Monday, April 28, 2014

Can We Expect to be Led by a Perfect Leader?

Deborah Ancona, Thomas Malone, Wanda Orlikowski and Peter Senge wrote in a 2007 article in the Harvard Business Review that “it’s time to end the myth of the complete leader: the flawless person at the top who’s got it all figured out. In fact, the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be. In today’s world, the executive’s job is no longer to command and control but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organization. Only when leaders come to see themselves as incomplete - as having both strengths and weaknesses - will they be able to make up for their missing skills by relying on others.”
This highlights one of the core traits of both good and great leaders ‘humility’ and hence any leader who aspires to be constantly good or great would never consider themselves complete - they understand that leadership is ever evolving, and that most of the time it’s all about intent - that is, how you approach leadership, and the behaviours you employ in your role. 
Deborah Ancona et al, believe that “corporations have been becoming less hierarchical and more collaborative for decades, of course, as globalization and the growing importance of knowledge work have required that responsibility and initiative be distributed more widely. Moreover, it is now possible for large groups of people to coordinate their actions, not just by bringing lots of information to a few centralized places but also by bringing lots of information to lots of places through ever-growing networks within and beyond the firm. The sheer complexity and ambiguity of problems is humbling. More and more decisions are made in the context of global markets and rapidly - sometimes radically - changing financial, social, political, technological, and environmental forces. Stakeholders such as activists, regulators, and employees all have claims on organizations.”
It’s interesting that this article was published before the global recession,  as since 2007 some may say that many organisations have in fact become more hierarchical  and though collaboration is encouraged, hierarchy has returned, sometimes to the detriment of sustainable growth, employee motivation and most of all ‘great leadership’.
But Deborah Ancona et al highlight a very important fact that “no one person could possibly stay on top of everything. But the myth of the complete leader (and the attendant fear of appearing incompetent) makes many executives try to do just that, exhausting themselves and damaging their organizations in the process. The incomplete leader, by contrast, knows when to let go: when to let those who know the local market do the advertising plan or when to let the engineering team run with its idea of what the customer needs. The incomplete leader also knows that leadership exists throughout the organizational hierarchy, wherever expertise, vision, new ideas, and commitment are found.”
The debate should probably focus around whether a leader who ‘knows when to let go’ and who can acknowledges someone in the organisation knows more about a certain business requirement than they do – is in fact, incomplete – or alternatively a well-rounded and grounded, ‘complete’ leader.     
No one would like to be called incomplete, as it implies something is missing yet, in business, it’s simply impossible for anyone to be the best at everything that’s why we have organisation structures and business processes like talent management. The challenge is to accept good and great leaders will always be ‘incomplete’ to some degree – it’s how they respond to that ‘incompleteness’ that determines how effective your leadership will really be.
Ancona, D., Malone, T.W., Orlikowski, W.J. and Senge, P.M. (2007). In Praise of the Incomplete Leader. Harvard Business Review, November.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Are We Really Resistant to Change?

