HR departments took the lead in restructuring the workplace during the height of the pandemic. Now that employees are slowly returning to the office, this evolution will only continue. COVID has served as a forcing function for reshaping the way employees conduct their day-to-day work and how they approach career development, not to mention the way talent is recruited and developed. Managers, too, are having to absorb what feels like a decade’s worth of changes in just a matter of months.
Remember: There’s No Fairy Godmother on the Career Path
First, let’s start by defining what career pathing is. It’s the concept of making deliberate choices about the experiences and assignments you take in order to put yourself on the right career path—whether that’s aiming for a specific role or obtaining training in order to advance to a new position.
The key with career pathing is that it is the employee who owns his or her individual career path, not the company or the manager. Often, we see early-career professionals who have the idea someone is looking out for them. However, there’s no fairy godmother for your career aspirations. Your manager and company may provide insight into your strengths and opportunities for assignments, but it’s the employee who owns his or her “master career plan.”
Set Your Hybrid Team Up for Success
A recent survey from employment agency LaSalle Network found that 77% of respondents said they anticipate a hybrid model for their workforce through the next year. In this new environment of distributed employees, how should managers look to evaluate or check in on how employees are performing?
- Make sure there’s clarity for your people, whether they’re remote or not. Ensure they understand the top priorities for the business, as well as their role and how their outcomes impact the business. This gives them context for its mission and allows employees to prioritize their day-to-day activities.
- Figure out what people’s strengths are. Sometimes this can be a matter of asking employees for a self-evaluation or asking colleagues to solicit feedback about a team member. When you know your employees’ strengths (and your own), you can put teams together and make assignments that feed into those strengths. Management should work to open up a person’s performance and potential.
- Understand the difference between a preference and a principle. The hybrid workplace has created potential challenges around department and companywide policies, which are in a near-constant state of flux today. It’s important for managers to differentiate between a principle and a preference. Ask yourself: “Do I just prefer that my team work in the office because that’s how I like to work myself?” Or is it the principle of providing closer management and job-mastery skills for early-career team members?
- It’s critical for the leadership team to commit to the principles they expect of their team. This must come from the top leadership down and create a unified front to create and instill much-needed clarity. Employees need to know their boundaries, what’s expected of them, and how they can perform best.
Adopt Management Practices That Align with Our ‘Bits and Bytes’ World
In addition to where today’s employees physically work, the way they learn is also changing. This has implications for how managers and leaders navigate employee training and assessment.
Times have shifted from the more formal, structured training sessions of the past. With the availability and immediacy of Google and YouTube, people now consume “bits and bytes” whenever they need information.
This “just in time” approach drives bitesize learning but can be difficult to apply to broader managerial practices in a distance-work environment. After all, it can be difficult to “read the room” on a Zoom call. How can you ensure engagement and professional development while helping teams focus on what’s most important and impactful for the business?
- Be mindful about the types of questions you ask and the one-on-one relationships you form. Create opportunities for brainstorming and problem-solving—and learn to use collaboration tools to do this. As an example, we recently used an online whiteboarding tool called Miro for brainstorming and affinity mapping that helped us create a dynamic environment for people to engage remotely.
- Recognize the importance of mentoring and sponsorship. Ensure that both remote and in-office employees have a team of close peers and advocates to coach them through situations and share their experiences. Having an advocate—someone who can coach you on your development but also speak on your behalf and your strengths to others—can give your work visibility and lead to assignments to help build your career path.
- Keep team members focused on their workflow. Reduce the distractions of instant messaging and e-mail whenever possible. Consider implementing meeting-free days once a week so employees can stay focused on their work and their outcomes vs. responding to interruptions and requests. The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time-management method that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
The 2 Constants in an Evolving Work World: Clear Communication and Strong Performance
In this world of what seems like constant change, consider that not everything will be different in the hybrid work world. There will always be the need for communication. Strong communicators who understand the business mission are integral to building the sense of clarity that’s so important. Also, performance matters. If you want to be seen in an organization, the best way is to perform and drive outcomes beyond what is expected for your role. It doesn’t matter where you work—if you’re showing up and getting results, you’re going to shine whether you’re working at home or in the office.
Karen Crone is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Paycor, a human capital management company that has grown from 430 to 2,000 associates during her 11 years with the company. Prior to Paycor, Crone sharpened her executive leadership skills at American Modern Insurance Group, Kendle International, and Convergys. She’s a graduate of Miami University and the University of Cincinnati, and has been recognized as a 2017 HRO Today Superstar, LEAD Magazine Champion of Human Capital, and a 2017 Finalist for HRO Today CHRO of the Year.