As we slowly and cautiously emerge from the COVID cloud into an optimistic outlook for 2022, we take stock of how we’ve managed throughout the pandemic and how we can use the valuable lessons many of us have learned as we move forward.
For the financial sector, the biggest disruptors during the pandemic were the aggressive implementations of digitalisation (financial technology, or fintech) and BaaS (banking as a service, or embedding financial services by brands into customer experience)—both challenging the traditional banking and investment status quo in favour of efficiency and alpha.
The investment horizon also moved in tandem. Along with lower interest rates and volatile company valuations, we saw the rise of alternatives (hedge funds, private equity, private credit, infrastructure and real estate) in portfolios, with the recent drive to include products that track cryptocurrencies and ESG (environmental, social and governance) objectives to bolster more traditional investment strategies.
For companies, whilst efficiency and agility are important, we must be cautious not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Workforce flexibility and talent attraction and retention are more important than ever; the performance and culture of organisations are led by their people.
Above all, it’s important to recognise that people have been the most resilient resource of all through the pandemic. Employees have altered their ways of working, embraced new technologies to facilitate business sustainability, adjusted to working from home, despite various personal challenges—ranging from loneliness and claustrophobia to additionally performing life-supporting roles such as teacher or caregiver while continuously delivering workplace performance.
The new world is one in which the great majority feel relieved to be past the worst, but uncertainties linger—particularly in the form of agility fatigue. Historically, workplaces delivered various methods of continuous improvement by exploring better ways of doing business. These included enhancements to processes, products and services; they almost always incorporated new technology components. However, during the pandemic, these continuous improvements became necessities that required immediate implementation. These unprecedented levels of disruption in our homes, communities and workplaces, whilst creating an ability to be more agile, have also left many feeling exhausted.
Overcoming this requires clear commitments to better understanding our core purposes and acknowledging our deep personal beliefs; if these merge with those of the organisation for which we work, that will provide solid footing, despite the shifting sands around us.
Redefining company culture is the key strategic initiative for the post-pandemic business model, with employers adjusting policies to include inventive methods to ensure employees are valued. These include flexibility, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and wellbeing—as efforts ramp up to encourage better employee/employer relationships based on improvements in demonstrating trust and empathy.
Flexibility was the first hurdle for companies and employees alike as the pandemic blurred the line between work and home. This resulted in a valuable shift in productivity metrics—rewarding the ability to deliver on goals rather than hours spent at a desk.
Glorifying the 1:00 AM hero (or heroine) is no longer a sustainable solution, as respecting each other’s boundaries and acknowledging how and when we each work best drive a fundamental shift. This poses a challenge to traditional management, particularly with respect to trust. Improving this ability fosters an ameliorated culture of allowing for differences and leading by example.
The pandemic also created an increased focus on individuals’ wellbeing, as personal disruptions impacted individual employees indiscriminately and randomly, increasing workforce empathy for human vulnerabilities. The generic provision of healthcare as an employee benefit has been replaced with compassion, tangibly reflected in the employee assistance programs (EAPs) being rolled out. These often include free-of-charge support for vulnerable employees. The rise of Millennials in the workforce has dictated strategic inclusions of innovative and tangible mental-health offerings.
Whilst some employees may see this as an “unfair” perk, compassion replaces resentment with the acknowledgement that circumstances causing vulnerability are indiscriminate and solutions are available to all.
The LinkedIn catchphrase “The Great Reshuffle” raised eyebrows as 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August 2021 alone1, and 25 percent of the global workforce changed jobs between August and October 2021. Whilst companies rethink their cultures and values for future growth and sustainability, employees are reconsidering whythey do their jobs rather than where they work.
As we navigate this unchartered path, companies would be prudent to include their strategies to manage talent acquisition and retention in tandem with their redefinitions of company culture. Attracting and retaining talent that complements the desired culture requires an authentic evaluation of the real employee experience in respect to the firm’s employee value proposition. The commitment globally to DEI and embedding it into the cultures of organisations require leaders to create conditions that meaningfully demonstrate respect and inclusion of every employee. This will necessitate strategies that include the right metrics and processes to ensure change is created and is sustainable. Leaders have a responsibility to take steps toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, freeing employees to leverage their unique talents to help the company succeed, thereby attracting more diverse talent.
Embedding DEI into company culture ultimately requires an authentic and clear strategy: Senior-leadership support and cross-functional collaboration must be evident through active and visible efforts. By beginning to convey the DEI strategy, clear expectations of “what success looks like” backed by tangible execution are key—as are an emphasis on the individual, collective employee commitment and regular feedback that includes a cross-section of employee perspectives and comments. These are just a few priorities in getting this important cultural shift right.
For organisations, the access to a variety of channels that improve efficiencies and the ease of doing business have never been more robust, but the sense of connectedness and purpose defined by the culture has never been more in need of an open-minded, radical and non-traditional overhaul.
There is no doubt that organisations that wish to stay relevant with a competitive edge need their leadership imbued with a different level of thinking. Thoughtful consideration for cultural elements worth preserving and creating an evolved culture that fosters employee wellbeing, recognition, engagement and growth are imperative to sustainability.
The traditional culture based on founders’ values, industry demands and board-level assumptions—or window dressings—is being replaced by understanding what employees’ views are and what individuals across the organisation need and value, replacing assumptions with valuable insights. The evolution of digitally savvy innovation allows for a more robust and inclusive transformation, whereby employees across the spectrum can experience and contribute to building the culture virtually as well as directly.
As we heal and recover, we will reclaim connection and meaning. As leaders, our role will be to deliver a cultural shift that encompasses all employees. The challenge is to provide tangible acknowledgement and inclusion of collective values, encouraging longevity in our present and future workforces—in the pursuit of thriving and not merely surviving.
1 LinkedIn Talent Solutions: “2022 Global Talent Trends: The Reinvention of Company Culture.”