Sunday, December 28, 2014

How Creative Should You Allow Employees to Be?

Xiaomeng Zhang and Kathryn Bartol wrote in a 2010 article that “given increasingly turbulent environments, heightened competition, and unpredictable technological change, more and more managers are coming to realize that they should encourage their employees to be creative. Considerable evidence indicates that employee creativity can fundamentally contribute to organizational innovation, effectiveness, and survival.”
Creativity doesn’t mean employees relaxing in their chairs, staring at the ceiling and coming up with ‘head-in-the-clouds’ creations that are of absolutely no use to them or the organisation – but they look good on paper. For creativity to take place, employees must take a mature approach to finding effective solutions. There are responsibilities and behaviours that must exist at the leadership level and the employee level for this to be a win-win for everyone.
Zang and Bartol define creativity as “the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or by a group of individuals working together. For creativity to occur in organizations, managers need to support and promote it, as they are the individuals who are most knowledgeable about which employee work outcomes should be creative and they have considerable influence over the context within which creativity can occur.”
Some of the key behaviours that must be embedded within the organisational culture are; the ability for the leaders and employees to have meaningful and transparent people conversations; employees must be involved in the decision making processes and employees must be empowered to be creative in the first place. These three behaviours alone will have a significant impact on developing a truly creative culture in the organisation.
Studies also have provided evidence for a positive relationship between supportive leadership and creativity, and a negative relationship between controlling leadership and employee creativity (e.g., Amabile et al., 2004; Madjar et al., 2002; Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Tierney & Farmer, 2002, 2004). In considering broader leadership approaches, some studies have shown support for a positive impact of transformational leadership on employee creativity (e.g., Howell & Avolio, 1993; Jung, Chow, & Wu, 2003; Keller, 1992; Shin & Zhou, 2003; Sosik, Kahai, & Avolio, 1998), but others have produced contrary results (e.g., Basu & Green, 1997; Jaussi & Dionne, 2003; Kahai, Sosik, & Avolio, 2003).
Creativity should be taking place in all organisations; at all levels and all of the time – there should be an embedded mind-set that encourages and recognises creativity. There will be some industry sectors where creativity will be the norm, advertising been one, but creativity goes beyond the ‘product’ and looks at all aspects of the business.
According to Ahearne, Mathieu, and Rapp’s (2005) conceptualization, empowering leadership involves highlighting the significance of the work, providing participation in decision making, conveying confidence that performance will be high, and removing bureaucratic constraints. These behaviours are conceptually highly relevant to creativity. For instance, it is clear from the creativity literature that participation in decision making and perceptions of autonomy are vital preconditions for creative outcomes (Amabile, 1988; Amabile et al., 2004). Inherent in the combination of empowering leadership behaviours is delegating authority to an employee, so as to enable the employee to make decisions and implement actions without direct supervision or intervention (Bass, 1985; Jung et al., 2003). Given the nature of creativity, such delegation helps establish a work context wherein an employee is encouraged and empowered to explore diverse creative alternatives before (perhaps) settling on a viable creative solution (Amabile et al., 1996). Zang and Bartol define empowering leadership as the process of implementing conditions that enable sharing power with an employee by delineating the significance of the employee’s job, providing greater decision-making autonomy, expressing confidence in the employee’s capabilities, and removing hindrances to performance.
In an ‘ideal’ organisation, creativity is not something that has to get any special attention – employees are recruited not just for their skills and experiences, but for their instinctive desire to be creative and they then work in departments that have embedded behaviours that support a creative culture and better still have leaders who, not just implement but, recognise creative excellence.
Zhang, X. and Bartol, K.M. (2010). Linking Empowering Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Influence of Psychological Empowerment, Intrinsic Motivation, and Creative Process Engagement. Academy of Management Journal; Vol. 53, Issue 1, p.107-128.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How Effective Has Your Corporate Social Responsibility Been This Year?

