Situational Leadership®: Meaningful Work and the Employee Experience

Three events that are inextricably connected (at least in my head!) are COVID, the “Great Resignation” and the employee experience.


As the saying goes, one global pandemic a lifetime is plenty! And, truth be told, that might not really be “a saying,” but it most certainly represents popular opinion on the topic. We are almost at the stage where we are moving on to other collective pain points (and, unfortunately, there are several to move on to), but COVID was disruptive change on a scale that few (aka no one) could have accurately predicted in February of 2020 (which somehow seems like a lifetime ago!).

The Great Resignation

If nothing else, COVID provided many of us with the gift of time. In large part, we had to stay put. We didn’t go to the office, and we were restricted from going pretty much everywhere else as well. And, when we weren’t on a Zoom call with kids screaming and dogs barking in the background trying to figure out how to effectively work from home, we suddenly had the bandwidth (between the ongoing stream of constant reminders) to contemplate our mortality. A good portion of that examination evidently had something to do with our jobs. Did we like what we were doing enough to stay put, get on the other side of the mess COVID created and move forward? In historically significant numbers, the answer to that question was, “No!”

The Employee Experience

While the term “employee experience” has been with us for a while, it has been catapulted to the forefront of HR, Talent Management and Leader Development in the last two years. It is by all accounts a highly complex term because it is defined differently depending upon the kind of work you do.

The most thoughtful treatment on the topic I have run across has been provided by The Josh Bersin Company published in their HR Predictions for 2022 report. The details of their research were the emphasis the first blog in this series: The Critical Role of Situational Leadership® in the Employee Experience.

Bersin identified six characteristics of the “ideal organization” (which represents the essence of the employee experience). Those characteristics are: meaningful work, strong management, positive workplace, health and well-being, growth opportunity and trust in the organization. Of the six, we at The Center for Leadership Studies believe Situational Leadership® aligns with and contributes directly to three:

  • Meaningful work
  • Strong management
  • Trust in the organization

Here are the suggested connections to meaningful work.

First and foremost, “meaningful work” translates to a job that aligns with personal values. The employee buys into the noble purpose of the organization and feels the work they do matters. There is a sense of fulfillment that is derived from the active pursuit of that purpose that is difficult (if not impossible) to accurately quantify.

When it comes time to execute in service of the noble purpose, meaningful work translates to a work culture defined by agility. The essence of agility in action is:

  • Alignment
  • Baby steps
  • Measurement/Calibration
  • Alignment
  • More baby steps
  • Rinse and repeat

We would offer that Situational Leadership® is a language of agility. It is a practical, repeatable, road map that leaders and followers can reference and leverage as a communication tool to determine and prioritize a plan of action. Here are the steps Situational Leaders employ in that regard:

  • STEP 1 – Align with followers on the task or activity that needs to be performed. If complex, the task needs to be considered at its lowest common denominator and prioritized accordingly
  • STEP 2 – Align with followers on their readiness to perform the prioritized task(s). Readiness is an objective assessment of the follower’s current ability and willingness to perform and is the product of an inclusive and transparent exchange between the leader and the follower
  • STEP 3 – Provide a leadership style that aligns with the outcome of Steps 1 and 2. Leaders need to be able to respond to the performance needs of those they influence by empowering, participating or directing the baby steps that are about to be taken
  • STEP 4Manage the movement that is evidenced through measurement and calibration. The objective is to act as a catalyst for performance-related growth and development, and to redirect performance slippage or regression