How Effective are Your Leaders?

Business leaders today face the challenges of accelerated change, disruptive technology and regulatory compliance, regardless of the size of their organisation and their industry.

Those who have what it takes to succeed have the flexibility and courage needed to deal with constantly evolving business opportunities and threats, and the judgment and wisdom to make good strategic and financial decisions for their business.

This is a powerful combination of skills. They complement each other but are essentially very different. Whilst some may come naturally to a person, it is likely that others will need to be learned on the path to becoming an executive or mastered once they are there.
The big opportunity for leadership development professionals is to guide this learning in a way that helps every senior leader balance their ability so they succeed in doing what needs to be done and delivering the right results.

As executive coaches, we work with leaders to help them build the capability that will make them truly effective in the context in which they work. We offer these observations on three practices that we know make a significant difference in the way a leader manages him or her self

Leveraging the strengths of self and others

Effective leaders inevitably dig deep to understand themselves, so they can leverage their strengths and work around the things they are not good at. They don’t avoid personal responsibility to deliver results and if they know they are stretched in any area of performance they actively seek out a coach or mentor or add someone to the team who has strengths in the area that they don’t.

Constantly monitoring performance

Leaders who are results-oriented are acutely aware of their performance; they constantly monitor their progress against goals and reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well and why. They sharpen their awareness of new and emerging demands by reflecting on how they are going in key areas such as delivering their strategy, structuring their business well and engaging and inspiring their people.

Remaining faithful to purpose

Successful leaders know they live in a complex world and are single-minded in their purpose. They are discerning in how they manage their time and don’t allow events to be more of a distraction than they need to be. They know when they are in the office their time is not their own and people will move in on their schedule. So, they allocate the time and a specific place to do their planning and thinking.

In summary, these practices drive leader effectiveness because they involve high levels of self-awareness and channel attention to personal contribution and the achievement of results.

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What will be your leadership legacy?

It would be hard to find a successful leader who is unable to point to a person or people who guided their path through good counsel and encouragement. As you read this, you are probably already thinking about your own experience. Who helped you get to where you are today? What did they say or do that made a difference?

Leaders are often measured on how they shape the capability of the next generation of leaders as well as their personal achievements. So, are you helping others as you have been helped yourself? What do you think people will remember in years to come about your impact on their success in their careers? 

How will they describe your leadership legacy?

Of course, everything you do in managing your business and your people speaks volumes about your understanding of the way leaders develop. People build capability at work by taking on different jobs and learning from others. And, who better to guide them than experienced leaders who know and understand the intricacies of what it will take to succeed in their business and industry?

There are compelling reasons for organisations to tap into this valuable source of expertise. They face generational change and successors must be prepared for leadership roles. Economic conditions, lean organisations and pressures to perform mean that fewer people are doing more work, so sharing expertise and best practices are critical.

This is where mentoring comes in – a powerful process where the leaders of today are preparing the leaders of tomorrow. From an organisational point of view, mentoring is instrumental in achieving higher levels of employee engagement in three key areas:

  • development opportunities
  • career advancement prospects
  • trust in senior management.

Organisations worldwide recognize these benefits and some actively encourage mentoring through formal programs.  A growing trend is “reverse mentoring’ where a junior employee provides guidance to a senior leader, typically in areas of technology.  A double benefit!

 

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Taking Stock of Your Career

It is often said that experience is the greatest teacher. Take a moment to test that by thinking about your career. How long is it since you took your first job? How many different jobs have you had? What have you learnt along the way?

The sum total of your capability is made up of many parts. Sure, your education gave you a foundation but what came afterwards shaped a lot of who you are today and how you lead. You acquired fundamental skills by performing routine tasks and progressed to more advanced skills as you took on assignments with greater complexity.

Then, there were those challenging times that had a powerful impact on the speed and intensity of your learning, taking your competence to a whole new level. Most likely, they occurred at times when you took on something completely new and you had to master skills uncalled for in unnecessary in previous roles.

