The Best New Year’s Resolutions for Managers, their Teams, and a Satisfying Employee Experience

January 15, 2024

For a successful start in your leadership year

Happy New You!

As another year is drawing to a close, managers are once again recapping what went well and what could have gone better in the twelve months that are behind them. With all due respect for this tradition, it is much more important to make targeted resolutions for the new year, helping managers and their staff members grow by overcoming challenges as a team and changing things to the positive, especially in times of hardship. Although this is admittedly anything but trivial, the right leadership resolutions will help you get there. WU Executive Academy Dean Barbara Stöttinger has analyzed what managers should keep an eye on and what it will take to create a successful employee experience in the year to come.

Part 1: Leading Myself – What’s Important for Me

New Year’s resolutions are essentially change processes, and as such, they need to follow one rule: start with yourself – especially if you want to be a successful leader. For this reason, the first part focuses on self-leadership.

    Good leadership starts with yourself. Photo: shutterstock, Vitalii Vodolazskyi
    Good leadership starts with yourself. Photo: shutterstock, Vitalii Vodolazskyi

    Self-Leadership Resolution #1: Get the Feedback You Need

    International studies have shown that the quality of leadership hinges on a person’s ability to take feedback to heart and then walk the walk – especially in difficult or volatile circumstances. If you really want to know how you’re doing as a leader, actively look for feedback that will allow you to identify your own growth potential. Come up with clear-cut questions to ask your supervisors, your colleagues, and anyone who directly reports to you. Keep in mind that praising somebody is easy but people might find it hard to address things that are not going smoothly and/or require a change. For this reason, try to anticipate a certain amount of tension. Do your best to communicate that you’re interested in honest feedback and that the right input will enable you to adapt both your own approach and the situation at large. Listen carefully and try to really understand what the other person is saying instead of concentrating on your own reaction. To ensure that you will continue to receive honest feedback in the future, thank your colleague for speaking their mind and tell them which concrete measures you are planning to take based on what they’ve told you. Encourage your team to approach you proactively at any time – proffering feed-forward, so to speak – and emphasize that your door is always open.

    Self-Leadership Resolution #2: Be Content with Your Success

    Have you ever wondered why a successful career doesn’t necessarily make a person happy? If you are one of those people who tend to feel dissatisfied with themselves even after having reached a professional milestone (a raise, promotion, or something similar), there are three ways to change your mindset and stop being your own worst enemy:

    • Stop measuring your accomplishments against others’ or your own conflated expectations of yourself and indulge in some self-care instead. Don’t reproach yourself for the things you haven’t achieved but celebrate every step forward, no matter how little. And instead of begrudging others their success, try to acknowledge that their achievements are special, too, and they won’t negatively affect your own success.
    • Don’t count the things you have amassed (money, followers, etc.), but make a habit of recognizing your contributions and positive impact on other people’s lives. Real and lasting joy is in giving, not taking.
    • And, finally, make sure you’re not eaten up by ambition. No matter how much money or influence you’ve gained in the course of your career, unchecked ambition will make you feel bitter and alone. Instead, nurture your relationships and truly appreciate the people in your life, especially those who don’t have anything to do with your professional success.
    You should also be proud of small successes and not always measure yourself against others. Photo: shutterstock, chattanongzen
    You should also be proud of small successes and not always measure yourself against others. Photo: shutterstock, chattanongzen

    Self-Leadership Resolution #3: Are You a Difficult Boss?

    Nobody wants to be a bad boss. And yet, they exist. What are you like as a leader? The questions below are meant to help you find out whether you are the paragon of a modern executive or if you’re difficult to work with.

    • What do you expect of your team? Nobody needs to feel bad about looking for top performance. Unrealistic expectations, however, set your team up to fail. Think about any perfectionist habits you have that might (negatively) impact your team.
    • Do you micro-manage your employees? Do you tell them how to do their job, leaving them little space for creativity or taking initiative? If the answer is yes, try to concentrate on results in the future. Tell your team what the goals are but not how to reach them.
    • Have you made a habit of delegating only routine jobs? Everyone wants to evolve, and your team is no different. How about raising that yardstick of yours a little and letting go? You will be surprised to see what your employees are able to accomplish on their own.
    • Feedback? Sure, but only if there’s something to dispraise. If that sounds like you, focus on giving significantly more positive than negative feedback in the future. The easiest way to do that is to acknowledge the strengths and wins of your employees in a targeted and timely manner.

    Part 2: Leading the Team – What Your Team Needs

    What’s just as important is to think about what leaders need, because only managers who look after themselves will be able to support and be there for their teams, especially in challenging times. The second part of the team leadership resolutions will focus on this issue.

    What are your plans for the new year as team leader? Photo: shutterstock, redpixel.pl
    What are your plans for the new year as team leader? Photo: shutterstock, redpixel.pl

    Team Leadership Resolution #1: Lead Your Team through Times of Turmoil

    Inflation, rising interest rates, life after and with COVID, the war in Ukraine, geopolitical tensions in the Middle East – there’s a lot going on in the world, and some of it can be hard to stomach. What can you do as a manager to be there for your company, your team, and, not least, for yourself in challenging times? Here’s a few strategies you might find useful:

    • Create a culture of perspective, putting your company first. This includes leading by example and focusing on what is right for your company and employees instead of pursuing your own personal career goals. It also means developing an awareness of the fact that your role transcends the unit you are heading, requiring you to communicate across teams and departments.
    • Focus on reinventing your company if necessary. When things are not running as smoothly as they should, it’s time to look for ways to make a change or be more innovative. Start by identifying the members of your team that you consider most apt to drive the planned changes together with you. As a next step, entrust the routine, day-to-day business to another team. This way, you are making sure change happens while keeping an eye on everyday business.
    • Make integrative leadership one of your priorities. That means not just focusing on diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity but also with regard to world views, backgrounds, and skills. The more diverse and inclusive your team is, the more adaptable it will be in times of turmoil.

