How Leaders Evolve Talent Management in a Hybrid Work Environment

By Dave Ulrich | March 29, 2023

This article was originally a foreword to, "Effective Leadership in a Hybrid World of Work", a research report done in collaboration with The Conference Board. Read and download the full report here

Key Takeaways: 

  • The hybrid world of work doesn't fundamentally change what's required for leaders to effectively manage talent, but leaders must still evolve and understand the value of talent and their role in managing a hybrid workforce. 
  • Leaders connect with team members through intentional conversations and build trust by demonstrating credibility, reliability, and intimacy. 
  • Leaders build a culture teams and potential talent desire by creating a personalized employee value proposition, encouraging team members and commitment, and adapting their own skills to deliver a positive work experience.

These past few years have changed the way we think about our relationship with work. We have seen millions of workers, from the technician on the shop floor to the finance manager in the high-rise office building, reevaluate the role that work plays in their lives; often seeking greater workplace or work schedule flexibility to offer workforce personalization. Flexibility can look different based on the nature of the work, the industry, and the worker. Knowledge/office workers may well have more options but even those organizations with predominantly traditional, on-site working conditions are enabling team empowerment when it comes to scheduling and work processes and finding creative ways to support the work-life balance needs of on-site workers.

Many have found remote work to be the key to greater work-life balance. On the other hand, many workers facing the emotional effects of loneliness and isolation want to connect in person with co-workers and return to the physical workplace but not necessarily on a full-time basis. Enter the hybrid world of work where organizations are experimenting with a variety of options to personalize work in order to attract, engage and retain the talent required to compete today and tomorrow.

The hybrid world of work doesn’t fundamentally change what’s required to be an effective leader. Even so, leadership practices need to evolve. Leaders must understand the value of talent and their role in managing a hybrid workforce. New mindsets, behaviors, and methods leaders should adopt include:

  • Bringing the right people into the organization on their team 
  • Coaching with empathy and compassion
  • Setting clear performance expectations
  • Developing people to improve competence 
  • Retaining high performers and removing those who don't fit 
  • Improving employee commitment 
  • Helping employees have positive work experience 

Because the way we work continues to change, leaders can seize the opportunity to create an inclusive, engaged, and highly productive workplace for everyone. They can help employees:

  • Be physically and psychologically safe regardless of where they work 
  • Find meaning from work by aligning their personal values to the organizational values and business imperatives
  • Become better at their jobs by learning and adopting a growth mindset 
  • Belong by creating an inclusive community where everyone feels valued and welcome

Gallup finds that the greatest advantages of hybrid work to date are in improved work-life balance, more efficient use of time, control over work hours and work location, burnout mitigation, and higher productivity.

But there can also be challenges. The hybrid/remote work environment can negatively impact mental health and well-being if employees feel lonely, isolated, and disconnected no matter how, where, or when they work. Leaders can help mitigate social isolation by building stronger relationships to engage with employees virtually, build trust, develop rapport, and improve psychological safety.

Whether in-person or remotely, rather than talking at team members, leaders need to demonstrate empathy, show curiosity, and listen. They can use simple questions like, “How are you doing? How's your family? What are you learning about yourself?” By listening, leaders can appreciate team members’ circumstances. That then prompts leaders to demonstrate their own vulnerability. The pandemic, social justice movements, political upheavals, and geopolitical developments can create a backdrop of uncertainty and anxiety for leaders and employees alike. Leaders need to have the courage to acknowledge the uncertainties and say, "I don't know what this new world of work means. I'm struggling as well." Transparent vulnerability is not a weakness; it demonstrates authenticity and encourages connection.

Connecting with remote team members can’t happen through the old “managing by walking around” approach. Leaders now need to hold frequent, intentional check-in conversations where they can coach and provide real-time feedback. These interactions should be occasions for leaders to build trust by demonstrating:

  • Credibility—using their knowledge and experience to be a helpful coach 
  • Reliability—showing they can be counted on to show up and follow through on commitments
  • Intimacy—demonstrating that they care for the person 

When leaders demonstrate that they care by providing individualized attention and resources, employees have a better experience. One simple test of great leadership is to ask, “Did an employee leave an interaction feeling better or worse about themself?” When employees walk away from their interactions with a leader, whether the interaction was a great or difficult conversation, they should leave feeling better about themselves. This means that leaders hold employees accountable through positive caring conversations while also being clear about performance expectations: “I care about you and you have great potential” or “You made a mistake; let’s learn from it and continue to improve.”

Effective leaders are able to align the work that needs to get done with the personal values of the employees; they can make those connections to mission and purpose.

An employee value proposition simply means analyzing the difference between what employees give and what the organization gives back in response. You want those who give a lot to get a lot back. When you achieve a balance between what they give and what they get, you create a value proposition that works.

Personalizing the employee experience first means making it “personal”—caring for each person as an individual, one by one. The second part is tailoring for each person what they need from their job. Ask them, “Where's the place you want to work? What's the activity you want to work on? How can we, as an organization, be flexible so that you can contribute?” Leaders then give guidance to employees based on how they answer those questions.

Finally, leaders encourage team members to make a commitment to the organization by modeling the values and behaviors of the organization, delivering superior business results, and encouraging their connections to apply for open positions and join the team so that they, too, can experience a “great place to work.”

When leaders adapt their skills to deliver a positive experience for each employee, great things can happen, not only for the employee on a professional level but also on a personal level and, by extension, the communities in which they live and the impact that the organization delivers for a variety of stakeholders. Leaders matter more today than ever, not just by their physical presence, but by being meaning makers and role models. By doing so, they are the key to building an inclusive, high-performance workplace for all workers.

Be the leader who builds teams that are a magnet for talent and pay it forward by developing the next generation of leaders. Ultimately, that is how we build the business cultures we desire. 

We invite you to explore RBL's Talent Academy, a results-based guided learning journey that helps leaders develop the skills to effectively manage talent and build human capability that delivers business impact. If you're ready to explore RBL's outside in, leadership development offerings, contact us

Dave has published over 30 books on leadership, organization, and human resources. These ideas have shaped how people and organizations deliver value to customers, investors, and communities. He has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200 and worked in over 80 countries.  He has received numerous public recognitions and lifetime awards for his work. 

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