As I crossed the street in downtown Melbourne with my fellow directors, I reveled in the idle chit-chat I had been missing for 3 years.  I was back in the Land Down Under for our annual Strategic Planning Meeting…out of Zoom Room Purgatory!  As we walked, we randomly talked about the rich history of Italian influence on coffee in Australia, the difference in men’s dress from Sydney to Melbourne, and the politics of the most recently elected prime minister.  How much I had missed my peers and the banter we always had back and forth! We were all energized because we were going to a bonus in-person client event.  This one was special because it was taking place on a Tuesday at lunch at the RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria) with a handful of Aussie clients and colleagues to simply connect and discuss what was weighing heaviest on their minds.

As I entered the venue, it was absolutely gorgeous with antique cars, beautiful furniture, exquisite chandeliers, and elegant waitstaff! We were served appetizers and adult beverages as we were waiting to be seated.  Upon being introduced to people we had not met, we all commented how decadent it felt for a Tuesday afternoon…and, in some ways in our minds, it was a celebration of the return to us getting back to in-person events.  I met several outstanding professionals in the retail, financial, hospitality/food service, government, and not-for-profit sectors.  We were all seated and after putting in our lunch orders we got down to business.  There was no agenda and the question posed was “What are the current wicked problems in your business to be solved?”  It was amazing how similar the themes were, and I have captured them here, hoping that they resonate with you (you are not alone), dear readers.

Current Pressing Problems

1. How can we attract and retain people who are aligned with our purpose and culture?  As we went around the table with everyone introducing themselves it was evident what the biggest pain point was.   It is a run for talent as many of you reading this have experienced.  There is recent inflation of salaries and people jumping from job to job.  Something that was confounding to everyone was how people had evaporated – historically they would have had 1,000 apply for a job and now there were 30 applicants.  On top of that, it was discussed that the power dynamics had shifted. What used to satisfy employees no longer does.  We have had to get much more creative to meet the needs of those we are charged to lead.

What is going on from my point of view?  For many skilled, professional workers, the historical changes to their lives and the way they work over the past two years have essentially flattened Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In the past, job security, decent compensation, and at least a tangible opportunity were the price of entry for people coming into organizations. Now a massive number of employees not only want to feel invested in the work they do, but they also want to see that their employer is invested in the same things they value and believe in. Employees, at the very least, want to:

  • Feel valued, have a voice, and have the potential to grow
  • Have a sense of belonging among caring, trusted, and diverse-thinking colleagues
  • Trust that the work that is being done has purpose and meaning
  • Have the flexibility to integrate work with their personal lives

Now, none of this comes as a surprise to any of you, I know.  But, what strategic initiatives have you put in place to address these in your core ideology, hiring practices, employee benefits, DEI work, leadership programs, and ability to build high-performing teams?  With some research on best practices and input from your employee base, you can create strategic initiatives to begin to address these issues.  Yes, it takes time and, just like you, sometimes I feel like I take one step forward and two steps back, but that really is what leadership is. Without the obstacles the journey wouldn’t be as sweet, would it?

2. How can we enhance our employee value proposition (EVP) so it resonates?  One of the clients who was sitting at our table spoke at length about the cultural work their company had done in the past year.  They talked about how important creating a clear core purpose was to establish a great culture. The result was the team rallying around such a deep, important reason for being in existence and that driving performance and engagement within the organization. This conversation led to the group agreeing that previously, having one clear employee value proposition was enough.  Not so now.  The great organizations ask themselves what can we do to make people feel loved and safe?  The employee value proposition is not a one size fits all and there must be several.  Companies must listen and realize what is important to the different groups.

What is going on from my point of view?  With so much riding on escaping “the Great Resignation” unscathed, employers are starting to realize that they must start from scratch and create a strong, multi-dimensional EVP that fully delivers on their company’s employee-experience promise. One that fuels a culture where everyone can bring their full range of talents, feel included and valued, and do great work in a great environment.  In order to have a really great EVP, these are 3 of the things our clients are including in successful ones:

  • Your EVP must be linked to your purpose. People are increasingly looking to join organizations that have a greater purpose beyond profitability. Ensure your EVP clearly articulates this purpose and connects to the employee experience and the role your people have in helping your organization achieve the greater good.
  • You must foster a culture of belonging, flexibility, and growth. How does your organization facilitate connection and inclusion? How does it help people learn and grow? How does it accommodate everyone’s unique needs? These are questions people ask in both their job searches and their own organizations and should be outlined in your EVP.  This absolutely relates to our #1  issue above!
  • You must look inside first and create a movement. Involving your people in the creation process is critical to ensuring your EVP is both real and a little bit aspirational. Soliciting feedback and giving your people the opportunity to show and tell the world about who you are as a company is one of the most powerful ways to bring your EVP to life.

