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The Ultimate Leader Checklist

The Ultimate Leader Checklist

Just past the midpoint of the calendar year, July is frequently a month when leaders are looking to refresh their professional goals, thinking about new ways of working, new ideas for connecting with and leading their teams, and even new ways to define their organization’s culture or mission. 

To support these resolutions for leaders, Perceptyx has compiled insights from our Research and Workforce Transformation teams. Use these recommendations to form the basis of your own leadership checklist template, then add other items that may reflect your specific priorities for the year.

Humanizing Leadership with New Skills and Competencies

The staying power of hybrid work has highlighted a skills gap for many leaders. Managing teams across multiple locations requires new strategies that go beyond traditional techniques like impromptu office and cubicle visits (or virtual huddles) to check on employees. Organizations continue to navigate a dynamic landscape where some have successfully mandated a return to the office, while others continue to embrace hybrid work arrangements. This variability demands that leaders become more adaptable, finding ways to effectively manage a workforce that has developed new work habits and expectations. Our research has found that organizations that successfully adapt to this hybrid model can improve employee engagement and productivity.

Managers play a crucial role in shaping the employee experience, acting as the linchpin for most interactions within the company. According to our research, bad management significantly impacts employee satisfaction and retention  — and nearly a quarter (24%) of individual contributors are currently under the leadership of the worst boss they've ever had, with 48% believing they could do a better job than their current supervisors. 

Effective managers can mitigate some of these negative effects by fostering a supportive and responsive work environment for employees. However, managers often don't know where to start or don't have the tools they need to support and respond to the changing needs in that work environment. The recent launch of Activate, a premium package available with Perceptyx’s People Insights Platform, is intended to enable managers through actionable insights and coaching tools. 

The need for AI-assisted Action Planning is overwhelming: our research shows that even when managers have access to focused insights, only a fraction — roughly 1 in 5 — actually engage in the process of action planning, and even fewer execute these plans effectively as the pressure of daily responsibilities creeps in. That additional layer of assistance can make the difference between a thriving and a stagnating team. Prior Perceptyx research showed the significant impact managers can have through action planning: organizations that implement action planning after an employee listening event see rises in engagement 74% of the time, compared to only 8% of organizations that survey with little action planning.

And that’s essential: for managers and leaders, it’s all about creating environments in which team members can continue to thrive even as various industry sectors and the market itself remain subject to change, evolution, and disruption. Let’s take a look at some evidence-based strategies for ensuring that organizational leaders do their best work. 

The Ultimate Leader Checklist: Tips and Best Practices

  • Strive to understand and support team members’ expectations by practicing inclusive leadership. Support can be given in formal or informal channels. Along with regular discussions, listening more formally shows your commitment to continuous improvement as a leader. Begin the year with an employee survey that can serve as a north star for your leadership impact by providing directional feedback on where to focus as a manager with your team. Use data from this survey to inform inclusive leadership behaviors. Engaging in two-way dialogue with employees in response to survey results can ensure that employees feel heard, and allows managers to better understand opportunities for improvement from the employee’s perspective. Moreover, while quantitative data is important, qualitative data — such as responses to open-ended questions — can help you meet your employees where they’re at, in ways that your organization has never done before. 

  • Help team members connect with one another. Whether working in a completely remote setting, in a hybrid environment with some employees present and others elsewhere, or together at a physical location, your team members may feel less connected to colleagues than usual. Look for ways to foster team cohesion. Ask your team how they prefer to connect with one another. If you plan to incorporate these team-building activities into regular meetings, be sure to allocate enough time so they are not rushed. Fostering cohesion can help employees understand their place in the organization, giving them a sense of its future as well as theirs, which in turn will increase the likelihood of retaining them.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. As a manager, your team members may be asking questions to which you don't have the answers. Keep pushing your senior leaders to provide enough concrete guidance so you can communicate regularly and with clarity about employee concerns. You are the champion of ensuring those messages make their way to each member of your team. These communications — which could be formal (e.g., emails and announcements) or informal (one-on-ones, small discussion groups, etc.) — are critical to maintaining your credibility with those you lead. Communication will become even more important if your organization finds itself making layoffs, as Perceptyx research has found that rumors of layoffs have a far more negative impact on the organization than carefully worded statements from leadership and management.

