Welcome to 2024! I don’t know about you, but I was ready for a new year and the opportunity to take stock of where we’ve been and what lies ahead. Like so many of you, we are constantly scanning the environment to understand how to best support the leaders and organizations we serve.

Just a few of the questions that drive our thinking and research are: What skills will leaders need to navigate the complexities that exist now and will emerge in a world where change is the norm and happens so rapidly? Where are organizations placing their bets? Where and how do they need to invest in developing leaders? How can organizations cultivate cultures where individuals thrive and contribute to individual and organizational success?

At the end of 2023, we took some time to think about some of the most important topics impacting the talent management space and the role of leaders in addressing the challenges embedded in those topics. Unsurprisingly, the skills and behaviors needed to navigate the current normal are not new. We’ve talked about their importance for years. What’s different is the context or environment in which they are applied.

Here’s our list. We start with Belonging. It is a fundamental need for individuals and a foundational success factor for organizations.

Belonging by Design

Belonging is at the top of our list. Belonging directly impacts the success of an organization. Individuals who experience belonging feel their voice is heard, they find meaning in their work and the work of the organization and they can openly share their thoughts, ideas and concerns without the worry of negative outcomes. When individuals feel they belong, they are more committed, engaged and likely to want to remain a part of the organization.

The need to belong is the 3rd fundamental human need. It connects us to each other. But it’s complicated. Belonging means something different to everyone. And every aspect of organizational life impacts the ability and opportunity for individuals to achieve belonging. Belonging doesn’t occur spontaneously. Organizations and leaders must be intentional and deliberate about taking action and reinforcing behaviors that lead to understanding and supporting the unique needs of individuals. This requires strategy, planning, and action…it requires Belonging by Design.

Belonging happens at the intersection of Employee Engagement, Inclusion and Safety. Given the complex nature of defining what belonging means to individuals, it is incumbent on the leader to understand what matters most to their employees. Foundational to creating belonging is the ability to establish trust. This is the universal driver to fostering engagement, promoting inclusion, and encouraging safety.

The three dimensions of a leader’s focus on Belonging – the path to Belonging by Design – are:

  • Engagement – We believe at the core of engagement is the ability of an individual to find meaning – in their role, their team, the organization, and its mission. Based on our research, growth opportunities, meaningful work, supportive leadership, communication transparency, and personal well-being are the most significant drivers of engagement.
  • Inclusion – We define inclusion as creating a workplace of mutual respect, trust and commitment where everyone feels encouraged and able to contribute based on their unique talents, experiences and backgrounds. The evidence of a culture of inclusion then is a workplace where employees can confidently say, “I have a voice.” Individuals gain a sense of inclusion when they see diversity at all levels of the organization, their ideas are appreciated, curiosity is encouraged, they feel empowered, and they share goals with others.
  • Psychological Safety – Psychological safety exists when individuals can openly share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without the worry of negative outcomes, and instead feel accepted, respected, and valued within the group. Organizations and leaders can unlock safety by rewarding informed risk-taking, nurturing constructive feedback, encouraging open and respectful communication, fostering a growth mindset environment, and promoting support from all levels of the organization.

Health & Wellbeing

Health and well-being emerged as critical topics during COVID and continue to be a high priority. Good health contributes to brain function, sustained energy output and physical resilience. Healthy individuals maintain a health-promoting diet, adequate/quality sleep, regular physical activity and effective management of stress.

It is critical that leaders support their own health and well-being as well as that of others.

  • Setting the Example – When leaders prioritize self-care practices such as work-life balance, stress management and healthy habits, they inspire team members to do the same.
  • Creating a Positive Work Culture – Leaders are responsible for fostering a work culture that values health and well-being by promoting work-life balance, encouraging physical activity and supporting mental health initiatives.
  • Establishing Clear Expectations & Boundaries – Leaders can help prevent burnout and promote a healthier workplace by detecting and addressing signs of stress, communicating expectations effectively and managing workload.
  • Providing Resources and Support – Leaders can support employees’ health and well-being by providing access to resources such as wellness programs, mental health support and options for flexible work arrangements whenever and wherever possible.

Remote Work & Future of Work

Organizations exploring the post-COVID future of work need to tailor their approach to their unique context. According to McKinsey, this tailoring needs to be based on the nature of the work, the workforce of the future, and the future workplace. What is the work we need to do to be successful, what are the skills we need to do that work and where and how does the work take place? Anticipating, understanding and adapting to these trends is vital for leaders to attract and retain talent, maintain productivity, meet customer and client needs, and remain competitive in a rapidly evolving labor market.

While fully remote work is declining, many organizations are opting for hybrid work setups. Leaders play a key role in ensuring sustainable performance and connections in a hybrid structure. The following skills are critical in supporting engagement, inclusion and performance in a hybrid workplace.

