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As you think about the last 20 years, and even today, the nature of leadership has changed a lot because the people you're leading are far more diverse than they used to be
Helen Leis, Head of People and Organizational Performance, Americas

Business leadership today is far more complex today than in previous generations. The expectations of leaders have fundamentally changed as demographics, technology, and a host of other factors have evolved. As the stakes rise, so does the challenge.

To succeed in this new landscape, leaders need to relentlessly focus on the issues that will enable them to connect with and influence their workforce. Helen Leis, the head of Oliver Wyman’s People and Organizational Performance Practice in the Americas, has identified four vital areas: creating a sense of belonging, rethinking performance measurement, aligning the company’s mission with that of the employees, and embracing the diversity within the team.

All of these strategies rely on gaining a deep understanding of individual workers’ needs and concerns. That doesn’t mean coddling people; rather, it’s about committing to seeing them for who they truly are, recognizing their potential, and working together to develop it. Doing it right requires tremendous effort but will yield major benefits both for them and for the organization.

Building Belonging

The first thing leaders need to focus on is building the sense of belonging for everyone in their workforce. Until you've heard from all the voices, you actually can't be sure that the system is working the way it should. And the leader may say, “Well, I do that. I know how to do that. I poll my employees, I ask what they think.” This is different. This is ensuring that your employees feel heard. This is thinking through: Who might be afraid to speak up? Or, who's hierarchical in the way they think and they're not going to countermand something their boss has said in a meeting? Or, who doesn't feel like they're on good footing career wise, so they're reluctant to kind of push the envelope in their thinking? Your job as a leader is to be knowing about all of those things.

Rethinking Performance Management

The second job is related to the first; To do that well, you've got to rethink performance management. Performance management is really kind of a relic of the Industrial Revolution in a lot of places. It's very rearview mirror. How fast did the factory line run? How efficient was it? Was it accurate in terms of what it was putting out? And those things are still important when you're measuring an employee, but it's not the full picture. You also need to understand how creative are they? How good are they at collaborating and teaming? Are they introducing new ideas? Are they encouraging others to come forward? Are they bringing the right sense of empathy into the workplace? Not a bleeding-heart empathy, but something that's really walking in the other person's shoes and recognizing what they're struggling with. And that is important for thinking about your customers’ needs, your other stakeholders’ needs, and your employees’ needs.

Co-creating Your Mission

The third thing that I think is really important for leaders to consider is: How do you make your mission, your employees’ mission? We've moved away from this sort of order-command-dictate type of mode and what you really need to do is make the mission the employees’ mission by using co-creation to have them help you figure out what the right answers are. Because if you are sort of imposing from the C-suite out, you're not going to have as much traction as you need to drive the changes that you're looking for in the organization. If you're going to the front lines and understanding what are their hassles and frustrations, what are their unmet needs, what's not working, and then thread those answers back into the C-suite, you'll have much more success.

Embracing Differences

I think, just demographically, the workforce is going to look quite different. Two-thirds of the workforce in 2031 will be either Millennial or Gen Z. And those two generations behave differently in a lot of ways and are characteristically different than the Boomers and the Gen X-ers were before them. The main takeaway I have for any executive I'm working with - how to manage through that complex dynamic where you've got many different generations in the workforce - is you have to treat them differently. A one-size-fits-all message will really not fit anyone exactly right. So, think about the different populations and how do you want to be messaging to them in a very distinctive voice?

This transcript was edited for clarity