Top 2020 Leadership Trends to Guide Your Organization Through Change

As the workplace continues to evolve, so does our idea of what makes a good leader. How does a leader interact with technology? How does a leader guide employees through change? While many companies are built on the idea that a good leader can make or break a business, this is becoming even more true today. 

It’s time to look ahead to 2020 and see how leadership and development will change, and what it means for the workplace.

Our Definition of Leadership is Changing

The first idea to consider is exactly how people think about leadership, and how leadership is different from management. 

The team at WorkLife Consulting explains that, historically, employees were expected to follow and respect leaders simply because of their job titles. However, as we redefine what it means to be a leader, people are seeing the difference between someone who inspires and someone who has a fancy job title. If companies want leaders in management, they will need to look for employees that can coach and motivate coworkers, not just those who get the most sales or who have been in the job the longest.

Impraise CEO Bas Kohnke says something similar. He writes that nonmanagerial employees can hone leadership skills even if they don’t have any responsibility over their peers. Anyone can be a leader, regardless of their position — and many of the best leaders have no management duties at all. 

As a society, our definition of leadership continues to change with each new wave of workers. Paul Keijzer, CEO of Engage Consulting, writes that 2020 and beyond is bringing a new generation into the workforce. Today’s college graduates are from Generation Z, which has its own work style and belief system, different from those of Gen X and the Millennials. 

Additionally, Keijzer writes, increased remote work and flexibility means managers need to build autonomy and trust because their job won’t be to monitor their team members all day. All workers are looking for leaders to learn from, not be micromanaged by. 

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Leaders Need to be Change Managers

One of the main features of today’s leaders is that they can handle change and guide employees through uncertain times. They serve as change managers and inspire teams to work through change on their own.

Paula Alsher, vice president of client solutions at Implementation Management Associates, emphasizes the idea of “implementation over installation” within changes. Companies used to treat change as though it was a new process that could easily be installed. They didn’t take into account the human elements of change and challenges. So, a new method was implemented, but there were long-term problems and growing pains. 

By investing in implementation, companies can focus on how they are introducing change and how employees are adapting to it. As Alsher says, the “human objectives” become clear.  

It’s this focus on human objectives that calls for an increase in change management experts. Tim Creasey, chief innovation officer at Prosci, believes there is more demand than ever for effective change management practitioners. He also has seen upticks in demand for adding change management into existing learning and development programs and change management training for board audiences. 

While leaders and company influencers may drive change, every employee has to face it and navigate change as the workplace evolves. By better preparing the entire team, more people can handle change well and even lead the company through it.  

“As organizations accelerate the pace of change, people are often overloaded with current work and transformation work,” writes Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. “The people who make change possible hit a point of diminishing performance that impacts their ability to deliver.” 

Simply put, everyone has to face changes — not just managers. If employees are better prepared, they can mentally handle the hurdles of change up ahead and inspire each other to embrace new ideas. 

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Leaders Emphasize Continuous Professional Development

If there are two employee traits that can make teams more resilient and prepared to handle change, they are curiosity and eagerness to learn. Curious employees want to grow and find answers, and eager learners are always looking at what is ahead. Even if your company isn’t in a period of change, teams can prepare for it through professional growth and development. 

That said, the learning needs to be relevant and effective. Employees want to learn something that they can actual use. 

“The biggest mistake I see that keeps an organization’s learning and development efforts from reaching their full potential is a lack of planning and commitment from the C-suite,” writes SkillPath CEO Cameron Bishop. “Leaders who don’t plan exactly what they want their training to accomplish are wasting resources.” 

Training for the sake of training isn’t an option. HR teams and leaders will work to identify the precise skills that their team members need to know so their training efforts drive actual results. 

As Roshan Thiran and Sandy Clarke at Leaderonomics say: “It is not about how much you know, but what you do with what you know.” Continuous learning means finding new applications for your knowledge to stretch your abilities and experience.

As your team members learn and apply relevant skills, they will want to learn more. It is easy to move a group of eager learners through change, as they will want to try new experiences and see if their skills can help them. 

“This culture of continual learning is simultaneously driving and being reinforced by the shifting attitude to performance management,” research analyst Rebecca Skilbeck writes. “As everyday performance and ongoing feedback approaches gain momentum, the desire to upskill, develop and close skill gaps reinforces the symbiotic relationship between performance and development.” 

Through continuous learning, employees are able to see how their skills pay off and, in turn, will seek out more development opportunities so they can continue to apply their knowledge and become more effective.

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Good Teams Can Inspire Great Leaders

While it is tempting to put their weight on the shoulders of leaders in 2020 — blaming any change issues or team problems on poor leadership — the reality is that the team is also responsible. Good teams can inspire leaders at all levels. When employees feel supported and challenged, they try to rise up to their best selves. This means that good hiring and team-building are more important than ever. 

Jeanne Meister, a partner at Future Workplace, emphasizes the value in skills-based hiring. This is the process of setting specific competency requirements for employees to prove, rather than hiring based on credentials. Instead of demanding levels of education and experience, more companies are focusing on what candidates can do. This allows teams to hire for their futures and to challenge existing employees to continue to grow their skills and abilities. 

The concept of skills-based hiring is changing how companies recruit employees. Carol Foote, senior marketing manager at Sage, encourages companies to improve their outbound hiring as they enter 2020. This is the process of actively seeking out candidates and recruits. 

For example, a company might sponsor a hackathon for a nonprofit to bring in the best in their fields to solve a problem. They might attend a job fair and develop a pool of contacts for future roles. This is a great way to attract talent while still focusing on skills.  

Additionally, companies can tap into their own staff members to find the next great hires. Employees who are happy where they work will tell their friends. They also likely have several professional contacts within their field. 

“When it comes to recruitment, involving your entire team in the recruitment process can be of tremendous value,” says Neelie Verlinden, cofounder of AIHR Digital.

Employees can encourage friends to apply who would be a good fit and work hard within the organization. They serve as outbound hiring professionals and a pre-vetting committee. Verlinden uses the phrase “collaborative hiring” where the entire team works to fill a position, not just HR teams and managers.

Human Collaboration is Enhanced with AI

As more companies grow comfortable using AI tools, teams are coming together and collaborating with the technological advances that are available to them. 

“With the rise of AI in the workplace…there has been an increased attention and value for what is uniquely human,” Stephanie Neal, director of the center for analytics and behavioral research at DDI, writes. 

As more routine tasks are automated, companies are looking for employees with soft skills, like critical thinking, planning, and emotional intelligence. These are the skills that will guide the company forward, no matter what technological advances arise.  

Interestingly enough, the rise of technology has made companies more people-centric than ever, the team at Prospects writes. Employees are looking for workplaces where they feel valued and respected — where managers will give them the trust and autonomy they crave. They also want to work well with the people around them, as human partnerships and collaboration are essential to solving more complex projects that robots can’t easily handle.

A solid example of this relationship between AI and people is in recruitment. HR consultant Renee Conklin-Tsui notes that the first function IBM applied AI to was in recruitment to better vet candidates and focus on skills over internal biases. However, advances in AI don’t mean that a recruit will go from application to onboarding without ever speaking with a human. Instead, recruiters work with better candidates and create a personal hiring experience, which is expedited through technology.

If there is one idea that can summarize leadership in 2020, it is the focus on human leadership qualities, not resume credentials. In the next year and beyond, it doesn’t matter what your job title is, or who you worked for, or what technology you know. Companies want to hire people who inspire a team to move forward to success.

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