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Blog Article

The Next Era of Leadership at Davidson

Feb 12, 2024

Carl Meyers

Vice President, Learning & Organizational Development
Feb 12, 2024

Emerging Trends in Workplace Leadership: Insights from Davidson

The last several years have generated a significant amount of change in workplace norms, across all industries. We’ve observed changes in where work is completed (remote work), how work is completed (AI and automation), and what workers value (flexibility and balance). These changes, combined with the pace at which the changes have taken effect, have left many leaders with their heads spinning, wondering what steps need to be taken to ensure workers are still engaged and productive. As these new workplace dynamics emerged, we knew that we did not want our leaders to be left trying to navigate these changes on their own, so in early 2021 we began implementing a multi-year talent transformation program.

Carl Meyers, Vice President, Learning & Organizational Development

During the first stages of this initiative, we spent time curating feedback and insights directly from our team members on what they needed from their leaders to perform at their best each day. The insights from our research pointed towards a growing need for leaders to foster relationships with greater meaning with their direct reports. Our research efforts also looked outside of Davidson, leaning on insights from trusted talent experts and organizations. These insights confirmed what we were hearing from our own team members – connectedness is a differentiator. We have found six keys that are necessary for these more enriching relationships to exist: trust, empathy, authenticity, transparency, flexibility, and individualization.

Team members are more likely to take ownership and act proactively when they trust that their leaders have their back, feel included in the decisions being made, receive sincere recognition and praise regularly, and know that if something does not go to plan their leader is there to coach and support them. Another observation that became abundantly clear was how closely these keys to effective leadership are aligned with our Core Values.

Who wouldn’t want to work for a leader who serves others with love, always does what’s right, has your back, adds value to your day, sees your strengths and includes you in decision making, celebrates your successes while pushing you to go just a little bit further, and encourages you to take risks and make mistakes in pursuit of personal and professional growth?

Our CEO, Thom Geshay, says it best in our orientation video: “I would run through a wall for these people.”

That is the type of experience we want our leaders to feel empowered and capable of creating within their teams.

Embracing Change and Innovation in Talent Strategy at Davidson

Our team member-centric culture has long been a differentiator, and the disruption generated during the pandemic, and the years following, challenged us to reinforce that commitment. We were faced with a choice, to try and fight the tidal wave of change or to embrace it and use the energy in a constructive and meaningful way. Spoiler alert, we chose the latter. Building off the momentum from our initial team member research, we launched a company-wide feedback program through SPARK. SPARK is our internal innovation program that uses a network of ambassadors to bring forward unique or creative ideas from team members at all levels of the organization. It is an incredible program and yet another opportunity for the voices of our team members to be elevated to the most senior levels of the organization.

Our SPARK ambassadors led dozens of in-person workshops with hundreds of team members where they gathered insights on specific aspects of the team member journey. The feedback from these sessions directly influenced what would become our Team Member Experience (TMX) framework. This framework outlines an array of key drivers across seven domains that we believe have the greatest ability to positively affect the overall team member experience. We like to think of it as engagement on steroids.

We then used our findings to develop our Journey to Leadership programs which currently consist of a self-paced program targeted to supervisory level leaders and our Leadership Lunch & Learn (L3) Series which focuses on entry and mid-level managers. L3 is an exciting shift from traditional classroom models to a virtual experience creating greater accessibility to new concepts, best-practices, and peer networking. This program meets leaders where they are, allowing them to incorporate new skills seamlessly into their day-to-day and offering a platform for discussion, coaching, and peer feedback.

Additionally, we have integrated our leadership competency model into our performance system, ensuring accountability and consistency across all leadership levels. We have moved to a continuous performance management cycle, where leaders meet with each of their direct reports at regular intervals throughout the year. During these check-ins, leaders discuss performance, progress on objectives, and explore professional development goals.

The consistency of these discussions keeps everyone aligned throughout the year and ensures that our team members receive meaningful feedback more often. It is yet another moment in the team member journey where leaders can strengthen trust and connectedness with their direct reports.

Tangible Results and Future Plans

In our first year, we have achieved a 3% increase in both retention and internal promotions to management roles, and a 9% decline in early attrition of new hires year over year. We are also projected to beat the industry turnover rate by more than 25%, which is an outstanding achievement driven by our leaders and their commitment to taking care of their teams.

As we move into the fourth year of our five-year talent transformation strategy, we are introducing a high-potential leadership program, leadership coaching, and a multi-directional mentorship network including peer-to-peer, reverse, and traditional mentoring relationships. We are also implementing standard formats for conducting a 1:1 meeting, recognition tools, and culture charters to further strengthen connections between leaders and their teams.

Practical Tips for Building Meaningful Connection

So, what can you do – right now – to start building more meaningful connections with your team? Let’s look at a few simple practices to help you get started on the path.

1. Prioritize your team more than anything else. There are few things as demotivating to a worker than not feeling valued by their boss. As leaders, we need to show that our team members are our top priority. Reading a text or email in the middle of a conversation or often cancelling one-on-ones sends a message that your team is not your top priority. Our advice, eliminate anything that might be a distraction when you are meeting with your direct reports (i.e., email, phone, smart watch, etc.), and do your best to protect these meetings from cancellation or reschedule.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you commit to act on or investigate an issue for a team member, make sure to deliver on that commitment. You may not always have a positive result to share but following through on your commitments – even if the result isn’t ideal – goes a long way in solidifying the groundwork for trust. This is especially true when dealing with accountability or performance issues within a team.

3. Set clear expectations and standards. A common mistake we see leaders make is not clearly expressing what their expectations are or how they define success within their team. We often fall into a mental trap, thinking that everyone works and thinks the same way we do. Whether you’re onboarding a new team member or planning for the upcoming year, invest the time with each member of your team to ensure that you are both aligned on what the expected results are and what success looks like. Be sure to check in often throughout the year as well. These quick check-ins are a terrific way to course correct or adjust if the plan changes.

4. Take time to recognize and celebrate. As the leader, it is your responsibility to guide the team in establishing rituals for celebrating team accomplishments – remember, it’s about them, not us. Additionally, you should spend time learning how each member of the team prefers to be recognized, individually. Some team members would prefer monetary rewards while others find physical awards or PTO days to be of greater significance. If you provide everyone with the same generic “Great job!” recognition, it will quickly be perceived as ingenuine and may do more harm than good.

These tips are not meant to be comprehensive, there are hundreds of actions you can take outside of this brief list. However, these (4) actions have an outsized impact when compared with other similar actions on driving trust and meaningful connection between a leader and their direct reports. If you’re already prioritizing these behaviors, excellent, you’re on the path! If not, take a moment to think about how you can start incorporating these tips into your day-to-day interactions with your team.

At Davidson, we are committed to continually innovating our leadership practices to meet the demands of the contemporary workforce. Our focus on trust, empathy, authenticity, transparency, flexibility, and individualization ensures that we continue to deliver exceptional service and foster a culture where every team member can thrive.