The Ultimate Leader Checklist for 2023
New year, new leader?
January is often a month when leaders are looking to refresh their professional goals and 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 and mission.
In this spirit, we've compiled some of our own leadership insights from our research and People@Work teams. Use these recommendations to form the basis of your own leadership checklist, then add other items that reflect your organization's specific priorities for the new year.
Humanizing Leadership with New Skills and Competencies
During and after the pandemic, the shift to hybrid work revealed a skills gap for many leaders. Few managers were prepared to lead team members in multiple locations or interact predominantly via digital platforms like Zoom or Teams. Many employees also approach work differently now than they did before the pandemic, and their workplace, as well as the ways in which they are managed day to day, needs to reflect this change.
This shift revealed a need to truly humanize people management. After all, data showed increased engagement and leadership perception scores when employees saw their leaders humanized in 2020, with dogs and kids appearing in the background of Zoom screens. An important way to improve employee engagement and retention is to cultivate a people-first culture — an environment built around listening to and valuing the needs of employees. Taking a people-first approach means actively creating a culture and work environment that considers and fulfills the needs of your most important organizational asset: your people.
As our checklist illustrates, for leaders, 2023 is all about creating environments in which team members can continue to thrive despite uncertain economic times, possible labor market retrenchment, and inflationary pressures that have reduced the purchasing power of paychecks.
The 2023 Ultimate Leader Checklist: Tips and Best Practices
- Strive to understand and support team members’ expectations by practicing inclusive leadership. Begin the year with an employee survey that can provide a north star for your leadership impact. 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 allow 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 identify unmet needs or underserved groups within your workforce.
- Help team members connect with one another. Whether working remotely or together at a physical location, your team members may feel less connected to colleagues than usual. Look for ways to foster team cohesion. 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 do not have the answers. You need to keep pushing your leaders to provide enough concrete guidance so you can communicate regularly and with clarity about employee concerns. These communications are critical to maintaining credibility with those you lead. Communication will become even more important if your organization finds itself making cuts, 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 last 3 years, but you cannot and should not sustain that pace. Collaborate with peers to develop a self-care plan that allows each manager to have time away for the rest and rejuvenation necessary to sustain their energy. As noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “the emotional labor, whereby leaders manage their feelings and expressions to fulfill the expectations of their role, is substantial.” Without proper support, this additional burden can be costly. Unmanaged, it puts leaders at an increased risk of burnout and other health issues. In turn, organizations risk decreases in productivity and performance and high turnover of leadership talent. Organizations can support their leaders by educating them on the numerous benefits of self-compassion and encouraging them to practice being patient 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. If Quiet Quitting is 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. Look for opportunities to connect your team to promotions, 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 and be ready to help them grow outside your organization if need be.
- 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 different. Specifically for managers, focusing on stress mitigation is essential. To achieve this, set clear goals aligned to desired outcomes. Real productivity isn’t measured by hours on a time clock, but objectively through delivery to a performance 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. 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. 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 largely remote and 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.
People Leader Checklist
For HR leaders, 2023 is all about facilitating a genuine give-and-take environment that feels fair and reciprocal to both employees and leaders.
- Craft and communicate a strong EVP. 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 — 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.
- Empower your managers to be better leaders with personalized coaching that drives real behavior change. AI-based platforms like Cultivate Intelligent Coaching remove the need to prioritize which leaders get much-needed coaching. Managers up and down your organization can get their own digital advisor that “sits on their shoulder" and helps them along, suggesting how to better communicate, collaborate, and work with others — and without taking any time out of their day. Cultivate uses AI intent models to interpret observed behavior and provide more meaningful insights into areas for development. For example, Cultivate not only identifies how often a leader engages with employees, it also understands the tone of those conversations and whether the manager is providing advice or asking for opinions, as well as how frequently they recognize and encourage their team members. This observation of management best-practice behaviors ensures more valuable and actionable coaching recommendations.
- 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. Although related, belonging isn’t the same as inclusion. Belonging is an outcome variable affected by inclusion and equity activities: when you are successful with inclusion and equity, a high sense of belonging will follow. This makes belonging a key variable 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 you are to your peers. Measuring inclusion activities on employee surveys can point us to those practices that drive belonging.
- Ensure your employee recognition efforts are updated to match the way work gets done in your organization today. Employee recognition is a perennial driver of employee engagement. Employee engagement drives business outcomes. HR leaders should understand the new way in which employees are adding value, the new ways they are demonstrating leadership, the new ways they are supporting teamwork and collaboration, and the new ways they are driving innovation. This means that recognition must also morph to match these new ways of working. We have seen a shift to valuing unique skills and abilities of employees as opposed to general recognition. Furthermore, employee recognition should center on the whole person, not just a single, time-limited achievement (“Your customer service experience is something we don’t have on the rest of the team” is preferable to “great job on that customer call last week”).
- Continue to listen, 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 recession 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 Ahead, 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 in 2022, but also acknowledges that there is still much to learn.
As an experienced listening partner, Perceptyx can help your organization conduct all the meaningful conversations needed to comprehensively understand your employee experience. To learn more about how we can help, schedule a meeting with a team member.