senior vice president & chief operating officer, korn ferry institute
This Week in Leadership
In a sign of mounting concerns over high-tech employee tracking, some states are preemptively banning even untried measures.
For hundreds of millions of people, 2020 will go down as the most stressful, frustrating, agonizing year of their lives. A virus spread across the globe. Economies ground to a halt. We were unable to see our coworkers, and even our loved ones, in person.
But over the past few weeks, there has been a word floating around the air and the internet: hope. It was spoken when three dozen big firms announced they would hire and train a million Black Americans over the next few years. It was heard when the vote in the US Electoral College effectively put an end to the very long election season. And it was expressed as vaccine-filled trucks left the factory heading to hospitals. As one truck driver said while leaving a vaccine production facility in Michigan, “Today, we’re not hauling freight, we’re delivering hope.”
The pandemic isn’t ending tomorrow, and the economy won’t be rebounding instantly, but experts say leaders and employees who have faith in the future could help power themselves and others through the worst of this most recent coronavirus surge. When Hope—with a capital “H”--is this widespread, experts say, both companies and careers can be reenergized. The key, especially for individuals, is to reset outlooks in a number of key areas. “Don’t underestimate hope,” says Evelyn Orr, chief operating officer of the Korn Ferry Institute.
Here are some thoughts on why Hope is rising, and how to leverage that in the best way.
The vaccines are coming.
Up until now, the fastest vaccine ever created took four years. Companies had an effective vaccine for COVID-19 developed and approved in less than a year. Public health officials estimate that it will take another several months to deliver the vaccine to billions of people worldwide.
Still, having the pandemic’s end in sight is making firms and their staffs excited to do things that they had taken for granted just a year earlier. It will also unleash a ton of innovative energy, creating career opportunities to be on the lookout for, says Nathan Blain, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global lead for the firm’s Optimizing People Costs business. Salespeople, he says, have felt like they’ve been in purgatory and are eager to visit clients in person. He says that either in late 2021 or early 2022, there will be a sizable boost in productivity as business partners reestablish and expand relationships.
From a career standpoint, experts say it makes sense to use the vaccine news to build your resilience. It is also a chance for anyone, leaders included, to energize those around them. “The real enterprise leader knows how to inspire hope, to freely give the emotional energy and vitality to others,” says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and executive development.
We’re more flexible than we thought.
It’s hard to believe now, but back in early 2020, as millions of employees were sent home into lockdown, many leaders were uncertain about whether work would get done. But the transition from a desk at the office to the kitchen table, while certainly not seamless, didn’t depress productivity. Indeed, in many places, productivity spiked. Employees from the CEO on down showed agility that many likely didn’t think they had. Now, with the economy likely to rise in the coming months, many may want to unleash this skill set. You can suggest a new project you have learned how to implement. Volunteer for opportunities that might not have existed before the pandemic. In short, let the surrounding world know that you are a smarter, more well-rounded professional than you were just 12 months ago. “This is learning agility to the ‘nth’ degree—applying past lessons to new and unfamiliar situations,” says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.
Organizations are confronting their own racism.
One of the most hopeless moments of the year was May 25, when a Black man, George Floyd, was killed in police custody, sparking a wave of protests. That awful moment, however, has led to a new perspective that may inspire hope. “There is no more denial that there’s still racism in America that still needs to be rooted out,” says Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry’s global diversity strategist.
For the first time, corporate America has started talking about systematic racism in how companies hire, how they train people, and even how they sell their goods. White people were talking about their privilege, Tapia says, and reaching out to people of color to learn more. Companies have made commitments to become more diverse and inclusive, establishing targets on everything from the number of non-White male leaders they have to the number of goods they buy from suppliers run by people of color. The push for inclusiveness isn’t just an American phenomenon, either, as companies around the world are looking at eliminating practices that, consciously or otherwise, have kept opportunities away from people based on their age, gender, religion, or background.
This is good news if you are a job seeker from an underrepresented group. Your voice and case might be heard more now than it would have been before. If you’re a leader trying to make your organization more inclusive, you can be hopeful that your push will gain more resources and encounter fewer barriers than before.
The job market likely will be better.
Unemployment levels were near record lows when the pandemic struck. We know what happened next. But while job losses soared, job openings remained high. It’s why many experts believe that once the public health situation improves, the job market should improve as well.
Hopeful job seekers should understand that finding and getting a job may be different post-COVID. Risk-taking, curiosity, agility—those are the currency of the realm going forward,” says Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry’s global solution leader for leadership development. But if candidates rebuild their professional networks now, avoid social media mistakes, and learn to nail interviews (virtual or otherwise), finding the right role may be easier than they expect.
From a career standpoint, people can apply for jobs anywhere and work from mostly anywhere. “Hiring, interviewing, onboarding and teams producing great work is happening, regardless of where you are located,” says Nancy Von Horn, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance.