Senior leaders with Excellence Canada came together in Summer 2021 to share insights, concerns, questions, and even profound optimism as a key question that was posed: what will the post-pandemic reality be in your organization?
Like others, the leaders of Excellence Canada explored workplace questions being asked across the globe: Are we going hybrid? Are we going fully remote? If we return, what is the office setting going to look like? And, more broadly, what are the deeper reasons and motivations for why we work in the first place? These burning questions – the ones currently keeping many leaders awake at night – continue to be top of mind. As the Covid 19 crisis continues heading into Fall 2021 with the Delta Variant, answers to these critical questions may remain uncertain for some time. Some believe the longer the Pandemic lingers, the more likely it is that many employees will fully adapt to working in new ways, giving rise to the so-called “Great Resignation” in which employees simply will not go back to the old normal, choosing to abandon the past models of work and walk happily away into a new future, one of their own selecting. We are seeing, it seems, the emergence of a talent deficit that is going to challenge leaders in new ways.
Related to workplace phenomena like the Great Remote Work Experience, we posited, will be chapter headings inside an even larger unfolding narrative we might call the Great Experiment. In response to the post-pandemic era, the rethinking and reimagining of how, where and why we work are on the minds of most in the workplace. The leaders at Excellence Canada confirmed together that this -a reflective stance toward work- is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and that this is creating a result of speedy change for leaders and workplaces. That speed of change leaves a palpable sense of uncertainty, fatigue, and anxiety for many, yet mixed with excitement and anticipation for others. If there is any certainty though, it is that the world of work in 2022 will look little like the world of work in 2019. Perhaps the Millennium is only now truly beginning.
With these bold questions and themes in mind, Excellence Canada leaders came together and ultimately discerned that the future of work has profound possibilities, one that were characterized as the dawning of a second Renaissance of Work. This renaissance is, at its’ end, an exciting one, where new frontiers of productivity, creativity, innovation and value for an unprecedented broad range of stakeholders will be forged. But to enter into this new future, Excellence Canada leaders recognized that a substantive cognitive shift in leadership mindsets must also emerge. In short, a new Renaissance requires a new Renaissance Leadership model. What follows are brief but compelling insights from Excellence Canada thought leadership on what moving into this bold new future will look like, a future that is here…now:
Theme 1: Wellbeing as the “Core of Business Performance”: A New Vision for Excellence
There was clear consensus from Excellence Canada leaders that the North American workforce has been subjected to massive change, both from the Pandemic as well as other social change dynamics, leading to wide-spread negative impacts on employee wellbeing. Indeed, it was recognized that the Pandemic didn’t actually create the problems in employee wellbeing, but rather exposed this as a longstanding problem that has been growing for upwards of 3 to 4 decades. Leaders agreed that repeated hits to individual wellbeing were, at times, debilitating, and that going forward, wellbeing must be boldly and unapologetically addressed by companies and organizations across the globe.
As aspects of the Pandemic continue with the Delta Variant, being bold means continuing, as necessary, some level of crisis leadership to ensure that urgent issues are addressed and that that there is cooperation to do whatever it takes to care for everyone on our teams. In the longer term, however, crisis leadership must give way to a new Renaissance leadership, where promoting human well-being isn’t addressed only during crisis, or as a peripheral HR program, but rather where an organization’s business model is actually built upon the core concept of human wellbeing. As one leader described it, wellbeing must be the “core of business performance”. Similarly, another leader said that the future economy will be dependent on a new vision of our common humanity.
Theme 2: Office vs Remote vs Hybrid? Again, Well-Being Serves as Guide and Roadmap to the Future
On the more popular workplace matters, concerning where people will work, Excellence Canada leaders adroitly remarked that even the ability to find answers on these highly debated issues – issues still in a state of flux as the pandemic continues – will depend in significant part upon deeper understandings around wellbeing and listening to each other. “The answers to key questions haven’t emerged yet, but the answers lie in our connections, in our ability to be empathetic and to listen to each other,” remarked one leader.
On the more practical issue of where employees will work, leaders identified that competing interests are at play, with pros and cons that will have to be worked through over time. Put one way, one leader observed that: “We are recognizing that we don’t need all our real estate, and that’s a problem. But we also see that we can now get talent from anywhere, and that’s exciting.” On the issue of building teams for the future, another leader recommended that teams should be formed more organically and relationally, stating “We are appraising what we have and what would work. While we used to think in lines that were about geography and departments…we’re now thinking about what relationships and social groups define us.”
Over the course of the conversation, Excellence Canada leaders revealed other significant themes emerging, described in broad terms as “moving from the urgent to the strategic, seeing disruption as an opportunity, deepening connectedness, strategy, cooperation, and sustainability.” Again, while answers aren’t fully known at this stage of the Great Experiment, Excellence Canada leaders identified these bullet points as issues to be addressed by every successful business in the very near term:
- Build on diversity, engagement and inclusion theme and develop an inclusive model
- Develop a creative organization with increased collaboration
- Return to office in stages and scale for growth
- Consider how we re-engage employees and replace ‘watercooler’ with strong digital presence
- Remote culture building; incorporate the social aspects of work with future hybrid models
- Increased mental health supports and claims
- Extended benefits to add to existing benefits
- Re-engagement skills and re-socialization
- Right balance for minimum days in office
- Make the time people spend in person with each other count and be meaningful
What Mindset Shifts Should be Made to Move from Crisis Leadership into Renaissance Leadership?
Finally, Excellence Canada leaders recognized the pandemic has caused almost everyone to examine their own leadership, which they recognized as a good, healthy, if even painful, exercise. Going through any crisis usually provides intense personal introspection, and even more so during a global pandemic. Many leaders commented that this crisis ultimately helped them refine and return to what was most important in life, and in business. One leader commented that the challenge “renewed my leadership and I discovered what I love again”. These leaders ended the conversation with commitments to make necessary changes in their leadership, clearly a silver lining following the most disruptive event in our lifetimes. This leads to a final question for all to ponder: what positive change might you consider making in your leadership and for your own well-being?
About Excellence Canada
Excellence Canada is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that is committed to advancing organizational excellence across Canada. Since 1992, Excellence Canada has helped thousands of organizations become cultures of continuous quality improvement and world-class role models, through its Excellence, Innovation
As a national authority on Quality, Healthy Workplace®, and Mental Health at Work™, Excellence Canada provides excellence frameworks, standards, and independent verification and certification to organizations of all sizes and in all sectors. It is also the custodian and adjudicator of the Canada Awards for Excellence program.
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