Surely, the primary role of the leader of any organisation, establishment, business, college or team should be to create a culture where people are inspired to deliver their very best, develop their skills and collaborate to win, every day. Such leaders will focus on 3 key measurements:
- Living and breathing the vision of the business to such a degree that every employee, partner and customer of the whole organisation can feel it and want to be a part of it.
- Delivering staggering results by creating a high value, high performance culture and building unstoppable teams.
- Creating a legacy for long term sustained success through the development and nurture of even greater leaders than the leader himself/herself. Jim Collins Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t calls this ‘breakthrough’.
I have no doubt that when it comes to ticking these three boxes, 95% of leaders will say “Well, of course, I’m doing all these things.” The reality, sadly, is that less than 5% of our current leadership teams globally really measure up. In most cases, all I can hear are leadership teams who blame their staff for under-performance and not living the vision and values of the organisation. Many leaders tell me they are bereft of talent within their company and until they can get the right staff today, they struggle to think further ahead than the current financial year.
Many leaders can’t actually answer the question: “Where does your immediate leadership team stack up against the three key measurements above?” Consequently they do not know where to begin when it comes to addressing these three issues, so they focus on the most pressing one at hand, which is usually the delivery of results (short term ones).
So, how do you know if you are doing a good job and you are heading in the right direction when it comes to bringing to life your vision, delivering sustainable results and nurturing your people? How do you measure up against the five success criteria outlined below? I would encourage you to assess:
- Which boxes would you currently tick?
- What do your immediate leadership team think?
- What’s the view of all the rest of your staff (this view is likely to be closest to reality)
Poor Leadership and Dysfunctional Teams:
The vision lives on a poster or intranet but very few people can articulate it, let alone live it. Ask your immediate leadership board how do they and their immediate teams bring the vision to life in their day to day actions. There will only be a handful of tenuous examples.
The senior leader team cannot articulate the values and there are differences of opinion as to what they are. Few people in the organisation know what they are and don’t buy in to them. This creates dysfunctional behaviour at every level. Meeting agendas rarely focus on strategic values – they mainly focus on tasks and consequently teams are wrapped up in meeting after meeting, achieving little progress.
There is a blame culture, usually senior leaders pointing their fingers at subordinates, peers or other divisions. The organisation is wrapped up in emails. Things don’t get done. Most people are working in the ‘Urgent but not important box’. This is a team of busy fools. Stress is prevalent and there are capacity issues through high sickness, high staff turnover (above 8%) and inefficiencies. HR is ineffective at driving capacity improvement. Action plans have far too many actions on them causing inaction.
The autonomy to make decisions has been removed, because the senior leader team believe they are the only ones with the answers and they want control. Staff work for the leaders. However, they feel disengaged and dis-empowered. Staff meetings are top down cascades. Eventually the best people leave, because this is not an environment in which they can thrive. The leadership is creating a culture of followers who ‘do as their told or face the consequences’. There is an insufficient budget to develop and improve staff skills and what little training that takes place is force fed (mandatory!) and plans for continuous improvement are ineffective. Indeed, leaders feel like they keep asking the same questions over and over again and the organisation is going round in circles.
There are very few decision makers because there is very little delegation from the senior team who don’t have the confidence in their people to ‘let go’. Staff feel they are working in a dictatorship where the consequences of speaking up are dire. There are large numbers of grievances in this organisation and many go right to the very top, wrapping the senior team up in far too many ‘HR issues’ which increase their mistrust of the staff as a whole. Whilst the senior leader team may be doing a good job at convincing stakeholders all is well (because they in turn often only want short term results), there are cracks and flawed strategies everywhere and staff do not feel their leaders are doing a good job. If they could they would fire the boss.
The environment looks like this:
Good Leadership and functional teams
The vision is clear, visible and well communicated at every opportunity. The outcome of all meetings is vision focused. Leaders are constantly asking themselves, how can we bring the vision to life for everyone who touches our organisation? Staff believe in the vision and want to play a part in the organisations future success.
