Improving Employee Experience: The Leader’s Role

November 29, 2022 David Witt

There’s a lot to unpack in the 2023 HR/L&D Trends Survey, says Scott Blanchard, president of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

“We asked over 700 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals to share their biggest challenges and how they are planning to address them in the coming year. There are a lot of challenges but also a lot of optimism for the new year.

“Retaining people and reducing turnover, improving employee experience and engagement, and developing a close-knit culture despite shifts to hybrid work arrangements were all cited,” says Blanchard. “Some 67% of respondents said it’s harder to create engaging employee experiences in a hybrid/remote work environment, 75% believe hiring will be more challenging in 2023, and 79% believe it will be harder to retain their best people.”

To address these challenges, survey respondents indicated they will be focusing on increased spending for leadership development initiatives—with a majority of respondents indicating a 10-30% increase.

Driving the demand is a need for increased leadership bench strength to upskill new leaders, replace retiring leaders, and improve both engagement and the employee experience.

“That’s a wise investment,” says Blanchard. “Our research shows that focusing on strong operational leadership skills is the best way to improve employee intentions to stay with an organization, be a good corporate citizen, endorse the organization, and perform at a high level—including applying extra discretionary effort when needed.”

It’s a pattern and a connection Blanchard has studied for many years since his company first began an exploration into the Leadership-Profit Chain. The study looked specifically at the relationship between strong strategic and operational leadership factors and corresponding levels of employee work passion and customer devotion.

“What we found in that data—and what continues to be evident today—is that good leadership practices, especially strong day-to-day operational leadership practices, are the linchpin that holds together the overall employee experience.

“As a part of this year’s survey, we asked L&D professionals to choose from 12 different elements of an engaging work environment. It was a curated list taken from Blanchard’s Employee Work Passion research, which identified 12 factors that account for 80% of the variance in retention, endorsement, citizenship, performance, and discretionary effort. For this year’s group, five focus areas surfaced:

  1. Building trust between managers and direct reports
  2. Addressing workload balance to avoid burnout
  3. Connecting work to purpose
  4. Setting clear performance expectations
  5. Promoting teamwork and collaboration

“It’s a telling ranking,” says Blanchard. “At a deep level, you can see all of the dominant themes we are discussing today about improving the employee experience—trust, burnout, meaning, focus, and collaboration. I think it provides a roadmap for L&D efforts in 2023.”

Building trust between managers and direct reports

“In times of change, trust is essential. If I trust my manager and believe they have my back, I experience a sense of psychological and physical safety that translates to a sense of wellbeing that unlocks positive intentions.

“It also gives that leader permission to challenge me and even to push me harder, because it comes from a place of trust. If an employee doesn’t trust their manager, those same actions come across as challenging, threatening, and against the employee’s personal interest.

“Building trust skills is step one.”

Addressing workload balance to avoid burnout

“This is more complicated than it seems on the surface—it’s a combination of what you say as a leader, what you do, and how other people react to it.”

Blanchard points to research into burnout that identifies three defining conditions—feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and feelings of reduced personal effectiveness or accomplishment.

“You need to talk about it. We are all running around, trying to keep up and doing the best we can. People are different. Some people feel better knocking out a few emails at night because it allows them a less harried morning the following day. Other people find working in the evening too stressful. That’s why it’s important for managers to discuss issues around burnout and consider how current practices are increasing energy and enthusiasm—or taking away from it.”

Connecting work to purpose

“Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the field of leadership studies, often spoke about three reasons people come to work: to make money so they can support themselves and their family; to feel like productive members of society; and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And how can people be a part of something bigger than themselves? That’s the leader’s role—to make the explicit connection between what people do and why it matters.

“In our company, I remind people that a training and development buyer or coordinator is not just buying a solution from us. They’re making a bet on the overall success of their career based on the programs that we roll out with them. Let’s make sure they succeed.”

Setting clear performance expectations

“Focus is important right now. People feel like they’re being pulled in a dozen different directions. In a separate survey we conducted earlier this year, we asked 800 managers what they were experiencing and learned:

  • 70% are spread across too many projects
  • 66% have too many goals
  • 59% have unclear priorities

“People want and need clarity in today’s hybrid work environment. There are a few ways you can address this.

  • Share with them what’s most important
  • Guide them on how to make tradeoffs and juggle goals
  • Help them manage and prioritize
  • Protect them from being overly fragmented

“Finally, borrowing a line from my father, remember to ‘Catch people doing things right.’ The words of a leader reverberate, and they go a long way. Catching people doing things right emphasizes the positive: what we want versus what we don't want. It's the leader's job to always connect everything we do to the bigger picture—our reason for being.”

Promoting teamwork and collaboration

“It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that people cooperate not only within their group but also across groups. That's a lot easier when people feel safe, valued, and useful. As a leader, it's one of those things that you have to reinforce and you have to model.

“This hybrid work environment has been a challenge. It's a mixed bag right now. Organizations are looking to create some stability and bring some positivity back into the workforce. People filter their global experience at work through their manager.

“Keep moving in the right direction. Invest in your leaders and help them provide your people with the mental, physical, and emotional support they need to succeed.”



Would you like to learn more about improving the employee experience and preparing your organization to succeed in 2023? Join us for a free webinar!

Five Focus Areas for Maximizing Employee Experience: A Senior Executive Perspective

December 14, 2022 at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

The last three years have featured unprecedented change in the business environment. Millions of workers have voluntarily quit their jobs to look for better growth opportunities and meaningful work. One constant in this tumultuous world has been the impact of good leadership.

In this webinar, Scott Blanchard, president of The Ken Blanchard Companies, takes an in-depth look at five factors identified as most important to address by leadership, learning, and talent development professionals around the world in Blanchard’s 2023 Trends Survey.

Join colleagues and peers worldwide for an exploration of these top five focus areas:

  1. Building trust between managers and direct reports
  2. Addressing workload balance to avoid burnout
  3. Connecting work to purpose
  4. Setting clear performance expectations
  5. Promoting teamwork and collaboration

You’ll explore strategies, tips, and techniques for addressing each of these areas to bring out the best in people through an exceptional employee experience centered on better leadership practices.

Register today!

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