Warren Buffet talks about a Value Proposition is a moat that separates you from your competitors.  It is tough to cross and get to your castle.  In other words, what sets you apart as an employer that would be hard to replicate by other businesses in your sector?  That is your EVP…and you can’t just rely on one.  You have to have several that address the diversity of your employee base.  Don’t you want to be the employer of choice?  It is such hard work!

3. How Can We Convince Leaders That They Have to Lead Differently?  The final theme that jumped out at me as I sat at this luncheon with a room full of incredibly smart, thoughtful people had to do with leadership. Of course, a subject near and dear to my heart. I don’t have to tell you that the pandemic changed leadership forever. It started with CEOs I know having weeks of sleepless nights putting together contingency plans and solving problems for an event that few predicted and even fewer prepared for. If their thinking didn’t flip on its head during this time, then they are being left behind. They had to pivot their thinking on the hybrid work environment, how to hold remote people accountable, how to shift away from the top down, how to create psych safety in a scary environment, how to influence people to get into leadership roles, and how to get more comfortable with technology in a split second…among 100 other 360 degree pivots. We all did. But, what many of us are facing now is not just the logistics of leadership, but also the mindset and that is what this table of high-level thinkers was grappling with.

What is going on from my point of view?  Remember prior to the world shutting down when we used to talk about VUCA?  Wow!  We had no idea what we were even capable of then!  We have come so far, yet we can still start to drift towards old ways of thinking.  The three things I am seeing will not revert back and we need to help leaders need to rally around are:

  • Being agile because the ground is always shifting.  In today’s world leaders are more exposed now than they have ever been before and they are feeling it.  They are having to make rapid and (somewhat) informed decisions amid so much uncertainty.  Gone are the days when leaders could make decisions from muscle memory and their years of experience – using the power of their high-performing teams to co-create solutions is key now more so than ever.  Being able to have other peers that you can discuss some of these challenges might be one way to get innovative in this space.
  • A human approach to staff that puts people first.  Leadership, more than ever, is about creating the conditions in which your people can thrive and perform at their best.  Leaders need to be aware of their own biases towards different ways of working, re-examine various populations of workers that have been underutilized in the past, and role-modeling the right behaviors to break the culture of “having to be present”, while also taking accountability for re-assessing how current policies and processes will disadvantage certain types of workers.  Being able to conduct professional audits and/or engage in coaching to advance your approach to leadership is definitely indicated here.
  • The ability to build inclusive and connected hybrid teams.  One of the biggest needs we are hearing about right now is being able to manage remote teams.  Communication, collaboration, innovation, and building relationships with each other are such a challenge.  While some sales teams have worked this way for years, other teams are just now getting up to speed and, while there are benefits, are also seeing disconnection and lower job satisfaction.  There is a myth out there that the younger generation doesn’t want to come back.  To be honest, we are seeing the opposite – they miss that social interaction!  So getting comfortable with technology and potentially investing in more in-person work pods or off-site opportunities are some examples of the new ways of thinking that leaders are tasked with.

Why Steople?

What was remarkable about sitting around this table was the depth of the conversation at hand.  This was a group of individuals that did not know one another before this event, but they absolutely opened up and discussed some of the most pressing pain points in their own companies freely.  We ended the lunch by asking them what they sought out of a partnership with a company like us.  It warmed my heart that what Steople on the other side of the planet brought was insight, perspective, and a richness of resources.  Partnering with skilled professionals who brought both science and practical business knowledge to accelerate learning and change throughout each organization had been invaluable.  Our value proposition is there for you – deep relationships, research of best practices, and pragmatic solutions.  As always, we are here for you and your leadership journey.  We want nothing more than to see you succeed!