People agility: a potential game-changer for leaders

People agility has emerged as a ‘must-have’ capability for leaders in today’s complex and dynamic business world.

Not only do leaders need to navigate this turbulent environment successfully themselves, but they also need to be the enablers for their people to solve problems and deliver results.

One way they can create the inclusive, collaborative and innovative culture their organisations need is by consistently demonstrating a desire to explore, discover and learn with others.

Simply put, it’s about being agile in the way they engage with their people. However, many strategic and operational demands on senior executives can get in the way.

People agility defined

At first glance, people agility seems to describe the capacity to get on well with others, but there is more to it than that. People agility is the ability to take an open-minded, curious and flexible approach to people, looking for diverse opinions to broaden mutual understanding and achieve common goals.

People agility is also about communicating clearly, adjusting the style, pace and message to the audience. It’s being willing to take on a different viewpoint depending on the person or circumstances. People agile individuals learn quickly how to hear out opposing views and take care not to incite or escalate tension or conflict.

These characteristics are rounded out by the ability to read people well and predict how individuals and groups will respond to various events and situations and being ready and willing to help others to excel. This is often referred to as ’emotional intelligence’ or EQ.

This is the second of five blogs on why Learning Agility matters for executive success, with specific tips for enhancing the people agility dimension for yourself and others.

Social leadership

Leading involves understanding the social needs of people, including those who consider themselves focused on tasks rather than people. It must be recognised that social engagement is fundamental to human health and well-being which has a significant impact on organisational performance.

Dr Matthew Lieberman, neuroscientist and author, describes social engagement as a fundamental requirement built into our biology along with the basic needs for survival. In his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect he suggests that it deserves to be at the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Infants embody the need to be connected because they are totally dependent on their caregiver(s) and the quality of care they receive has been shown to influence their cognitive and emotional development. The effects can last a lifetime.

So, what are the implications for business leaders? They need a mindset that helps them focus on:

  • Recognising the need for people to ‘belong’ and emphasising the importance of the team.
  • Facilitating open dialogue with a wide variety of contributors and stakeholders.
  • Breaking down barriers to collaboration across the organisation.
  • Building a sense of community connected to a higher purpose.

People orchestration skills

In his book Know-How, Ram Charan describes skills that separate leaders who perform from those who don’t. One of those skills is the ability to manage the social system of their business so people can work effectively and cooperatively together.

As many of us recognise this isn’t always easy, and the title of that chapter tells us so – Herding Cats!

Charan says that building the right social system requires making superb judgments on people, knowing how to select them, get them into the right jobs and help them build the skills to lead. He says this is highly developable.

So is people agility. Each of its elements is described in behavioural terms, so with targeted and systematic efforts leaders can adopt the practices used by great people leaders.

Tips for increasing people agility

  • Keep an open mind by suspending judgment. Listen to what people are saying and find clues about how they formed their opinions. Think about why you might differ and how you can reach common ground.
  • Take time to get to know your people, make sure you are aware of their strengths, weaknesses and career aspirations and check in regularly. Don’t assume you know.
  • Be alert when decisions are to be made, by being present and in the moment. Stop and consider whether you have all the facts in unfamiliar situations. Look for anything you are missing and read the people in the room.
  • Slow down when you disagree with others. Choose your words carefully so you don’t appear biased. Focus on the issue at hand, not the person.
  • Set people up for success by sharing what you know. Be an advocate for people you believe in and make sure you give credit where it’s due.
  • Build a network for yourself outside your immediate circle. Connect with individuals and groups who don’t know each other so you than can access new information and fresh thinking.

The future of work

The rapid pace of change today brings a need to transform the way we do business and find new ways of working. We are in the midst of a massive shift, evidenced by the trend to flexible working, remote teams, coworking spaces, artificial intelligence and more.

Add to this the fact that people are living longer and retiring later, whilst younger people are now entering the workforce. This means that, for the first time, we have five generations in the workplace and must accommodate the different needs and expectations of those groups.

Last year research conducted by PWC published the results of a global survey of business and HR leaders. In a paper entitled Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today, they note that the most astute leaders must ask the question: “How can I deliver great performance by helping our people to thrive?”

Yes, indeed! The need for leaders to cultivate people agility has never been greater!

Last words

If you would like to see how leaders can create a circle of trust to build cooperation and collaboration, check out Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk – Why good leaders make you feel safe.

Sinek says that doing this, especially in an uneven economy, is a big responsibility for leaders – but it’s the key to helping ordinary people achieve extraordinary things.

 

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Why measure 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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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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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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Ensuring leaders succeed in transition to a new job

The early days in a job are challenging for most newly appointed leaders. Even if they feel well equipped for the new role, they have a lot to learn about their organisation and its people, culture and way of working. Many people feel they can intuitively do this. After all, they have been successful in previous roles.

At first, it’s easy to put effort into ‘what’ to do in the new job at the expense of ‘how’ to go about it. Early mistakes such as failing to understand the culture, clarify the expectations of stakeholders or misreading group dynamics can be hard to recover from later on.

In most large organisations, up to 25 per cent of managers take on a new position in any given year. That is a lot of people facing different responsibilities, learning new skills and coming to terms with fresh challenges!

