focusing on “climbing the ladder” with their present employer, employees recognize that they are likely to work for many organizations over the course of their careers. Thus, they are looking to build their portfolio of skills. They want a career development path that will support this.
For leaders, meeting this demand might involve separating jobs into tasks performed with specific skills, and then rotating these tasks through the members of their team. This also means helping team members see how their assigned tasks will help them build their skills portfolio. Sometimes leaders must create space and time for workers to develop desired skills, even if these skills are not relevant to the team’s work.
Those who are working in a hybrid environment also expect their leaders to provide structure and flexibility in the working relationship itself. This is not surprising when you consider that many workers choose to work from home for work/life balance reasons. Can they have a satisfying career working part-time, or outside of normal business hours? How about with frequent lateral moves, or whatever it is that will support their overall goals?
To answer these questions, leaders need to regularly discuss career goals with their team members. Then they must identify and clear roadblocks, provide accountability, and offer appropriate training and opportunities to keep each employee engaged and satisfied.
In today’s ever-changing work environment, talent retention, engagement, and satisfaction can be challenging to achieve. What’s vital today is focusing your development efforts on helping your leaders develop effective talent management skills to better lead more engaged and satisfied teams.
When leadership capabilities reflect the expectations of customers, employees, and investors, those stakeholders gain confidence in your organization. The RBL Group uses an outside in approach, asking what your stakeholders want from your business and what your leaders can do to deliver it. Learn more about our Leadership Code and Talent Academies, both of which are results-based guided learning journeys that help leaders build human capability that delivers results with impact.