• Nhlamu Dlomu, Leadership |

Being in business today requires navigating complex tensions in the new world of work. These tensions, while challenging for all, call for businesses to create more clarity about what they want to embed from the lessons learnt over the past few years and what they want to be known for. Here is a look at some of the emerging tensions which need to be managed.

Cost containment versus growth and productivity: Companies are facing a difficult tension between the need to continue attracting top talent while also needing to control costs — a challenge that is becoming increasingly relevant with talk of a recession. This dichotomy was clear in the recent KPMG CEO Outlook, where global CEOs were considering hiring freezes and headcount reductions in the short term, while viewing their employee value proposition to attract and retain talent as key to reach their growth objectives over the long term.

The divide between leader and employee expectations: For the past few years, many employees have been enjoying hybrid working and greater flexibility. Something we know from KPMG firms’ own people is they don’t want to give this up. However, this is in contrast to the 65 percent of global CEOs who see office-based work as the preferred environment, with 28 percent preferring hybrid and just seven percent preferring fully remote. Compromise will be required to bridge the divide between employee and leader expectations.

From human-focused to performance-focused: At the peak of the pandemic, businesses moved toward a more human-centered approach. Employees were reassured that they were essential, and the importance of human connection was put in the spotlight. But as the possibility of a recession looms and businesses consider where to cut costs, there’s a risk that they may backtrack on key programs linked to areas like inclusion, diversity and equity (IDE), talent acquisition, and employee well-being.

These are confusing times. The balancing act of managing these tensions is essential so businesses can maintain momentum on the investments they’ve made in their people, while being mindful of the current economic climate. Which leaves many asking: how do we strike that right balance?

Businesses that have experimented a lot need to start embedding work practices that have served them well into the future

In the last 2-3 years, as we have all navigated through a changing world, one of the key insights that was well articulated by Professor Lynda Gratton was the importance of experimentation. For many businesses, including KPMG firms, this period of change has been used as an opportunity to try new things, deepen engagement with people and co-create new ways of working. This has served these businesses well. As the world navigates the current tensions, there is a risk of not fully leveraging the positive outcomes of those experiments. It is, therefore, crucial to be clear about the initiatives that businesses should seek to keep for the long-term, even during challenging periods.

Business needs to invest in their leaders and managers

The role of a manager is no longer simply about managing work, but managing more personalized human needs as well. As the role expands, organizations need to consider learning and development beyond traditional leadership skills, how they can build sustainable leadership, and what tools and resources can be offered to help leaders develop resilience that will enable them to continue managing through uncertainty. This also requires a revisit of how to strengthen trust across any enterprise. Senior leaders will need to give managers more autonomy to support their teams.

Business needs a balanced approach

Balancing the immediate needs of a business with long-term requirements can be challenging but is crucial for maintaining a sustainable and successful organization. Those organizations that get this right will be intentional about their value propositions, leveraging lessons learned, keeping what works and evolving what doesn’t. And importantly, they will be guided by their purpose, values and mission, which serve as a north star.

While it’s challenging to find the right balance, companies that are strategic and thoughtful in how they navigate these tensions will be more likely to succeed in the long run.