Marc Epstein, Adriana Buhovac and Kristi Yuthas highlight in a 2010 article how “executives recognize the importance of social and environmental responsibility, corporate sustainability, but they seldom implement it successfully. The challenge lies in how to actually integrate sustainability into operational and capital investment decision making and implement it successfully in large, complex, for-profit organizations.”
The global financial crisis has put the brakes on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in many organisations, and even many of the ‘big boys’ have struggled to focus on effective CSR – where the success of CSR can be measured in the local community. 
Epstein argues that, to improve the sustainability strategy implementation process, managers should carefully identify and measure key performance drivers included among the various inputs and processes. The drivers of the model include:
  • External context (regulatory and geographical),
  • Internal context (mission, corporate strategy, corporate organizational structure, organizational culture, and systems),
  • Business context (industry sector, customers, and products), and
  • Human and financial resources.
Before you can ‘give back’ you have to be secure yourself – that’s regardless of whether you are an organisation or an individual, that’s why it’s often ‘mature’ organisations and individuals who are in a real position to give back socially. SME businesses must be sure that their CSR initiatives, however well-meaning, add to their sustainable growth; otherwise both they and the community they are trying to help may suffer in the medium to long-term.
Recently, the Foundation for Applied Research (FAR) of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA®) sponsored a research study to examine how leading corporations integrate economic, social, and environmental impacts into day-to-day management decision making. The research focused on four companies:
  1. Nike, the world’s leading designer, marketer, and distributor of athletic products and clothing;
  2. Procter & Gamble (P&G), one of the world’s leading branded consumer products companies;
  3. The Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement specialty retailer; and
  4. Nissan North America, a unit of Nissan Motor Co., a leading global auto manufacturer.
Epstein et al highlight how “in all four companies, there are fewer conflicts for senior and middle managers in balancing social, environmental, and financial performance because these conflicts are resolved higher up in the organization and are well integrated into the informal systems. Upper management has bought in to the benefits relating to sustainability. Thus people are able to make certain trade-offs because they know their leaders will be supportive. Corporate responsibility is one of Nike’s nine strategic priorities. The CEO and other company leaders support CR intensively and consider it an enhancing element in reaching strategic goals. In fact, leadership engagement is number one. ‘Making a sustainable decision that negatively impacts margins is not so wrong, but they have to inform me because we can offset this somewhere else,’ one vice president explained.”
All four of these organisations are seasoned, mature businesses where corporate social responsibility adds to their ‘business value’ by allowing them to be seen actively supporting the communities where they work, hence this is a win-win for everyone involved. But don’t forget that these are profit driven organisations and everything they do ultimately links back to their corporate strategy and meeting their stakeholder requirements and expectations, many of which are financially driven
Epstein et al highlight how “companies sometimes consider social impacts more difficult to measure than financial results because they’re often intangible, hard to quantify, and difficult to attribute to a specific organization, and they have a long time horizon. This difficulty often presents obstacles to producing compelling evidence of impact and mission achievement.”
Both common sense and years of research tell us what we already know – that supporting local communities where you do business can do nothing but help your businesses sustainable growth. It’s the identification of effective corporate socially responsible projects and then the effective implantation of these projects so that they really make a difference on the ground that distinguishes ‘good’ CSR from the rest. Hopefully next year organisations around the globe can put a little more strategic thought into CSR and identify the win-wins that many businesses and communities need.
As Epstein, Buhovac and Yuthas conclude “an organizational culture supporting sustainability decisions can inspire and motivate employees to take sustainability obligations seriously. In addition, in their recruitment and development practices, companies may seek to create in their employees a passion and commitment to sustainability. This leads to contributions that are good for society, the environment, and the company’s bottom line.”
Epstein, M.J., Buhovac, A.R. and Yuthas, K. (2010). Implementing Sustainability: The Role of Leadership and Organisational Culture. Strategic Finance, Vol. 91, Issue 10, p. 41-47.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Are We Developing Effective Future Leaders?

William Maxwell highlights how “many of us are paying an unprecedented price for the rightsizing of the 1990s and the resulting abandonment of leadership development. We seem to be struggling to find capable, caring, C-suite leaders. In some cases, we see corporations seeking ‘boomerang’ CEOs and luring other C-suite executives out of retirement,” (p.5).
Although there has been a deluge of theories and research on leadership development one has to ask just how much of a real difference all this work has had ‘on the ground’ inside organisations. For example Googling leadership development will give you 84,500,000 responses, that’s over 84 million, so one would be excused for thinking that there must have been a positive shift in leadership in the last few decades.
Yet if one looks at the different groups on Linkedin focused specifically with leadership you’ll find over 90% of their discussions are focused criticising the current lack of effective leadership around the globe and on finding ways to improve leadership – even with over 84 million suggested ways of improving leadership out there already. So what is the real problem – it seems employees accept that their leadership can be significantly improved and there are plenty of solutions to choose from – so why aren’t we making progress?
Maxwell suggests that “the problem runs deeper, however, to the roots of leadership development throughout organizations. Just think about it. If we can reorganize companies, merge, acquire, or dispose of others, and compete globally, then why can't we develop better leaders? The reason is simple. We think that it is someone else's job or that we can buy C-suite and other leadership talent. Some might argue that I exaggerate the current leadership situation, but the subject does merit greater dialogue.”
Maxwell mentions one word at the end – ‘dialogue’ – and in the last twenty years one thing I have found inside companies is that they very rarely sit down and openly discuss leadership issues. I’ve found that 99% of employees know what makes a great leader. Get them in a room – ask them the very basic question – and they will fill a flipchart with the right behavioural traits and skills a great leader needs.
If you then ask them how many of these traits and skills they apply on a constant basis, day-to-day, all will admit that they don’t apply them constantly – and this is where the problem with leadership lies. It’s not that we need any more theories or research – we all know what it feels like to be led by a great leader – the problem is found on the day to application and implementation of the traits and skills we all agree should be there.
Maxwell reminds us that “we are accountable for developing the best leaders possible and, without question, the time is now for a ‘leadership renaissance.’ Several books on leadership preach leading by example, being role models, and inspiring our people. Inevitably, many of us do not embrace or demonstrate the challenge. After all, being visible, accessible, and accountable can be time-consuming and frightening.”
One of the quickest and simplest solutions you can implement today within your organisation is to get your leadership peers together and having an open and honest discussion about leadership in your organisation. What’s working and what isn’t – how much you all really know about the effect your style has on your staff and on your internal customers. Discuss leadership experiences you have recently had – both good and bad – share stories and ask questions. You’ll be amazed what you will learn and how this simple discussion over a cup of coffee can reignite your leadership in the right direction – where as a group you will start defining and learning effective leadership in your organisation. It takes guts and courage to start these dialogue series – but you’ll be amazed of the impact just talking about effective leadership can have on everyone; and over time you will start to have a sustainable influence on changing leadership and the organisation for the better.
Maxwell mentions that “yes, we think someone else should take responsibility for developing our future leaders. Only our respective C-suite teams can do something about developing tomorrow's leaders. The research is compelling. Change, driven and led from the top, truly transforms and sustains any business.”
So you can start today – start actively asking yourself how effective is your leadership – learn not just to manage by walking around – but learn to lead by walking around too. Learn from your staff and your peers and most importantly regularly have transparent dialogue about leadership in your organisation. This will have an immediate impact if you have the courage to question just how effective your leadership is and if you have an overwhelming desire to grasp the opportunity you have been given to become the best leader you can be.
Maxwell, W.J. (2006). Leaders developing leaders. Human Resource Planning, Vol. 29 Issue 4, p.5-7.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Do We Plan for the Future?

