Create a Work Environment That Encourages Employee Engagement

Your Managers Are Key When You Want Engaged Employees


Does your workplace encourage employee engagement? If not it should. Employee engagement can be a powerful factor in your business success. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-focused, and profit-generating and employers are more likely to retain them.

Employee engagement is not a Human Resources initiative that managers are reminded to do once a year. It’s a key strategic initiative that drives employee performance, accomplishment, and continuous improvement all year long.

Just like organizations can’t create employee empowermentemployee motivation, or employee satisfaction, engagement is up to the employees who make decisions and choices about how involved they want to be at work. Employees make choices relative to their empowerment, motivation, and satisfaction. These choices are not up to you, the employer.

What is the employer’s responsibility, however, is to create a culture and an environment that is conducive to employees making the choices that are good for your business. And, engaged employees are good for your business.

What Produces an Environment Conducive to Engagement?

Consider the following if you need your employees to become more engaged and involved in their work

  • Employee engagement must be a business strategy that focuses on finding engaged employees and then, keeping the employee engaged throughout the whole employment relationship.
  • Employee engagement must focus on business results. Employees are most engaged when they are accountable and can see and measure the outcomes of their performance.
  • Employee engagement occurs when the goals of the business are aligned with the employee’s goals and how the employee spends his or her time. The glue that holds the strategic objectives of the employee and the business together is frequent, effective communication that reaches and informs the employee at the level and practice of his or her job.

What Makes Organizations Fail at Employee Engagement?

If employee engagement is so crucial to an organization’s success, why do organizations pursue it so ineffectively? The answer is that incorporating a business strategy such as employee engagement is hard work—work that many employers don’t see as affecting their bottom line immediately.

Most organizations implement engagement as a program that’s ancillary to the actual business. But, by thinking about employee engagement as a planned business strategy—with expected and measured business results—employee engagement becomes possible.

With this in mind, employee engagement as a successful business strategy needs effective managers who are committed to:

  • measuring employee performance and holding employees accountable
  • providing the communication necessary to align each employee’s actions with the organization’s overall business goals
  • pursuing the employee development required to ensure success
  • making a commitment (in time, tools, attention, reinforcement, training, etc.) to keeping employees engaged over the long haul because they fundamentally believe no other strategy will produce as much success—for both the business and the employees.

Additional Critical Factors

The following factors also influence the willingness of employees to stay engaged and contributing

  • Effective recognition and reward system. There’s value in a recognition system that lets employees know they are truly worthy. Effective recognition always involves verbal or written acknowledgment from the employee’s manager in addition to any physical reward.
  • Frequent feedback. The downside of the standard employee performance appraisal is that it is a one-time deal. Effective performance feedback takes place every day (minimally, weekly) and there should be interaction with the employee’s manager. Effective feedback focuses on what the employee is doing well and what needs improvement. It is clear and specific and reinforces the actions that the manager wants to see the employee regularly perform.
  • Shared values and guiding principles. Engaged employees thrive in an environment that reinforces their most deeply held values and beliefs. Employees are most successful in an organization in which their personal values are in sync with the organization’s stated valuesand guiding principles.
  • Demonstrated respecttrust, and emotional intelligence. Employee’s direct supervisors need to demonstrate that they are personally interested in and care about their employees.
  • Positive relationships with coworkers. Engaged employees need to work, not just with nice people, but with coworkers who are equivalently engaged. Coworkers who demonstrate integrityteamwork, a passion for quality and serving customers, and are passionate about what they do, make for ideal coworkers who help foster employee engagement.

Learning To Give Recognition The Right Way Every Time

Giving recognition to people the right way every time is an experience that requires vigilance in doing several things very well.

Giving recognition to people the right way every time is an experience that requires vigilance in doing several things very well.

The following 7 areas need to be done right, consistently, in order to make recognition as positive and meaningful of an experience as possible for each recognition recipient.

Examine the following factors and learn to apply them carefully.