  • Practice self-care and address the value of emotional labor. You may have been in overdrive for the past four years, but you cannot and should not sustain that pace even if being “always on” is presented as some kind of new normal. Collaborate with your peers to develop a manager self-care plan that allows each individual to have time away for the rest and rejuvenation necessary to sustain critical energy levels. As noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “emotional labor, whereby leaders manage their feelings and expressions to fulfill the expectations of their role, is substantial.” Without proper support, there will be significant costs to this additional burden of emotional labor. Unmanaged, it puts leaders at an increased risk of burnout and health issues. Keep in mind that you are modeling the behaviors your team will believe are expected of themselves, so taking time for yourself is critically important for your own benefit and theirs. In turn, organizations risk decreases in productivity and performance and high turnover of leadership talent.

  • “Map and adapt” while you lead through disruption. As we approach a new year and uncertain economic conditions, it’s a good reminder to constantly map and adapt. Be open to data and input that enables us to maintain an accurate, up-to-date mental map of the world around us. For example, whether you receive new information about your organization, get unexpected feedback about a practice you've implemented, or simply engage in regular reflection, be open to evaluating the context and understanding why you encountered something unexpected. Too often, leaders can get stuck in established patterns of thinking and miss an important opportunity to co-create solutions, share problems, or simply just connect with employees. Given the challenges managers face, organizations can support their “squeezed” leaders by encouraging them to practice patience and understanding with themselves when they don’t handle things perfectly.

  • Understand how the behaviors of your employees have changed. The work did not necessarily change as a result of the three-year pandemic, but the people did. What motivates them, as well as the new boundaries they have put into place, need to be thoroughly understood. However, just because “extreme investment” in work decreased as people became more intentional about their work-life balance, it doesn’t follow that these employees are Quiet Quitting — especially now that labor market dynamics have changed and employees have found themselves lacking the advantages they had 1-2 years earlier. They might just feel disconnected from their team and lack the energy or confidence to tackle their work.

  • If feelings of disconnection are an issue on your team, consider what your organization is doing to articulate a shared vision for the future. Take the time to understand where your team members’ interests and talents are. Assess places where they excel and places where they have room for growth, and communicate often to level-set their expectations. Once there, create a path and time in the day for this development to occur. Look for opportunities to connect your team to development opportunities, cross-training, and advocate for in-role elevation when they are suited to grow within their current role. Be honest and straightforward when growth opportunities don’t align with the organization’s goals.

  • Foster a healthy workplace climate. Employees need to know that they work in an environment where stress is manageable and well-being is important. They also want to work in a place that values diversity, and where it’s safe to be authentically themselves. Specifically for managers, focusing on stress mitigation along with the removal of other barriers to success is essential. To achieve this, set clear goals aligned with desired outcomes. Real productivity isn’t measured by hours on a time clock, but objectively through delivery to a standard. Most employees thrive in autonomy by completing their work in their own way, but they also need clear, achievable goals — and providing those goals is your job. Ensure that you don’t take advantage of your most energized employees. They are willing to help anytime, anywhere, but when work can wait, encourage them to unplug.

  • Continue to put yourself in your team member’s shoes. Spend time working with your team and gather their feedback to understand what changes could be made to improve collaboration, communication, and overall effectiveness. Use 360 feedback to gain a comprehensive understanding of your team's perspectives on areas where you might improve as part of your own development. Remember, continuous improvement is a two-way street. As you gather feedback, demonstrate your commitment to growth by sharing your own development goals with your team. This transparency will foster a culture of mutual growth and accountability, encouraging your team members to also embrace continuous learning and improvement.

People Leader Checklist

HR leaders should seize every possible opportunity to facilitate a genuine give-and-take environment that feels fair and reciprocal to both employees and leaders.

  • Organizational advocacy comes from employees giving value to and receiving value from their organizations. Employees want to know that their contribution matters to their leaders, managers, and peers. They also want to work for an organization with a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) — “what’s in it for me?” — that encompasses competitive rewards, a healthy culture, and meaningful work. People Leaders must spend time understanding the competitive talent landscape, communicate the “why” behind their organization, and outline how each employee and job role contributes to that success. The importance of this cannot be overstated: According to research from Gartner, organizations that effectively deliver on their EVP experience 69% lower annual employee turnover.

