How to summarize the last two quarters of 2021 at work? I might choose a statistic—11.5 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in the second quarter. And polls show that we’re just getting started: 48% of the working population is searching for a new opportunity right now.
Indeed, “the great resignation,” a term coined in 2019 by Texas A&M’s Anthony Klotz, is here. And it’s very real. This Gallup-dubbed “great discontent” is rightfully affecting the way leaders prioritize their planning as we approach the 2022 strategy season.
In fact, our team is observing that “people strategy” is becoming the No. 1 agenda item at executive-planning retreats across industry and geography.
This is just 12 months after industry alarmists warned: “No one leaves a ship during a hurricane.” Phrases like this implored leaders to proactively shore up retention and engagement strategies for the inevitable exodus we’d see in 2021, when pre-post-pandemic floodwaters were predicted to recede. These projections were, unfortunately, correct.
Perhaps now more than ever, it’s wholly evident that people are what make up the distance between strategy and the results it yields.
Interestingly, 67% of all strategies fail (most by March). So, what’s going wrong? And how can we plan better?
First, let’s consider that the most basic strategies answer these three questions: What do I want? Why do I want it? And how am I going to get it, given the data and insight I have?
While it’s common for strategies to include predictive metrics about the market, financials, consumer psychographics and competitors, it’s rare to find predictive data in a strategy that includes insights surrounding the human beings who will be doing the work.
Yet, ironically, when leaders speculate anecdotally about why their strategy failed, we hear these attributable woes: poor communication of the strategy or goals from managers; failure to address “What’s in it for me?” for team members; lack of buy-in; confusion around how to determine who’s in the right roles; and friction within the leadership team itself that fractures alignment before the plan can even get off the ground.
2020 notwithstanding, strategy derailers are not usually external. Most often, they come from inside the house. The driving failures above aren’t operational problems, marketing problems or financial problems—they’re people problems. People operationalize; people shift market objectives; people manage finances. And people don’t do anything if they feel unseen, unheard and under-engaged, except leave.
Alternatively, when leaders put people at the center of their strategy from the beginning, the odds for success multiply! Especially if there are external forces at play.
So, to combat the most common people problems derailing your good strategy, consider these four improvements:
1. Strengthen mutual understanding and trust at the leadership level first. Ironically, the soft skills required to enrich high-engagement work cultures are the hardest to develop. Use a team assessment and workshop (e.g., Five Dysfunctions of a Team) to reduce emotion, create understanding and anticipate how fellow leaders will show up to the strategy table. Invest in developing leaders’ skills related to their connection with others—competencies like empathy, change management, conflict resolution, stress tolerance and impulse control.
These aren’t soft skills, they’re leadership skills. Reducing friction and frustration among leaders promotes progress and adaptability.
2. Collect predictive people data to see if “the how” will work. Scientifically valid instruments like The Predictive Index can offer increased visibility into whether someone is likely to perform well in a particular job, play nice with a particular person, and embrace a particular objective.
This kind of data will accelerate your progress—saving valuable time and money otherwise wasted on “guessing.”
3. Revisit the players’ positions. Job-related people data also allows leaders to objectively play to individuals’ strengths. Forcing an experimental, risky growth strategy on a human that’s wired up to be methodical, stabilizing and process-oriented won’t work for long. Think: converting Carson Wentz to wide receiver.
Just like the Colts, you’ll need more than your gut feelings to see who’s aligned to which elements of your new strategy, and position accordingly.
4. Improve your communication through more meaningful interaction. While most executives feel they’ve communicated key objectives, only 2% of team members on average report an ability to recite the top three. Avoid a one-and-done info dump by training managers to weave organizational objectives into every one-on-one.
Everything is changing. You’re at a crossroads, too. And just around the corner is strategy season. Lean into this rare opportunity to press pause, zoom out and draw a clear map for your organization. Begin at the intersection of people and strategy.•
Haskett is a leadership consultant at Advisa, a Carmel-based leadership consultancy.