  1. Right Intention. Why are you giving people recognition? To have the right intent you have to believe recognition is important and the right thing to do. You must be giving recognition for the benefit and impact of the individual being recognized. Recognition is not about you or putting yourself on a pedestal through recognizing someone else.
  2. Right Setting. Recognition requires the right setting to make it meaningful and memorable. This requires you finding out the recipients recognition preferences. Do they want a public setting or private, one-on-one recognition or with a few others? Would it better to have planned recognition or to make it a total surprise? And don’t forget to consider whether specific people need to be present or not.
  3. Right Voice. Yes, vocal quality and tone of voice have been shown to be strong indicators of recognition effectiveness.

    Yes, vocal quality and tone of voice have been shown to be strong indicators of recognition effectiveness.Tone of voice substantially affects people’s judgment of positive statements people make. Show genuine enthusiasm and excitement in your voice when recognizing people. Make sure you are positive and warm in your interactions versus negative and cold.

  4. Right Words. How you say things speaks volumes. Use “I talk” versus “You talk” phrases. So say “I like how you designed that sales document” versus “Youdesigned a great sales document.” People believe what YOU think but can downplay themselves implied when you start with “you”. Use positive vocabulary and refrain from sarcasm or using “but” statements that negate positive feedback.
  5. Right Actions. I’ve talked about respecting individual recognition preferences. Right actions also include using a person’s preferred name in presentations. And don’t forget to show positive nonverbal gestures when giving recognition such as caring eye contact and meaningful hand shaking. Be mindful of cultural norms where you work that may be different than yours.
  6. Right People. Having the right people present helps enhance the recognition experience. You should know the employee’s attitudes towards various leaders, supervisors and managers. If it would be more meaningful and schedules permit invite positional leaders to be present. Think about close friends and peers who should be on hand. And some recognition warrants inviting significant others, such as family.
  7. Right Things. Take time and care on giving the right things to people whether as an award or simply a token of appreciation. Make sure you have a variety of gift items available for them to choose from in your recognition programs. And when in doubt find a way to personalize the award or gift with their name on it. Sometimes personalizing a gift might require consulting family and friends to find a unique item you would never have thought of.

 Following these seven steps for giving recognition will insure you do things the right away every time you have a recognition opportunity to take care of.

Question: Which of these 7 “right ways” have had the most impact on a person you have recently recognized?

Show Your HR Value With ‘Pain Point’ Metrics

One of the trickiest parts of providing HR services is that the better you do your job, the less visible your work is. When everyone on a team is happy, fulfilled, and engaged, the business can operate as the founder envisioned – and that founder may fail to realize the importance of the behind-the-scenes HR work that’s made that reality possible.

This is of particular concern to HR contractors, consultants, and PEOs, who may be handling employee issues online or over the phone, in ways that are less visible than an in-house HR professional holding office hours.

So how can HR professionals show the value of the work they do, especially for metrics-minded business leaders? Following these strategies can help ensure that your efforts remain top of mind so you get credit for the positive outcomes you’re enabling.

Identify “pain point” metrics

We know that every company needs HR. But early-stage businesses usually realize this only when some specific trigger incident happens. During the sales process for a new client, be sure to identify the primary trigger that led the founder to contact you. These are typically things like:

  • Difficulty recruiting.
  • High turnover / bad retention rates.
  • “Squeaky wheel” employees.
  • Compliance issues.
  • Company culture.
  • Onboarding and process needs.

Ask about the hours they’re spending dealing with these issues and what a successful outcome looks like for them.

Crunch the numbers

Once you have a clear picture of the “before,” you’re well positioned to show how your work leads to improvement over time. For example, if a founder comes to you because they’re having trouble retaining employees, you might look at the current turnover rate at the company, along with the cost of turnover for various roles (including time spent recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and training a new hire).

As you decrease the turnover rate, you can demonstrate the savings you’re bringing to the company, which will almost certainly be less than the cost of your service.

While the founder and their team are no doubt enjoying the day-to-day workplace improvements that come with lower turnover, seeing the numbers in black and white will help reinforce the value your services are adding.

