Opinion: Empowering and engaging employees is essential

By David Williams, CEO, Impact
As we emerge from the pandemic, business leaders have the opportunity to effect change in a meaningful way with transformation of talent key to this...

The last 12 months have rocked many businesses in a way never seen before. New research by Impact, a company dedicated to designing customised people development solutions for organisations, shows that nearly two thirds of business leaders (63%) believe their organisation will need to adapt significantly in light of the Covid-19 crisis. 

And more than 8 out of 10 leaders (83%) state they need to invest more in changing or transforming their organisation, according to research from Impact's CEO Business Leadership Survey 2020

However, as the goalposts continue to shift on an almost daily basis, it’s hard for leaders to emerge from firefighting mode in order to focus on the horizon. 

To make this shift, one thing leaders can do is to look inwards at the existing talent they have within their business, and then focus on how best to facilitate their involvement in the evolution of the organisation.


Power to the people

The days of doing one thing really well and expecting to prosper are over. To survive and thrive, organisations will need to constantly innovate - doing at least three things and doing them better than the competition! 

In a post-pandemic world, businesses will need to quickly recognise new challenges and opportunities and good leadership will involve mobilising the right people quickly to rise to such challenges. In practice, this means flexing organisational agility, empowering and upskilling your talent, as well as engaging with them at every stage in the change process.

Good leaders will find the right balance between responding quickly in the moment, without getting so lost in the here and now that they are incapable of keeping one eye on the future. 

One of the best ways to navigate this is by consciously breaking down traditional hierarchies and enabling individuals and teams to own their own decisions, to be confident about taking action in the moment, and flexing the business model so that agility and pace become the norm. 

This also releases management time that can then be focused on research, experimentation, and innovation. Creating new ways of working, new products and new services that will help to future-proof the business. 

A positive trend to emerge from the pandemic has been a greater propensity for businesses to look within their organisation for existing talent, rather than immediately turning to external recruitment. Targeting an internal talent pool carries multiple benefits, from cutting time and resource lost to onboarding, through to fostering a culture of learning and development generated through commitment to upskilling. 

Finally, the last 12 months have been tough, so those colleagues who have been in the business during this time, if treated well, will be the ones most invested in its future, making them more likely to stick around and to give discretionary effort.

Inevitably, these processes will involve some degree of change. The role of the leader is to be a facilitator of change, not just a communicator of change. Therefore, it is essential that leaders focus on engaging all colleagues in these processes – collaboration and consultation across all levels of the business will be critical to this. 

Change for good

The world is changing faster and more dramatically than ever before, and leaders have the opportunity to effect change here in a meaningful way.

2020 demonstrated just how radically many businesses can exercise change - almost overnight in some cases. Digital transformation programmes were rapidly accelerated and executed within the space of a week, as workforces were suddenly forced to shift entire ways of working into the virtual space, building businesses from home. 

The benefits of these changes have been felt in numerous ways – from many workers enjoying the absence of a commute, to wider ecological benefits experienced because of (63%) changes in behaviour and the subsequent reductions in pollution. This is good for business and good for the planet. 

Moreover, the events of the last year have also caused social equity to rocket up the business agenda. Here too, leaders must pave the way in actively creating psychological safety in the workplace, so people can bring their whole selves to work in an environment that is genuinely inclusive and puts wellbeing, diversity and inclusion at the centre of company culture. 

As businesses start to operate in ‘the new normal’, climate change, loss of biodiversity and social equity must become strategic pillars for any organisation looking to survive in the long term. 

By committing to the development of sustainable business practices and ethical behaviour, organisations will appeal to better informed, existing and emerging customers who are becoming more discerning in the choices they make. 

Leaders who respond well to these challenges will have organisations that are inevitably more profitable and successful. 

Learning for the future

Leaders of the future will actively facilitate learning and development in the ‘flow of work’. The workplace has become the key incubator of talent and ideas where leaders will adopt the role of facilitator and enabler.

Learning and development is critical for businesses to grow. For this to happen most effectively, work-based activities will be re-interpreted as live opportunities for learning new skills and developing new behaviours - the learning comes from the doing! 

This approach is rooted in an entrepreneurial approach to developing talent. A spirit of ‘what’s next?’ for individuals and collective teams offering the freedom to pursue new ideas and creative approaches, by collaborating, reflecting and giving each other feedback as a driver for personal development. The result? More innovation, higher levels of engagement, and progressive business results. 

This approach to the leader as facilitator stems from having the confidence to recognise and accept that the leader does not necessarily have all of the answers. Key to tackling the new challenges businesses face is bringing people together around this agenda. The leader’s role is in outlining the scope of the issues and subsequently bringing people together around the challenges to create solutions and progressive activity. 

Generating a culture of learning to enable this will involve introducing powerful, personalised learning experiences that provoke, challenge and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. 

As we move beyond our experiences of COVID-19, talent will be looking more acutely at ways to make the most of their time and this extends to the workplace. Leaders need to pay close attention to the inner workings of their business and what it is that makes theirs an organisation truly worth working for.

David Williams is CEO & Founder of Impact – a global leadership development and creative change agency with 250 employees across 17 offices in 11 countries.


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