Interviews over the past three months with senior HR managers and corporate leaders about their experience with the pandemic so far have revealed some surprising insights. Not just about the benefits (and challenges) of working from home, but also about how employees’ attitudes and motivation have changed.
One high potential leader we recently interviewed remarked that “the pandemic has been the biggest learning experience of my career.” Having been brought up in the “visibility = accountability” model of corporate life, working from home and the reduced travel and commuting has given her the opportunity to reflect and become more objective about work. By nature an assertive, dynamic and high-paced individual, this leader has become more circumspect. “I now take the time available and focus on what I can get done in that time, rather than work all hours of the day to get as much done as possible.” The consequences of the pandemic — self-quarantining and online working — have given her the opportunity to gain back her whole life, and this has caused her to reflect on how she wants to operate in the future.
This leads us to the question: “What are our top leadership talent really thinking?” In the midst of the current uncertain and ambiguous environment, many are discovering that the beliefs and norms of behavior that they have adopted to fit into a corporate culture may not be as motivating as previously. They are deeply considering if they want to return to a way of working that equates high performance with:
- Constantly travelling to meet the customers (road warrior mentality)
- Being “at work” 24/7
- Equating excellence with achieving as much as possible
- Doing more than everyone else
- Being faster than everyone else
What many leaders have learned from the pandemic is that these beliefs or assumptions don’t necessarily apply — businesses can still operate and be successful when leaders operate with a different set of beliefs.
We can’t say what the right set of beliefs are, but we know for certain that the pandemic has given many leaders time to reflect and reconsider why they work — what motivates them.
And some of your highest potential leaders are thinking about how they want to work in the future — and it may not be a return to business as usual.
Retaining and Motivating Your High-Potential Leaders
Ever since Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs, we have understood that senior leaders don’t work just to meet their physiological needs. Most modern leaders are highly educated, know they have options and assume they can cover the basic needs of food, safety and affiliation. What motivates most at this level is work being a source of esteem and self-actualization. Esteem is the desire for respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength and freedom to act. Many of these values can be met through buying into the type of corporate culture outlined above.
But self-actualization is very different. It is the desire to become the most that one can be, which eventually drives a leader to step beyond cultural norms and pursue their greater purpose. It is the pursuit of this greater purpose that creates a sense of personal certainty, and which deepens the ability to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. The self-quarantine aspect of the pandemic may well have reoriented the best leaders from esteem to self-actualization.
So here’s the irony — what your organization finds exciting about your high potentials are the very same qualities that will eventually cause many of them to leave. In short, they may discover a shortage of freedom and opportunity to do what they want to do to become the most that they can be.
So what are your high potential leaders really reflecting on during the pandemic?
Get the Benefits of their Capabilities Without Alienating Them
High potentials who are determined to go and change the world will never be retained forever in a corporate culture — but we can get maximum value while they are with us. This is all about creating an equitable quid pro quo, a conscious agreement about what the leader gets to help them self-actualize in exchange for giving their best, during a fixed time period.
Here’s where leadership development comes in — great leadership programs actively promote the process of introspection, becoming more self-aware of one’s own drives and motives; finding opportunities to have those drives met through work; and managing the balance between the drives of esteem and self-actualization. This will keep the best of the best motivated and productive and extend their tenure.
If you are concerned about what your high potential talent is really thinking, and want to build a strategy and develop talent that will stay and contribute fully during their tenure — give us a call. Our leadership development programs will help you connect leaders’ values to your corporate goals — motivating them for today and retaining them for tomorrow.