On November 24th, TFI hosted the third and final webinar in our fall 2020 series, entitled “The New Leader”, as we continue to explore how financial services workplaces are pivoting in response to the pandemic, and the organizational changes that we would like to bring forward into the future.We were joined by three senior talent leaders engaged in a panel discussion to share their perspectives on the changing demands on leaders, the new skills and competencies that they need today, and how to help prepare and support leaders as we transition from operating through the pandemic to the next normal.
- Karen Collins, Chief Talent Officer, BMO
- Karen Forward, Managing Director, Accenture
- Corey Shaw, AVP, Talent Acquisition, Canada Life
The panel was moderated by TFI’s Senior Vice President, Talent Initiatives, Sashya D’Souza.
The following is an overview of key insights shared in the session.
Topic: The changing demands on leaders
Sustainability and Trust
Accenture believes that leaders typically need to deliver across three broad areas: organizational performance, including revenue and profitability; continuous innovation, to drive long-term growth; and sustainability and trust, ensuring the interests of all stakeholders are met. The pandemic has increased the focus on sustainability and trust, and leaders are being asked to bring a different level of care into the workplace, with an increased focus on the well-being of their employees.
Karen Forward: “Leaders are being asked to lead in a manner that enables their teams to be “net better off” through, and after the pandemic. Leaders are paying more attention to the emotional and mental aspects of well-being. They are being purposeful. And they are ensuring that their teams are building the skills needed for continued employability.”
Stretching Leadership Skills
In BMO’s experience, leaders have been stretched in three ways. The human side of leadership was put to the test, as 85% of BMO’s workforce shifted to working exclusively from home. Leaders need to demonstrate trust, authenticity, and empathy, to help people feel psychologically and physically safe during these times of uncertainty.
Creating frequent and contextual communication has become critically important. Without the normal workday interactions, leaders can feel that they are leading in a vacuum - making it difficult to know how their team is doing, and if they are being effective as leaders. Leaders are using virtual tools to check-in frequently, and in a more deliberate way.
The third stretch is a leadership shift to measuring the outcomes of work versus inputs or activities. This is increasingly important as both leaders and employees manage the collision of work and life that occurred as a result of the pandemic.
Karen Collins: “Prior to the pandemic, the speed of technology changes placed an emphasis on the development of technical skills, including digital, data and analytics acumen. While these skills continue to be critical, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the human element of leadership.”
Replacing Organic Connections
Talent is often motivated by culture, leadership, and the ability to contribute to the corporate mandate. While Canada Life teams are working remotely, it is critical for leaders to help employees understand how their work links to the broader strategy and mandate. Leaders need to create opportunities to replace the informal physical interactions with more frequent - and often informal - virtual check-ins, to give people the opportunity to understand, engage with, and contribute to what’s happening in the workplace. Leadership is becoming less about control and more about empowerment and giving employees the latitude to drive outcomes or improve the customer experience.
Corey Shaw: “With the pandemic, we have lost the opportunity for the organic, visceral, bumpy connections with folks that we used to have in the hallway, or going for coffee. Leaders need a replacement vehicle to build connection, understanding, and engagement with their teams.”
Topic: Critical skills and competencies for leaders at all levels
Leading with Agility, Expertise and Inspiration
The last nine months have amplified the conversation within BMO about well-being, mental health, and bringing your authentic self to work. Teams that are both inclusive and diverse are stronger, and people on those teams feel a greater collective and individual sense of wellbeing. Moving forward, leaders will need the skills to create an inclusive culture and teams, and support employee well-being.
Working through the pandemic has illustrated the need for increased adaptability and agility skills for leaders at all levels. Deep domain skills and experience continue to be important. At BMO, having people with expert skills in critical roles was vital to the organization’s ability to respond successfully to the rapid changes required by the pandemic. Strong inspiring and contextual communication skills are increasing vital to build connection when teams are working apart.
Karen Collins: “Bringing it all together, the ability for leaders to be agile and nimble in their thinking, to be able to go deep with their content, to be able to step back, and finally to work horizontally with different teams, are all critical skills”
Increasing stakeholder engagement, technology acumen and responsible leadership
In addition to the skills outlined above, Accenture has observed an increased need for stakeholder inclusion skills. Leaders are increasingly open to expanding the breadth of internal and external stakeholders who they involve in their work. Over the last six months, partnerships within the community have increased as groups work together to solve problems.
