Four employee engagement tips for business leaders in 2018

28 December 2017

Business leaders will look back on 2017 as a turbulent year, having contended with varying degrees of disruption on global, political and technological fronts. Instead of dwelling on disruptions of the last 12 months, effective leaders must pick themselves up, dust themselves off and determine their visions for leading their businesses towards success in 2018, writes Samantha Caine, Client Services Director at Devon-based human capital consultancy and training firm Business Linked Teams. 

For leaders equally as perplexed as their workforces, this may seem easier said than done and it can feel like a struggle to find a strong footing for stable leadership. Yet, in the fast-changing environment that businesses now find themselves in, workforces need strong leaders more than ever. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, but with these four points in mind, business leaders can provide the right levels of stability and optimism that will keep the workforce strong, confident and successful.

1. Lead in listening

It’s all too easy to come up with your own exciting action plans for achieving business objectives, and it’s just as easy to present those plans of action to your team or wider organisation expecting them to feel equally as enthusiastic as you are. However, effective leaders must place themselves in the shoes of those that they’re leading, because they will also have valuable ideas or concerns about the path that is being chosen for them. 

Asking the workforce questions and involving them in decision making is a great way to drive employee engagement and increase their feelings of value while sourcing a wider range of possible solutions from which the best strategy can be formed.

Four employee engagement tips for business leaders in 2018

2. Act on your findings

Listening to your employees is certainly an effective way to make them feel valued, but listening is only half of the job. Wherever necessary, leaders should act to address thoughts and concerns and just as importantly to implement good ideas and suggestions. Not only does this help to maximise employee satisfaction levels, it’s also likely to have a positive impact on individual performance and the achievement of business objectives. 

Leaders balancing countless responsibilities can easily miss simple things that could make big differences when addressed properly. Think of the workforce as your sounding board and don’t be afraid to act upon their suggestions or to reward those who put them forward, otherwise the simply listening could easily perceived as an empty gesture.

3. Add value with training and development

With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, today’s workforces are fast becoming almost exclusively millennial, and the millennial generation is notorious for its high levels of expectation. Successful leaders must put every effort into understanding their workforces in order to get the best of them and there are plenty of studies that provide helpful insights for those leading the millennials through their working lives. 

According to a recent PwC study, 52 percent of millennials say that the opportunity for career progression is the most desirable quality in a workplace, placing it above competitive wages and financial incentives (44 percent). The same study found that 35 percent of millennials prefer to be employed by organisations that offer good training and development programs, while another study by the HRPA reports that 63 percent of millennials feel their leadership skills are not being developed.

Recognising where training is required within your workforce and developing successful training programmes will not only increase employee satisfaction, it will strengthen your workforce and, judging by the statistics, will also improve employee retention.

Quote Samantha Caine

4. Communicate and demonstrate the value of the human workforce

If the national newspaper headlines are to be believed, the rise of robots in the workplace has certainly caused a furore, but what do the studies tell us? The aforementioned study by PwC also questioned respondents over the anxieties about technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation threatening their livelihoods and found that 73 percent of the respondents don’t believe that technology can ever replace the human mind.

Effective leaders must ease the anxieties of their workforces by communicating what we know to be true; while some workplaces may be utilising ‘robots’ in the place of the human to undertake the mundane tasks, technology simply cannot match soft skills such as sales and communication skills, and this is where employees can continue to excel.

Strong leadership requires certain skills and behaviours that those who find themselves in leadership positions don’t always have, or don’t have the confidence to use. Investing in a leadership training that is tailored to the business and its specific requirements will ensure that those in leadership are truly fit to lead, and that the workforces looking to them for guidance are in the safest possible hands.

Related: Four building blocks essential for successful strategy execution.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.