Just a few weeks into 2021 and leadership already looks different from last year. Many companies spent months navigating a remote workforce learning curve.
As a result, leadership needed to strike a delicate balance between helping employees remain engaged and productive while also feeling encouraged and supported.
Dennis Mathew, regional senior vice president of Comcast’s Western New England Region, said today’s leaders must exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence and lead with empathy to make this happen. Without those qualities, employers run the risk of stagnant environments, discouragement and poor performance.
"Leaders build and evolve their leadership skills," Mathew said. "Now it is how to manage, motivate and engage employees, as well as support growth."
Mathew and Comcast’s leadership used the past year to flip the script on uncertainty, reinforcing their organization’s commitment to employee professional development and bolstering existing support structures for individuals to build skills or learn new ones.
The ultimate goal was for employees to see their potential, seek ways to enhance their career and pursue avenues for growth that mutually benefit for employee and employer.
"We encourage employees to continue to grow themselves and use this time to find areas they are interested in," Mathew said. "Further education is one of those areas."
Mathew credits much of the success of Comcast’s professional development opportunities to strategic communication. This helped keep opportunities fresh and in front of as many employees as possible.
Comcast uses tried-and-true methods of video, email and employee portal messages as well as leader huddles to tout the availability of benefits. These included formal academic degree paths, webinars and engagement with senior leadership.
Beyond professional development, Mathew said Comcast works to let employees know that leadership support them in other ways too.
That support can come through time allowances and flexible schedules, opportunities to shadow senior leadership, one-time "gig" assignments to shadow other functional leaders of the company to expand their business acumen or internal transfers. These were options before the pandemic, but the focus has been greater.
Mathew said support comes down to practicing what is preached by being devoted to a forward-thinking, enthusiastic and fulfilled workforce. They do this by providing employees with the skills and opportunities they need to continually evolve.
"We love when folks raise their hands," he said. "We are learning that people also need to have a hand reached out to them and feel comfortable knowing they can speak up to advocate for themselves."
He calls this the push-pull of employee development plans. The push is the employee who is raising their hand and asking for more opportunity and responsibility. The pull is the challenge for senior leadership to see the potential and offer employees new opportunities.
Raghu Krishnaiah, chief operating officer at University of Phoenix, leads the University’s Workforce Solutions Group. His team provides education benefits to employers at more than 1,500 organizations through employer or benefits provider alliances.
He commends Comcast for its commitment to providing upskilling and educational offerings.
"Closing the gap between the employer’s workforce needs and the employee’s academic and career goals is the key to success," Krishnaiah said. "We are excited to provide tuition benefits to Comcast employees as part of that process."
Leaders are not exempt from the ongoing cycle of learning, Mathew said. They should constantly assess the status quo, looking at what works and what does not and seeking ways to improve in all areas.
These conversations run the gamut from vacancies to diversity within the organization. Mathew tells his employees that he does not have all the answers and that he learns from them, too.
He also has annual performance and development plan reviews with his team and mandated quarterly check-ins to review achievement of goals and realign them, if necessary. While this was an informal process previously, it has become more formal in the last couple of years, with an increased focus on employee growth.
Employee engagement is a goal that Mathew and his team are continuing to focus on in 2021. He hopes to keep teams motivated so they can succeed in this virtual world.
"Leaders should assess who needs to be recognized and, most effectively, why," he said. "We need to find the best way to celebrate employee successes."