Report on “headaches saved”

Eventually, most founders understand that enlisting the help of an HR consultant or PEO firm is well worth the cost, if only in the number of headaches it saves them. One way you can subtly reinforce that value is to create a monthly report or newsletter that highlights all the work you’re doing behind the scenes. This might include:

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  • A summary of new employment laws that passed or took effect (and that founders don’t have to worry about, thanks to you!).
  • Upcoming filing deadlines for various types of paperwork (again, that you will handle!).
  • HR issues in the news and how your services help employers stay in compliance on said issues.
  • Enrollment numbers for employer-sponsored benefits programs.

The goal of such a document is to both keep founders informed about the larger HR picture and also remind them of all the things they don’t have to worry about, thanks to you.

Check in and iterate

The nature of early-stage companies is that they change quickly. So while a founder may come to you in hopes of building a better culture, they may find, six months into your engagement, that while their culture is now great, they’re having trouble recruiting.

During regular check-ins with your clients, be sure to listen for signs that they may need additional services you can provide. When you catch these, follow the same process you did at the beginning, identifying key metrics and goals so you can demonstrate success as you engage with a new aspect of their business.

Bob Cerone

Bob Cerone is the founder and CEO of Cognos HR, a Chicago-based PEO and HR consulting firm that specializes in serving small and midsize businesses. He is an active mentor for leaders of early-stage companies and the Midwest Leadership Chair for the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO).


How Employers Can Manage Stress Within the Workplace

Happy workers are productive workers but when the nine till overtime becomes too much, employers can soon find themselves having to address the pitfalls of staff burnout.

Whether it’s an infinite workload, 24/7 emails or just a fast paced environment, the high demands made of modern workers means that employers need to know how to manage stress within the workplace.

What are the signs of workplace stress?

Employers have a duty to relieve the pressure on those running too fast on the hamster wheel, but it’s not always easy to recognise when staff are displaying signs of workplace stress. Ideally, there would be no hesitations in approaching a manager when the job is getting too much, but employees are usually reluctant to admit any form of fallibility, regardless of its nature.

Whilst under-performing staff might be a reflection of your recruitment methods, a sudden fall in performance is more apt to be a sign of stress. This downturn might manifest itself in numerous ways with a lack of concentration, uncharacteristic moods and a decline in commitment all being key signifiers. Other symptoms to keep an eye out for include an increase in absences, a decrease in punctuality and fatigue.

So what can employers do to reduce stress at work?

Stress is part and parcel of the rat race but there are effective steps that employers can take to ensure that daily demands don’t be begin to weigh too heavily on the shoulders of staff:


Clear channels of communication between staff and the powers at be is vital in establishing the open culture that’s necessary to reduce workplace stress. Transparency, approachability and understanding are fundamental components to a happy environment; with a lacking of any of these typically resulting in an atmosphere of distrust and isolation.

We’ve come a long way since a cup on a string though and facilitating a method of communication whereby decisions, worries and opinions can be openly discussed (privately or publicly), can prove to be an inexpensive yet effective method of minimising employee concerns.

Autonomy (with support)

A lack of control over the day to day can soon result in an office wide burnout as employees struggle to manoeuvre within the often uncompromising limitations that have been set by managers. Professionally or not, most people don’t respond well when operating at the whim of others and employers need to trust that their staff will flourish without their incessant helicopter management.

Though complete chaos should always be discouraged, it’s important that staff feel empowered and allowing them to manage THEIR job is one way of relieving some of the pressure whilst giving employers some valuable time back. 100% abandonment can lead to more stress and pressure though so providing autonomy with support is the key here.

Encourage breaks

Despite the health warnings and tabloid headlines, the average British worker will spend a demoralising five years of their lifetime chained to a desk by the wheels of an office chair. As well as the increased risks of back paineye strain and heart disease, remaining sedentary for so long has been credited as the number one source of stress by 30% of workers.

Employers should therefore encourage staff to take short but relatively frequent breaks that include walking, stretching and possibly some fresh air. Whether it’s an hourly initiative or you shoo them outside during lunch, these breaks act as respite for both the body and the mind and should see employees return to their desks more productive and feeling refreshed.


