How to captivate your top performers in 2016

By TEC Member Anne Moore, CEO at PlanDo

Engaging your top performersThe Prime Minister might have just announced plans for more people to come to Australia under entrepreneur visas, as part of his ‘Innovation Statement’ but that isn’t going to help the majority of HR professionals looking to hire and engage their best talent next year.

The reality is that if you thought 2015 was tough keeping the energy and attention of your best talent, it’s going to get tougher in 2016. Many companies talk about the benefits they offer their employees, the perks, the flexibility and the competitive remuneration packages, but providing individuals with a clear career path and enabling them fulfill their career goals, aligned to your own, needs to be high, if not top on the list.

For too long the systems and processes that HR professionals use reflect the organisation’s goals, not the individual’s. They present HR professionals with a huge administrative burden and don’t reflect the changing nature of the work environment. How many businesses do you know make decisions on an annual basis anymore? Indeed, HR professionals may be hiring for a role today, but that role could be completely different in a few months’ time.

Together with the changing work environment, the casualisation of labour, the increase in contractors rather than employees and the millennial mindset of wanting to work in a number of different organisations rather than sticking with one over the long-term, HR professionals need new tools to retain talent in 2016.

I’m not talking ‘retention’ here, we’re going far further upstream.  We think the magic happens with how we enable autonomy and the impact of great performance and engagement.

If you want to engage your top performers next year, you need to consider the following:

1.    How often do you or your leaders ‘check-in’ with your team members?
Instead of having to make team members wait for 12 months for their review, smart organisations will provide more feedback more often. This feedback shouldn’t just come from ‘managers’ or ‘leaders’ as they should be known, it should be from more than one person – peers, mentors whomever the individual chooses. That way, a more complete picture can be built of the individual’s progress and a different perspective can be provided.  Recent research shows that peer feedback is particularly effective in motivating team members to consistently perform at their best.

2.    Are the individuals that work for your organisation self-directed?
Has your organisation given your team members an opportunity to talk about their career goals and what they want to do? It’s important for your leaders to set goals and objectives together with individuals. Ask them how they can contribute to achieve the goals your organisation has set. Again, it comes down to ownership and accountability, and if the individual has suggested a goal or objective, they’re much more likely to achieve it, than if they’re given one.  The new world of work demands a responsiveness and agile that’s internally derived.

3.    Does your performance review process need an overhaul?
Is it too long? Too cumbersome? A box ticking exercise? Some organisations such as Accenture and Deloitte are scrapping them altogether. There are cloud based career management systems available, such as PlanDo that are more intuitive, less expensive and really help HR professionals retain their key talent. It’s about HR professionals and leaders across the business having access to the right tools for the changing work environment.

4.    Are you having quality career conversations?
Ask yourself if the tools you’re using today encourage quality conversations between ‘leaders’ and ‘individuals’ in your organisation. Standard performance systems encourage managers to only talk to their people about growth once or twice a year. Most organisations in Australia have invested in expensive outdated ‘talent management’ systems that reflect what the organisation wants from its employees, to ‘manage’ them. Today, this approach simply doesn’t work. ‘Talent’ can’t be managed. With a younger generation of workers coming through, they want to take control of their own career and not have an organisation dictate to them the path they need to take to progress.  Managers are rapidly evolving into leader coaches and as such, they’ll also be wanting easy access to simple and effective tools that facilitate great conversations.

Finally, helping your team members with their career progression is not all down to you. Competition is fierce in many industries in Australia to attract the best talent and then once you have those individuals, it’s a common misconception that it’s down to HR professionals to nurture individuals and outline a path for progression. Wrong. Today, this is a shared responsibility. It’s about co-careering which means aligned values, purpose and goals.  Building strengths, skills and ensuring there’s a great ‘fit’ is was matters more and more.  At the end of the day, the individual is responsible for their own career, ensuring their experience and skills are documented and taken with them to their next employer.