  • Proactively reach out to former employees who were regrettable losses.  Perceptyx panel research of more than 1,000 working Americans shows that extending employee lifecycle surveys beyond exit surveys to include alumni surveys of former workers provides a clear competitive advantage. Such surveys — sometimes characterized as “after-lifecycle” surveys to indicate they are engaging employees who have ended their employee lifecycle with a given organization — can help you improve the existing employee experience by offering data-driven insights into the reasons these employees left. Fully-fledged alumni programs for former employees, which are ideal for mature organizations, can help former employees maintain a long-lasting sense of connection with the organization they left. Of course, for less mature organizations that may not be ready for extensive lifecycle surveying or full alumni programs, exit surveys can serve as a valuable starting point to gather insights from departing employees. These surveys can provide immediate feedback on reasons for leaving and areas for improvement within the organization. Finally, Perceptyx research has shown that when attributes of the Employee Value Proposition most attractive to employees are being met, employees are more likely to stay where they are — while ensuring those attributes in place for alumni who are returning as employees could make a significant difference in terms of boomerang retention.   

  • Reframe the “career ladder” as career progression. For most organizations, there aren’t enough rungs on the traditional ladder to keep every employee moving straight up. People leaders should work to understand the interests and talents of employees, which may not always mean going up the ladder but may also be in stretch assignments or lateral moves that allow them to grow their skills in other ways. Our research shows career opportunities are one of the key reasons an individual might look for a job elsewhere, regardless of employee level (individual contributors, managers, and executives all agree). Employees who can see themselves in the organization’s future are not only more likely to stay but can contribute their best effort, and sometimes a little more, to drive the organization toward that future.

  • Transform your organization's approach to actioning and career development with next-generation features like Perceptyx’s Activate, which leverages AI-Assisted Action Planning and Intelligent Nudging. This empowers managers at all levels to turn employee feedback into actionable strategies without overwhelming their schedules. Activate, for example, enables personalized, proactive management by identifying key areas of focus and delivering scalable, sustainable insights directly into the daily workflow through popular platforms like email and Slack. This integrated approach not only simplifies the action planning process but ensures that it's a continuous, evolving effort that adapts in real-time to the latest feedback and organizational needs. For instance, Activate doesn't just highlight how often a manager interacts with their team but also enhances the quality of these interactions by suggesting effective communication strategies, fostering a supportive environment, and encouraging leadership behaviors that align with organizational goals.

  • Elevate the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion by centering “belonging.” The concept of belonging, like the other components of DEIB (diversity, equity, and inclusion), has suffered lately from definition creep and ambiguity. Belonging is an outcome variable affected by inclusion and equity activities — although many organizations have begun transitioning their DEI strategies into efforts classified as “belonging.” However, belonging has a specific definition, representing a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity as a member of a specific group. Although related, belonging isn’t the same as inclusion. When you are successful with inclusion and equity, a high sense of belonging will follow. That makes belonging a key variable that all HR departments should track over time. Inclusion assumes that there are insiders and outsiders, with actions taken to include those outsiders. It’s an assumption that, ironically, already treats groups differently within the company. Belonging is agnostic on that insider/outsider dynamic. It simply measures how connected people are to their peers. Measuring inclusion activities on employee surveys points us to those practices that drive belonging. We know belonging matters, too, as it is a key driver for whether someone stays or leaves an organization — putting leaders in a position to significantly impact this aspect of the employee experience.
  • Ensure your employee recognition efforts are updated to match the way work gets done in your organization today. Not feeling valued is a major barrier to success in the workplace. Perceptyx's research indicates that employees who receive recognition and praise are more engaged and motivated. Take it upon yourself to reflect employee performance back to them — whether through recognition for a job well done or through constructive feedback on productivity or quality of work. Recognition can come in many forms, such as direct methods (recognition programs), showing gratitude for efforts in team meetings, or indirect ones, such as providing new opportunities as a result of a team member’s effort or inviting them to share their best practices with others to benefit from. Ultimately, you are the steward of your team’s experience within the organization, and they need you. More than that, reflect on your own behaviors. If your team is spread across the country, what does it communicate to them if you continue commuting to the office on a daily basis and logging many late hours there? Remember, leadership styles aren’t necessarily bad or good, but they’re not necessarily a good fit for every organization or team.