Being ill-equipped to perform daily tasks can not only lead to inefficient job performance but also a low self esteem and an overall dissatisfaction with work. Ineptitude is never a solid foundation from which to build a successful career and a failure to address any skill gaps will inevitably lead to stress or a desire to move on.

Where an absence of knowledge or skills exists, employers should look to arrange additional training that enables staff to become experts in their vocation. How we feel about our job is largely reflective on our suitability to the position and becoming an ‘expert’ or a ‘specialist’ in the role can improve our attitude, performance and how others view us.

Stress is no stranger to the workplace but when it’s beginning to impact upon performance and wellbeing, it’s time for employers to step in and relieve the strain. Though some may respond better to seemingly insurmountable challenges, our tips for managing stress in the workplace should help managers create the working conditions to get the most out of their staff.

These are the 4 different work styles and how to work with each

Experts have figured out that everyone falls into one of these styles. Once you understand them, you can figure out how everyone can get along.

These are the 4 different work styles and how to work with each
[Photo: Flickr user Team Dalog]

Ever wonder why you have great chemistry with some colleagues and butt heads with others? It comes down to your working style, says Kim Christfort, coauthor of Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships and national managing director of Deloitte Greenhouse Experience, an innovation lab.

“Some people like risks, others prefer rules. Some want consensus, while others want to win,” she says. “Think of these traits as magnetically charged particles. Some cluster together and attract while others spread apart and repel. Identifying everyone’s pattern can help you work better together.”

Using a data-based approach, Christfort and her coauthor, social-personality psychologist Suzanne M. Johnson, identified four primary working styles that are based on how people interact:


Pioneers value possibilities, take risks, and spark energy and imagination on their teams. “They’re big-picture thinkers who want to take advantage of opportunities or create new ones,” says Christfort. “They tend to not be detail-minded, and they make quick, spontaneous decisions.”


Guardians like stability, order, and rigor. They’re pragmatic, detail-oriented, and risk-averse. “Guardians are thoughtful about everything,” she says. “Unlike Pioneers, they’re slower to take on new things, and they look before they leap.”


Drivers thrive on challenge, results, and winning. They tackle problems head on with logic. “Drivers are goal-oriented,” says Christfort. “They feel more connected when there is a debate.”


Integrators prefer connection and consensus. They are diplomatic and draw teams together. They connect people and are empathetic. “Integrators can understand the context of moving pieces,” she says. “They’re the glue that holds the pieces together.”

People can be a blend of two types, and the most common combinations are Pioneers/Drivers and Guardians/Integrators.

While Deloitte offers a Business Chemistry program for organizations that want to formally use the information in their workplace, it’s not that difficult to recognize yourself as well as others based on actions and characteristics that are observable in a business setting, says Christfort.

“How quickly do you make decision?” she asks. “Are you open to risk? It’s almost like a poker player looking for tells. If they can identify them, it increases the probability of knowing what’s going on, and making a smart play.”


Once you identify your own style and the styles of your coworkers, you can use them to improve collaboration as well as recognize your own tendencies and biases.

“If you look around, chances are not everyone is like you; the styles are evenly distributed,” says Christfort. “If you’re having a conflict or feel someone isn’t catching on or doesn’t get it, they probably have a totally different style. It’s not a case of me against you.”

While you might need to make accommodations if you have a boss with a different working style, the goal is to flex when it comes to peers. Flexing means recognizing that you may not have everything you need to be successful.

“Flex can mean to bend or stretch,” says Christfort. “When you get it right, flexing involves going back and forth, bouncing between styles. You both flex enough to relate, and respect and value what the other person brings. Together you are more than the sum of parts.”

Combining different working styles often creates better output. “Alone, you might miss some key aspects, context, or risk beyond your own view,” says Christfort. “Naturally most of us want to work with someone more like ourselves, but if you bring in an opposite perspective you get a better solution.”

Leaders who choose people for projects should use the styles to create a balanced team. “Look at the team and the bare minimum needed for each type to thrive,” says Christfort. “A Guardian needs an agenda and time to process before making decisions. Pioneers want opportunity and a white board to brainstorm. Drivers want to get to the point quickly. And Integrators want to connect with others, socialize ideas, and get alignment. Decide what tasks to give each and when to bring them into the project.”