The senior leader team and middle management can articulate the values, but it usually doesn’t go any further than that. There are gaps and misconceptions regarding the future, but there is an awareness and desire to rectify issues and bring everyone on board. There is a real understanding that it is through the vision and values that a high value, high performance culture is developed and a long term legacy is built.
In the main people work together and work towards team interdependence is under way. Everyone is aware of the importance of their roles and responsibilities in such a way that they are encouraged to be creative in finding solutions and taking calculated risks to move the business forward. Staff want to come to work and there is an environment of continuous improvement and fun as well as peer pressure for people to raise their game. Levels of stress are manageable and HR are proactive in supporting and getting the best out of individuals.
Everyone has spans of control. And over 80% of decisions are made quickly, without going through a referral process. People base their decisions on achieving the vision and values and driving continuous improvement. The leaders work with the staff. There is good staff engagement with regular 2 way communication meetings and staff feel they are having a real say in the direction of the business and want it to succeed. Improvements are being made at pace and there is a sense of urgency at every level to want to make things better. Meetings drive change although everyone agrees there are still too many actions to deliver effectively. There is regular training and development opportunity and talent management. Keywords, competitiveness, openness, development.
There is good delegation across the organisation enabling people to learn and grow. There is a culture of openness and the sharing of best practice. People know who the senior leader team are and they feel they are doing a good job at driving the organisation forward. There are few grievances as issues are discussed in a spirit of openness and trust and resolutions sought in an effort to maintain a balance of harmony and commitment. HR over 50% of HR time is spent on positive HR issues such as promotions, awards, development programmes and talent. Staff feedback survey results are shared openly and champions appointed to deliver positive change.
Great Leadership and Unstoppable Teams
The vision is powerful. ‘Making a dent in the universe’ or ‘Putting a man on the moon’. Everyone has total belief in it and wants to be a part of it. Everyone knows the role they have to play in bringing it to life. People who walk in the door for the first time, feel the vision and can articulate it themselves within a few moments. You know as soon as you walk in the door you have entered the realm of an unstoppable team.
The vision and the values are inextricably linked through the daily attitude and actions of every member of staff. People passionately believe this is the best company to work for. They love working here. There is a strong sense of community. Few people leave. Visitors can sense the values through the consistent behaviour of every member of staff from the top to the bottom of the organisation.
Interdependence and mutual understanding are the cornerstones of the success of this organisation. Staff are operating at their peak and there is a strong desire for everyone to experience their best year yet, year after year. This team works hard and plays hard. However, working harder does not mean working longer. In fact the ability to work in 5th gear stems from not working any longer than 40 hours per week. There is a healthy work life balance, with regular social activities, celebration ceremonies, recognition schemes and public ‘pats on the back’.
People base their decisions on whats right for the organisation. There is a culture of learning. The leaders work for the staff. 360 degree feedback is the predominant model for driving change and staying one step ahead of the game. Leaders are outward facing – keeping a close eye on the competition and reporting back to staff if competitors develop and edge. Staff have a say in the strategic direction, forming internal boards to champion and drive key areas of the business. Meetings are results and time focused. Consequently the average meeting time is 1 hour. Actions are few. This is a team of snipers – there is no scattergun approach to this organisation – they know what they want and how to get it. There is significant investment in training and development.
This is a bottom up culture thriving in an atmosphere of challenge – stretching people to their full potential and recognition – celebrating success at every opportunity, thereby leaving people want to experience more and more success. This company is recognised externally as one of the best companies to work for in the country, with many awards in this category. This in turn attracts the very best people. There is absolute clarity regarding the strategic aims and objectives which all staff can articulate, knowing the role they play in bringing it to life. The senior leader team have won over peoples hearts and minds and people feel the warmth of success.
The environment looks like this:
Most organisations are on a journey in an effort to become more efficient, results orientated and an outstanding place to work. The leaders of the organisation set the tone and there are huge differentials in leadership skills and performance. The culture is created by the senior leadership team. If, like me, you are a humble servant to the company, feel free to share this article with your Executive – for better or for worse…
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