  • Communicating with Credibility – It’s not just about the frequency of communicating – it’s also about providing clarity, ensuring transparency, expressing empathy and building trust.
  • Championing a Growth Mindset – Leaders must actively and intentionally encourage and invest in employees’ continued growth and development to build the capability at the individual and organizational level required for future success. Leveraging experiences, providing coaching and offering other training experiences will ensure that talent is prepared for the rapidly changing work landscape.
  • Empowering Ownership and Enabling Accountability – Much has been said about the fear that remote work will result in lower productivity and that employees will not perform at their best without direct supervision. However, leaders who shift to outcomes-based management, empower employees to manage their own work processes, provide resources that support remote workers and establish accountability measures, reap benefits that include but also reach far beyond productivity.
  • Collaborating Intentionally – Don’t leave collaboration up to chance. Being intentional about finding multiple ways to collaborate (both formally and informally) across functions and levels, builds breadth of understanding about the organization and creates communication conduits that allow for the spontaneity, creativity and innovation the future will require.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Over the last 3 ½ years the work in the DEI field has seen great highs and some concerning lows. While some organizations have pulled back on their initiatives for a variety of reasons, effective and strategic DEI approaches continue to be crucial for driving innovation, improving decision-making, accessing a broader talent pool, serving a diverse customer base, retaining talent, maximizing performance and enhancing an organization’s reputation.

More than ever, commitment to DEI is needed if organizations want to achieve their full potential. That commitment must be systemic and address challenges that have existed throughout history as well as those that continue to emerge.

  • Navigating Culture Clashes –A diverse workforce brings multiple cultures together within the workplace. Societal events present additional pressures that can increase the possibility of clashes of perspectives and beliefs. These may emerge between individuals, between employees and the organization’s norms and between the organization and the community they serve or operate within – all of which can be disruptive and counterproductive. Leaders must remain aware of why and how issues may surface and be clear about how they will navigate and lead the organization through these types of challenges. Middle and front-line leaders need to be equipped with the skills to engage in open and meaningful dialogue with their teams and employees to help mitigate potential negative impacts that may result.
  • Committing to Equity – Equity does not provide everyone with the same thing. Equity provides each individual with what they need to be successful. A commitment to equity requires that leaders examine the processes, policies and systems where inequities exist AND have the readiness, courage and willingness to address what they find.

Evolving Technology Transformation

As we navigate the rapid advancements in technology, it’s crucial for leaders and organizations to build the capabilities required to successfully embrace and leverage the potential AI and digital transformation will bring. The Institute of the Future (IFTF), one of the world’s leading futures organizations, talks about strategic foresight as “a disciplined approach to thinking about possible futures and their implications.” It requires that organizations develop knowledge, insights and skills that enable them to navigate complex, ambiguous and rapidly changing environments. The skills leaders need today and will need tomorrow include:

  • Anticibility (Anticipatory Ability) This one is complex. It calls on a range of other skills. It requires the individual to engage in a level of foresight and openness that suspends (when needed) preexisting ideas, perspectives and norms to imagine a future world and what’s needed to get there.
  • Championing a Growth Mindset – Leaders must actively and intentionally encourage and invest in employees’ continued growth and development to build the capability at the individual and organizational level required for future success. Leveraging experiences, providing coaching and offering other training experiences will ensure that talent is prepared for and perhaps even excited about what’s next.
  • Building Resiliency – This skill helps leaders and individuals stay grounded and flexible, enabling them to respond productively and adapt in the face of challenges, disruptions and unexpected twists and outcomes.
  • Leveraging Collaborative Thinking – Rapid change and disruption that creates both change and opportunity requires the collective intelligence of many. Bringing various perspectives, knowledge and skills together creates an environment where innovation, problem-solving and decision-making are raised to a different level.
  • Providing Communications Transparency – Change is hard…ambiguity is even more difficult. We live in a world where multiple factors are disrupting the world of work. It is critical that leaders craft a clear message about how shifts, trends, and forces such as AI will impact the work they do, what skills will be necessary and how they can develop those skills.

Sustainability & ESG

The topic of Sustainability & Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) will remain at the forefront for organizations for the foreseeable future. Sustainability means meeting current needs without compromising future generations’ ability to meet them. Incorporating an ESG approach into the organization’s strategic direction involves monitoring and reporting progress against measurable sustainability goals. In the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 84% of respondents understand the impact of sustainability on their organizations and believe ownership for driving progress and outcomes is important to an organization’s success, yet only 21% believe that their organizations are “very ready” to address these issues.

  • Making Sustainability a Cultural Tenant – Weaving sustainability into the organization’s beliefs, goals and aspirations will shape the behaviors and how work gets done. This requires getting to the underlying assumptions that have gotten in the way of progress.
  • Enacting Communications Transparency – Once leadership makes the commitment to sustainability practices, it is critical that a compelling story is crafted that outlines the “why,” the “how” and the “what” sustainability means for the organization, for individual employees and for the communities they serve. Building a sustainable world is the responsibility of all and something in which individuals can find purpose.
  • Creating Shared Goals – “What gets measured gets done.” Becoming more sustainable is a team sport and requires shared and measured goals and involvement across teams, functions and levels.
  • Empowering Responsibility – Leaders who encourage and involve individuals and teams in crafting solutions that will support the attainment of sustainability goals enable people to invest their time, energy and commitment into building a better future. In the process, these leaders foster a sense of ownership and responsibility throughout the organization.

This isn’t an exhaustive list; however, it touches on organizations’ big opportunities and challenges in 2024 and beyond. What we know is that leaders must be prepared to lead the constantly changing current normal as well as prepare for tomorrow. Organizations that target their investments accordingly will win the day as well as the decade.