Give Guardians a chance to prepare thoughts before a meeting, for example, so they have time they need. Let Pioneers lead brainstorming sessions. And if you don’t have a particular working style, have it represented in another way. For example, if you don’t have a Driver, task someone to play devil’s advocate, Christfort suggests.

Tapping into working styles helps coworkers get along and contribute their best work, says Christfort. “We’re going into a world where people don’t always sit next to each other,” she says. “We have to make sure we can build a strong relationship working together.”

How to Create a Company Where People Stay

Employee retention is an ongoing challenge for many organizations. Across industries, there are talent shortages at almost every job level, and employers face an increasingly competitive job market. Though candidates and current employees have many career options, there are steps you can take to create a workplace where people want to stay, grow, and thrive.

But before we discuss the how, it’s important to understand the why.

A positive, productive culture isn’t just great for people — it’s also great for business. For one, turnover is expensive: 78% of business leaders say retention and employee engagement is a top concern, and the cost of replacing employees ranges from 30% to 200% of annual incomes. Whether you’re a company with five employees or 500, turnover can have a significant impact on your bottom line.

When it comes to building great cultures, companies with a business focus on HR seem to have success. At Ultimate Software, we’re proud of our own 94% employee-retention rate, and to be continuously recognized for having one of the best workplaces in the nation. We’ve learned a lot about putting people first through Ultimate’s 25-plus years of building HR solutions.

But you don’t have to be in the people business to be a people company. Here are some ways to ensure you’re keeping employees at the forefront of all you do.

Build a culture of trust, empowerment

Successful cultures are sustained on trust. Building that trust takes buy-in and dedication at every level of the organization: from executives to managers to HR to customer service representatives to entry-level employees. Remember that you hired your talented people because they are great at what they do — so trust them to do a great job. Trust makes a difference. It empowers your people, and employees who feel empowered often display stronger job performance, higher satisfaction, and increased commitment to the organization.

Often, that empowerment comes from quality relationships among employees, and research shows good working relationships are key. In fact, according to a recent nationwide study, employee-manager relationships are the number-one driver of employee satisfaction at work today. Looking at your current culture, do managers have what they need to lead effectively? Are they routinely checking in with employees to ensure they feel empowered to seek growth opportunities? Managers, in turn, should also feel empowered to ask for help if they feel they don’t have the skills to help employees grow. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to success, so talk to your people about the tools they need to continue developing their skills and reach their long-term career goals.

Use AI to predict risk

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning platforms that offer predictive analytics capabilities and sentiment analysis can also help reduce turnover. In one case, a top employee at the Anderson Center for Autism was about to hand in her resignation. However, with the help of technology, the HR department predicted this move and developed a personalized retention plan that ultimately made her change her mind. Using predictive analytics, Anderson Center has been able to identify at-risk employees, as well as forecast employees’ likelihood of remaining at the organization for the next 12 months, and act immediately on that insightful information.

Not only has Anderson Center saved substantial time and money with these advanced solutions, but it’s also now able to better identify, develop, and retain great talent in a highly regulated organization with few resources to spare — all while maintaining the strong employee base that’s critical to advancing the center’s mission of providing the highest-quality programs for children and adults with autism.

Preserve the “little things”

It’s easy for companies to lose sight of their cultures as they grow and bring new people onboard. While startups and smaller organizations can feel like tight-knit families, that’s not always true for organizations with thousands of employees. However, protecting your employee-centric culture should remain a high priority, regardless of your company’s size.

Throughout the growth phase, focus on preserving “the little things,” the special touches — from birthday celebrations to baby showers to community service outings — that form meaningful bonds and show employees you’re invested in their complete well-being. Breakroom gatherings and team lunches shouldn’t disappear as you scale. Consider what made your organization unique during the early stages, and what you can continue to hold onto, or bring back, to preserve that close-knit culture.

Think benefits

According to Gallup, millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace, with six in 10 open to new job opportunities. Millennials also make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce today. If organizations want employees to stay until retirement, they must show they’ve made a long-term investment in their people. Company outings and catered meals are nice perks in the short term, but offering such benefits as unlimited paid time off or a competitive 401(k) company match can be life-changing for employees, while promoting a healthy work-life balance.