    Team Leadership Resolution #2: Introduce AI to Your Company

    There’s simply no future without AI. As a leader, you need to identify the areas where using AI is meaningful for your company, and where it doesn’t make any sense. To this end, there are three things you should focus on:

    • Make sure everybody in your team has some basic understanding of how digital systems work. That doesn’t mean everybody needs to become a software engineer or data scientist. What’s needed, however, is an innovative and proactive approach to working across platforms, a willingness to consider new developments as an opportunity instead of a threat, and acceptance of the fact that the only constant in life is change.
    • It is your job to ensure that your company is prepared to make adjustments whenever the need arises. Share your experience with other leaders: it’s the best way to break out of the silo mentality and create a central interface where knowledge and data can be accessed. Integrating AI not only means familiarizing yourself and your employees with the newest technologies, it also requires you to make preparations on a structural level to make sure your company can adapt to future developments.
    • Integrate AI into your business model. If the technical systems of your enterprise are static, your company will remain static as a whole, including yourself and your team. This is why you need to break up data silos, improve collaboration across functions, and help build a software- and data-driven business model that harvests the potential of AI.

    Part 3: Shaping the Employee Experience – Giving Your Team as Much Attention as Your Customers

    Last but not least: the third part of this series will focus on employee experience. The latter will be a crucial matter in the coming year as an ongoing shortage of skilled labor and the employees’ market will make it more necessary than ever for leaders to pay just as much attention to their team members as they do to their customers.

    To retain employees, the employee experience must be right - what can managers contribute to this? Image: shutterstock, Laong
    To retain employees, the employee experience must be right - what can managers contribute to this? Image: shutterstock, Laong

    Employee Experience Resolution #1: Motivate Your Team, also in Difficult Times

    It’s a common side effect of our BANI world that employees get distracted by the challenges surrounding them or lose the spring in their step from time to time. Naturally, you won’t be able to eliminate all the worries that might plague your team members. What you can do, however, is create a motivating and supporting environment that steers your team toward the right goals also in times of difficulty:

    • Don’t shy away from discussing tough issues. Solving tricky problems together creates trust, and nothing could be more important during hard times.
    • Be creative when it comes to ways of motivating your employees. Sometimes, a promotion or a raise is not an option. In this case, just ask the person upfront: What would motivate you in the next year? How can I support you in your goals?
    • Help your team stay focused. The best way to do that is through personal conversation. Make a conscious effort to give each of your employees the time they deserve. Personal interaction between two people will not only motivate them in the long run, it also creates stronger ties between you and your team as well as between your team and your company.

    Employee Experience Resolution #2: Don’t Let Negativity Seize Hold of Your Team

    As a leader, you need to feel emotionally connected to your team members. A new strategic orientation, a change in management, or the most recent job cuts – a number of things can put a damper on the mood in your team. What can you do to prevent this negative emotional momentum from spiraling out of control?

    • Open up a dialogue and tell your employees that you can see there’s something that is troubling individual team members to a lesser or greater extent, and that you want to do something about it.
    • Then you need to find out what to do to make them see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it’s enough to tell them you need to stick together as a team and see this through for a little while longer as things will change for the better after a certain point. In any case, it helps to rally around a common goal or priority again.
    • And, finally: as an executive, you should be able to self-regulate even though this can be an immensely hard thing to do. This is important because leaders serve as a signpost when it comes to assessing the enormity of a situation. The cooler and calmer you appear to the outside, the more relaxed and focused your team will go about the issue, not matter how dire the situation.

    Good to know: What is employee experience and what does it take to make it work in practice?

    Although the concept of employee experience is not new, it has become much more important in the field of human resource management (HRM) in recent years. It describes all the experiences that employees have throughout their entire career in a company, from their first contact as an applicant to their time leaving the company.

    To know whether the employee experience is a positive one, you need to know which "stations" it comprises. Image: created with Dall E in ChatGPT
    To know whether the employee experience is a positive one, you need to know which "stations" it comprises. Image: created with Dall E in ChatGPT

    These experiences can be diverse and include aspects such as

    • the working environment
    • the culture and values of the company
    • the technologies and tools provided,
    • the way we work together,
    • professional development, recognition, compensation and benefits, and general wellbeing in the workplace.

    A successful employee experience can have a positive impact on employee retention, job satisfaction, productivity and ultimately the success of the company. Recent studies show that a good employee experience can increase a company's turnover by up to 50%. But what actually makes a good employee experience?

    • Mutual Trust

    Trust is a two-way street – it needs to work in both directions, not just from you to your employees but also the other way around. And establishing trust pays off: genuine trust within a team motivates people, boosts creativity and cooperation, and improves employee retention.

    • Ownership at the C-Level

    Leaders who take responsibility are committed to both the company and their employees’ well-being and keep an open ear at all times. They know the needs of their team members and do their utmost to consider them in any decisions they make.

    • Dovetailing Employee Values with the Company’s Vision

    Clear-cut goals, milestones, and KPI will help employees get in touch with the company’s vision and understand their roles in implementing it.

    • Recognition and Opportunities for Growth

    True recognition is more than commending your employees for their successful work. It also means recognizing their potential and supporting them accordingly by giving them tailored opportunities to learn and grow.

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