Does Leadership Intent Equal Business Success?

 Not really! The consistently large gap between behaviours, intent, desired culture and reality remains an issue.

I was flying home to Brisbane last week and had the opportunity to read the latest ‘Inside HR’ magazine from cover to cover. It is always an interesting read with much that grabs my attention. However on this occasion, by the time I was towards the end of the magazine a theme had started to form in my mind. There were various articles and highlights within the content that rang alarm bells for me. Or maybe it was more that the messages were articulating many of my own recent thoughts more clearly.

CoachStation: Leadership, People and Business Development

Let me show you what I mean through various excerpts taken from the magazine:

Engaged employees are at least three and a half times more likely than disengaged employees to say their organisation is committed to bringing innovative products and services to the marketplace. Highly engaged employees are nearly six times more likely than disengaged employees to use challenging goals to improve performance, and more than seven times more likely to agree that their senior leadership team encourages innovation and creative ideas. (1)

The best HR teams and leaders are driving innovation across three key dimensions: achieving the next frontier of functional effectiveness  (6)

The gap is widening between what business leaders want and what HR is delivering, according to a global research report, which found that HR needs an extreme makeover driven by the need to deliver greater business impact and drive HR and business innovation. The Deloitte 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report, which involved surveys and interviews with more than 3300 business and HR leaders from 106 countries, found that while CEOs and top business leaders rate talent as a key priority, only 5 per cent of survey respondents rate their organisation’s HR performance as excellent. In addition, just 11 per cent of respondents feel that their organisations provide excellent development for HR. “To put it bluntly, HR is not keeping up with the pace of change in business,” the report said. “Today, there is a yawning gap between what business leaders want and the capabilities of HR to deliver, as suggested by the capability gap our survey found across regions and in different countries.” The research report found the most significant capability gaps for HR in Australian organisations were in the areas of HR and people analytics, reinventing HR, performance management, leadership, and culture and engagement, while the smallest capability gaps were in the areas of people data, simplification of work, learning and development, and workforce capability. Other Deloitte research has found that only 30 per cent of business leaders believe that HR has a reputation for sound business decisions; only 28 per cent feel that HR is highly efficient; only 22 per cent believe that HR is adapting to the changing needs of their workforce; and only 20 per cent feel that HR can adequately plan for the company’s future talent needs. (8)

The report shows a widening capability gap in HR’s ability to deliver strong talent solutions, in the areas of:

  • Engagement and retention (the number one challenge around the world this year), HR teams are 30 per cent less ready than a year ago
  • Building leadership and filling leadership gaps (the number two challenge around the world), HR teams are only half as ready as they were a year ago
  • Delivering learning and training solutions (the number three challenge around the world), HR teams are only one-third as ready as they were a year ago.

What is going on? Why are HR organisations having such a hard time keeping up? After studying this marketplace for the last few years and talking with hundreds of clients, the answer is simple. HR today is undergoing more change than ever before, and we are on the brink of disruptive change.

The obvious theme here is that HR is not up to scratch in supporting the goals and actions required for many organisations. Although in my experience this is a genuine issue, holistically it is too easy a statement to make and glosses over the more entrenched issues organisation-wide. It is a much more difficult set of questions that requires multiple solutions owned by leadership, HR and their ability to drive action beyond mere words.

Amongst various factors, HR and its current position/reputation is a symptom of other issues that exists within organisational cultures based around competence, capability, intent, passion and desire. It is untrue to state that many people and specifically leaders do not care about their employers or employees. It is not about caring, but more about doing.

The pace of change; need for outcomes; short-termism; and skill gaps in leadership are hurting business at a time when it can least afford the challenge.
What I have learned is that good intent does not equal improvement, growth or success!

The articles highlight the ‘gap’ that exists between what business leaders want and need and what is being provided to support them and what they are providing themselves. In fact, the key points in the excerpts that struck me are the need for change yet the struggle to make this happen in reality. What do leaders and HR need to do fill the void that exists?

The opportunity to change culture by focusing on the key initiatives and measuring outcomes is something that I believe many organisations can improve. An idea in itself is not enough. What difference does or will this idea, concept, improvement etc. make to the organisation, its processes, people or customers is often discussed but not always efficiently met? The opportunity to hold team members and employees accountable is one that is missed too often with the outcomes and measurable change not highlighted as a core focus.

Most leaders would argue with this, stating that of course, the outcome and results are critical. But, few actually lead their teams with this in mind on a daily basis.
“We need to turn what we know into what we do!”

The key to this change in culture and expectations has to at least in part, be a change in mindset. Talking about leadership and its criticality to business success is not enough – no matter how success is measured. Leadership by its nature requires that you build strong and effective relationships; know and connect with your team; and influence through coaching, not telling, for example.

In the same magazine there was an excellent interview with Alex Bershinsky who highlighted the need to focus on people and that traditional strategies and tools are, in many cases, quickly becoming irrelevant.

A recent research report found that many leading organisations are moving away from viewing performance management as a once-a-year event where employees are assessed and evaluated, to a series of ongoing activities that include goal-setting and revising, managing and coaching, development planning, and rewarding and recognition. The report found that continuous coaching is becoming increasingly important, as employees want to receive individual feedback and feel valued by their organisations for their unique contributions…The focus on these conversations is less about ‘here are your four KPI’s and tell me what you’ve hit or missed’ and more about ‘how are you going, how can I help you, what are you struggling with and what do you need from me to improve?’ So, it’s a very short, regular talent conversation.

“So we’re not using ratings, but the idea is to get away from ratings, distribution curves and batch data and instead provide real-time feedback to develop the 95 percent of our people who are terrific, versus the 5 percent who aren’t performing – which is the reverse of what most performance management systems are geared to do. That’s a real cultural shift.”

You can only hold others accountable if the appropriate expectations and standards have been established in the first place. Getting bogged down in ‘doing the do’ and not making time for your people will ensure that you fail to progress your business. This is relevant whether you have a formal performance management system or not. Tenets such as accountability, expectations; standards, relationships, connection, ownership and other key elements fill the void created by poor leadership, when applied. This takes effort, prioritisation, practice and planning.

As a leader, it also requires a personal strategy for assessing and measuring performance. It is not solely HR’s responsibility to drive this. Waiting for someone else to develop this strategy can only negatively affect you as a leader or employee. Taking the lead and positively impacting employee engagement in your team is a fantastic place to start.

Develop your own leadership skillset and capability. Then apply your new knowledge in positively leading your team. If Deloitte are correct in stating that employee retention, engagement and leadership are the number one and two business challenges this year, then you will be ahead of the game.

Need I mention ownership and accountability again!? Give it a try and let me know how you go.