Consider ways you can restructure benefits to accommodate employees of all ages, and continue tailoring benefits based on changes in the workplace and evolving expectations. For example, younger millennials may not be thinking about maternity leave today, but a generous, well-rounded benefits package illustrates you’re focused on keeping that employee happy 10, 15, and 20 years from now. Not all benefits will fit into every company’s budget, but it’s worth taking a closer look at your current offerings, and listening to your people to see which benefits matter the most to them.

Creating a workplace where people want to spend their careers takes companywide commitment and a long-term investment. But the results will be well worth the time and effort. Even in a candidate’s market, you’ll see reduced turnover, increased productivity, and happier employees. When you focus on culture, your people and your business thrive.

Vivian Maza

Vivian Maza has served as chief people officer at Ultimate Software since 2004, and has been with the company since its inception in 1990. As chief people officer, Vivian fosters Ultimate’s unique and highly recognized company culture by inspiring employees to continuously support and practice Ultimate’s core values.


How to pass job selection tests

c1d45b99-6f6f-417d-a9a1-6d1baab1b7c7So you got through to interview, and the next major obstacle to obtaining that dream job, or career is passing the selection tests.

Companies, recruiters and agencies use tests for selection purposes, with the primary purpose to narrow down job candidates and to appoint, transfer or promote the best person for the position.

The most common types of selection tests currently used are:

  • Verbal reasoning, which test how well you understand ideas expressed in words and how you reason and think with words, including tests that assess spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Numerical reasoning, which tests how well you understand and reason with numbers, including the use of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (depending on the position, they will also include the handling of percentages and fractions)
  • Diagrammatic reasoning, which deal with diagrams
  • Computing tests, that assess your relevant competencies in computing software
  • Clerical tests that test skills such as the management and assessment of data
  • Abstract reasoning, which assesses your ability to manage a problem and to think in abstract terms.
  • Personality questionnaires, which aim to identify the type of person you are, from extroversion, tough minded, dependent, or interdependent and so on.  These are used to measure how well a person will fit into a company culture, including ability to work under stress and work well within teams.

If you are required to sit selection tests, it can feel a bit overwhelming.  But the good news is, the majority of people can improve their score by practicing selection tests.  (However, in order to show improvement, you need to have reasonable rates of literacy, or numeracy, so if you are a poor reader, weak at maths, or have low computer competencies, then you will probably need tuition or classes before seeing any noticeable improvement).

If you are invited to sit a test:

  • Find out what tests will be involved (if this information is not volunteered up front, then give the organisation/contact person a call and ask)
  • Seek out relevant material and search on the Internet for tests relevant to the position and designed to measure things such as your verbal and numeral skills, and abstract mental reasoning.
  • Set aside time to practice, until the selection tests become second nature.
  • Get a good night sleep and do not drink alcohol the night before or on the day of the test, as this will affect your score detrimentally.
  • When sitting the psychometric testing, (personality tests) you can improve your results by:
    • Visualising yourself fitting into the culture.
    • Avoiding absolutes such as always and never.
    • Choose answers suggesting positive traits, for example optimistic, agreeable and trustworthy.
    • Avoid answers suggesting negative traits, such as prejudice, stressful.
    • Practice personality tests, like you would any other tests.

Leadership in an age of disruption

Fasten your seatbelt. Constant change in the workplace is the new norm. From company restructuring to digital transformations to changing consumer preferences and expectations, companies are operating in an environment of constant change, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

To thrive in such an environment, businesses must become more flexible and adaptable. Ushering in a nimble business model, however, will require a different approach to leadership. This article offers a perspective on leadership in an age of disruption and what’s at stake for those who don’t get it right.