The question to ask yourself is what has been the pattern of your career? Have you had a series of jobs in a familiar discipline or a range of jobs with a variety of responsibilities? This matters because different jobs offer different learning opportunities. Hopefully, you will have built the depth and breadth to take you where you want to go. Or, maybe not.

Consider the case of Simon, a manager who earned hero status in his organisation as the ‘turnaround king’. Over seven years, he took over no less than four poorly performing units and restored them all to profitability. He brought a high level of energy and determination to each new assignment. His natural autocratic leadership style played out well and he quickly learnt how to analyse a business and implement change decisively.

Success in doing what he already knew how to do may have been good for Simon’s company but not for his career over the long term. When a general management role came up he was passed over for promotion because he wasn’t seen to have the broad perspective and interpersonal skills to sustain critical relationships with the new joint venture partners.

Unknowingly, this can happen to the best of us. We sail along confidently in our career until suddenly we are faced to deal with a set of new and unfamiliar challenges.  These scenarios will invariably broaden your experience base and add new skills to your toolkit.

Perhaps, reading this is prompting you to think about your career and what the next chapter is going to be. If so, think of taking stock by listing the jobs you’ve had and the skills you have acquired. Make a note about times in your career you have particularly enjoyed and why.

Next, find a colleague or mentor who would be prepared to talk through your reflections, help you identify what’s driven your success to date and what opportunities you should be exploring for the future.

 

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360 Feedback, a key component of leadership development

Building the right leadership capability to drive business performance is a key issue facing organisations today. A changing competitive landscape, rapid advances in technology and an ever-increasing need for innovation all point to a shift in the demands on leaders.

Whether there is a need to be strategically agile, more flexible or to foster collaboration, individuals need to know the extent to which they are effective in their roles.

A powerful way to ensure people align with organizational leadership needs and realize their full potential is through 360-Degree feedback and coaching.

Done well, participants are driven toward self-awareness and self-improvement in line with business goals and personal career aspirations.

Best practice 360-Degree feedback is instrumental in developing leadership capability because it:

  • Raises the self-awareness of the participants
  • Stimulates self-improvement for job and career success
  • Provides knowledge about what choices are best suited to individuals’ personal development
  • Creates a climate for honest development conversations
  • Identifies those who are serious and intentional about their development
  • Helps teams learn to work more effectively together
  • Determines common development needs across the team

The insight gained from 360-degree feedback must be converted into action to create positive change. Self-monitoring on the leadership development journey is rarely sufficient and coaching can be used to sustain the effort by setting goals, agreeing on milestones, and celebrating achievements.

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Measuring Learning Agility

Most people are good at doing things they’ve done in the past and coming up with solutions they know from experience work well. Fewer are adept at handling new and unique challenges where there are no obvious answers. Yet, this is precisely what is demanded of leaders today.

A dynamic and complex business environment requires people to be resourceful and adaptable, to think and act in new ways as situations change. It takes people out of their comfort zone and pushes them beyond their usual ways of doing things.

The extent to which people enjoy these challenges varies significantly. Some prefer to avoid them, holding on to trusted skills, expertise and patterns of behaviour, whilst others actively seek them out in order to satisfy their natural curiosity and enjoyment of doing new things.

Agile learners demonstrate the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to succeed in new and different situations. They look for many, diverse experiences and this runs counter to sticking with any one discipline for long periods.

On this basis, not every job is suited to agile learners. Some jobs require deep expertise where being highly learning agile could actually be a disadvantage. Organisations can better manage their talent when they measure learning agility and carefully match the right people to the right jobs, career paths and developmental experiences.

How Can Learning Agility Be Measured?

Learning agility is a multi-dimensional concept. Based on research over three decades, Korn Ferry’s model is made up of five factors – Self-Awareness, Mental Agility, People Agility, Change Agility and Results Agility. These are defined as a set of behaviours that are both observable and measurable.

