Do you ever wonder that our conventional approach to leadership hasn’t significantly evolved since the dawn of the industrial era? Much is being talked about people management and the strategies, but the truth is that we have always treated co-workers/ employees like any other input: squeeze as much out of them as possible and pay them as little as possible.
But as we move forward, the contemporary business world shaped by rapidly evolving technology and the far greater importance of institutional knowledge, creative thinking, and sophisticated collaboration, is gradually acknowledging the value of each employee in the financial growth of an organization. Organizations are focusing on innovation and unique differentiation — and almost exclusively are looking at people, not machines, to provide it.
As the employees have become increasingly more critical (Emotions in the Workplace: Research, Theory, and Practice edited by Neal M. Ashkanasy, Charmine E. J. Härtel, W. J. Zerbe) to the overall success of their organizations, what they need and expect in exchange for their work has also profoundly changed. Money alone no longer inspires performance as it once did. Being paid equitably will always be important as a driver of job engagement and productivity, of course, but people across the globe now have aspirations in their jobs that were virtually unimaginable in the industrial age. Apart from better salaries and perks, people want to grow and develop in the roles. They want to feel valued and appreciated by their leaders and to know their work has significance.
But unfortunately, the leadership practices have remained essentially unchanged through this evolution and have more often than not failed to fully respond to the 21st Century workplace. In spite of much talked about transformational leadership, the leadership still prefer not to accept the employee as an integral and the most critical stakeholder for the businesses they are accountable for. Instead, they cling to the threadbare paradigm that employees are a costly input, rather than human beings who associate their life’s happiness with their contentment at work.
But with the changing business needs, the leadership need to get aligned to force a massive change in how we collectively seek to motivate human performance in the workplace. Here are three important reasons why leadership needs to get transformed, why the change will be long sustained and what key practices will define the highly successful leader for the foreseeable future.
Transform leadership practices or pay the price
Workplaces, in general, have paid a lot of attention to processes and far less to people. Most of the times, the employees are given managerial roles tied to success in a previous role, or as a reward for their tenure. It’s unrelated to whether they can effectively support and positively manage human resources. A fact that the people will continue to be unhappy in their jobs and therefore greatly underperforming as long as their leaders fail to be their advocates. For change transformation, the organizations must and need to start promoting people into management roles who have a stronger inclination to mentor and care about their employees rather than compete against them.
The millennials are demanding a far more nurturing form of leadership
If we have reached that turning point in workplace leadership, it is because a new generation of employees have started stating that they will not tolerate a work environment that fails to support them and their needs. In other words, organizations will be unable to attract and retain this young talent if they do not adopt far more authentically supportive management practices.
But the question here is: what is more important for them. To these young workers, money while being an integral part to fulfil their needs, is far less important. Instead, they have a strong desire to find meaning through their work. In a recent study, 88% of Millennials rated “opportunity to have an impact on the world” important when choosing an employer. These incredibly high aspirations will ensure workplace leadership practices are fully reinvented.
Organizations – either change or quit
There are two important aspects you need to know about the organizations which place extremely high value on people:
- They are constantly reinventing leadership. What these organizations have in common is that they give employees a meaningful voice in how the business is being run. The highest value is placed on trust. They are also uncommonly generous and provide perks and benefits many traditional CFOs would reject as being profit killers. This helps them keep the primary motives or needs of the employees satisfied. The employees are more often encouraged to contribute to projects outside of the scope of their normal roles to avoid monotony and are regularly made aware about how their work and efforts contribute to the success of the organization.
- They have high engagement, very low turnover and consistently outperform competitors in financial performance and shareholder return. Several recent studies have shown that companies, where employees are most contented and better, supported consistently achieve significantly higher profits. What all the organizations on the “Best Companies To Work For or Employer of the Year List” are proving is that highly supported human beings are more loyal, more creative and sustainably drive far greater financial results. This forum is eventually pushing competitors to adopt similar leadership practices as shareholders demand a better market forecast and thereby higher revenues.
The future of workplace leadership
The success of workplace leadership will now depend largely on how faster and better they are able to acknowledge the importance and potential of “emotional currency” — what makes people feel important, supported, valued, developed and appreciated. In fact, psychological and psycho-physiological studies have proved that it’s our feelings and emotions that determine our level of engagement in life- what motivates us, keeps us on our toes and what we care most about.
You can also read the previous article written by the author about 'Emotional currency'.