Collaborative leadership begins with you

Collaboration: having been bandied about the boardroom for decades, it nonetheless remains an enigmatic concept in business today. Is it merely one of those hackneyed buzzwords that are so heavily frowned upon on CVs and company mission statements, or rather an incredibly relevant concept that applies to the modern organisation?

Businesses of all size and shape today will do well to ensure collaboration is still a major priority – and the onus, no doubt, falls on the organisation’s leader. This seems to hold true across the world, at least according to an extensive global study led by CEO and author John Gerzema.

In the study, researchers polled 64,000 individuals across 13 countries on the qualities they believed led to successful leaders and businesses. One of the most prominent insights garnered in the study was that most people wanted their leaders to be more collaborative, with this trait ranking among the highest, along the likes of flexibility and selflessness.

In fact, an overwhelming 84 per cent believed that greater collaboration and sharing of credit are essential to a successful modern career. So what does this mean for those sitting at the top of businesses today?

It means it’s time to take collaborative leadership seriously, if you aren’t doing so already.

What does it really mean to be a collaborative leader?

The importance of collaboration aside, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it means and entails, especially in a leadership context.

It’s worth having a look around to see how different people define collaborative leadership. According to an infographic from the Collaborative Lead Training Co., the workplace is evolving towards a more collaborative future and thus redefining leadership.

The infographic lays out eight key differences between traditional leadership and collaborative leadership. Among these are the notions that in contrast with the traditional model, collaborative leadership:

  • Believes power is greatest in a collective team, rather than coming from a position of authority
  • Openly shares information and knowledge, rather than imposing ownership on it
  • Elicits suggestions and ideas from across the team – all the time
  • Empowers the team with immediate time and resources, rather than providing these only when necessary

As can be seen from the infographic’s suggestions, a collaborative leader is one who embraces a ‘flatter’ organisational structure, sharing authority and accountability around the team instead of hoarding it themselves.

Additionally, in an April 17 2013 HRZone article, leadership consultants David Archer and Alex Cameron said there are three essential skills and three essential attitudes behind a collaborative leader. Even if a leader possesses the three skills, they will not be able to be fully collaborative if they don’t have the attitudes to match.

According to Archer and Cameron, the three vital skills for collaborative leadership are mediation, influencing and engaging others. Collaborative leaders, they say, are adept at addressing and resolving conflicts the moment they arise. In addition, they are skilled at influencing peers based on the organisation’s culture – which is a critical skill to have if they hope to share control and leadership.

Lastly, engagement and relationship building are essential qualities for a collaborative leader, and this involves clear communication.

So, what are the attitudes that accompany these crucial skills? Archer and Cameron outline agility, patience and empathy as the mindsets that leaders should adopt if they wish to be collaborative.

It is clear that there are some common threads that unite the schools of thought around collaborative leadership. Leaders attempting to follow this model should place emphasis on the team rather than the individual, promote a flat and open company structure and empower their employees. This should be backed up with quick-thinking and the ability to take others’ points of view.

Why it pays to be collaborative

But why is collaborative leadership so important? Especially in the modern business world, where technology is exponentially growing in prevalence and reshaping traditional interpersonal communication, adopting a collaborative culture is essential.

This was pointed out by Carol Kinsey Goman in a February 13 2014 Forbes article. Ms Goman stresses that the dreaded silo mentality is holding back countless organisations today, and not sharing information around the company can essentially “kill” it.

As a recent study by Interaction Associates suggests, not embracing collaborative leadership can also hurt your company’s bottom line. The group conducted a study on what impacts the confluence of leadership, collaboration and trust can have on a business – including its financial performance.

In the study, Interaction Associates ranked more than 150 companies based on how well they embodied these three components. It found that those considered strong across the three traits demonstrated superior financial results – for example, their P/E ratios were 28.5 per cent higher on average for those classed as weak.

Collaboration is not just a vague ideal that companies should aim for – it is a very real concept with tangible results, and it’s time to embed this into your leadership today.

Is company culture holding back your organisation?

Company culture can be a difficult thing to quantify and measure, especially for an SME that is looking to become more innovative.

While CEOs and company leaders will play a major part in establishing and maintaining a strong internal culture, there are still issues which derail these initiatives.

