November 6, 2014 in Events (live blogging), CIPD Annual Conference 2014

CIPD14 – Overcoming barriers to effective leadership throughout the organisation

Ksenia Zheltoukhova (CIPD) introduced the session by talking about the CIPD research intro leadership and trust, and then introduced the three case studies:

Alex Lewis (BAE Systems)

Alex has been a member of the UK Engagement Task Force, and part of the CIPD/University of Bath research project on trust.

The role of the leader has changed dramatically and is continuing to change. Alex referred back to the 20 year-old definitions of the distinction between leaders and managers, noting that this has all changed and we have moved towards more distributed models of leadership where we expect a lot from leaders. We expect a lot from leaders, yet there still seem to be many opportunities for increased clarity of what we expect from leaders.

There has been much solid research into engagement and many of us are familiar with the ‘Enablers of engagement’: Strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice, integrity (get rid of the ‘say’-‘do’ gap). Despite this being well known, there still appear to be many barriers to effective leadership. Trust can be a barrier but, again, we know a lot about the drivers of trust (ability, benevolence, integrity, predictability). Despite this, there is still more to do.

Alex identified some key learnings from his own experience:
Define the leadership and management that you need (and don’t just leave people to guess what we expect from them when we promote them)
Understand and address the key barriers to effective leadership
Integrate into a wider change model – have a strategic narrative that sets the context for change initiatives so that we don’t just have lots of disparate change initiatives.

Sarah James (Crime Reduction Initiatives)

CRI ran a bespoke leadership development programme, starting with development centres (including 360 feedback), and then running through a series of leadership modules. The programme still exists and now has level 5 ILM accreditation.

The programme made a big positive impact on leaders, but CRI still wasn’t getting the leadership effect that they needed and they realised that the problem was no longer a lack of leadership capability but was actually a lack of leadership capacity. Leaders had such broad roles that they couldn’t carve out the time to be the leaders that they needed to be. So, CRI restructured to create an organisation that enabled the leaders to lead and they are starting to see really positive results.

(I’m not normally a fan of restructures as they often change the organisational structure when that isn’t the problem, and it is actually underlying things such as business processes or culture that need changing. However, CRI looks like a good example of a really positive organisational change! It is also a great reminder that capability isn’t always the problem, or the only problem!)

Jamie Ryan (Millers Oils)

Millers Oils was a family-owned business that underwent a significant change when it was no longer run by a member of the Miller family. The organisational culture needed to change from a very autocratic style to one that enabled people to flourish.

Millers started by focusing on the ‘feel’ of the company (including breaking down silos), and removed some management roles in order to unleash some of the passion. The role of health & safety manager was removed, not because it was unimportant but quite the opposite – to make sure that health and safety was seen as everybody’s responsibility. The role of sales manager was abolished, as was sales commission. This change in how people are rewarded has had a positive impact and sales have risen. Millers also introduced 360 peer reviews, an initiative that has been really refreshing for people. People have also been empowered to do a lot more in setting their own targets.

It hasn’t been a straight, easy line to success. There was initially a lack of willingness to believe in others, managers were reluctant to let go and empower people, cynicism from people who were used to the silos, and a belief that some people don’t want to think for themselves (and few people actually fall into this category when given the opportunity). Lack of patience has also been a problem, with early adopters losing faith when other people are lagging behind on the journey. Keeping the early adopters on board is really important.

(A nice, practical example of an organisation driving a culture shift)

Ksenia closed by talking about some of the common themes that had been mentioned in the presentations: capability, confidence, clarity, continuous improvement and challenge (and I would add communication and context).

An excellent session, rooted in real experiences.

(This was live-blogged during the session at CIPD14 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of what was said, but my own views might occasionally creep in.)


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