People & Transformation

An Open Letter As We Look Ahead to 2022

Dear Communicator,

We’ve made it to mid-December, and all signs point toward us making it through the year, albeit with Omicron testing our tenacity in these final weeks. For most organizations, this isn’t just a season of festive good cheer, but also an opportunity to evaluate what was achieved over the past 12 months, anticipate what’s coming in the new year and refresh strategies accordingly.

A few key themes and “watch-outs” are rising to the surface as we and our clients navigate this period:

  1. Most people are intuitively programmed to expect change with the start of the new calendar year, making it extra important to clarify expectations – even if nothing is changing. Whether it’s the fact that so many companies refresh strategies annually or New Year’s Eve resolutions that encourage self-reflection, January 1 provides a reset for many. In addition to truly thanking and celebrating the successes of the past year, this is a time to underscore your company’s purpose, clarify priorities and re-energize your teams. We’re guessing this is not a new muscle, and you’re likely writing your CEO’s message even as we write this greeting to you.

What’s different this year is that, if you’re still in the “Great Wait” phase of your post-COVID existence – that period of watching and testing and not making any long-term decisions – you should expect that employees also will be looking for updates about when and how policies are likely to evolve in 2022. Are current policies requiring a return to the office having the desired impact? If you’ve been luring people back to the office with lunches and other incentives, is there a point where that carrot turns into a stick? Are you rethinking mask and vaccination policies? Particularly with Omicron now in play, we’re hearing a need for additional clarification about what the “next normal” entails.

  1. We’ve not seen the last of the “Great Resignation,” and like it or not, that has an impact on year-end performance reviews. In a perfect world, we find that most leaders would like to maintain consistent performance standards in any environment and not consider flight risk when drafting an employee’s year-end evaluation. But this year has been far from perfect or normal, which means the process is more nuanced

To start, we are encouraging teams to be even more rigorous in soliciting 360 feedback for all employees to ensure that changes in team structures, leadership and/or working environments don’t create bias. Many employees have been asked to stretch into new roles or wear more hats following teammate departures, which may impact their ability to achieve previously stated goals or their perceived aptitude within a new reporting structure. Many are also working remotely at least part of the time, which may create blind spots. Managers need to have the time, resources and encouragement to gather holistic feedback and be thoughtful about what’s realistic for this year’s scoring and 2022 goals – especially if reporting relationships are new.

At the same time, employees still need honest feedback. We know employees who don’t feel they’re getting the recognition they deserve – whether that’s positive feedback, new experiences, a promotion or monetary compensation – are more likely to leave in this environment, and managers already working short staffed may be tempted to change standards or tip toe around emerging issues to keep teams intact. Unfortunately, these inconsistencies tend to create longer-term performance challenges as well as risks related to perceived inequity. Performance managers will need additional training to provide feedback – and coaching – that is simultaneously empathetic, constructive and inspiring.

  1. Even with the very best performance management, the risk for additional turnover after bonuses pay is real, meaning it’s time to double down on campaigns highlighting why you’re an employer of choice in your industry – and communities. Effectively competing for talent in the current environment is all about your employee value proposition (EVP), and if you haven’t already, now is the time to give your EVP another hard look.

For those not as familiar with the term, EVP is the unique set of benefits, opportunities and experiences an employee receives in return for the skills and capabilities they bring to your organization. When integrated into all aspects of a business, a strong EVP helps to retain top performers and attract the best external talent.

Now is the time to sharpen this EVP – or how it’s expressed – because employee expectations have shifted. In fact, findings in FTI’s recently published CEO Leadership Redefined study indicate that employees are first and foremost expecting the CEO to prioritize the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees (34%), followed by diversity, equity and inclusion (19%) and the sustainability of operations (16%). With these changes, we’ve also seen an evolution in what’s most likely to win hearts and minds – but the equation won’t be the same for every company.

Taking time to really understand what employees value, how that shows up in internal and external communications and programs, and how your value proposition stacks up against those competing for the same talent is essential. Your direct and indirect competitors are getting creative in how they win and keep talent. Knowing what you are up against, and then really digging into both what can authentically claim today and what you want to be able to claim in the future will help you to win in the current talent crisis.

  1. As much as the flip to a new calendar year can be characterized by process, it also creates opportunity to reimagine, improve and empower – and that should begin with training and comradery at the top. The workplace has evolved with more people working remotely, embracing new technologies and making their voices heard on a variety of social justice and sustainability issues. Not only have the expectations of leaders gone up exponentially, but these expectations are also changing constantly. An ability to adapt to – and lead through change – must be embedded into corporate culture, and as communicators, we must help enable the successful delivery of these priorities.

It’s a lot, and as we hit year end, we’re hearing that leaders are tired – and they’re lonely. We ourselves are feeling it, so we know what it means to ask these same individuals to carve out time for things like self-reflection and training. But here’s the thing: In recent weeks, our teams have led trainings focused on, among other themes, enabling change, creating a culture of conscious inclusion and effectively leading hybrid teams, and in all cases, the value of training went far beyond the immediate curriculum in that it fostered greater connection among the leaders who participated.

Over the past year, we’ve heard from many leaders that any time they can carve out from their core business responsibilities goes into feeding their teams, and time spent sharing experience with peers feels like a luxury. Creating moments for leaders to work through common challenges together – particularly those that are core to culture and to how the business moves forward – can be food for the soul and reset the norms for ongoing leader interaction. It’s time to bring back the development programs that have been deferred over the past two years and get new resources into leaders’ hands to hopefully make their jobs a bit easier.

As we close this letter, we want to underscore that, while there will inevitably be additional challenges to face in the new year, we’re beginning 2022 with a sense of optimism. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, we’ve learned a lot over the past two years. We’ve had opportunities to re-imagine processes and interactions in ways that once seemed unthinkable, and the spirit of determination and ingenuity that has brought us to this point will lead us forward.

We also know that you – the dedicated communicators behind the scenes – have been key enablers throughout this evolution. Our work often goes unrecognized, but we see and appreciate all you do. We’ll be raising our glasses to all of you who continue to ask the hard questions, find the words that inspire change and make this continued evolution as seamless as possible for your people. We hope you take time to celebrate your successes, as well.

Wishing you and yours all the best as we welcome the year,

Your Friends at FTI Consulting

 

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.

FTI Consulting, Inc., including its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a consulting firm and is not a certified public accounting firm or a law firm.

FTI Consulting is an independent global business advisory firm dedicated to helping organizations manage change, mitigate risk and resolve disputes: financial, legal, operational, political & regulatory, reputational and transactional. FTI Consulting professionals, located in all major business centers throughout the world, work closely with clients to anticipate, illuminate and overcome complex business challenges and opportunities. ©2021 FTI Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved. www.fticonsulting.com

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