Multi-rater assessment

A straightforward way to measure Learning Agility is through a 360-degree survey. Choices® is a proven, easy-to-use online assessment that provides people with meaningful feedback on their overall Learning Agility and each of its five factors.

Choices® is useful as it raises awareness of what Learning Agility actually is among individuals and their raters by reading the behavioural descriptors as they complete the assessment. It is also supported by the FYI for Learning Agility™ book that contains specific actions a person can take to develop Learning Agility.

Self-assessment

A second way to assess Learning Agility is through an online self-assessment called viaEDGE™. To overcome the tendency of individuals to over or underrate themselves, rigorous verification scales are used to determine the accuracy of their scores, providing a confidence index for each completed assessment.

viaEDGE™ is useful when time is at a premium and is effective for assessing larger groups of individuals. It is supported by a development guide called Becoming an Agile Leader: A Guide to Learning from your Experience.

What are the Benefits of Measuring Learning Agility?

An organisation’s success depends largely on its people, talented individuals who contribute to the achievement of organisational goals. Those who effectively leverage the abilities of their people are focused on understanding and differentiating their talent.

All talent is important, but all talent is not the same. On one hand, there are high-professionals who generally have deep technical expertise and do well in functional roles. On the other are high-potentials, those who prefer broader experiences and responsibilities and are better suited to general management positions.

It’s worth noting that people across both of these groups are critical to an organisation’s future success, yet their contributions are quite different and they need to be nurtured and developed differently.

The key criterion that differentiates talent along the high-professional/high-potential continuum is Learning Agility. Knowing where your people stand on this scale will allow you to make more informed decisions in selection, succession management, career planning and development.

The benefits for individuals are obvious – better alignment between career and personal interests and motivation means greater job satisfaction and a greater likelihood of access to personally meaningful development opportunities.

For organisations, measurement of Learning Agility gives that all-important big picture view of the talent pool. Group data with scores across each of the five factors of Learning Agility offers the opportunity to identify candidates who have the right skills for a job now or those who would benefit from specific developmental opportunities.

Importantly, the overall Learning Agility Index for your talent pool provides critical insight into the dominant themes in your organisation’s culture and how agile it is as a whole.

 

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Understanding Learning Agility

What is Learning Agility?

Learning Agility is defined as “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to succeed in new and different situations”.

People differ significantly in what and how they learn from experience. Some acquire skills and knowledge, readily picking up technical information, whilst others are more adept figuring out how to solve unfamiliar problems and finding new ways of looking at issues.

Learning Agility is defined as “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to succeed in new and different situations”.

People differ significantly in what and how they learn from experience. Some acquire skills and knowledge, readily picking up technical information, whilst others are more adept figuring out how to solve unfamiliar problems and finding new ways of looking at issues.

Primarily, learning agility is an indicator of adaptability rather than intelligence. Although intelligence influences the ability to learn from a traditional perspective, learning agility is a different and distinct trait that is not significantly correlated with intelligence.

Agile learners tend to approach new experiences with curiosity and resourcefulness; they respond well to situations that stretch their thinking and current way of doing things. On the other hand, less agile learners prefer what is familiar and to go with proven solutions.

Where did the term Learning Agility come from?

Dr Michael Lombardo and Dr Robert Eichinger introduced the term Learning Agility two decades ago as a key indicator of leadership potential, based on extensive research into executive success and derailment carried out at the Center for Creative Leadership[1] and Lominger International.[2]

This work has been carried on by Korn Ferry since 2006 and their findings have echoed by many others who have highlighted the importance of learning from experience. For example, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas found that successful leaders commonly had critical experiences that changed their thinking.[3]

It should be noted that the origin of Learning Agility as a construct was derived from leadership research, as opposed to educational psychology. However, other streams of research have contributed to the understanding of Learning Agility, including studies of different forms of intelligence.

Dr Robert Sternberg put forward his theory of “successful intelligence” as the kind of intelligence used to achieve important goals. He emphasises analytical, creative and practical abilities as key components of the ability to succeed in career and life.[4]

Why is Learning Agility important?

