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In June 2019, author and philosopher Charles Handy declared: “Work needs to be organised, things should be managed…people can only be encouraged, inspired and led.” While it might seem like a surface, linguistic distinction to make, the real issue stems from a much deeper analysis of the modern workplace – Handy has spent decades studying organisational behaviour and researching how business functions best. In our own experience, we have noticed that in some workplaces there is a management style that is proving ineffectual. Instead of leading by encouragement, positivity and inspiration, some managers today prefer to deploy scaremongering tactics and there is a tendency towards micromanagement. On an organisational level this can lead to employee conflicts and a dysfunctional workplace.

When Hays surveyed over 1700 Irish employees in late April to assess the impact of Covid-19 on workplace wellbeing, it was those in positions of seniority that had the most negative outlook. Worryingly, this kind of negativity is not confined to times of crisis. PwC’s 2020 CEO survey, conducted six months previously in October 2019, showed that Irish leaders were already apprehensive about the future. Only 16% percent of Irish CEOs had a favourable opinion about the future of the Irish economy. This was a shocking drop from the 57% of the year before, and the lowest level of business positivity since 2009.

Considering that leaders are the ones we look to in times of crisis for support and guidance, these types of stats are worrying. Negativity can easily spread through a business and affect employees at all levels. Worrying as it is, the stats are also unsurprising. Being a leader is not easy in today’s world.

So what are some of the challenges for leadership today, and what can HR do to help address these challenges?

Lack of clear managerial pathway

Leaders are at the forefront of the business. Their time is precious and in an ideal world should be spent planning, strategizing and making the tough decisions. As such, they also need to be able to delegate certain responsibilities. CEOs and senior management should be able to rely on middle and lower-level management to understand the company’s objectives and ensure targets for growth are being met.

However, skills shortages can often mean that employees are being promoted to managerial positions without being fully ready for the role. While learning on the job is a great way to develop certain skillsets, it helps to have at least some foundation on which to base this learning. Managers lead by example to their employees, so knowing your managers are fit for this role is essential. After all, as the saying goes, people don’t leave a job, they leave a manager.

On the other hand, there is also a possibility of talent going unnoticed, and employees not being promoted when they really could be. This can lead to employees feeling somewhat stagnant, as though they cannot progress in their career. Ambitious employees will not stay in a role like this for very long.

What can HR do?

To unpack how HR can support leaders in this area, we must consider two key issues. The first is that, without clear career progression, talented employees are not likely to stick around for very long. A recent survey run by Adare of 250 Irish employers found that two thirds of exiting employees cited lack of career progression as their reason for leaving. This means that leaders are plugging gaps, scrambling to backfill roles while in the meantime trying to juggle the responsibilities of these roles. The real kicker with this is that sometimes managers can be their own worst enemy. They may have an employee that is great at their job and not want to lose them from their team. This can mean they fail to support that candidate’s personal development goal and end up losing them altogether.

This can also mean that leaders must delegate the exiting employee’s responsibilities to employees that might not be fully ready for such responsibilities. Which leads us to the second issue for leaders – a lack of training and development opportunities. Career progression often requires some level of people-management. However, new managers can often find it hard to make the transition from colleague to leader. Even the most promising managerial candidate may struggle without adequate support. This can lead to a lot of stress for ill-equipped managers, their direct reports and also their own managers.

As a HR professional, you have a unique opportunity to help create a clear managerial pathway that will not only improve employee retention, but also help to ensure that managers have the right skillset to contribute to company growth. Here are some areas you may want to consider:

Developing a policy for internal hiring.

Some companies choose to only promote internally. Other companies hire externally only after exhausting internal candidates. The most effective policy for your business will depend on a few factors, such as company size, industry and plans for expansion. Having a clear, formal policy in place – and sticking to it – means that the promotion process is transparent, fair and consistent. It also means that employees may stay around a little longer. In fact, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report for 2020 found that “employees stay 41% longer at companies with high internal hiring compared to those with low internal hiring”. HR can also help managers to develop a fair and impartial criterion for selection.

Developing a system for career road-mapping.

In this context career road-mapping is a personal, one on one arrangement between an employee and their manager and/or the HR department. It considers a number of elements to help an employee develop their career, such as existing skills and abilities, suitability for specific roles, areas of interests and career goals. These topics are discussed during periodic meetings which give the employee an idea of the steps they need to take in order to progress to management or senior management. Some companies incorporate similar topics during performance reviews, though it may not always be appropriate. Having a formalised and structured approach is key, however.

Skills development and leadership coaching.

A robust learning and development programme will encourage identification of potential skill gaps and address those areas. Soft skills training will be key for any employee with the potential to progress to management and senior management, while also helping them to adapt to their new roles quickly. All levels of management, from lower tier to CXO level can benefit from leadership coaching to help them improve management skills, overcome plateaus and become a more well-rounded leader. Knowing which skills to develop may prove to be a challenge – however the career road-mapping will help with this. Another challenge will be actually holding on those employees once they upskill, so ensuring the overall employee experience, from wellbeing programmes to internal promotion policy, will be key.

Check out part two of this two – part series here!


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