Executive Leader Checklist

For top leaders, it comes down to setting a new, sustainable vision for the organization in the face of ongoing macroeconomic uncertainty and continuing issues related to employee retention, well-being, and pay and rewards.

  • Use concise, authoritative top-down communication to mitigate anxiety during organizational changes. Open, clear communication is the best strategy for mitigating employee anxiety during periods of organizational change — whether that involves restructuring, technological integration, or workforce reductions. Perceptyx research highlights the importance of official, transparent communication in managing employee concerns. For instance, in the context of potential layoffs, our research found that employees display higher levels of worry when there was speculation about cuts versus when their organization had issued official communication about actual reductions. 90% of employees who heard reduction-in-force rumors had some layoff anxiety — eight points higher than those working in organizations that had actually executed lay-off actions. This highlights the value of communicating not just frequently but authentically to limit rumor-mongering and the resulting anxiety. Similarly, it's important to preemptively address the impact of significant changes like AI and automation on the workforce. Employees often fear that their jobs may be replaced by these technologies, which can exacerbate general anxiety about job security. Transparent communication about how new technologies will be integrated into the organization, including any potential impacts on job roles, can help alleviate these fears. By providing clear, authoritative information about any organizational changes — whether they involve technology adoption, restructuring, or workforce adjustments — leaders can help maintain employee trust and reduce anxiety. This approach allows organizations to navigate changes more smoothly while supporting their workforce through periods of transition.

  • Regularly communicate information about the health of your business. Based on that same Perceptyx research on layoffs, layoff survivors who reported open communication about layoffs and furloughs were more than twice as likely to be fully engaged than those whose organizations did not communicate openly. The same was true for employees who were able to ask questions to fully understand the changes and resulting impacts on the organization. This continuous conversation with employees is equally important when layoffs aren’t on your radar. This helps build a foundation of trust and transparency, which is crucial during times of uncertainty.  Opening a dialogue creates an environment where difficult conversations are not only OK but encouraged. Just because leaders aren’t talking about it doesn’t mean that employees aren’t — and without official information, they are left to their (often negative) imaginations. The best time to have an honest conversation is right now — whether your organization is contemplating layoffs, struggling to find talent for open roles, or just dealing with business as usual. By continuously gathering and acting on employee feedback, you can create a more resilient and engaged workforce, prepared to navigate both challenges and opportunities.
  • Listening is critical even (and perhaps, especially) in tough times. Employees have important perceptions about their workplace experience, and not just during a planned survey period. A recent Perceptyx study of Human Resources professionals about employee listening during a possible recession drove that point home, with more than 60% indicating they would survey and formally listen to employees more during a downturn rather than less. That’s why it’s important for organizations to have a comprehensive yet adaptable listening strategy that reaches employees in a variety of ways. However, listening alone isn’t enough — organizations must also use that data for decision-making. When employees report action, they are nearly twice as likely to want to stay, want to be an advocate, and feel pride and motivation to do good work. As reaffirmed by our research on the state of employee listening, organizations that listen (and act) well can see around corners and adapt rapidly to change. A mature listening strategy, supported by a world-class listening platform and people analytics expertise, allows for a rapid organizational response to important topics as they occur, without waiting for planned survey events.

Regardless of the Challenges, Perceptyx Can Help Your Leaders Listen and Act

Organizations that strive to create a healthy and engaged workplace when times are good — and then continue the work in a purposeful way when times are tough — will reap the benefits of greater retention and productivity. By remaining physically and emotionally fit to contribute to the workforce, their families, and their communities, employees also benefit.  Leadership demands a thoughtful, data-driven, and purposeful approach that considers the lessons learned over the past half-decade, but also acknowledges that there is still a lot to learn.

As an experienced listening partner, Perceptyx can help your organization conduct all the meaningful conversations needed to fully and comprehensively understand your employee experience. To learn more about how we can help, schedule a meeting with a team member.

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