3 Core Competencies to Better Lead and Engage Your People
Being an effective leader in a midmarket organization often means overcoming unique challenges. You’re under pressure to keep the organization lean and efficient, but you also need to position it to be able to respond to market pressures, scale up and grow. There are constant disruptions — new competitors, new customer demands, new regulations, new technologies and new employee needs. Yet there may not be the capital or capacity to invest in the tools to address them. And while there’s little margin for error in an efficient and at time minimal leadership structure, there’s too much of a workforce to reach every employee individually or personally.
Having a team of great managers is going to help. But they’ll go farther if they’re effectively led. Any process or behavior needs to be connected to the organization’s core values and mission. Decisions need to be presented in context to drive understanding, engagement, and alignment. There may only be a few levels between the C-Suite and the workforce, but it’s easy enough for managers to lose sight of your objectives in the flurry of their daily workload. You don’t want your intentions to get lost in translation.
Since your managers are likely acting as your proxies, the more clarity of purpose and quality communication you can provide, the better they can represent you. It’s also a lot easier to stay on point despite carrying a full load of responsibilities (which managers in midmarket organizations often are) if every directive is based on empathy, transparency, and collaboration:
Empathy may seem like a soft skill, but it’s what enables everything else to happen. As you’re taking the company through rapid course corrections, you need to also be able to read people’s reactions, needs, and wants.
The recent pivot to remote workplaces, for instance, exposed some gaps— between leader expectations and workforce abilities to separate work from life, and between leader needs and workforce technology capabilities. The most effective leaders were able to ask and understand what their workforce needed, and then move forward based on that. When people feel like they are understood and their needs are valued, that builds alignment, respect, and connection— which is critical for unifying workplaces that are scattered or remote.
Leaders can be honest but still not be transparent about their next moves. Transparency is honesty with intention. Again, consider the recent events in the world of work. We saw a surge in anxiety and stress among employees — uncertainty about their own health, their family’s health, and their jobs. Employers that could be up front about policies and regulations mitigated some of that uncertainty.
Furloughs, shrinkage and other cost-cutting maneuvers were for a necessary step for many midmarket businesses in order to stay afloat. A recent survey found that in Q3 of 2020, nearly 60% of midmarket leaders had to furlough or lay off staff members, and 27% had to reduce employee compensation and/or benefits to cut costs. Many of these organizations are now bouncing back. But without a doubt, midmarket leaders who were transparent about having to make hard choices tend to reduce the friction between employer and employee, as well as managers and employees.
Respecting employees’ need to know also created an opening for many employees to return. Instead of holding it against the organization or their managers, employees could see the realities, understand why choices were made, and in some cases may be comfortable returning to the same workplace when the organization is ready and able to expand again. The U.S. jobs market is already expanding according to the U.S. Labor Department, with a gain of 916,000 jobs by March 2021. Unemployment decreased to 6%. That could give companies the edge in an increasingly competitive hiring market. A leader’s honesty creates a sense that regardless of outside pressures, core values remain, and people matter.
The more a leader can make the people in your organization feel like partners, the more they will deliver and perform. This can seem counterintuitive, but it’s not about abdicating responsibility for key decisions and strategy. It’s about understanding what each job means to each employee. Partnering with employees is another way to promote growth: when you are aware of their goals as professionals, and help them achieve them, in exchange you have people who are happy in their roles, looking forward to developing, and working with commitment.
A lot of this has to do — again — with empathy and transparency. It’s so important to make sure you’re communicating goals, challenges and strategies — sharing the objectives and the pressures as a way of inviting employees to also share in the meaning of what it is to be in this company. Again, it means your employees aren’t taken by surprise if there’s a setback — they are already in the loop and aware of what’s happening. Instead of feeling like “just an employee,” they feel a part of the organization and invested in its success. At the eleventh hour, you may get far more collaboration and energy out of them when it counts the most.
In amid-sized organization, what a leader says and does has a direct impact on the work culture — through the voice and the actions of your managers. Cultivate strong relationships with your managers and encourage them to cultivate strong and cohesive teams that are based on collaboration and a shared sense of mission. You can’t micromanage every exchange or message, and nor should you. But you can pave the way for consistency by being consistent yourself and modeling the values and behaviors you want the work culture to entail. Whatever strategies and technology are utilized, you’ll get the most out of your people when everyone is on the same page. It will help set common priorities, and drive alignment and engagement across all levels of the organization.