Six Ways Leaders Can Adapt to the Workplace of 2022 – MIT Sloan

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The winter 2022 issue of MIT SMR explores ideas to help leaders keep their organizations at the forefront of innovation.
The winter 2022 issue of MIT SMR explores ideas to help leaders keep their organizations at the forefront of innovation.
Our expert contributors weigh in on skills and strategies for managers to embrace in the coming year.

For most companies and managers, responding effectively to the impact of COVID-19 was still the biggest challenge of 2021. Navigating the supply chain crisis, bringing workers back to physical offices safely, and hiring and retaining employees in the midst of the Great Resignation were just a few of the topics our readers found important throughout the year.
We’re also more attuned than ever to societal issues that play an important role in how we live our lives and do our work — from burnout culture and work-life balance to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and the ongoing fight against racial injustice.
With this in mind, we turned to some of MIT Sloan Management Review’s contributors from the past year with a question: What key change must managers make to adapt to the workplace of 2022?
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The key change leaders must make to adapt to the workplace of 2022 is to be more inclusive in their leadership. At its core, inclusive leadership means that leaders commit to ensuring all team members are treated equitably. Equity means that all team members feel a sense of belonging and value. It is making sure people can bring what their real identity is to the workplace. Most importantly, it’s about providing the resources and the support necessary so that people can reach their full potential. The most difficult piece moving forward is to engage in courageous and difficult conversations in your sphere of influence as a leader. It’s time to modernize the concept of leadership for managers by giving them the space and place to think differently on how to be an inclusive ally and advocate in the workplace.
— Curtis L. Odom, executive professor of management in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University and author of “Why Pivoting People Is a Strategic Priority”
The most difficult piece moving forward is to engage in courageous and difficult conversations in your sphere of influence as a leader.
As we move into an increasingly hyperconnected and hybrid world of work, managers will need to intentionally craft team and unit networks that drive performance, innovation, and engagement. Performance will not accrue from conventional team principles: People are on too many teams; the groups are often too large to be true teams, and the pace with which these groups are formed and dissolved undercuts traditional team advice. And the consequences are wide-ranging. Collaborative failure hinders organizational and employee performance and productivity. It creates obstacles to innovation. And it erodes employee engagement — contributing to stress, overload, and burnout.
Increasingly, performance will be delivered through networks that form more rapidly and effectively inside and outside of these efforts. Managers will need to improve how they cultivate these networks, with specific attention to the pattern of collaboration, the quality of the interactions, and the effectiveness of the ties linking their teams to the ecosystems in which they reside. They will also need to guard against each of the six collaborative dysfunctions that emerge in teams when collaboration is not intentionally cultivated.
— Rob Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College and author of “Use Networks to Drive Culture Change”
Managers have been trained to focus on a business issue, come up with the answer, and direct employees on what to do. Whilst these embedded assumptions won’t change overnight, we’re seeing a fascinating shift. Increasingly, employees expect managers to take activist roles in areas such as climate change, modern slavery, and race and gender equity. It’s not possible for managers to have all the answers to these “wicked problems,” and attempting to direct employees using their partial perspective would be foolish. Claiming to be apolitical doesn’t wash either — inaction is as political as action. Employees are holding managers to account in a very public manner.
Dialogue requires humility, an appreciation of power and how to exercise it, and an insatiable curiosity about what we don’t see and know. For innovation, learning, and the capacity for human flourishing, managers must create spaces for dialogue in systems that try to squeeze it out.
— Megan Reitz, professor of leadership and dialogue at Hult International Business School and presenter of the Work/22 symposium session “Leading in an Era of Employee Activism”
Dialogue requires humility, an appreciation of power and how to exercise it, and an insatiable curiosity about what we don’t see and know.
Proactively combat the “out of sight, out of mind” bias. This tendency makes it easy for managers (especially those working in hybrid environments) to unintentionally measure and reward access instead of performance.
One way to counteract this bias is to make lists and check them twice. Rather than delegating tasks or offering growth opportunities to the first person who comes to mind, managers should write down each team member’s name and then review the list (twice!) to determine who is actually best suited for what they have in mind.
— Liz Fosslien, head of content at Humu and author of “What You’re Getting Wrong About Burnout”
Most of us view work as more than a paycheck, which isn’t to say fair pay isn’t important. But we often default to transactional factors as a means of retaining and attracting employees — compensation being one of these. But people also need to feel respected, valued, and acknowledged, and this comes down to how we relate to one another as individuals. Positive interpersonal relating is at the core of our sense of self. The most successful managers will be those who demonstrate genuine curiosity about what employees find meaningful. And it can start with five words: “Tell me what you think.” There is no compensatory substitute for building positive human connection — and no action is more powerful than paying attention.
— Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP’s Innovation Lab and author of “Remaking the Workspace to Boost Social Connection”
For the past two years, so much additional stress and responsibility has been put on managers, especially around the social and emotional well-being of their teams. This has led to historic levels of burnout for managers — but also for their teams, whose needs as individuals are not met. We know that many of these social and emotional needs can be helped through peer relationships and support, allowing managers to prioritize team needs without burning out. Peers are better able to express empathy and compassion, solve problems, and make the time. As a manager, rather than solving for the need, set up the systems to help your team help each other.
— Aaron Hurst, CEO and cofounder of Imperative and author of “Developing Future-Ready Skills With Peer Coaching”
Ally MacDonald (@allymacdonald) is senior editor at MIT Sloan Management Review.
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