An agile leadership model

In today’s fast-paced, hypercompetitive global economy, leaders are being challenged with delivering greater value to the customer while simultaneously building a stronger company culture where employees feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Speed and agility will trump perfection as businesses are pressured to address these challenges with faster innovation, an enhanced end-to-end customer experience, cost reductions, etc. — calling on leadership to be more agile and efficient. Traditional command and control leadership approaches are slow, rigid, and stifle creativity and innovation; hence, they are becoming quickly outdated, and, in their place, more agile leadership models are emerging — comprised of high levels of collaboration, engagement, empowerment, and communication within a decentralized decision-making framework.

Ten progressive leadership qualities best define an agile leadership model. These qualities are critical in today’s disruptive environment and are required to attain speed, efficiency, creativity, innovation, and results.

Leadership today is a team sport

The ivory tower must crumble. With the increasing complexity of business today, it is even more dangerous for leaders at any level to disengage from the realities of the business, leading to poor decision-making and a host of other serious consequences. Decentralized leadership empowers leaders closer to the work to make faster and more informed decisions based on data, research, best practices, and proximity to the customer. Disruption will prevent businesses from staying idle, so leaders closer to the work must deal with unpredictable and changing situations with dexterity and confidence, quickly shifting priorities employing strong interpersonal and cross-cultural skills.

Empowerment, however, is not enough — rallying teams around a shared vision will require leaders to engage and inspire those they lead. Leaders at every level must join their teams in the trenches, reinforcing the vision and motivating and coaching employees through change and uncertainty to fully unleash their passions and talents. Exuding empathy paired with transparency, active listening, and humility will also boost staff performance and morale.

Communication, collaboration, negotiation, and influence across functional boundaries (horizontal) and up and down the chain of command (vertical) are more critical than ever. In fact, agile leadership will fail without superb communications at all levels. Solid communication helps foster alignment on activities, resources, and priorities. It also promotes the sharing of results, insights, and recommendations, and helps replicate best practices across the organization.

With so much work being done cross-functionally, across borders, and in a matrixed environment, leaders must also be able to lead and influence others without having direct authority. To succeed, they must skillfully unite disparate and sometimes competing departments and adapt to different styles and personalities while developing a deeper understanding of other functional areas.

A new approach to problem solving

The pressure to keep pace with rising customer expectations is causing organizations of all sizes to problem solve through creativity and innovation. In a command and control leadership structure, employees simply wait for the directives to trickle down from the top. In contrast, leaders who are closer to the work and engaged with their frontline employees will be in the best position to incubate a culture of creativity and innovation by supporting experimentation and learning, including the permission to fail. Sponsoring centers of excellence can further accelerate creativity and innovation.

Leaders today must embrace continuous problem solving to get ahead of emerging issues before they become serious. To do so, leaders need to think more expansively by moving past the scope of the immediate problem to instead focus on holistic, creative, and sustainable solutions that will achieve a greater impact.

Continuous learning is no longer optional, regardless of title. Without it, leaders today risk being an expert one day and a novice the next. Continuous learning, inextricably linked to problem solving, involves acquiring new knowledge, seeking out best practices, keeping current skills sharp, and gaining fresh perspectives.

What’s at stake?

Organizations need to get this right because their two most important stakeholder groups — customers and employees — have high expectations for leaders.

Customers are more empowered and savvy than ever before with expectations that transcend a brand name and product performance. Customers today are clamoring for a total experience, raising the bar even higher for brands. Leaders are challenged with creating an authentic brand experience, providing relevant solutions, engaging customers, listening and acting on customer feedback, and continuously innovating.

It’s not a cliché — employees are a company’s most important asset. Leadership that is absent purpose, transparency, empowerment, and engagement will cost the business handsomely. Employees will slowly disengage, impacting creativity and innovation, resulting in significant disruption and lost opportunity costs that should raise the alarm of the CFO. With the help of platforms like Glassdoor and Google, the employer brand will suffer as the company finds it increasingly difficult to attract talent.

We can all take steps to become better leaders. Take a moment to reflect on your own leadership style. Are you prepared to effectively lead in an age of disruption? What measures can you take to improve? Your bosses, employees, peers, customers, and suppliers will appreciate you more for it.

Michael Barry is a marketing and communications strategist. He has an MBA in international management (University of Dallas) and a BA in economics (University of Dallas).

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