The State of Leadership, Culture and Purpose in 2021

Headlines on the changing world of work often refer to hybrid offices and prolonged remote work. But while resulting changes in tools and processes have garnered attention and occupied much of human resources’ time, those aren’t the only changes occurring in the workplace.

A more significant shift is at play, too, according to upcoming research commissioned by Rita Trehan, CEO at DARE Worldwide. The research aims to identify shifts in fundamental drivers of work: leadership, culture and purpose. And HR, she says, is the chief architect of these changes. “There’s a fundamental reimagination in the world of work, and HR has the role to play in that,” Trehan says. “This is your moment.”

Here’s how HR’s function intersects with some of the high-level trends in the world of work.

Aware of the Public Eye

Organizations have become more present in the public spotlight recently. “We’re seeing much more effort for organizations to be thinking much more broadly about what their role is in society,” Trehan says. “We’re seeing more organizations having to play a role in the public space in terms of what they do and how they do it.” Last year, for example, several companies in the U.S. paid their employees to work the polls on Election Day so that more people would be able to vote.

Important HR decisions can affect a company’s public reputation. Several organizations faced criticism for making human capital decisions that unnecessarily disadvantaged workers during the pandemic. And in the wake of prolonged civil unrest, some companies have self-reported their diversity, equity and inclusion statistics and goals for the public to see.

Inclusive and Aligned

Inclusivity is the key to thriving organizations, preliminary results of the research show. “The new world of work will have to be inclusive,” Trehan says. Going beyond “inclusive” from a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) perspective, Trehan’s definition of inclusivity refers to macro-elements like connection by purpose, the way leaders work with people, the type of leadership at your organization and how workers collaborate. Leaders have to connect what each worker does very clearly to their purpose and what they stand for. 

Organizations must be aligned on purpose. Every worker should share the same sense of purpose as leadership. HR is in a position to incorporate alignment on organization-wide initiatives such as performance management. Aim to answer these questions: Do workers understand your purpose? Are they excited about it? Do customers pick up on it when they interact with your organization? Managers should use performance check-ins to reiterate each employee’s purpose within the organization.

Learning What to Prioritize

Trehan says preparing for the shift in work is all about determining what you need to prioritize. “It's about understanding what the real challenges are for an organization, and what are the opportunities,” she says. “And they may be very different.” A company might want to solve production problems by changing the tools people use to do their jobs, for example, but it might take revamping communication processes to help workers really do their jobs better. 

HR must collaborate with senior leaders to evaluate the current state of leadership, culture and purpose at their organization. Only by facilitating high-level strategic decisions can HR teams lead their companies toward a better-aligned, inclusive and sustainable culture. 

Want to participate in DARE Worldwide’s research? Participants in the diagnostic will receive a free high-level assessment of their scores.