Reimagining engagement: Leadership for uncertain times  

Uncertain Times

Kevin Johnson explores strategies for HR and L&D leaders to navigate volatility and foster engagement  

When uncertainty is fast becoming the only constant, HR executives and learning and development leaders face a complex challenge. How do they re-engage and reinvigorate their workforce when the foundation of ‘normal’ has shifted?  

The answer lies in demonstrating leadership, creating purpose, building trust, and fostering personal and business growth.  

Leadership is not about relentless action; it’s about thoughtful influence 

From a worldwide health pandemic to geopolitical shocks and the retreat of globalisation, international businesses are navigating a more volatile and uncertain world.  Employees’ lives may have been turned upside down. Change is unremitting, yet expectations are rising.  

Given these new realities, it is no surprise that some international businesses and their employees have fallen into a fug. Many are treading water and are not performing at their best.  

So, how can firms re-engage their people, rediscover their rhythm, and regain momentum? HR executives and L&D leaders should focus on four critical aspects: 

1. Revive the heart of leadership 

First, senior executives must revive the heart of leadership.  Amid the turmoil, many have lost sight of what it means to be a leader. They have been caught in a reactive mode, addressing immediate challenges with rapid responses, which can dampen engagement and damage performance. It is time to recalibrate and remember that leadership is not about relentless action. It is about thoughtful influence. 

HR and L&D executives must help their leaders remember that leadership is not just about policies; it is about the hearts and minds of their people. 

2. Focus on connection and purpose

Second, create purpose. Many firms claim to focus on purpose. But what does this mean for each employee? For instance, one global bank’s purpose is to open a world of opportunity. But how does an employee in risk management, for example, feel connected to that vision? Without such a connection, businesses and their people may fail to generate momentum.  

HR executives must help to make their firm’s purpose feel personal to every employee. Such an approach transforms engagement from a corporate initiative into a personal mission. This is why the bank has done so much to personalise how every employee adds value to the overall purpose of the organisation. 

3. Build a trusting and safe environment for everyone

When the world is more ambiguous, employees can feel insecure. They may think their job is at risk. They may think their lifestyle is more precarious. This uncertainty can impact engagement and performance.  

HR and L&D leaders can help to instil a high-trust environment where integrity, compassion and competence are not just expected but essential. Performance conversations should be candid and focus on priorities. Compassion is crucial, not as an obligation but as a genuine expression of care. 

4. Foster personal and business growth

Businesses and their people want to grow. If HR and L&D leaders are not facilitating personal and professional development, they may be falling short. Coaching and meaningful conversations can pivot a career trajectory and profoundly affect life.  

HR and L&D leaders should recalibrate engagement strategies to create and serve this growth mindset, which can lead to business and personal expansion.  

Navigating the future 

Creating engagement is often about making an impact, even more so in challenging circumstances. It is about having significant conversations and preparing the next generation of CEOs, who may feel unready for the helm.  

Senior HR executives and L&D leaders can help foster an engaged, purpose-driven and adaptable leadership that survives and thrives in more dynamic times.  

By doing so, L&D leaders will help employees navigate a more volatile and uncertain environment and re-engage and regain momentum. They will thrive.  

Kevin Johnson is CEO of learning and development consultancy OnTrack International 

Kevin Johnson

Learn More →