A recent virtual roundtable, The Business Soul Forum hosted by Soul Corporations, brought together senior leaders and professionals of influence, and opened up a discussion on the importance of bringing soul to business, and how leadership teams can create a connected organizational culture.

The forum followed a series of in-depth interviews, highlighting how people need to feel personally accountable and empowered, not just being informed, to feel committed. For many organizations, purpose and values exist, however in too many, they struggle to reach people or inspire them at a deeper level.

1. Individual and organizational well-being

The team’s current well-being and what the future of work will look like remain a crucial concern for many leaders as we continue the prolonged periods of uncertainty. For many organizations, the pandemic has shown that employee effectiveness is not defined by the number of hours they physically spend in the office but by the quality of the work they produce and the quality of the life they live. Over the last year, significant changes have had to be made to address employees’ most pressing needs. In the long term, leaders need to build on the trust earned. They need to achieve this by learning how to be fully present, authentic, and transparent when they communicate online.

Maccs Pescatore, Chief Executive Officer of Montessori Centre International, believes that the pandemic has magnified workplace landscapes. “This creates an opportunity to focus on the person, not the work person – their well-being and whether they feel valued. We need to ensure that each employee feels engaged with the business’s mission and strategy.”, said Maccs.

2. Learning and development

This is a critical time for learning and development, not just to thrive in the current economic climate but also to strengthen companies for future disruptions. It’s a common misconception that during a crisis, employees have to do what they have to do, utilizing their existing skills and limited resources. However, this is especially untrue during the Covid pandemic. We have seen major changes to the economy and the linked demand for new ways to mobilize the existing talent base.

Supporting and coaching leaders to reset their leadership approach to support and enable all stakeholders to thrive is a priority for Paula Leach, Founder and Executive Coach at Vantage Point Consulting. “We need to see a shift in leadership accountability. Although it is shifting slowly, investors presently primarily focus on profits. The same applies for the selection process for leaders – it needs to shift from financial and operational acumen to include strategic creation and vision and enabling and inspiring a shared collective endeavor.”, added Paula.

In the past year, the Food Standards Agency has invested in a program of executive, senior leader, and professional speaker coaching to transform the way communications are managed online. This initiative demonstrates an increasing need for leaders to drive their agenda with real humanity with a focus on cultivating authentic presence and empathy and engaging with emotions.

People are the most critical element of organizational success, and leadership development programs can provide support for faster, more agile organizations to keep them moving forward. Most leaders right now have an opportunity to improve performance by reshaping and strengthening their work cultures significantly. This can require them to develop a team and organizational climate that genuinely supports and enables people to address the key challenges. 

3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Historically, progress on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion has been slow. However, the pandemic has amplified this even further. Leesa Hill, Senior Director and DI+B Head at Enspira, highlighted how leaders need to continue to learn how ‘DEI’ plays a role in employees’ lives through remote work. High levels of bias can exist for those that work in the office. The assumption being if you are in person, you are a higher performer. Simultaneously, more and more women are continuing to work remotely compared to men, furthering the wage gap and opportunities for career progression.

“Communication plays a critical role as we need to ensure all employees and clients understand the importance of attracting diverse talent for scarce, business-critical roles,” added Tony Vickers-Byrne, Chief Adviser to the board Armstrong Craven.

However, there is a need for an established inclusive culture to deliver on diversity as it goes beyond recruiting employees from diverse backgrounds – it’s about giving them the opportunity and space to bring out their authentic selves.

4. Building a people-focused culture

For Heather Grisedale, Group Employee Experience Manager at Cumbria Waste Group, a critical priority is to create a set of values and behaviors that can be truly ‘lived and breathed. This includes getting senior leaders further developed to understand the importance of people and engagement; growth and profits (results) don’t happen sustainably without putting people first.

Growing the business to maximize opportunities by optimizing the team’s well-being and engagement is also a priority for Veronica Hannon, Founder of Transform Communications. 

“What matters is what people carry around in their heads, hearts, and their deeper ‘I’; the deeper part of the self where my most powerful motivations are found,” says Nicholas Brice, CEO of Soul Corporations. Dr. Alan Beggs, a former Olympic Sports Psychologist for Team GB, also highlighted the emergence of transformational leadership, which, compared to transactional leadership, encourages others, provides support and recognition and emphasizes authenticity, cooperation, and open communication. He gave some powerful examples of athletes who got to the top and excelled when driven by a deep, inner conviction.

“I think there is a big responsibility on leadership to model soulful behavior. If you want engaged employees, leaders have to engage with employees. If you want a trusting culture, leaders need to demonstrate trust,” added Marcus Thornley, CEO of Totem.

5. Flexibility

Ilaria Galfredi, Customer Experience Leader at Air France, highlighted the importance of supporting teams and becoming more flexible. The pandemic has given leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees and made it clear that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives but also to perform at a higher level, which in return drives productivity and engagement.

We are ready to see organizations implementing a flexible approach to work. For example, Microsoft’s “hybrid workplace” environment will allow most roles to remain remote less than half of the time with manager approval, while 62 percent of Google employees plan to return to their offices, but not every day.