Leadership Lessons To Shape The Future Of Work

Prior to the pandemic, workplace culture and the very essence of a business was built upon social interactions in the workplace – those all-important ‘watercooler’ moments, the physical collaboration, the shared experiences and the stories. These moments helped us to find purpose and allowed us to embrace new mindsets and behaviours.  

The challenges brought about by the pandemic have led to uncertain and often quite complex working environments, while at the same time showing us new and different ways of working. Employers have had to offer flexibility, which for some has meant more freedom and a better work-life balance, while others have felt isolated, unable to absorb company culture, network with peers and learn about the workplace. 

Reflecting upon the last 18 months there are undoubtedly lessons that we need to learn from in order to move forward successfully, with newfound momentum. It’s equally important to draw a line in the sand and celebrate all that has been achieved. Here, Alison discusses the key learnings from the last period that leaders should consider in the new, hybrid-forever workplace. 

The talent pool is now borderless, so EVP is top of the agenda

Hybrid working has expanded the talent pool and, as we find ourselves simultaneously in the midst of a global talent boom and the ‘Great Resignation,’ there has never been a more important time to use a powerful story to elevate your Employee Value Proposition to attract new skills and retain your best people. 

The pandemic caused a seismic shift in what is deemed to be a good work-life balance, with many employees favouring flexible working opportunities, happiness and job satisfaction above salary expectations. To be a magnet for talent, your employee brand and proposition should be compelling. In fact, according to LinkedIn, 75% of candidates will research a company’s reputation before even applying for a job.

Purpose-driven companies benefit from higher levels of workforce retention, and a more satisfied workforce who will stay with them for longer. Embedding a culture that prioritises its people will show employees just how valued they are and will align your people with your business goals. Powerful storytelling allows the small, human pride stories that run through every organisation to be captured and shared in a way that validates the master narrative which articulates the journey the business is on – demonstrating what an organisation stands for by connecting colleagues and highlighting the valued role they play. Empowering your people through storytelling will help support your EVP, and thus reinforce the proof points that build momentum within your business to help you to achieve your performance goals. 

How the new work-life balance must be considered

The idiom ‘work-life balance’ changes from generation to generation, as priorities shift and the work environment changes. But the pandemic has forced this to become a level playing field, as employees reap the benefits of a more rounded work-life divide. Much the same, the turbulent events of last year forced every leader to begin a new, unprecedented chapter in their career, with almost every business experiencing some degree of transformation and change.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of mental health and wellbeing, not least in the workplace. While some praised working from home for killing the commute and providing more time with loved ones, others felt it was like ‘living at work’, and as a nation, some of us experienced feelings of loneliness, disconnect and isolation. 

A carefully constructed and genuine change narrative is a powerful tool in engaging, motivating and inspiring your people. An emotional response will help you, as a leader, to establish feelings of trust, and empower your people to understand the valuable part they play in your business journey.

Science has proved that the telling of a story lights up several areas of the listener’s brain, releasing chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, heightening feelings of empathy and a sense of involvement. By winning hearts and minds through storytelling, people will want to help shape how your company’s narrative evolves, and be far more likely to embody the changes needed within the business. And a happier, motivated workforce equals increased productivity. 

How empathy and authenticity is key for leadership

Earlier this year, I asked Will Jennings, Chief Executive Officer Rabobank UK, what he most wanted to hold onto going forward. He answered: “the same level of human empathy and the same level of care we show human beings to human beings, which will ultimately help us become much more salient in our professional lives.”

As human beings, we are naturally tribal and social, and we are wired to uphold and preserve our culture through storytelling. Storytelling, however, can change entire mindsets and behaviour. It binds us together and helps create trust and empathy. It is an exceptional device to help bring people with you on your ‘change’ journey, as it helps us think differently about the way we work, breaking through any resistance. 

How storytelling is key to achieving this

As tribal beings, we are constantly searching for stories and creating narratives that help us to validate our identity as a group. They help us to understand and make sense of the world in which we live.

After the last 18 months of uncertainty, disruption and turmoil, leaders should craft an emotionally compelling narrative describing the next steps of the journey beyond the pandemic, leaving a clear image in mind of what success looks like. This new narrative should be championed and role modelled by leaders, as it will help their people make sense of the many projects going on within the company, and why they matter. 

When people understand the ‘why’, and not just the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, it emphasises that we are all in this together, helping to understand that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, each playing our part. By using the powerful technique of storytelling, it’s possible to shift mindsets, build belief, win hearts and minds and deliver meaningful change in the workplace. 

About the author: Alison Esse is Co-founder and Director of The Storytellers, an innovative storytelling and business transformation specialist. Alison co-founded the business 18 years ago to become the home of story-driven change, driven by its own purpose to move people to do great things. The Storytellers’ 180 + worldwide clients include Hilton Worldwide, British Airways, Unilever, Barclays and Pfizer. 

Alison is responsible for building the firm’s client base and brand and regularly speaks at conferences and events worldwide on the subject of storytelling, leadership and change.

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