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In order to cope with the constant disruption and subsequent re-building work of 2021, the world’s best employers are looking again at what makes them a community – their networks, their self-reliance and a clear sense of purpose.

We looked at evidence from 1691 high-performing, progressive employers around the world for the HR Trends 2021 report from the Top Employers Institute. The findings confirm that the challenge for many organisations will be to create a culture of connection, collaboration and trust in a digital work environment – while making sure employees feel inspired to perform at their best. The report highlights some ways how that’s being done.

The most obvious focus is the power of having a mission: finding, instilling and sharing a common sense of purpose. 89% of Top Employers actively want to reflect their employees’ desire to ‘do good in the world’. 65% are already asking employees to share their perceptions on the ethical standards of the organisation – up 12% on a year ago. 93% pro-actively train their employees in ‘how to live’ the company values. 88% evaluate staff performance against company values as part of their review.

More Top Employers are getting social. They want to harness the networks and networking capabilities of their people, to look for other ways to build wider connections and partnerships; within the organisation, across sectors and into other stakeholder groups. In the past year there’s been an 11% increase in the number of employers who provide incentives for employees to develop formal networks.

These employee networks are becoming increasingly important to business: the personal relationships cultivated through social interaction can result in career development opportunities for employees; and, from an innovation standpoint, it’s always beneficial to bring together diverse groups of employees from different functions and locations. A fast-growing number of Top Employers are professionalising the management of their employee groups. 58% now define standards for employee networks to ensure a stronger sense of purpose, good governance, and policies to make networks more inclusive (up 8%). Network organisers are also now likely to see the quality of their work being formally evaluated as a condition for the provision of funds.

Employers are pushing for staff to be more engaged with, and take greater ownership of, their own performance management – a shift in responsibility for a process that has historically been imposed top-down. Some 76% of Top Employers now try to ensure their employees take the lead in scheduling regular ‘check-ins’, up from 67% last year.

An emerging trend is how more Top Employers are making their performance feedback process more responsive to team dynamics. This means involving more stakeholders in giving feedback for each employee – not only line managers, who can have little visibility over daily behaviours – but also feedback from peers and customers. 62% now have a platform in place to support peer-to-peer recognition, up 13%.

The global pandemic has inevitably accelerated the use of digital platforms to facilitate social learning, one of the most effective ways to develop and increase organisational knowledge. Top Employers are increasingly encouraging teams to learn from each other and exchange knowledge faster through formal and informal social networks. 75% have online communities for learning; 65% have communities of practice to support social forms of learning.

While 2020 needed the skill of improvisation, the year ahead will be about implementing necessary and informed changes to suit the new global business and work environment. HR need to take stock of the evidence of what worked and what didn’t before they implement formal, long-term policy changes.

As this snapshot from the Top Employers Institute shows, there will always be common threads: the importance of harnessing the full potential of people, nurturing and safeguarding their resilience and flexibility, all while recognising the need to provide a true sense of purpose and to be there for staff as human beings, to be a champion of their physical and mental wellbeing.

Phil Sproston, Region Manager (UK & Ireland) – Top Employers Institute.

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