I’m reminded of the old saying “we can’t choose where and when we are born, but we can choose how we live.”
There has always been unemployment and individual suffering throughout the globe – but in the late 20th Century there was a time when life-time employment was offered by many organisations, and though this didn’t offer luxury, it offered a form of personal security. Maybe because of the suffering most countries endured during the World Wars and the need to rebuild, there was a conscious selflessness at the time to build a ‘home’ economy that would support the masses. Even more interesting is that two of the best economies to emerge from WWII weren’t from the victors but from the vanquished, i.e. Germany and Japan.
The recent global financial crisis has affected everyone and has forced many countries, businesses and individuals to re-assess how they view their futures. We will all know of people who have lost their jobs, know of people who are still struggling to find work and will have seen our disposable income decline. So what can we learn from these recent events?
Probably the most important lesson is something we all know, but seem to be bad at ‘owning’ when things go bad – and that is that economies and businesses operate in cycles. Just as products have life-cycles so do economies, businesses and ultimately (and obviously) so do we.
Planning for the future involves planning your career, it involves planning your financial security and always having a plan b, c, and d. There will already be a huff and a puff from some, who will highlight that you have to have a good job before you can even consider thinking of financial security – since when you are living from hand-to-mouth, financial security is just a dream rather than a reality.
But I would challenge that thinking – self-fulfilling prophecies will never disappoint and if you believe that you can never get out of your ‘hole’ – whether that’s being trapped in a job, or trapped in a low-income, higher expenditure cycle, then you won’t get out. But that doesn’t mean you’ve made the right decision.
Futures are defined by opportunity and attitude. Opportunities will always present themselves – but not necessarily when you want them too. You just have to be open to both seeing opportunities and creating your own opportunities. We’re not talking about million dollar deals – just opportunities to advance your career and your financial earnings.
Attitude is part nature and part nurture. If you’re born into a family that doesn’t believe there is any hope to succeed at anything – when it’s unlikely you will, at least until you’re old enough and hopefully strong enough to challenge that hypothesis – though sadly for many, by the time they are old enough to challenge the negative thinking, it is way too late to do anything.
For those born into this group, it’s up to you to stop the cycle and give your kids hope and ambition to move up and out of the cycle of despair. There are plenty of success stories around the globe, but ‘future success’ needs to be driven from the parents at the child’s early stage of development when beliefs are being formed.
For the rest, you have to realise that a career is a journey and quite a long journey. It is highly unlikely that it will develop as quickly as you would like and you need to be prepared for ups and downs – never losing sight of your own personal career goals. As soon as you give up on your future, then don’t expect anything more than what you have – until you reignite the ‘fire’ and find that positive attitude that will drive you forward.
Careers are not easy and have to be constantly worked at. Even in the large multi-nationals where promotion after so many years is often guaranteed, you still have to work hard and identify and create opportunities that can fast-track your dreams.
Finally, I remember my Mother telling me when I was around 8 years old that my aim in life should be to save enough to be able to live off the interest – but with global interest rates being so low, being able to save enough to live off the interest is an impossibility, expect for a very, very few who can earn mega-millions within certain professions. So building a solid financial foundation that you can build your life and retirement on becomes a core personal goal – best developed when you are young and worst started today. So planning your career should go hand-in hand with a solid financial plan in order to make the most of life and minimise the need to struggle when times get tough.