In her last column for Citywire for 2022, Phryne Williams looks at the challenges facing company leaders.
Performance under pressure is a hallmark of the C-suite, but 2022 has been a relentlessly tough-all-round year. By many accounts, there seem to be some cracks appearing in the usually implacable facade of leadership.
The key finding of Future Forum’s 2022 Pulse Report was the precipitous decline in ‘executive’s employee sentiment and experience scores’ over the previous year. By September 2022, the World Economic Forum had raised the red flag on what it has termed ‘post-pandemic leadership fatigue’.
The ‘great resignation’ which has been playing out across many regions of the world since 2021 has certainly included top leadership talent. We have seen greater mobility in the echelons of management here in South Africa. There has also been a distinct tweaking of C-suite job requirements and skills-sets as organisations seek out leaders and managers who they hope are robustly equipped to face the current onslaught of challenges.
Many of the post-pandemic events that have escalated the pressures on the C-suite are inescapable, global forces – climate change and the quest for sustainability; the war in Ukraine and supply chain disruptions; the relentless social media and societal polarisation storms. However, there are three key strains and stresses that are hitting close to home for executives in South Africa’s financial services industry that are more than likely to be amplified in the year ahead.
Connecting with employees
We see some asset management leaders and managers battling to connect with their employees and keep them engaged. There’s been an increased rate of resignation in the industry which suggests a drop-off in employee loyalty.
Often the candidates who come our way cite a lack of connection to leadership, even to their direct managers, as an important reason why they are currently job-seeking or considering other options. In general, we are finding that potential candidates are more open to approaches and more interested in exploring other opportunities.
For the C-suite this is reminder that their immersion in company culture and quality of their relationships with employees at every level counts. The time and energy that it takes to know your team members as both valuable workers and as human beings pays off handsomely, because low engagement and high turnover is a significant and real organisational pain.
‘Visibility’ is not sufficient, and the importance of business social interactions and meaningful one-on-one conversations should not be under-estimated.
Managing hybrid teams
Troubles connecting with employees may in part be attributed to the lack of management know-how and skills when it comes to leading hybrid work teams. Leaders have to grow and become adept at building culture and maintaining social connections and team cohesiveness across in-person and digital team platforms.
Some managers have responded to these challenges by putting pressure on their teams to return to the office, which can be met with resistance and the assumption of a lack of care by management for employee well-being. While some remain unconvinced about hybrid work, the competition for talent and urge to present a progressive employer brand puts pressure on company leaders to offer hybrid work scenarios.
However, the capacity of organisations to do this well is in question and it is likely that managing hybrid teams and connecting with employees are going to be even bigger challenges as we move into the new year.
One of the greatest pandemic impacts on organisations has been the acceleration of demand for digitalisation, especially when it comes to digital customer engagement and digital communications strategies. According to Harvard Business Review, a Twilio study determined that ‘Covid-19 accelerated companies’ digital communications strategies by an average of six years’.
In our recent C-suite searches, there is now a specific requirement for leaders with experience and exposure to digital transformation and implementation. In the same way that financial literacy has long been a basic C-suite skill, we now see Digital Literacy becoming foundational for CEO’s and top management.
Apart from this personal demand of the C-suite for new skills and know-how, they are also grappling with a pressure cooker of digitalisation challenges. Digitalisation demands top-down driven change management throughout the company. Leaders have to position the business to win the rare tech talent that they need to design and execute digitalisation projects or they have to rapidly build capacity to manage outsourced, often offshore, tech teams to deliver digitalisation projects ahead, or at least on par with competitors.
There’s nothing to suggest that the demand for rapid digitalisation is going to ease on any front. Leaders will be challenged to tap into new reserves of resilience and agility as they forge on at breakneck speed.
The end of 2022 presents the opportunity for leaders to reflect on the tumultuousness of the past three years. Perhaps, the new year will usher in the much-needed prospects for taking stock and re-balancing.
For some executives, reinvigorating the workplace will be a high priority. Leaders will not only have to concern themselves with well-being of their employees and health of the work environment, but also pay attention to their own self-care.