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February 2011

Shaping the Future - Leadership

Leadership The third of 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisational Performance: What Really Makes the Difference" is leadership.

In another glorious example of apple-pie motherhood the report claims:- 

  • Visible leadership and communication is a must in difficult times; 
  • Line managers need to take an active role in coaching and providing encouragement; 
  • Line managers can help with sense-making; 
  • Leaders need to empower others but set key principles and parameters to ensure greater consistency of empowerment;
  • Leaders need to develop a collaborative decision making style;
  • Leadership skills are needed at all levels. 

Of course all this is true, but I am sorry: I do not see anything here that a manager worth his salt doesn't already know and try to put into practice. There is certainly nothing in here that tells you how to shape a better future. 

After all it is obvious that the pace of change and the increasingly competitive nature of operating have the effect of pushing decisions down the line. It is impossible for decision making to reside in the hands of a select few in the way it once did. So it is inevitable that there is a need for collective or distributed leadership throughout the organisation. And it is equally obvious that you cannot achieve this if your employees are not engaged.

This is why employee engagement is the issue of the moment. Yet, for all this demand for leadership and the call for "employee empowerment" there is nothing is this report that tells you how to inspire it. This is THE management challenge of our times. You have to crack this one if you are to help shape the future rather than be shaped by the future. Yet there is nothing in this report to help you past the starting line.

The Zealise system of accounting for people as assets and its concomitant model of universal employee ownership offers you a better foundation than anything in this report. Recognising and valuing people for the contribution they make is a great way to systematise empowerment and thereby to stimulate the distributed leadership you are seeking. Especially in conjunction with the shared purpose it creates and that we looked at previously.

If you really want to shape the future you at least owe it to yourself to explore this model for creating collective leadership and how it might work for you

Shaping the Future - Shared Purpose

Sculling The second of 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisational Performance: What Really Makes the Difference" is shared purpose.

The report defines an organisation's purpose as "its identity, the reason why it exists and the golden thread to which its strategy should be aligned."  From there it moves on to state that "shared purpose takes the connection with the organisational purpose one step further to a purpose that is shared by all employees." 

Once again you can hardly fault this. The report continues that shared purpose is stronger when:-

  • Employees connect emotionally; 
  • Integrated into targets and performance;  
  • Leveraged through periods of uncertainty and change.

It then talks about the challenges and the need to:-

  • Balance the achievement of core purpose with a focus on efficiencies; and
  • Beware conflicting priorities and structural changes.  

Do you see anything new or profound here? I don't. This seems to be nothing more than another exercise is stating the obvious and a whole lot of motherhood statements. They do describe efforts of the sample organisations involved, but there is little to tell you how to go about this. 

Once again the Zealise model of creating employee ownership offers you the best way of creating and sustaining shared purpose. After all, how can you have greater employee engagement than when the employee owns a stake in the business? And what better way is there to ensure shared purpose than when the employee has a vested interested the organisational purpose?

So, if you really want to shape the future you need to introduce our new employee ownership model now to truly cement shared purpose.

Shaping the Future - Alignment

In their report "Sustainable Organisational Performance: What Really Makes the Difference." the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), identified alignment as the first of 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance. Let us now take a closer look at what they meant by this and add some value to the concept so you can really see how to shape your future.

Alignment 2 Their definition of alignment is: "Perceptions of consistency, fit, links or integration between the values, behaviours or objectives of different stakeholders, both internal and external and with the organisation purpose."  This certainly conforms to most definitions of alignment and you can hardly fault it. The report cites 3 specific examples:

  • Job roles should be clearly aligned to higher-level objectives. 
  • Attitudes and behaviour need to reflect organisational values. 
  • Systems and processes need to be aligned with organisational priorities.

There is certainly nothing new or profound in that, which begs the question, "Why is this shaping the future? Surely it should already be in place?" Yet it would appear that you cannot take this for granted. Statements like, "One vehicle for alignment is through cascading objectives and there was a wealth of evidence that our case study organisations were striving to achieve a clear line of sight from organisation through manager, team and individual objectives," not only imply that they are not in place but also that there are no consistent ways for ensuring it.

As I have suggested before, the fact that this is an issue is a clear indication that employees are not engaged. That being the case, it seems to be asking the impossible to try to fix this problem without addressing employee engagement first. Yet there is no suggestion of that here. Even worse, the very concept of "cascading objectives" retains the elements of hierarchical, command and control management that is supposed to be dead and so perpetuates one of the root causes of employee disengagement. Consequently, you have to question just how futuristic this report really is.

Of course that still leaves you with the question of how do you build employee engagement to the extent that alignment is no longer an issue? If you are a regular reader you will know the answer is of course quite simply employee ownership: to make the employees co-owners of the business.

Ownership is one of the best ways known of creating employee engagement. So making employees co-owners of the business is a must for any business. (Even for a non-profit organisation. After all, a non-profit organisation uses other people's money to finance its operations. That means it has MORE reason to look out for its bottom-line than a for-profit organisation. And with employee owners you can ensure this.) You build-in alignment to your organisational purpose. You embed employee engagement into your organisational culture. So you engender the distributed leadership you seek and build continuous improvement into your DNA. Thus you require less management intervention. This offers you a very real alternative to command and control management and in a way that is not dependent on personnel or personalities and so is not transient.

This is the kind of idea that will really help you shape your future - to align it with the one you want and not a default future that is out of your hands.

Shaping the Future

Future Exit The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), the body that oversees the HR profession in the UK, has just published its report at the conclusion of a two year "Shaping the Future" research project. I have to confess that my initial reaction is one of disappointment. Perhaps it is just me, but the project title sounds so promising. I expected to find out what new trends are shaping the profession and how organisations are responding to the demise of command and control management and how they are replacing it. Yet somehow, for me, the report does not deliver that.

Maybe my expectations were too high. Yet I still expected more from a report entitled, "Sustainable Organisational Performance: What Really Makes the Difference." Certainly the semantics cannot be faulted and the report does do what it says on the tin, and gives you a good insight into the what. Unfortunately it does not really develop the how. Statements like, "At Pfizer Grange Castle, continuous improvement systems and area targets linked to the bonus system mean that people know what their role is and how that contributes to their team and the site’s performance" are hardly illuminating.

In fact the report does not get off to an auspicious start. The opening statement, "It is not enough for organisations to perform well in the short-term; organisations need to sustain their performance over time, even through testing economic periods," has to be the mother of all motherhood statements. It certainly does not encourage you to expect great things from the remainder of the report.

But one should not be too hasty so let's dig a little deeper into the report and its contents.

Within the "broad areas of engagement, organisational development and leadership" the report identifies 8 "key themes" as really driving sustainable organisational performance. From these eight themes, it develops "ten insights and provocations, grounded in the research findings, to both support and challenge organisations looking to further develop their future approaches to organisational sustainability."

These 8 key drivers are:

  • Alignment
  • Shared purpose
  • Leadership
  • Locus of engagement
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Balancing long-term and short-term horizons
  • Agility
  • Capability building

There is nothing new or profound in any of those either. In fact it is debatable whether they even include all the standard business school drivers of sustainability. And, like the business schools, they have also failed to recognise that problems in these areas are prima facie evidence of a lack of employee engagement. Thus they have you focusing on these issues in their own right, and presumably still leave you needing to sort out your employee engagement to help you improve on these. They haven't seen that they are putting the cart before the horse and that when you address employee engagement you automatically meet these challenges at the same time.

Doesn't seem to be shaping the future, does it? At least, certainly not a very different one. Join me in the coming weeks to see how you can rectify this.