Is This the Toughest Time to Manage People in 40-Years?

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By Sam Davis
October 20, 2022
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Covid-19 upended almost every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. From my perspective – which is based on 40-years of business experience, including 20 years on boards of directors, 15 years managing people and leading organizations, and nine years of leadership coaching – one result of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has created the single most difficult time I’ve ever seen to manage people. This huge challenge has resulted in employees changing jobs in record numbers, a spike in early retirements amongst managers, declining employee engagement, and CEOs wondering how to maintain corporate cultures with people working at home.

So, what can be done about this tidal wave of people management problems? There are answers, but let’s first look a little closer at the challenges and then look at solutions, none of which are “quick fixes”.

People Management Challenges in a Covid/Hybrid Workforce World:

  1. Weaknesses amongst many organizations’ managers have been exposed as the impact of Covid continues to extend over a prolonged period of time.
  2. Employees have had a lot of time to rethink their life choices and work options as the pandemic has continued. For example, working for employers almost anywhere (virtually) emerged as an option not previously available to many employees.
  3. Employee dissatisfaction with their direct boss’s and senior manager’s ability to effectively deal with changes and challenges brought on by the pandemic increased.
  4. Many managers in the final years of their careers did not want to deal with the long list of people problems that were coming at them. As a result, they threw in the towel and took early retirement. More early retirements are likely.
  5. As employees started leaving organizations in record numbers, recruiting practices did not change significantly enough to compete for talent in the current talent marketplace.
  6. Many CEOs want everyone back in the office full-time but are being told that they will lose too many employees if they demand that employees come back.
  7. There has been a loss of employee connection to bosses, organizations, and company cultures that has resulted in the need for managers to work much harder and smarter to maintain strong relationships with all staff members.

Actions to Start Taking Now to Address the People Management Challenges of Today

So the question becomes: how can leaders possibly fight this daunting wave of management challenges? To be blunt, the answer is by making a real, long-term commitment to improving the management skills of every manager in your organization. Avoiding short term, quick fix, check the box leadership training that is so common in many organizations is a great place to start. This is a matter of survival for many companies. Instead of taking this approach that is seen all too often, let’s look at some specific, higher impact actions that can be started now:

  1. Starting at the CEO level, openly recognize and discuss the significantly increased management challenges your organization is facing (the first step toward a cure is admitting you have a problem!).
  2. Discuss your company’s specific management challenges openly. Solicit internal and external input and potential solutions that might make sense for your firm.
  3. Move quickly to address weaknesses amongst your leadership team. Don’t allow managers that are struggling take entire parts of your organization down.
  4. Ask the hard questions required to come up with new approaches to problems like recruiting talent in a highly competitive talent market. Doing it the “same old way” is not good enough anymore.
  5. Create a long-term plan that sets out a goal of improving management skills and leadership capabilities in a meaningful way.  Make this one of the company’s highest priorities.
  6. Teamwork, which was sorely lacking in many firms pre-pandemic. has suffered even more as a result of the work-from-home environment. Take a hard look at your key teams and ask: Does this group operate as a team or are they simply a confederation of individuals? Do they openly debate sensitive issues, share valuable information, discuss best practices, and share resources?

We wish you good luck dealing with the people leadership challenges of both today and tomorrow. One of the foundational beliefs of strong leaders is that “things can be better”. There are almost always opportunities for improvement. We firmly believe in this and we hope that you do too! 

Interested in learning more? Keystone Partners has been helping companies of all sizes across all industries overcome their people and leadership challenges for the last 40 years. Our team of coaches has extensive experience helping leaders function more effectively, leading to employees to be happier and more engaged in their jobs. Interested in learning more? Contact us today to find out how we can help develop your organization’s leaders realize their full potential.

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