In today’s complex and volatile business world, we are facing staggering rates of employee burnout and disengagement, digital transformation moving at break-neck speed, and post-pandemic changes in our individual and collective priorities and motivators. Additionally, managers are seeing that command-and-control leadership is dead, the need for active listening is at an all-time high, and employees are thirsty for growth, development and meaning in their work.

So where does that leave us?

We cannot overlook the current opportunity we have to upskill and reskill our managers to lead with more agile, empathetic, and meaningful approaches. As Human Resources professionals, we have a crucial role to play in building a learning culture, one in which managers are consistently striving to be better. When we do this successfully, our organizations benefit through increased employee engagement, improved financial performance, retention of critical talent, and increased success in navigating change.

There’s never been a better time for employers to invest in a robust program of leadership development. Now more than ever, we cannot use a one-size fits all approach to managing people. Adapting and growing our leadership practices requires an investment of time and resources, and a commitment from the C-suite.

For our organization, leadership development has been a long-standing commitment from our Human Resources team and that commitment has only been strengthened during the last few years when our executives were highly attuned to changes in our business and the lives of our employees, prompting them to support further investment in our leadership development programming.

When we developed our 2022 annual leadership development curriculum for managers, we thankfully had a roadmap in place within our core values and culture principles to ground our efforts. Among other things, our “More Heart Culture Principles” call on us to ‘treat everyone as individuals’, ‘be continuous learners’, and ‘embrace and drive change’. We incorporated these elements in our programming for a successful outcome:

1. Sessions were co-facilitated by a Learning and Organizational Development Specialist (HR) and a leader from the business. Leaders are chosen for their skill in delivering training, credibility with peers, being a role-model for our culture principles, and strong leadership acumen.

“For our organization, leadership development has been a long-standing commitment from our Human Resources team and that commitment has only been strengthened during the last few years.”

2. Topics for the annual leadership development curriculum were chosen by the Manager of Learning and Organizational Development in collaboration with our employee relations team (what trends were they seeing in employee concerns, manager opportunities, hot topics, etc.), with input from other members of the HR team, and business unit leaders. This well-rounded approach for gathering input on curriculum topics ensures we are meeting the most pressing needs and not just what we in HR see as the most important topics.

3. The curriculum included significant work on helping managers navigate wellbeing challenges that have often appeared in the workplace since the start of the pandemic. Participants learned to sift through the truths and misconceptions around mental health in the workplace and recognize the physical, emotional and behavioral signs of potential mental health issues. They explored ways to respond with empathetic leadership and active listening to support employees and learned about resources our company makes available to all employees on topics from stress management to sleep hygiene to cognitive behavioral therapy, health coaching and more.

4. Participants also learned about customer journey mapping and how we can learn from that to navigate employee journeys and experiences. This activity also prompted participants to recognize potential problems employees face and determine potential solutions.

5. Last but not least, the curriculum included a significant focus on reestablishing connections in the post-pandemic work world. The classes worked through activities that helped them to appreciate the wide spectrum of learning and communication preferences of their employees, along with challenges that might be faced by younger employees who are just entering the workforce or those tenured employees who have struggled to adapt to the transformative changes of recent years.

Perhaps the most rewarding element of our 2022 leadership development curriculum, our first on-site instructor-led courses since the beginning of the pandemic, was the feedback we received in our post-completion surveys!

I enjoyed the focus being back on leadership as I have just been "getting by" due to staffing issues during the pandemic.

I was very pleased with this training and the variety of discussions that came from it! It was immensely helpful to have mental health be such an integral part of the training.

It’s great to have this opportunity for us managers to step out of our daily roles and focus on developing ourselves for a day – and ultimately that benefits our employees and the company. I learned so much that I will be implementing in my work.

I can’t overstate how important it was for us to be back in a collaborative setting and sharing strategy, common challenges, and brainstorming solutions. The working world has certainly changed in recent years and this training was just what I needed to get re-focused on being the best leader I can be!

So why is leadership development important? Because when it is done right, it can lift up our leaders, strengthen their skills, and ultimately lead to more engaged employees and financially strong organizations.