As Learning Agility comprises a set of skills that allow us to learn something in one setting and apply it another, it is especially significant in today’s business environment where change, uncertainty and ambiguity are the norms.

As much as we may like to think that things are stable and under our control, the reality is quite different. The vast majority of the problems facing executives and managers lack clarity and have no obvious answers.[5] New technologies, new processes and new business challenges. Nothing stays the same very long.

In addition, jobs themselves become more complex at higher levels in an organisation and it’s here that Learning Agility must move into high gear. Executives need to sort information from a variety of sources and drill down to distil it into simple themes that are understandable for others.

 

[1] McCall, M Lombardo & Morrison, 1988, The Lessons of Experience, The Free Press

[2] Lombardo & Eichinger, 2010, The Leadership Machine 10th Anniversary Edition, Korn Ferry

[3] Bennis & Thomas, 2002, Geeks and Geezers, Harvard Business School Press

[4] Sternberg, 1997, Successful Intelligence: How practical and creative intelligence determine success in life, Plume.

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Engagement and talent retention

Are any of these issues on your agenda? Are they keeping you awake at night or would you simply like to get a bit better at them?

Engagement and talent retention are tipped to be among this year’s key people management issues, according to Josh Bersin (Redesigning the Organization for a Rapidly Changing World, January 2015). This resonates with us because, in the course of our work, we frequently hear the comment “we could do better with regard to engagement”

When we delve deeper, research on engagement reveals some startling statistics – actively disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by 2 to 1 (State of the Global Workplace, Gallup, 2013).

A 2014 global survey of than 18,000 employees by LinkedIn indicates that for those people either actively or passively looking for alternative jobs, the top five most important reasons for considering a move:

  1. Opportunities for advancement
  2. Better compensation and benefits
  3. More challenging work
  4. A role that was a better fit for the skillset
  5. More learning opportunities.

When one overlays the gradual but inexorable demographic change and the cost of replacing staff, it reinforces the importance of retaining good people.

So, why aren’t organisations better at engaging their good talent? And by good talent, we don’t just mean the high performing-high potential stars in box 9 on the talent matrix, we’re including those in the ‘mighty middle’ who consistently deliver but may not have aspirations beyond their current type of job and may not make much fuss about their dissatisfaction.

Based on coaching individuals across a wide spectrum of roles and industries, we have observed some common themes that relate directly to engagement:

  • The majority of people like receiving feedback for doing a good job.
  • Capable individuals do not see a burgeoning in-tray of tasks or projects as development.
  • Employees welcome the opportunity to discuss, explore and develop their careers.
  • Organisations that differentiate talent are able to offer more satisfying development opportunities to key performers and high potentials.

Organisations that address these themes and take action to fix what needs fixing can turn around low workplace engagement in order to drive better business outcomes.

Whilst every organisation must address engagement and talent retention in the context of its workforce, culture and business conditions, there are best practices that apply to all organisations and we will focus on some of these in future blogs.

 

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What’s new in competency frameworks?

For the last two decades, we have defined competencies as ‘measurable characteristics of a person that are related to success at work’. They can be technical in nature, such as the ability to develop a business plan or design a software program, or behavioural, which describe how a person goes about their job.

The ability to build strong customer relationships and deliver customer-centric solutions may drive success in a sales role, whilst motivating people to do their best to help the organisation achieve its objectives may be the key to effectiveness as a manager.

The value of behavioural competencies is well established. Ongoing research by Lominger, Korn Ferry and others has consistently found that that they account for between 40 and 60 percent of total job performance.

Organisations around the world recognise the need for competency frameworks that link individual competencies to the broader goals of the organisation, filtered through the business context and competitive strategy.

However, two factors are emerging that are shaping the way organisations think about their competency needs:

  • The rapidly shifting business environment demands increasing levels of resilience, flexibility and the ability to lead change and they want competencies to reflect this.
  • Many leaders recognise that they are facing an inadequate supply of top quality, ready-now talent and this is having a profound impact on hiring and selection.

