As we move into the new year, many leaders are confronted with serious challenges that could shape both their careers and organizations for years to come.
Behind them is ‘inclusivity’: the importance of making sure every voice is heard, regardless of age, gender or background. But it has to be put into practice, not simply be addressed. That is, of course, easier said than done when economies are wobbling, budgets are tight and jobs are on the line.
That’s where the people leadership challenges of 2023 emerge. As economic conditions shift, ensuring teams are fully included and able to contribute their best work requires more forethought and planning. Here are three challenges to expect and actions you can take.
1. Simultaneously challenge and reassure people
With the shadow of job insecurity and potential layoffs close by, leaders need to tread that fine line between motivating teams to continue to do their most creative work, ensuring they feel ‘safe enough’ to take those creative risks without concern of reprisal. That means actively seeking new ideas from all team members — experienced or inexperienced — and creating an environment where everyone is comfortable presenting different ideas.
Four principles emerge from this mindset:
- Mixing roles and teams. Understand that an employee’s position can (must!) evolve to meet new demands and changes instead of remaining static. For leaders, the challenge is to untether the linear promotions and titles, instead addressing strengths, motivations and values that each team member brings, taking a more bespoke approach.
- Harmonize the direction. Coordinate team members around values and strategies, which allows everyone to be on the same page about expectations, outcomes and accountability.
- Reinforce trust-building behaviors. Show appreciation for effort, demonstrate respect for their ideas through positive feedback and recognizing individual contributions. Provide extra help or resources if needed to further solidify team dynamics.
- Intentional listening. Leaders must be fully present and listen attentively to everyone in meetings and with one-on-one conversations. Intentional listening requires the time to process what is being said, taking action based on what is heard instead of what one thinks they know.
2. Having the conversations that matter
In their best-selling book “The Squiggly Career”, authors Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis showed that the best career path is seldom a straight line. Rather, good career progress can be sideways or move in various directions. Economic downswings tend to normalize lateral career moves, so expect more of these conversations this year. When there’s uncertainty, employees will often stay with what and where they know, a pronounced shift from a year ago.
For many younger workers, this is the first time to experience a period of challenging job prospects and the first time to consider renewing their career purpose with their current employer rather than a new organization. That is, changing careers need not be jumping ship.
Leaders may find more opportunities for having regular career conversations. I recommend 8 conversation starters that anyone can use as a framework for value-added career management:
- How do you define career success?
- What gives you energy in your job?
- If you think back, what’s been your greatest career achievement?
- How would you describe your strengths?
- If you could never fail, what career would you likely consider?
- What strengths do you see in others that you would like to have?
- Who else would you like to have in your networks as a career thought partner? Why?
- If you wanted to teach, what would the subject be?
To ensure the conversations remain productive, consider three points.
-Check in with your team and listen before jumping in with advice or solutions — the conversations are about their individual “why,” not what you or the organization needs them to be.
-Keep it positive and focused on growth opportunities, reinforcing that their efforts are of value and respected by you as a leader.
-Be prepared with flexible options, such as “slash” job roles where an employee takes on two or three roles at once, training opportunities, or other responsibilities that support their sense of purpose.
2023 will demand a new mindset around different modes of working to retain and get the best out of your people.
3. Modeling inclusion from the top down
Leaders must constantly examine their assumptions about people and teams to ensure they’re not excluding anyone from the conversation due to race, gender, age, or other factors. From their elevated vantage point, leaders are in a perfect position to notice larger patterns and interdependencies to ensure team dynamics are healthy and productive.
As simple as this sounds in theory, we’re really talking about making sure that everyone’s interests are included in the organization’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work, that the work becomes part of the company’s culture. Thanks to rising life expectancy and various social changes, the global workforce is more age-diverse than ever before. Statistically, mixed-generation teams perform significantly better, delivering stronger business outcomes across all sectors.
It’s not so much on DEI policies but rather the things people say and do at work which give the impression that experienced workers’ careers have flatlined. Age-related comments from obvious ribbing to subtle comments about ‘not getting technology’ are often excused as office banter but can affect one’s confidence and bruise thought diversity within the team.
How can leaders make people feel valued and enriched at work in the face of biases like ageism? That is perhaps the year’s toughest challenge, building awareness on what it means to be inclusive is a good place to start. I use the Inclusive Leadership Compass in my practice to gain clarity identify strengths and developmental areas to enable leaders and their teams to lead more inclusively.
The Key for Success in 2023
These three people leadership challenges for 2023 reinforce the need for leaders to possess very specific skills in managing through difficult and changing times. They must be able to look beyond the fixed job roles and linear career paths towards a more relationship-driven mindset. Increasingly, we see organizations turning to executive coaching as part of their people-leadership strategy to get the best out of their people and make tangible progress toward inclusivity — and the challenges of the future.