Leadership in a post-pandemic world - what do we do now?

CIPD ACE 2022 saw GoodShape’s Chief People Officer Dorothy Day join an expert panel to discuss how data is among the essential tools leaders need to navigate the post-pandemic world of work.

The annual conference and exhibition is the people profession’s leading event, attracting more than 3,000 HR professionals over 2 days.

Joining Dorothy on the panel were:

Sebastian Bailey - President, MindGym

Veronica Hope Hailey - Professor Emeritus, University of Bath

Sarah Mason - Strategic Advisor, Fountain

Katie Jacobs (Facilitator) - Senior Stakeholder Lead, CIPD

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Here's what we learned...

(Click here to jump to the full session recording.)

New landscape, new challenges

Today’s business leaders find themselves in a fluid and uncertain situation as we near 2023. The conversation around hybrid working policies is ongoing, and after having built trust and goodwill with employees over the past few years, it’s time for leaders to replenish and return these favours with mindful planning and execution. But from bottom to top, everyone’s suffering with burnout. Although they're not the responsibility of one leader or business to solve, complex challenges surrounding social equality and flexibility must be addressed if organisations wish to retain healthy, happy employees.

As Veronica Hope Hailey puts it,

“We will be judged more by what we do in the next three years than what we’ve done in the last two years.”

Just as the world works to recover from COVID, we have plummeted into a recession, meaning that business, operating, and commercial models all need to be reconsidered. Today’s leaders are understandably overwhelmed by trade-offs and tensions when it comes to decision-making:

“Do I perform or do I transform?”

“Do I focus on the present or do I look to the future?”

“Do I operate with a strong sense of inclusion and belonging, or do I just get on and do it with people who I get on with and trust?

“Do I get it right first time, or do I test, iterate and learn?”

According to a recent Deloitte survey, “almost 70% of executives are considering leaving their jobs for workplaces that care more for their wellbeing.” Some, indeed, are choosing to retire early rather than face the next few years of gruelling uncertainty.

As HR leaders will know, there really is no right answer to difficult conversations like these. But they are certainly ones worth having.


How can HR professionals help business leaders succeed?

It goes without saying that wellbeing should be at the top of any HR team’s priority list. But to make a real difference, this should extend all the way to the C-suite. As Dorothy Day asserts,

“We need to appreciate that leaders are human beings first and foremost.”

Think critically

When under pressure, we revert to things we’re comfortable with. It’s only natural, and it’s what many business leaders have found themselves doing in recent times of change. It’s now up to HR teams to take an active role in helping leaders solve practical problems within their business, with the prevailing goal of securing an overall win.

Sarah Mason outlines three lenses for decision-making when managing trade-offs:

  1. What is the legal answer?
  2. What is the commercial answer?
  3. What is the moral answer?

It’s crucial to look at problems from all angles, not only to make informed decisions, but to guarantee a sense of fairness and justice throughout.

One way to embed this thinking in leaders’ minds is by encouraging active listening. Faced with difficult challenges, lots of leaders struggle to decide when to listen and when to act, but there’s no shame in taking a step back – a CEO is not expected to know everything, but their workers on the front line can help provide a different perspective and fill in the gaps.

Keep employees at the heart of your decisions

The golden rule of leadership is to never lose sight of the most important stakeholders: your people. As Sebastian Bailey notes, when it comes to decision making,

“Justice needs to be seen to be done.”

Solidarity measures such as leaders taking pay cuts or refusing bonuses has helped to build a lot of goodwill and trust over the past few years. But recently, news of a ‘bonus bonanza’ among FTSE executives amidst a cost-of-living crisis shows that there’s still a risk of leaders being tone deaf.

It’s up to HR professionals to help the C-suite put themselves into their employees’ shoes and understand the symbolism of, and potential reception to, the decisions they make.

When making any decision, ask yourself:

  1. Is the outcome just?
  2. Is the procedure just from your employees’ perspective?
  3. Can your employees say they’ve been treated with dignity, respect and fairness, even if they don’t like the outcome?

It’s impossible to avoid difficult decisions, especially when it comes to staffing and pay cuts. But to build trust, a shift must be made from disseminating information on a ‘need-to-know’ basis to being completely transparent and keeping employees informed throughout.

Have the right data

To have the highest chance of success at board level, any new policy, procedure or direction must be informed, evidenced, and measurable.

This all starts with HR teams getting their own house in order with regard to internal practices and employee data. By getting more in touch with their environment and community, measuring everything from general sentiment to absence rates and reasons, HR professionals can help leaders plan and execute the best outcomes for their employees.


Key takeaways:

Sarah – “It’s complicated… HR need to hold the tension.”

Veronica – “Leaders must recognise that to be a CEO, you don’t need all the answers.”

Seb – “Help leaders navigate tension and make confident decisions.”

Dot – “Give leaders evidence, data & insight to help them be their best.”


Watch the full session:


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