In this context, the innovative new Korn Ferry Leadership Architect™ has a number of features with special appeal to those who want to:

  • Make sure their competencies are described in contemporary language that truly reflects the needs of jobs today.
  • Align competencies to their current business drivers and challenges, whilst also addressing future needs.
  • Precisely target a list of the most high-impact behaviours, skills and attributes.
  • Ensure competencies are relevant to people across the business, whilst keeping them simple and easy to use.
  • Take much of the guesswork out of putting the right talent in the right role at the right time.

In upcoming blogs we will describe how competencies themselves have evolved, how they are applied at different levels in the organisation and ways to overcome the most common challenges in implementing competency frameworks.

 

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Enhancing the Employee Value Proposition

How many new employees did you hire in the last 12 months?

What attracted them to join your organisation?

You may have listed the benefits of working with you on the career section of your website, but do you really know?

If you are finding it hard to source top talent and not securing the highly capable, motivated candidates you need, you may want to revisit your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

A good place to start is by asking your most talented employees what they like most about working for you; and why they stay with the organisation. You could be surprised. The drivers that motivate your people may have changed, especially if the demographic of your workforce has shifted.

Next, capture the views of new employees in the onboarding process. Canvas their first impressions of what your organisation has to offer and revisit them in 12 months to see if the reality measures up to the promise of your EVP.

A strong EVP that delivers intrinsic satisfaction with the work experience drives employee engagement, leading to a healthy and happy workplace.

 

 

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Driving a development culture

What is your organisation’s investment in developing its people?

No doubt, the L&D budget comes immediately to mind. But, what about the not so obvious costs, such as those associated with getting people up to speed in new assignments, the efforts of managers in performance management and career development, the cost of job rotations or paid time off for study?

Taking all these things into account simply provides an added incentive to maximise the return on investment and take a more holistic view of what constitutes development. A lament we have heard too often lately concerns the challenge of sustaining professional development beyond an initial program or event.

What this takes is a conscious effort over time, focused on two key elements – people and systems. Most people want to grow and develop, do well and be rewarded for their achievements; and organisations need a support system in place to help them. Importantly, managers need to be active participants in the process, as nothing much will happen without their ability, interest and commitment.

Six ways to sustain people development within your organisation

  1. Ensure development initiatives are aligned to business strategy – People need to know that what they are working on will not only help them be successful personally but also contribute to the organisation’s goals.
  2. Set targets for development – Provide role clarity through success profiles that differentiate skills by level and target high performance in the job. People are more motivated to work on skills that are recognised and rewarded based on their importance.
  3. Differentiate your development offerings – People are not all the same, they have different skills, talent, motivation, values and ambition. So, whilst all people need opportunities for development, they need them in different ways. One needs the challenge of new and different assignments, whilst another wants to deepen their expertise in their particular field.
  4. Empower your managers – Managers must embrace their responsibility for developing others. However many managers are not comfortable discussing a person’s skills or giving tough feedback but these are essential aspects to what can be ultimately a very rewarding experience, developing others.   Start with simple briefing sessions on what skills are important, how skills are built and the difference between performance and potential.
  5. Make development plans personal – There are different types of development need – a weakness that needs to be a strength, an average skill that needs to be superior, an overused skill that needs to be toned down. Add to this the nature of the need – is it a single competency or a cluster of similar skills?  Is it difficult for anyone to develop or specific to the person? Should they find another way to work around it?  People generally respond well to this broadband approach to needs analysis and development planning.
  6. Offer the right tools to kick-start development  – People need resources to create and implement a development plan. A range of self-assessment instruments, sources of feedback and clearly laid out options for skill development are essential.
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Generation Y: Building tomorrow’s leaders

Generation Y, or Gen Y, is the name given to the generation of people born between 1980 and 1994. They represent the single largest generation in history and by 2025 will make up 75% of the world’s workforce. Some other facts about Gen Y:

Gen Y’s currently make up 20% of the Australian population
Almost half of them have been to university
They are the most highly educated cohort ever to enter the workforce
They have higher expectations of promotion than previous generations
One in four change jobs in any given year.

