The Simplicity of Leadership

I’ve just filled another pocket note book. I often use little Moleskine pocket books because they fit, in my pocket and in my manbag.  My manbag continues to divide opinion, as it has done since the day I bought it several years ago. Last week two women admired it, and one just laughed, she couldn’t believe I was happy to be seen out and about with it. Where else am I supposed to put all my stuff?

Anyway, back to the pocket book. I like these little note books because they are handy for capturing thoughts and ideas, and enjoyable to flick through and recall moments in time. Some of these are moments shared with my family, little drawings and scribblings, and some are other moments of inspiration and purpose, caught as part of a conversation.

I was on the phone speaking with Lucy a few months ago. She is bright, energetic and a very uplifting person to speak with. We were discussing leadership and Lucy was suggesting that most leaders tend to overcomplicate things. Among the things Lucy and I have in common, is a desire for simplicity. “So what do you expect from a good leader then?” I asked. “I expect a leader to be realistic about where we are and clear about where we are going”, came Lucy’s reply.

I drew breath, ready to reply with “I like that”, or similar. Lucy must have sensed I was about to say something pointless because she added, “Good leaders don’t just say it, they mean it, and they do it.” Simple eh? And of course, simple isn’t always easy.

The conversation finished shortly afterwards. I captured these things Lucy said and popped them in the Moleskine. Now I share them with you. Thanks Lucy. In turn I’d appreciate it if you could share with us, what you think good leadership looks like, feels like, does like.

Mass Disengagement – But Are We Surprised?

The CIPD says job satisfaction is falling in the UK

the CIPD’s measure of job satisfaction has dropped from a score of 46 to 37 according to the latest Employee Outlook survey of 2,000 staff. More people (42 per cent) reported excessive pressures at work, compared to six months ago (38 per cent), while employees were also more likely to say they have seen increases in stress and conflict at work, as well as bullying by line managers.

The previous survey shown some resilience, based on the premise that people felt “lucky” to have a job. Claire McCartney, the CIPD’s resourcing and talent planning adviser, said: “In the spring we interpreted high job satisfaction in the face of the recession as a ‘fixed grin’, where employees felt lucky just to have a job. In this quarter, the fixed grin is slipping and the temporary goodwill is being replaced with increasing frustration.”

Another interesting figure from the last report in April is a rise from 34 to 40 per cent of staff that ideally would like to change jobs. My own experience shows me that workers with scarce skills are already migrating and there is increasing talk of a war for talent as the economy picks up.

This may come as a disappointment but I doubt it is much of a surprise. For months here at What Goes Around Limited we have been asking business leaders questions like:

How are you going to motivate your people?
How are you going to get them to give the discretionary effort that’s so vital in delivering a great customer experience?
How are you going to get your people to trust you, and each other?

Referencing the first question specifically, experience in large organisations shows us that simple basic recognition is poorly executed. In a global telco, less than 3 out of 10 could strongly agree with the statement “In the last 7 days I’ve received praise or recognition for good work”. That’s despite the fact this statement is widely acknowledged as a critical key in the link between managers and staff.

There is a strong link between the strategy, planning and delivery of change management, and employee engagement. Our experience in organisations which struggle with engagement shows me they also struggle with managing change. In one such organisation I have observed that only 6% of employees can strongly agree with the statement “I feel that change is well managed in this organisation”. Examples of why this is so include;

We don’t finish what we start
We don’t engage, we tend to dictate
We don’t communicate change effectively

We also frequently observe a lack of clarity around job expectations, and too often workers do not seem to have the systems and tools they need to do the job right. And of course, people want to be involved. They want to help the organisation to Stop Doing Dumb Things to Customers. This co-existence is powerful and also rare.

There is some interesting research published by Right Management which supports this connection. According to their recent global study, ninety-four percent of employees who report that change was not handled well in their organizations are disengaged. They go on to identify nine drivers of successful change which in turn support high levels of engagement. They are:

1. Senior leaders implement effective change
2. Safe and healthy workplace
3. Efficient work processes and people systems
4. Fit-for-purpose structure
5. Open and honest communication
6. Employees empowered to make changes to the way things are done
7. Teamwork between business units/departments
8. Resources to do the job well
9. Line managers have appropriate skills

I agree with a number of these points, particularly 3, 4, 5, and 7, 8 and 9. Whilst I acknowledge that senior leadership has its place I am seeing signs of successful change being co-created by workers and customers. Sometimes this has the encouragement of senior leaders but they often have little or nothing to do with its implementation, and quite rightly so. They rarely get closer to the customer or front line staff to have any direct experience, and so they are much more powerful as an encourager rather than a do-er.

Likewise, empowerment is a word often used to encourage people to get involved, or take action themselves. Too often though, the accepted culture is to wait for empowerment to be given, after all we define empowerment as “to give someone official authority or the freedom to do something.” What organisations really need is a culture of getting on and doing the right things for the right reasons, without waiting to be told. This comes from a culture of autonomy, trust and respect, and as my experience shows, can lead to great, sustainable business results.

So how can we make these things happen? A practical thing that one can do at any meeting is to ask, “What have we agreed to do?” and in turn, “What are you personally going to do to help us achieve what we have all agreed to do?” Then listen for a SMART objective. Anyone is more likely to deliver what he or she hears themselves commit to aloud in front of their peers than to fulfill someone else’s draft of the minutes of a meeting long after the discussion. Our experience shows us that commitment and delivery builds positive trust very quickly.

Also, we have a wealth of good practice at our disposal. In a recently published article on HR Zone, we offered up ten practical engagement tips for managers. These were compiled through a series of interviews with top performing line managers at all organisational levels, so they are based on people’s actual experience.

If you want to find out more about how we help engaged people create great customer experiences, then drop us a line from the get in touch page on this site, we’d be happy to help you co-create something special.

Lead the way!