It’s no secret that expectations of the workforce have shifted. It started gradually in the late 90s and was amplified with the shift in generations in the workforce in the early 2000s. While it often gets attributed to the impact of Millennials, it truly was a shift being prompted by workers in all the generations.

Fast forward and add that everyone has been living and working through a global pandemic the past two years, and it is noticeable that a new type of fuel has been added to the fire. Our battle with the coronavirus has contributed to a refocusing and reprioritization of what matters. The result is that not only expectations have shifted but the fundamental value systems upon which workplaces were built have shifted, and to continue to thrive as organizations and retain talent, we must shift with it.     

As we think about where we’ve been, we can see that the “older” or “traditional” workplace values systems focused on top-down, command, control, authority, predictability, and consistency. If you think about the employee value proposition (EVP), it was anchored in good pay for a good job. Employees sought out and expected job security, a good paycheck, and a good relationship with “a boss” or supervisor.  

Contrast that view with where we are today. The traditional values systems have been replaced with a value system that includes empowerment, flexibility, autonomy, ownership, and accountability. While compensation and a good job are still part of the EVP, workers are truly looking for more elements of the work experience to fit that new value system and provide purpose and meaning.

From a business standpoint, you can see the difference. No longer can “good pay” or “extra pay” be leveraged as a primary driver of employee behavior. No longer is promised “job security” or longevity as important as it once was. No longer can we simply expect employees to make a change because it makes sense for the business. So how do we, as leaders, operate effectively to get the greatest results within this new context? 

In driving performance, there are three significant leadership implications and actions that can make a difference:

  1. Build and Tap into your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – Within the increasing focus on the “human” aspects that are at the heart of the new values systems, leaders will be expected to be more authentic, compassionate, and empathetic. There will be an increasing need to leverage EQ in all aspects of how you work with others and your team. Think about how you communicate, connect, and build relationships. Consider how you demonstrate adaptability, self-awareness, and self-control. And lean into your coaching skills to be more of a “coach” than a “boss”. All of these collectively will help you achieve greater results. 
  2. Define and Clarify Expectations – For today’s workforce, many leaders have created options to meet the demands for flexibility and empowerment. These options have resulted in a wide variety of work arrangements (e.g., FT, gig, contract, PT, permanent remote, hybrid, etc.) and a fundamental shift away from the uniformity and predictability of the past. They have also resulted in a shifting and fuzzy, ambiguous foundation around expectations and “a norm”. To be most effective in the new workplace, clearly define what is non-negotiable and what is not. Clearly define where the employee has flexibility and empowerment and where they don’t. Clearly define the results expected within their work arrangement and how they will be measured. Clearly define how their work arrangement and/or expectations may or may not be similar to others. Most importantly, engage the employee in conversations around every aspect of expectations and gain their agreement on the vision of success.
  3. Be Intentional on the People Side of Change – Organizations are faced with continual change. It’s a must to keep up with emerging technologies, fluctuating customer needs, and the evolving competitive landscape. Successful change includes effectively managing both the technical change required (i.e., the systems, processes, and tools) and the people side of change (i.e., having our people embrace and adopt the changes we make). Within today’s value system, it no longer works to say “just do it” for the people side. Because we are setting people up to take ownership and have autonomy, our change approach must support and be consistent with that empowerment. The strategy must recognize that, from their perspective, they have more “choice” to participate in a change than may have been present in the past. Thus, to be successful with the true adoption of change that yields results, we must create a strategy that helps employees know what’s in it for them, communicates information needed from their point of view, and equips them to make the change in a way that honors their ownership of it.     

Certainly, these are not the only implications or leadership actions required, but starting with these three can build momentum toward success.