2024 is set to be a potentially tumultuous year for business. Rarely have there ever been more variables set to rock the boat of the business world: dozens of global political elections are underway, new AI-based tools are on the rise, and on the heels of Cop 28, the days of greenwashing are past us, and organisations need to focus on sincere and productive change.
And it’s not just sustainability that is becoming a top priority – A survey by Deloitte suggests that Gen Z employees now expect employers to act more ethically and inclusively than ever before. This pivot means that leaders will need to start heavily considering the way they approach their organisation’s purpose, culture, and ethics.
Despite all these shifts, there are multiple courses of actions that leaders can take to batten down the hatches and prepare for the various changes that are on the horizon.
This month, The Work Crowd hosted a panel of industry experts who discussed the various talents and skills that leaders need to evolve in order to meet these new challenges. This panel included:
Amanda Powell-Smith – CEO of Forsters, an award-winning sustainability agency focussed on tackling climate change and driving social justice.
Sarah Howe, Advisor – helping organisations transform and be better.
Sophie Brooks – Founder of Fit for Purpose, helping organisations lead through purpose.
Katie Simpson – Global Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Hanson Search.
With the panel being hosted by Madeleine Weightman, Co-founder of The Work Crowd.
The venue was full of over 60 passionate professionals, and this was reflected in the electric energy and participation of both our panellists and attendees. While our panellists covered a wealth of topics, there were a handful of key takeaways from the event:
Let’s have a look at these points in a bit more depth.
The main way an organisation can best prepare itself for 2024 and beyond is to ensure that the business’ purpose is clear and defined. Reflecting on Simon Sinek’s famous Golden Circle concept, very few organisations know why they do what they do. The what and how are relatively easy, but if you can articulate the why, then you’re on the way to having a purpose that can act as your North Star when issues crop up.
“Leaders have an opportunity to connect up the intangible assets of their business including mission (what), vision (where), values (how) through the invisible thread which is business purpose (the why) in order to deliver a fully authentic culture (i.e. one that your stakeholder ‘experience’ in the same way as your brand/company ‘projects.’)
“Leaders need to be able to demonstrate they are not just listening to all their stakeholders (employees, community, customers) but also that they can learn from them and directly integrate their expectations and needs into their topline business strategy (developing stakeholder-led strategies)” – Sophie Brooks
Leaders need to learn and employ a lot more “soft skills,” like listening to and communicating with their staff. While they can pull rank when the situation demands it, it’s worth remembering that every individual throughout the organisation has their own ideas and voice, and you can only benefit from hearing them all out.
“There’s a common misconception that the CEO needs to be the loudest in the room – needs to be the only one talking – needs to be an extrovert in the pure sense. It’s not the case… They [need to] sit back, give autonomy to the staff, have a two-way dialogue, and really give them ownership of their ideas.” – Katie Simpson, Global Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Hanson Search
Internal communication is key when it comes to a healthy organisation structure. A relatively new system known as trickle-up leadership encourages leaders taking as much feedback from their employees as they give in order to keep a finger on the pulse of the organisation internally.
People naturally don’t feel comfortable giving feedback to their professional superiors without prompting, so it’s important to create an organisational culture, that is open and inclusive, to ensure everyone has a voice.
Quoting a recent Pulse Business report, Sarah Howe mentioned that 56% of workers believe that building an open and supportive workplace should be the top priority of any organisation. Ensuring your workplace is ethical and welcoming inspires more retention and motivation than even the most bulletproof business strategy.
“A lot of [leaders] don’t have the right skillsets and capabilities that they need. It’s the leaders that will adopt the feedback culture, engage in the learning and development, engage in the coaching, that will be the successful ones.” – Sarah Howe, Advisor
A great example came from one of our panellists, Amanda Powell-Smith. When the recent cost of living increase was taking its toll on her business’ employees, she thought the obvious choice was to give everyone a 5% pay rise to help weather the storm. However, she noticed that this policy would favour those who need it the least, so Amanda employed some innovative thinking that would lead to a better result for her employees.
Amanda took all the money that the original pay rise would have cost, and then divided it instead between employees, which meant it favoured those who needed it the most. While this may have taken a little bit more time, it was an ethical decision that helped her employees and would have inspired motivation and loyalty.
It was widely agreed upon that sustainability isn’t just a choice anymore. As governments start to crack down on environmental regulations, and company reputation is tied more and more into revenue, failing to act sustainably will have serious consequences on the bottom line.
“Whether you are interested in sustainability or not, you must cut your greenhouse gas emissions and get science-based targets to show that you’re doing so, because it is now a business imperative. It’s going to become part of supply chain procurement.” – Amanda Powell-Smith, CEO of Forsters
Sustainable benchmarks may become barriers to entry when it comes to business partnerships. For example, IKEA’s IWAY code of conduct insists that any stakeholder in their supply chains meet a certain standard of worker’s rights and environmental sustainability.
Various green initiatives aren’t just for the planet’s sake. Some are beneficial to both the environment and business’ bottom lines. For example, UPS implemented a route optimisation system that cut down on 10 million gallons of fuel usage within its first year, not only lowering emissions, but saving UPS a tremendous amount of money.
Gen Z is entering the workforce and bringing new expectations with them. Many Gen Z workers aren’t particularly drawn to what they perceive as soulless corporations where they end up as a cog in a machine. Instead, they want to prioritise organisations with sustainable practices and a solid work-life balance.
By adopting the various principles and skills discussed throughout this article, it’s very likely that your organisation will appeal to a wider pool of talent, allowing you to make the best hires and decisions for the health and growth of your organisation.
All in all, this upcoming year is an incredibly tricky time for growth. With increased expectations on ethical business, pressures to commit to sustainable practices, the ever-growing presence of AI, and a massive number of political elections set to happen within the year, there are a lot of waves set to rock the boat.
The best way to prepare for this is to ensure that your organisation’s leaders are focused on more than just cold numbers and strategy. Being conscious and aware of fostering a healthy purpose and culture within your organisation is a key method to ensure your business is set for the future.
This responsibility doesn’t just fall to leaders, of course. When an organisation wants to foster dynamism, one of the best decisions they can make is to bring in a fresh pair of eyes to help facilitate that change. Bringing interim support who have proven strategy across multiple businesses can help provide the foundation needed to best situate an organisation for the future.
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