Many articles and discussions these days seem to focus on ‘managing change’ and how employees are simply resistant to it. You’ll find some of the most respected guru’s making change sound like something hard and impossible to achieve. But is this more of a self-fulfilling prophecy – than the truth?
Change in the 21st Century seems to be the rule rather than the exception – change is occurring around us on a regular basis. Whether it’s associated with telecommunications, IT, pharmaceuticals, automotive, or new product development within any other sector we, the consumer, often seek new and exciting products and services that either make our lives easier (perceived or real) or because we just like to feel we are keeping up with the times (if we can afford it).
Looking at the younger generations they virtually demand ‘change’ on a regular basis, whether it’s new and upgraded games or new technologies, they get bored very quickly with the same thing and, to be honest, are ‘nectar’ to many organisations as they are seemingly constantly looking for ‘new’ and ‘quirky’ products that ‘excite’ them and are happy to buy them on a regular basis – the only problem to the firms servicing this market is the amount of consumable income their target market have – but in real terms this doesn’t seem to be holding organisations back from constant innovation and change (and making significant revenue in the process).
So if we are wired for change as consumers, why is it assumed that we aren’t wired for change as employees? And is it the actual change employees are resistant to or the methodologies employed to communicate and/or implement it?
It’s a simple fact that we can’t progress without change and hence in highly competitive markets organisations need to change on a regular basis. Change should be fun and exciting, something employees look forward to as it either make their lives easier and/or grows the revenue of the organisation they work for (which hopefully will be good for them to).
To be part of a pioneering company is an exciting place to be as you are part of the creation of ‘new’ things on a regular basis. You go home at the end of the day knowing you are striving to create something new – push the boundaries for you industry or business in general.
So if change can be ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ what’s the real problem? Well sadly it’s the way change is managed and lead. Change is an inclusive process not an exclusive one. It’s a process where, to be successful, you need to involve the entire organisation. You need to have the patience and communication skills to ‘sell’ the change to the organisation and create an exciting future vision that employees want to be part of.
It’s firstly the failure to create this exciting vision that creates resistance to change in organisations and then it’s the failure of the leadership to make the process inclusive and ‘fun’. For some reasons leaders who don’t understand ‘change’ make it seem like they are weighing the employees down with more work and constant ‘drudgery’ – which has the instant effect of demotivating the employee base who then, due to lack of positive communication from the leadership, convince themselves through ‘office chats’ that this change is nothing short of a nightmare for them.
Change is part of life and organisations should be changing on a regular basis just to keep up these days. All employees are used to change in their personal lives and often seek it out – so they are wired for change. So the ‘power’ rests with the leadership to make change inclusive, exciting and fun – something that all employees want to willingly be part of. They are attracted by firstly, the future vision and secondly, the process that’s going to be applied (i.e. they are excited by their role in the change and appreciate the recognition they get for their part of the process).
So simply put it’s not change that’s the problem – it’s the fact that in those cases where there’s resistance leaders simply don’t know how to manage it and haven’t ‘sold’ a compelling vision.
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t change we aren’t really living.” (Gail Sheehy)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Do You Genuninely Engage with Your Staff?

Finding out how engaged an employee is to their job role and the organisation is a key ‘conversation’ that many leaders fail to have with their staff – missing an opportunity to both understand and positively influence both the company culture and individual outputs.
Kahn (1990) defined personal engagement as “the simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s preferred self in task behaviors that promote connections to work and to others, personal presence (physical, cognitive, and emotional), and active, full role performances” (p. 700). Harter and colleagues (2002) suggested that employee engagement refers to “one’s involvement, satisfaction with, and enthusiasm for work” (p. 295).
According to their conceptualization, engagement consists of three dimensions: vigor (exhibited by high levels of energy, mental resilience, and persistence), dedication (depicted by enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge at work), and absorption (evidenced by concentration, focus, intensity, and being deeply engrossed in work; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). These characteristics are consistent with Kahn’s (1990) perspective that engagement involves an individual’s physical, cognitive, and emotional effort.
It’s worth remembering that as Shamir and colleagues’ (1993) put it; self-concept based theory asserts that followers’ commitment to the work unit’s mission, vision, and goals is a core element of transformational leadership’s motivational process. They referred to commitment as the “motivational disposition to continue a relationship, a role or course of action and to invest efforts regardless of the balance of external costs and benefits and their immediate gratifying properties” (Shamir et al., 1993, p. 583). Transformational leaders develop followers’ commitment by linking their behavior and goals to the work unit’s values and mission (Shamir et al., 1993). Consequently, followers express greater enthusiasm, intensity, and resilience toward achieving the unit’s objectives.
Researchers believe that there is a strong association between engagement and innovation, where in a great 2012 article by Samuel Aryee, Fred Walumbwa, Qin Zhou and Chad Hartnell they highlight how; “innovative behavior refers to ‘the production or adoption of useful ideas and idea implementation, and begins with problem recognition and the generation of ideas or solutions’ (Scott & Bruce, 1994, p. 581). Because engaged individuals are characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004), they are likely to be innovative. More specifically, engaged individuals exhibit high levels of energy, enthusiasm, focus, inspiration, intensity, mental resilience, and persistence. These characteristics enable them to be innovative in their work. Indeed, Luthans, Avolio, Avey, and Norman (2007), among others, have argued that behaviors such as resiliency are likely to allow individuals to persist even in the face of adversity to attain success, thereby enhancing innovative behavior.
This argument is predicated on the notion that employees who exhibit positive psychological resources view work obstacles as challenges to overcome, and thus make their jobs more enriched. As such, they approach work with creativity and ingenuity to learn and achieve. Parker and Axtell (2001) found that individuals with enriched jobs are more likely to develop a ‘big picture’ understanding of how the whole department works, thereby enhancing innovative behavior,” (p.8).
There sometimes seems to be a disconnect between leaders and engagement, where here in the 21st Century, too many business leaders still seem to think that it’s ‘not cool’ to simply chat with their staff; and to develop relationships built on genuine trust and respect – focusing on engaging with their employees to create a sustainable win-win for them and the organisation going forward into the future.
Yet the good news is that this is easy to change and it just needs today’s leaders to either have or to gain the ‘genuine’ confidence to lead their people effectively; and when they do take this step – and note, it may take a bit of time to change the past culture – but when eventually it does change the rewards for the organisation go far beyond sustained increased performance and profitability.
Aryee, S., Walumbwa, F.O., Zhou, Z. and Hartnell, C.A. (2012). Transformational Leadership, Innovative Behavior, and Task Performance: Test of Mediation and Moderation Processes. Human Performance, Vol. 25, p.1-25.
Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, p.268-279.
Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 33, p.692-724.
Shamir, B., House, R. J., & Arthur, M. B. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic leadership: A self-concept based theory. Organization Science, Vol. 4, p.577-594.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Do Organisations Waste Their Talent?