This is especially challenging if it means that companies cannot remain competitive and stay ahead of the opposition. Innovation is just one area where company culture can play a major role in long-term success or failure.

This issue was recently explored in the Culturing Success report from Microsoft into how widespread innovation is within a small business and what is setting apart high-performers in this space. The research reported that nearly 70 per cent of SMEs in Australia are finding it difficult to become more innovative because of company culture.

According to the report, there are four cultural issues which are undermining the performance of Australian firms. These four are; working in silos, employee distrust, poor collaboration and a fear of failure.

The importance of innovation was underscored by Microsoft Australia’s Managing Director, Pip Marlow, who stated that “innovation is vital to the success of any business, no matter how big or small.”

“However, our research reveals that many businesses find it difficult to develop a culture of innovation.”

While there is clearly a lot of room for Australian companies to improve their processes, the report did highlight features that set highly innovative companies apart from the competition. The 33 per cent of firms that fell into this highly innovative category possessed five key features, including:

A strong customer focus
Awareness of and appetite for innovation
Visible and involved leaders, which in turn create engaged employees
Authentic internal dialogues
A supportive working environment

The result of implementing these processes is a considerable improvement in the performance of an organisation. According to the research, 39 per cent of high-performing firms reported above average growth, compared to less than a quarter of those who are poor innovators.

So how can companies achieve this new focus? The report suggested four strategies that companies can embrace to move closer to the example set by highly innovative organisations:

Attract new staff

The study emphasised that attracting the right staff is an important part of building an innovative business. By bringing in new perspectives, organisations will be able to create great ideas and subsequently see them through to completion.

The advantages of attracting the right staff go beyond boosting innovation, they can also play an important role in realising customer engagement.

Many Australian companies are already aware of the challenges that come alone with attracting and retaining valuable staff members. For fast-growing SMEs like Enablis, finding the right staff members has been the core challenge when trying to scale the business to handle further expansion.

Collaborate with external partners

Creative ideas and innovative solutions don’t just come from within a business – in many situations, creative ideas will actually come from tapping into the skill sets of other firms and working collaboratively.

Business collaboration is also becoming increasingly important across new technology, with collaboration over cloud technologies predicted to double over coming years, according to a study from Research and Markets.

Evaluate performance

Companies that are looking to become more innovative will need to have established and concrete processes to measure performance. Microsoft suggested organisations can audit themselves to understand exactly how well they are realising an innovation strategy at each stage.

One option that companies can use is the assessment tool provided by Microsoft. This quick test was designed to accompany the research and allows businesses to measure how innovative they really are. This sort of information can then be used to identify the areas an SME will need to work on if they want to move up the scale.

The benefits of this system were also highlighted by Pip Marlow, who emphasised the advantages of taking this assessment for small-business owners.

“Microsoft’s new self-assessment tool is the first of its kind to help small and medium-sized businesses identify their culture-related obstacles and then implement tangible solutions to become true innovation leaders,” stated Ms Marlow.

Build a flexible workplace

Staff will often perform better if they have the opportunity to get out from behind their desk and work in a way that best suits them. Not only can making this change ensure that staff are thinking creatively, it can also reduce the amount of stress they feel outside of work.

Solutions like working from home and employees choosing their own hours are easy ways for small businesses to introduce more flexibility, and thinking along these lines is a key ingredient in building an innovative company.

A flexible workplace can also involve introducing new processes to reduce the amount of time spent working on menial or repetitive tasks. For TEC member Alister Haigh, introducing ‘Baxter’ – a robot  designed to take over menial processes – has introduced a new level of flexibility into his family’s chocolate business.

Of course, none of these approaches alone is going to transform a business into an innovative organisation. But, by combining these different factors into a single coherent strategy, businesses will be well-placed to become a highly innovative firm that is also a leader in their industries.

For small businesses, building this sort of culture is going to require constant attention and maintenance. While this might sound daunting, the benefits for SMEs that can embrace this way of thinking are certainly going to be considerable.