Leaders have also had to increase their knowledge of technology and sharpen their innovation skills, as many business operations have moved to the cloud in response to the pandemic. Finally, given the rapid pace of change, being able to innovate responsibly is critically important.
Karen Forward: “Responsible leadership has become a theme as we go through this degree of change. Leaders must lead for value and values at the same time.”
Leaders as a trusted advisor and expert
At Canada Life, agility, innovation and influencing skills are increasingly important. Leaders with specialized skills and deep expertise are leveraging their skills to lead as a trusted advisor. Building trust within teams is critical, given the new remote working arrangements. As trust is about both giving and receiving, leaders are initiating opportunities to open up to others and create the reciprocity that fosters trust.
Corey Shaw: “The pandemic has caused a lot of people to feel unsure and perhaps anxious, both at work and in life. Leaders who act as a trusted advisor and who use their deep expertise to provide advice and guidance, create a sense of calm on their teams.”
Topic: Preparing and supporting leaders as we come out of the pandemic phase and into the next normal
Preventing leader burn-out…and getting ready for the future of work
Over the past 9 months, BMO and the financial services sector have demonstrated that they can innovate and implement change quickly. Organizations have leap-frogged and it is believed, are 10 years ahead of where they would have been if there had not been a pandemic. Given the constancy of change and the additional stress caused by the pandemic, organizations want to support leaders to keep an effective pace and prevent burn-out. Leaders at all levels have been working non-stop since the pandemic started, without the benefit of time away from home and office to recharge.
Leaders are less likely to access corporate supports that have been put in place to support work balance, and physical and mental health. It will be critical to support our leaders to develop resilience as we move into the next normal.
The pandemic has also accelerated the change that was anticipated in skills and within existing jobs, making upskilling and reskilling a critical imperative for leaders. Building a sustainable skills framework to keep skill development at the forefront, as people continue to grow and the shelf life for skills shrink, will be an important organizational priority.
Karen Collins: “Between the stress that leaders feel leading through the pandemic and beyond, and thinking about the future of work, we are asking how we dovetail those two things together to create sustainable leadership, both for ourselves as leaders, and for our people.”
Leading hybrid teams…and having fun
Working through the pandemic has given organizations a chance to experiment with new ways of working. Teams have been very accepting as we learn what works and what doesn’t. For all teams, it is important to remember your team’s purpose and the outcomes required, and to lead to those outcomes. Hybrid teams (some team members working remotely, and some working on-site), have unique needs to be successful. Leaders must deliberately build trust, especially when adding new team members to the group. Watching for proximity bias and treating all team members equitably, regardless of physical location are other important critical successful factors for leading hybrid teams.
Open and frequent communication on teams continues to be essential, enabling leaders to set clear expectations and facilitate collaboration.
Karen Forward: “Leaders can immerse themselves in new technologies, not only to collaborate, but to have some fun, bringing back the human elements of work. Leaders can consider having some meetings that are a little bit different than what’s been done before – in addition to work, leaders are talking to their team about what's going on and how are they feeling about things.”
Topic: Embracing diversity and inclusion
Leadership self-reflection and learning
Canada Life has observed that leaders are more open and self-reflecting about diversity and inclusion, and the implication for leadership. Leaders want to know how they can improve to be more diversity-friendly and more inclusive, and are interested in ways to elevate their leadership in these areas.
Leaders are reaching out to experts in human resources and in diversity and inclusion roles for guidance on how they can make a difference, and create behavior change.
Corey Shaw: “The leadership focus on diversity and inclusion has created a forum where those conversations are happening and they're more open and more authentic.”
We thank our panelists, Karen Collins, Karen Forward, and Corey Shaw for sharing their experiences and lessons learned so openly. Thank you to our webinar participants for enthusiastically engaging in the Q&A segment that followed the discussion.
The TFI Talent Talks Fall Webinar
If you missed a session, or would like to view the highlights, you may access other TFI Talent Talks webinar summaries here:
Lessons from the Pandemic
The Talent Marketplace