Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning From the Best

The Hay Group conducts an annual survey on the best companies in the world for leadership. They ask employees for their views on their own company and ask them to rate 3 companies they admire most for leadership. The top 20 is a compilation of ‘praise from outsiders combined with plenty of admiration from within.’

Once the top 20 and regional groups have been identified, each of the elite group our analysed as to their leadership practices and key differentiators highlighted (the biggest gaps between the ‘elite’ group and the rest). The 2011 study was headed up by such companies as GE, P&G, PepsiCo and Southwest Airlines.

These companies were better than the rest in a number of different areas but in particular they distinguish themselves in four particular areas.

Firstly, the top 20 companies expect people at all levels to exercise leadership and bring value to the organisation.  This is at two levels – at the individual and at the organisational level. Firstly, individuals feel they have the opportunity to develop and practice leadership capabilities. At the organisational level the business takes and adopts views and ideas from across the entire organisation, not just from headquarters.

Secondly, the top 20 companies ensure they have a workforce which reflects their markets and local communities – they don’t fear other cultures but embrace them. For instance, they are more likely to recruit local leaders to manage local offices rather than send out headquarters staff. Diversity is increasingly high on the agenda for the best companies because they know that 55.1% of the world’s talent comes from south east Asia and only 17% of further educated people are white males.

Thirdly, the top 20 companies have leadership programmes in place to help managers adapt to change and to manage cross culturally. These companies are moving more quickly than others to flatten their business structures and diversify their workforces with the goal of improving their efficiency and competitive advantage in markets around the world. But most importantly they are providing the skills and tools to help their leaders to succeed in these different markets.

Fourthly, the top 20 shows a greater interest in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) than other companies. But this is not all about being altruistic. The top 20 recognise that helping employees achieve greater work-life balance is a critical retention strategy.

How many organisations do you work with today who are really embracing global issues and diversity in the way that these respected companies are.

Some other notable facts from the survey:

90% of the best companies expect employees to lead regardless of their position
100% of Europe’s top 10 companies prioritize work/life balance
Only 9% of Europe’s top 10 use higher pay and bonus opportunities to attract leaders

Food for thought!

Teams and Morale

It’s a known fact that the higher the morale in a group, the higher the performance and the willingness to endure stress and hard work. Think of the effectiveness of morale in the military - who can hardly be said to experience an ideal work-life balance - or consider the emergency services in New York in the wake of hurricane Sandy, with all the reports of their heroic work and 24hour shifts.

Morale is different to motivation - it's a quality and an attitude that relates more to the group than the individual. Teams with high morale exhibit willingness, creativity, resilience and high levels of camaraderie and inter-personal respect. There is no doubt that facing a mutual danger or challenge with a clear sense of mission also helps.

Sadly work for many has become far more individually focused in recent years. People have their individual tasks, responsibilities and performance targets - and whilst the word team is liberally used in the workplace, there is often very little actual teamwork. A team meeting which discusses things and then hands out tasks for individuals is not really teamwork. Real teamwork is about facing challenges together and performing a task as a team - witness the military and emergency services again.

So I believe there's a strong case for bringing more real teamwork back into organisations again- and that many organisations have gone too far towards a culture of individual accountability. I had a job once as an IT manager for an oil services company - and I remember well that the closest we came to real teamwork was when disaster struck with the 1987 UK hurricane. Everyone rallied to rescue the computers and the valuable oil exploration records that we stored on behalf of major oil companies. There was a high sense of mission and the effect on morale was tangible for weeks.

I'm not saying that you need a disaster to build teamwork - but it's well worth looking for opportunities that involve people thinking, deciding, perspiring and doing together. Just talking and holding meetings somehow doesn't quite do it!

Team tasks that break down barriers between managers, staff and ranks are also important. This was very noticeable in Gareth Malone's recent TV programme about workplace choirs. In watching managers and staff singing together in the Royal Mail you could visibly see the change in morale.

If you take the time to create opportunities for real teamwork in your workplace I am sure you’ll reap the rewards.

Driving Higher Performance

Feedback loops are essential for the growth, development and regulation of every living organism. Without messages from one cell to another, none of our body processes would stay in kilter, we wouldn’t be able to respond to new challenges and any growth would be dangerously chaotic.

In many ways our growth and development as an effective manager or leader is similarly dependent on getting the right feedback. I recently came across research from the Corporate Leadership Council* looking at the top 10 ways to drive higher employee performance. One probably obvious but vital insight is that managers can drive or destroy employee performance – by around plus or minus 40%.

Top of the list for things that drive better performance is effective informal feedback. To be effective, the informal feedback should:

  1. be fair and accurate
  2. be from a source knowledgeable about the employee’s performance 
  3. contain feedback that helps the employee do the job better

The greatest negative effective on performance was experienced when a lot of emphasis is placed on weaknesses in the employee’s performance of the job – rather than targeted on what the employee could do better.

Apart from the very important implications about how to train managers to give feedback and performance reviews, it struck me how important these lessons are for our own self-feedback loops. Every one of us experiences a degree of self-talk in our heads – for many it’s their greatest critic! This self-talk certainly qualifies as regular and informal feedback. But how well does our self-talk score in terms of accuracy, fairness, and being focused on how we could do the job better?

In my coaching discussions with effective leaders, I am struck by how well they manage their self-talk. They link their actions to clear outcomes and measure their own success in achieving these. Their inner self-talk is used to review their performance fairly, accurately and openly, aware that some things might have been done better another way. Most importantly, they give themselves the feedback they need to perform better without letting it dent their confidence in themselves.

So if we want to drive higher performance, a very good place to start is training our own inner voice to give us the quality of feedback we need: fair, accurate and focused on how we can do the job better.

* “Improving Talent Management Outcomes” by Corporate Leadership Council