What Research Tells Us

Research shows that up to 40 per cent of promoted leaders will fall short of expectations in the first eighteen months and the risk is even greater for newcomers to the organisation. When leaders fail, everyone suffers. Morale, productivity and revenue all take a hit. What we know is that:

  • Companies who invest time and resources in onboarding enjoy the highest levels of employee engagement.
  • Individuals who fail to adapt and develop as the surrounding context changes are at risk of derailment.
  • Unsuccessful leadership transitions have a negative impact on the credibility of the selection process.

The cost of turnover at the executive level can be 2 to 3 times annual remuneration. The cost is too great to leave successful transitions to chance.

Onboarding programs that consist of a company induction combined with individual coaching reduce the risk as they ensure that people get off to a good start and build momentum for longer-term success. Everyone Wins!

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Four ways to advance the representation of women at the top

  • Today, more women graduate from university than men and yet far fewer make it to senior executive roles in organisations.
  • The percentage of women on ASX 200 boards is 15.4% and of those companies 52% have no women on their boards.[1]
  • Some 78% of women now leave their middle and upper management positions to start their own business.[2]

A challenge for women

A Harvard Business Review study conducted by Boris Groysberg and Deborah Bell found many leaders see a greater representation of women at the top of organisations is key to diversity and sustainability. At the same time, we have all heard the line that there are simply not enough skilled and experienced women around.

Here lies a challenge – women lag behind men in getting the type of assignments that prepare people for success at the top, such as those with P&L responsibility, heavy strategic demands and high visibility from top management. Understandably, it’s hard to sustain a career long term without the right experiential learning.

Agility is the key

In his article “The Importance of Agility” in Human Resource Executive online, Andrew McIlvaine says that in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, we need to ensure that leaders have the requisite agility to not only operate in unchartered watersbut to thrive in them.

Agility has been a theme for Lominger International for two decades, after successful executives were found to embrace new and diverse challenges and integrate and draw numerous and varied lessons from them. In other words they are “learning agile”. Here is another opportunity to help women keep pace in development.

Helping women advance their careers

  1. Give women the opportunity to understand and develop their learning agility
    Women (and men!) benefit enormously from knowing where they stand now on learning agility. It is a measurable trait that can be developed. Coaching and self-help resources such Lominger’s Agile Leader series are useful for becoming a more agile leader.
  2. Ensure organisational career paths are identified and open to women
    When an organisation identifies its most critical jobs, any bias against women must be overcome so they are included in succession plans. Career pathways that are visible to themselves and others and appropriate development planning will help them stay the course to realise their potential.
  3. Support women in making successful leadership transitions
    Each step up the corporate ladder brings a new set of requirements in terms of skill, complexity of work and focus of effort. Navigating these changes at each transition is essential for long-term career success. Stephen Drotter’s book “The Performance Pipeline” is a good resource for understanding what it takes.
  4. Give women opportunities to build their professional network
    Women can often be distracted by the variety of roles they play in their lives – partner, mother, daughter, sister, etc. With so many facets to their lives, they may need encouragement to build a network of peers inside and outside the organisation, as well as finding mentors to help guide their path.

[1] Women in Leadership Report, CEDA, June 2013

[2] National Survey of Women Business Owners, Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, March 2012

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Why leaders must read

At LDN we are avid readers of books and articles on all aspects of leadership success and development. We refer to many of them when we lead seminars and workshops, and are often asked to recommend readings on specific topics, our latest discoveries or our all-time favourites.

On the other hand, we regularly hear the lament “I’m just not a reader, I am simply too busy.” These words should sound a warning if they come from those who aspire to key leadership roles.

It’s not good enough in the information age to say they haven’t got time or just never got into the habit of reading. People who favour action over reflection, and today’s tasks over preparing for the future, will one day be left behind.

Staying on top of your game

Reading is essential to keep up to date on the latest trends in your field. Just as the body needs to be nurtured with good diet, exercise and sleep, the mind needs to be broadened with new ways of thinking. Time regularly set aside to absorb ideas outside the realm of everyday experience helps leaders build capacity to deal with new and unfamiliar challenges.

Personal development

Besides increasing general knowledge, reading has other benefits. It engages different parts of the brain that call on the ability to comprehend, imagine and develop ideas. Processing the written word is more complex than talking to a friend or watching a movie. Classical literature, in particular, uses more precise and elegant language than everyday conversation, increasing vocabulary and capacity for critical thinking.

Enhancing emotional intelligence

Reading about business makes good sense, but what about fiction? Keith Oatley, professor emeritus in cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, says that reading fiction enhances a person’s emotional intelligence through greater understanding of both the characters and human nature in general. A novelist himself, Oatley believes fiction offers the opportunity to experience emotions in books that people would not otherwise encounter.

Reducing stress

Reading can be a wonderful escape from the stress of everyday life. Research shows it slows the heart rate and eases tension in muscles in just a few minutes. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that silent reading lowered stress by 68 percent, beating listening to music (61 percent) and taking a walk (42 percent).

Five tips for making reading easier

  1. Subscribe to an executive book summary service to access summaries you can read in about 10 minutes.
  2. Buy the book if you want to explore it in depth, in hard copy or soft copy for your electronic reader.
  3. Subscribe to business journals that carry articles relevant to your business or industry.
  4. Find a couple of websites that have articles and blogs on topics of specific interest to you.
  5. Share your reading with your team so you can challenge each other on decisions you need to make.

 

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