Talent Management as a formal business concept has been around for decades now, where ‘smart’ future looking organisations of all sizes and across all business sectors, not only actively seek to attract talent to their organisation, but they then continue to develop this respected and appreciated talent during their careers and constantly make a real positive, practical effort to retain their talent, through a culture that promotes and encourages interactive ‘people’ conversations.
It makes good business sense – why wouldn’t you want to attract the best talent you could afford and then develop and retain them, creating a win-win situation for employer and employee?
Yet there are some organisations, or departments within organisations that make an effort to attract talent into their ranks, but then rather than utilising that talent to add to the organisations sustainable future growth, they take a weird business approach and consciously ‘cage’ that talent, more like a trophy, than an organisational resource. This seems to happen when the ‘bosses’ are less talented than the ‘talent they have’ and rather than embracing these new skills and future opportunities, these bosses prefer to ‘box’ this talent and refuse to allow the talent to grow.
This new talents reaction has an unsurprising common theme – they first try to innovate new ideas, some of which are incorporated within the department or organisations business framework, (though rarely are they given recognition beyond their own boss’s sphere of influence).
But then these ‘bosses’ see their talent as either a real or perceived threat to their own future and begin to marginalise this talent. It’s normally done quite subtly and deliberately, leaving the ‘new talent’ frustrated and lost, where the talent can become demotivated and disengaged from the day to day business. What’s clever, from a manipulative bad practice, about this approach is that the ‘talent’ looks like they are the problem – not the bosses. By becoming demotivated and disengaged the talent have set themselves up to be ‘viewed and sold’ as ‘problems’ and ‘not team players’.
It borders on criminally insane to attract talent to your business and then set it up for failure – but that’s what’s happening in today’s business environment even within organisations you’d think would know better and unless CEO’s, executives and other stakeholders allow a genuine, transparent channel for their talent to discuss systematic abuse by poor management hiding within their organisation – this practice will sadly continue for many, many years to come.
Commentators are often quick to talk down employee loyalty in the 21st century – but they do this at our peril. Talented people, at all ages and stages of their career, are looking for an organisation, with the associated leadership, that will;
1) Appreciate their skills;
2) Utilise their skills and talent to the full;
3) Will give them freedom to be innovative; and
4) Will continually develop their talent;
and through these few common sense steps they will retain their talent because the talent will feel that they are continuing to add value; that they are continuing to grow; and will gladly give their loyalty to the organisation – maybe not for life, but for a significant part of their career that ensures a win-win for everyone.
There is a lot of talent around and God knows organisations need the best talent they can find to optimise their year-on-year growth within a highly competitive global economy. Leaders cannot be experts in every aspect of their operational and/or service offering and simply put leaders aren’t expected to have this detailed knowledge – as it’s their role to lead. If you have someone in a ‘leadership’ position who feels threatened by talent that knows aspects of the business better than they do – they need to be removed from their leadership roles with immediate effect – or accept two guaranteed outcomes;
1) This person will demotivate your talent, to the extent that they will become disengaged from your business; and
2) You will never truly optimise your organisational performance going forward - regardless of how good things might look to you on the ground.
Talent is a unique competitive advantage and needs to be nurtured and looked after if you want it to grow and ‘bear fruit’ for your organisation year after year – it’s a simple concept and it’s worth spending the time to assess just how well your talent is being looked after in a genuine transparent way – as the benefits for your organisation are enormous.