How leaders can flex to make employees’ work more meaningful

by | Oct 21, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

A recent coaching calibration call between two strangers turned into an alumni reunion. How? During the course of the conversation, we – a business executive and a leadership coach (That’s me!) – discovered we were both alums of Hewitt Associates. (That’s the HR consulting firm that Aon purchased in 2010 and now exists as Alight.)

We alums realized we share a tight bond, even though our Hewitt Associates work experience was decades ago with no overlap. As was its practice, Hewitt Associates hired us directly from our college campuses and shaped our experiences with its strong company culture.

As we shared stories about our first professional job, we quickly remembered people we admired, meaningful artifacts, and the firm’s legacy. We recited the hiring profile: SWAN for smart, works hard, ambitious, and nice. We also agreed that Hewitt Associates was known for its healthy culture with its supportive, collaborative, and fun work environment and its innovations, especially flexible benefits.

Flexible benefits – which allow you to choose benefits that fit your personal needs – was a revolutionary concept back in the late 1970s. Mainframe computing was still the norm when Hewitt Associates designed the first flexible benefits program for American Can employees.

Now in the 2020’s, thanks to technology innovations, evolving expectations, the influence of the pandemic and other changes, the work world continues to evolve.  Work practices are becoming even more individualized and personalized for employees, especially knowledge workers. Consider flexible office spaces as well as work from anywhere options with flexible hours. Choices about work tools and technology. Adaptive learning platforms. More tailored training. Personalized career planning and development. 

As employees increasingly seek unique work experiences and personalized approaches to their daily work as well as their careers, leaders need to adjust their style and strategies. One leadership style no longer fits all, just as one benefit size never fit all employees.

For example, leaders need to be much more flexible about recognizing and respecting employees as individuals so employees feel valued for their unique perspectives, lived experiences, and contributions.

For leaders this involves:

  • Tailoring your communication to meet individual preferences, such as one-on-one calls vs. texts or emails, being direct vs. indirect, providing top level vs. details, etc.
  • Listening carefully to individuals as they share their thoughts, ideas, feedback and concerns.
  • Allowing employees to have more autonomy over their work arrangements as long as they don’t compromise their productivity or teamwork.
  • Customizing recognition and rewards as much as possible to acknowledge employees’ contributions and accomplishments ways that are meaningful to the individual.
  • Creating individualized development plans that align with employees’ interests, goals and ambitions as well as the organization’s objectives.
  • Acting as a coach to provide guidance and support tailored to each employee’s individual needs related to their development, well-being and other needs.
  • Encouraging personalized continuous learning for individuals as well as yourself.

Providing this degree of personalized attention effectively for individuals is a heavy lift for leaders. It takes time, intentionality, and for many leaders, different skills than they’re now using. For example, besides being flexible, leaders need to be aware, attentive and compassionate. (Compassion is empathy plus action.) Yet the time, intentionality, and new skills can make a huge difference and positive impact on individuals.

Back to that calibration call. It’s a great example of the personalized attention and support that benefits growing leaders. The purpose of the call was to make sure the manager of the individual I’m coaching and I are aligned on our approach for the direct report from the start. We’ll have another call later in the coaching engagement that includes the coachee to make sure we’re continuing to stay aligned and are providing the type and level of support needed to maximize the value of the coaching.

If we find we’re not well aligned, we can recalibrate and adjust the coaching experience. Recalibration is another important skill for today’s work world. With so much uncertainty, complexity, and fluctuations swirling around us, leaders and employees need to pause and assess whether they’re on track with their goals and objectives. In fact, the NeuroLeadership Institute named its 2023 Summit Recalibrate: Optimize Performance, Drive Innovation. (By the way, I’ll soon write about my insights from the October Summit.)

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy my memories of Hewitt Associates, which has had an outsized influence on my life. My first manager and I became lifelong friends after we both left the firm. She retired from consulting and I joined Towers Perrin, which became Willis Towers Watson.

Later when a Towers Perrin colleague introduced my future husband to me, he and I figured out we had a connection to Hewitt Associates. My future stepdaughter played the baby in the firm’s prize-winning flexible benefits video for American Can. It was her first and only nude role. (She was in the bathtub, similar to the stock photo here.)

Life is all about personal relationships. Make the most of them with individuals in and out of work!








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