Eight ideas to help you overcome the challenges of the VUCA world to create employee loyalty
Earlier this week, I started a series of blog posts called “Practical Leadership Insights about Leading During a Transition.” This initial post presented real-world ideas and tools that will provide the modern day leader with the ability to understand and execute business strategy through people when the ecosystem is in a business transition. I discussed how I believe this is different than Change Management because Change Management is an evolving process that teaches leaders to build resilience to forces outside of the organization. Transition on the other hand is a finite event that is controllable and usually initiated as a logical business decision.
I listed six leadership insights that can be used immediately and I quickly realized that each key point is rich enough to support its own blog post. The first leadership insight is:
With all of today’s rapid business transition, there is no more employee loyalty. How do you effectively lead people when they aren’t loyal to you or your company?
The first question we really need to ask is “What is employee loyalty in the first place?” To many, loyalty is an arcane concept that may have absolutely zero relevance to organizations and their leaders in today’s VUCA world.
Look around us and we see established companies like Coke, Xerox, GE, IBM, Dow Chemicals, Pfizer, and DuPont all drastically changing. We have all heard the “Grandpa talk” about the “good old days” when you joined one of these companies and they would expect you to work for them your entire career. Your loyalty was rewarded with job security, good compensation, benefits, and a pension. This concept lasted into the 1980s but it does not exist in the competitive global business ecosystem where companies are merging, spinning off, and being acquired on a daily basis. When the leaders I work with speak with young people and try to recruit them into their organizations, “loyalty” can actually be a negative word. Some people perceive it as being mindless and afraid to take risks and jump around from company to company to build skills and develop their network.
So if loyalty to a company has disappeared forever, is it possible to develop loyalty to a team or an immediate leader? While that may be a difficult question to answer, it becomes even harder when you are trying to lead and create team loyalty during a time of business transition. When employees are loyal to their manager and to each other, it is very powerful. But, realize right here and right now, if you can somehow magically create loyalty, it’s only going to last for 12-36 months at best. A short-term and loyal team can act quickly, make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, and adapt to changes in the market without the fear of traditional corporate nonsense and backstabbing. They can take risks because they know all of the people in that situation will be in different jobs and / or companies in a very short amount of time.
As a leader, how do you overcome all of the challenges of the VUCA world to create a brief moment of employee loyalty? Here are eight ideas that have been acquired through conversations with great leaders, observation, and research:
As a leader, you can create loyalty – even if it is short lived – by:
- Being fair, open, transparent, and authentic - when it comes to job roles, responsibility, compensation, and praise for a job well done.
- Be focused on the work - Create an environment that takes pride in doing great work (not just good work) and make sure that it is fun and most importantly, provides people the experiences that they can take to their next job. Yes, loyalty is built by giving them skills to leave you!
- Be steady in times of adversity - Andy Reid, the current coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, is known for his stoic saying that “When things are bad, they are really never that bad, and when things are good, they really are never that good.” While many may argue about his coaching prowess, he is a respected leader and many say his steadiness in crisis is the primary reason why.
- Be very direct and succinct - In this 24/7 VUCA world people don’t have time for flowery dancing around the issues. If you don’t agree just say so. If you think the idea is Super Awesome, just say so. If you think a person is being a pain-in-the-ass, tell him and work it out. Just make sure you are respectful to the work, the customers, and each other in the process.
- Act quickly - Expect everyone else to act quickly. If someone on the team isn’t cutting it, then fire them and move on. They will get another job very quickly anyway.
- Just say no to the mindless, painful, and inefficient politics - There is no room and there isn’t time. Stamp out the cancers. You know who they are. Just make them go away.
- Be a boss and leader - Use your authority to set (fair) rules and to hold people accountable. While you may need to have different rules for different people in this environment, make sure people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Reward them when they are and terminate them when they aren’t.
- Be human - Have faults, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, adapt, learn, and go to a happy hour with your team. Appreciate the good and improve the bad, but most of all smile, be happy, and treat every employee the same way you would treat your most important customer.