CEOs are no different to other employees. They use holiday time to relax, recharge and reflect, and many will be returning to work determined to do things differently in 2022, regardless of what the world has to throw at them.
As confidence returns to business and the economic outlook, CEOs need to ensure that this confidence is projected inwards. Staff need to be assured that the business is not only in good hands financially, but also that CEOs have taken note of everything that has happened over the past three years to ensure that it’s in good hands culturally.
There’s a delicate balance that many CEOs are yet to find between board/stakeholder confidence and employee confidence; however, find it they must if they are to maintain a healthy, productive and safe culture alongside a healthy balance sheet.
The temptation will always be there to make certain assumptions about how expectations will be met and also to take shortcuts to achieving these results. However, history has shown that those CEOs who learn from their mistakes and choose to do things differently always win out over those who look for the fastest, cheapest way to success.
So with that in mind, here are five actions that CEOs should avoid in 2022, and one positive one they could take instead in order to instil confidence in the board or workforce instead.
Assuming the culture will change itself
The single biggest determinant of continual business success is the culture of the organisation. Yet many CEOs continue to think that investment in cultural initiatives – because they provide no immediate short-term results – aren’t worth investing in, are of a lower priority when compared with other projects, or are simply too hard to do. Instead, CEOs will turn to restructures, operating model changes, adoption of new working methods or process redesigns and simply assume that the culture will change itself in order to maximise the benefit expectations of these. That never happens.
Culture is the sum of everyone’s attitudes, beliefs, skills, traditions and history. Without a reset of the behaviours and working principles that bind people together and create a renewed sense of empathy, belonging and safety, every new initiative will simply be implemented into an old culture that will likely reject the changes required to keep the business moving forward.
One positive action: Time should be made to redefine the culture regularly and ensure that a series of activities to further enhance the knowledge and emotional intelligence of staff is planned across the year. This is the way to ensure that the culture evolves positively, key staff aren’t lost and that targets are consistently achieved.
Pretending that ‘normal’ will return
While artificial intelligence and automation were frequently sold as the next big change to the way work gets done in the years preceding 2019, it turned out to be a virus that turned work on its head. Regardless of how comfortable CEOs were in the nine-to-five ‘everyone in the office’ environment, it has forever changed and will never return. Pretending (or worse, insisting) that it will change back sends a message to employees that the CEO is both out of touch with reality and also not prepared to consider a different way of getting work done.
Similarly with the other extremes. Certain CEOs have publicly claimed that they’re moving to a fully hybrid working model, without having tested the scenario yet. Since the pandemic started, most organisations in Australia have been working under stay-at-home orders from their state governments, rather than being able to implement a preferred working model for staff. CEOs would be wise to hold off on sweeping communications until such time as it becomes a choice again, and instead look to bring everyone back to the office as soon as it is safe to do so while encouraging flexible working requests.
One positive action: Take the time to listen to employees and their preferences, and also understand what got in the way of a hybrid working model pre-pandemic (note: it was not technology). CEOs and senior managers who have a growth mindset and assume trust are critical enablers to hybrid working and in enabling the future of work.
Implementing tracking software
If there’s one thing that organisations around the world have proved in the past 18 months, it’s that digital transformation is a lot easier to do than most CEOs thought. That’s not to say it’s easy – far from it – however, the behaviours and scepticism that for years held back the move to a greater use of technology have now been removed and tools are being used in a way that many businesses never thought possible. But CEOs should not abuse this and use it for ill will.
Sales of monitoring software tools have risen by as much as 300 per cent in New Zealand alone, so many have already implemented it, but tracking the movements of employees (unless necessary for the job, such as for emergency services) is an insidious practice which merely demonstrates that senior managers have absolutely no trust in their employees whatsoever. And let’s be honest here, employees are smart enough to find a way around it anyway.
One positive action: Recognise that technology exists to support collaboration and enhance productivity, not drive it. Ensure that all technology is fit for purpose, that everyone understands how to use it properly, that principles around what to use and when are agreed upon, and that the information stored is safe and secure.
Making excuses for poorly behaving or performing managers
The sacking of senior managers in recent times is proof that employees and boards are no longer prepared to tolerate bullying or self-serving behaviour. I find it incredible that I’m still writing about this, yet far too many CEOs are still prepared to make excuses for or walk past this kind of behaviour and it’s simply not good enough.
Generational expectations are different than they were in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and while bullying and harassment were not acceptable then, not as many employees were prepared to speak out for fear of reprisal. No more. Through the power of social media, websites such as Glassdoor and internal whistleblowing schemes, employees feel more empowered to highlight the transgressors than ever before.
One positive action: Ensure that empathy and emotional intelligence programs for managers are key skills that are taught as part of a tailored leadership program. Additionally, ensure that human resources processes are in place to deal with transgressors and that those people who don’t demonstrate the values and behaviours of the organisation are dealt with swiftly.
Undermining emotional capital built in the past 18 months
When the pandemic first hit in early 2020 there was an outpouring of empathy, compassion, love, care and kindness. Organisations rushed to offer mental health assistance, anxiety support and undertook other initiatives to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their employees, as well as demonstrate their own organisational humanity and vulnerability.
These initiatives should not only be maintained, but they should also be built on as the world starts to come out of the pandemic. There are already rumblings about senior managers who want staff to take more risk than they’ve been advised to do, questioning whether someone is actually sick (or a close contact) or otherwise requiring more ‘proof’ of availability during the day. By allowing managers to do this, they will undermine all of the emotional capital that they’ve built with employees over the past 18 months.
One positive action: Ensure that managers have the skills to be catalysts for cultural evolution and that feedback is continually encouraged. Moving away from a twice yearly performance and engagement review cycle will ensure that CEOs can monitor the pulse of the organisation and take immediate steps to ensure that trust between management and employees is maintained.
In order to continually inspire and motivate a workforce, CEOs need to demonstrate the behaviours, actions and mindset they expect of others, and work hard to remain relevant in the working world of 2022 and beyond. Taking positive action and avoiding these five things is a great way to start the new year.
Colin D Ellis is bestselling author of The Hybrid Handbook: How to Set Yourself Up for the Future of Work and helps organisations around the world to transform their working cultures.