Tips for Managing Gen Y Employees in Your Organisation

Working successfully with Gen Y employees can require some adaptation and flexibility on the part of their manager. For example, if they want to make their mark by trying new ways of doing things it shouldn’t be seen as a rejection of established practices in the organisation. Here are 6 tips for managing Gen Y employees in your organisation:

1.  Knowledge

Gen Y employees have a strong desire for knowledge and learning; and will often demand workplace training as part of their employment conditions. Lack of personal development, along with limited opportunity for progression, are major factors in why Gen Y’s leave organisations. Managers should plan for this and aim to provide ongoing learning that is mutually beneficial to the employee and the organisation.

2.  Feedback

Gen Y’s need plenty of feedback and recognition. Having grown up in an era where these were freely given in school, they expect it. They are happiest when they are being listened to and respected and will perform better if this is so. They want to feel they are working towards a purpose and this will encourage them to stay motivated.

3.  Flexibility

Research shows that Gen Y’s want work-life balance and are strong advocates of flexible hours and working from home. The saying ‘work smarter not harder’ resonates strongly with them. With this in mind, managers should factor in a flexible work/life plan to suit both the employee and the business.

4.  Technology

Gen Y’s are more technologically savvy than any previous generation. They use the Internet widely in everyday social interaction and for sourcing business information. Over 75% of them have a profile on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Their managers can tap into this capability to help drive technology-based innovation in their business.

5.  Teamwork

Gen Y employees value teamwork because they enjoy participation, interaction and collaborative decision-making. As a result, they appreciate managers who pay attention to building effective teams. Because they like environments that are social and fun, managers should also ensure they make time to debrief and celebrate team successes.

6.  Career Development

Most Gen Y’s will expect a pay increase within a short period of time in a job, along with good prospects of promotion. Whilst this may not always be feasible, managers can ensure they are being given new challenges, are included in decision-making and have access to coaching and mentoring so they feel their needs are being recognised.

So, does this seem like managing Gen Y’s is hard work? If it does, consider this. Gen Y’s are energised by challenge. They find new tasks and jobs as opportunities to grow. They enjoy finding new ways to do things, as well as connecting with and learning from other people. Managers who account for the wants and needs of their Gen Y staff will find a refreshing flexibility among them. In addition, they are more likely to support organisational change as long as they are provided with the rationale for the change and have the opportunity to explore and discuss the associated pros and cons.

 

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Is leadership coaching for you?

A skilled executive coach acting as an objective and unbiased thinking partner can be invaluable if you are facing change or simply want to hone your leadership skills. Your coach can help diagnose the gap between where you are now and where you want to be, and be resourceful with ideas on how you can get there.

So how do you find the right coach for you?

An important consideration when choosing a coach is to understand a little more about them as a person, as well as their style and approach, so that you can decide if the coach is the right ‘fit’ for you.

Here are 7 things to consider when choosing your executive coach:

  1. What coaching experience and qualifications do they have?
  2. Can the coach provide you with testimonials?
  3. What examples of success can the coach share with you?
  4. Do they have experience in your industry?
  5. Have they coached leaders at a similar level to you?
  6. What types of assessment tools do they use to evaluate skills?
  7. What time frame are they allowing for the coaching assignment?

Research over the past decade clearly demonstrates the positive impact of coaching on people and on business results. You can expect to benefit in various ways:

  • Greater self-awareness
  • More clarity and focus on your role
  • New ways to build relationships with colleagues and other stakeholders
  • Ideas for overcoming difficult workplace issues
  • Improved business performance

Coaching is increasingly being recognised as a powerful partnership that inspires an individual to make changes to achieve fulfilling results, personally and professionally. And, with the right coach, that partnership can be a richly rewarding experience that gives you long-lasting benefits.

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