What do top performing leaders have in common?

chess gameSo, what do top performing leaders have in common? They’ve all received some form of mentoring throughout their careers to get them where they are today.

In fact, Harvard Business Review surveyed 45 CEOs who had formal mentoring in place, and found that ‘71% said they were certain that company performance had improved as a result. Strong majorities reported that they were making better decisions (69%) and more capably fulfilling stakeholder expectations (76%).

While it’s certainly not a new concept in the business world, but it can be lonely at the top and many leaders find it challenging to know how they’re performing – and what exactly they need to do to be more effective in their role.

As a business leader you have to frequently make decisions concerning matters that have never before been undertaken. In such high-stakes conditions, leaders require wise mentoring with apparent rules of engagement to ensure total confidentiality.

Finding the right mentor can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. By working with a mentor, leaders are able to benchmark how they’re performing as well as be held accountable from a wise role model, someone with genuine guidance based on true-life experiences.

Here’s how some of our top performing members benefited in key areas of their business from having a mentor:

Transitioning into the C-suite 

There are a number of challenges involved in transitioning from a functional executive into the C-suite. By engaging with a mentor who has personally experienced such transitions, new leaders can gain access to perspectives that are uniquely contextualised and personalised. These ongoing relationships are often one of the most important when it comes to giving leaders the confidence to tackle new issues as they arise, particularly in areas that fall outside their core expertise and experience.

This is exactly why Director of Save Sight Institute and Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Sydney Peter McCluskey, was drawn to seeking an experienced mentor.

‘I look after a lot of people, a lot of students and do a lot of administration, plus working as an eye doctor, a researcher and a teacher. Moving to this role was a big, big change and involved a lot of learning on the fly.’

‘TEC has really been a fabulous sounding board for helping me make sure I understand what the problems are that I was facing with personnel, strategy and implementation,’ Peter explained.

As someone who transitioned into a Director role from a research and teaching background, Peter wanted to ensure he had the right skill set, outlook and thought processes to successfully lead the institute, which is where mentoring made a measurable difference.

Building and retaining top talent

One of the many challenges affecting businesses regardless of the industry in which they operate is building and retaining top talent.

Managing Partner of Marsh & Partners Bronwyn Condon found that both external and internal mentoring is essential for retaining and developing employees throughout the firm.

‘We have a mentoring program within the firm where we ensure accounting graduates are getting to whatever level they need,’ Bronwyn explained.  ‘Beyond that is when I get involved directly. That means ensuring they can move from an accountant to a manager role and eventually a partner.’

Bronwyn has experienced firsthand the impact of this talent strategy in action, with a number of different employees advancing their careers within the firm. ‘We’ve got a lot of people who have been here for 10, 12 years who have worked their way up to the manager level. They wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a strong mentor process in place.’

Having the right mentor that understands the importance of a talent strategy is crucial to business success, and leaders who can implement this strategy will set the organisation up for future growth.

Mentoring extends across the C-suite

Traditionally, mentoring is viewed as a one-on-one connection. While this is a still a valuable way to pass on insight, there’s also merit in extending this connection and bringing it into a group situation. Spending time with a group of senior executives, who share similar experience, insights and challenges associated with their respective industries helps to broaden and develop leadership perspective.

That was certainly the case for WBP Property Group CEO, Greville Pabst. Greville believes that the group connection is one of the most important parts of his mentoring experience. By attending both his monthly one-on-one mentoring session and meeting with his peer network of senior executives, Greville is able to project his ideas and refocus.

‘Not only do I have an experienced business mentor, I also have sixteen or seventeen other CEOs that I can talk to,’ Greville said. ‘We can all speak in trust and with confidence and I just think that is a really understated resource that TEC brings to its members.’

Greville explained that a key component of his mentoring experiences is the ability to help keep him grounded, ensuring his ideas and aspirations remain realistic for the future. On top of this, the members’ diversity means that no two opinions are the same.

‘We keep each other very accountable, that’s for sure. We have a vast wealth of experience from all walks of life. It’s been a great learning experience for me’ Greville explained.

Mentoring remains a valuable and versatile method of enhancing business success and ensuring leaders have the confidence, skills and knowledge necessary to make key business decisions. When business leaders fail to seek outsider input for support, their companies can suffer.

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.

Stop. Think. Before you scrap your managers

By TEC Member Anne Moore, CEO at PlanDo

A radical change to business structures is leaking out of Silicon Valley and spreading through Australia and beyond. It even has a name: holacracy. Atlassian has scrapped its managers and so have Canva.

The tenets of holacracy are simple: authority and decision-making rests with the team that is actually doing the work, not with the boss. Employees, the theory goes, spend their work hours getting work done instead of seeking management approval for every small change in direction.

But before you scrap your managers, consider the following instead:

1. Find a career management platform that works for both the individual and the business
The traditional performance review process is broken. 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. The role an individual was hired to do six months ago, isn’t necessarily the role that person is doing today. 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. Cloud based platforms such as PlanDo enable both the individual and organisation to have an ‘adult to adult’ conversation about career development, giving more control to the individual while still providing the ‘manager’ or ‘leader’ with greater visibility of the individual’s career goals and how they’re progressing.

2. Drop the ‘manager’ tag and replace with ‘leader’
Rather than scrapping managers altogether, replace them with ‘leaders’. Today, we don’t want or need to be ‘managed’. Research has proved that giving people accountability for their actions, increases engagement and loyalty towards organisations. By giving authority to individuals to be able to make decisions, not only empowers them but increases efficiency for the organisation, reducing the chance of bottlenecks.

3. Give more feedback more often
Instead of having to make team members wait for 12 months for their review, over a 3 hour meeting, organisations need to 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.

4. Set goals and objectives between individuals and leaders
It’s important for you to set goals and objectives together with your team members. Ask them how they can contribute to achieve the goals your organisation has set. Again, it comes down to ownership and if the individual has suggested a goal or objective, they’re much more likely to achieve it, than if they’re given one.

5. Let the individual take responsibility for his/her career development
Finally, helping your team members with their career progression is not all down to you, the employer. 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 you to nurture them and outline a path for progression. Wrong. Today, this is a shared responsibility. The individual is responsible for their own career, ensuring their experience and skills are documented and taken with them to their next employer.

So before you scrap your managers altogether, adopt ‘leaders’ instead and give individuals more responsibility to self-direct their own careers. Equipping your people with tools and technology that facilitate regular conversation works well from both sides.  For leaders, it’s timely information about where your people are going and how they’re tracking.  For individuals, they’ll value the opportunity to gain regular feedback and take more control over their career. Do that well, and engagement and work satisfaction will soar.

Struggling to Align Company Strategy with Innovation?

Innovation has become an area in which CEOs cannot afford to ignore. The importance of innovation has become a major area for senior executives to address as they look to improve their performance.

The result is that many executives now see the ability to formulate and implement an effective innovation policy as one of the most important aspects of their leadership development.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), investments in innovation are now widespread throughout the country’s economy. In most recent figures, the ABS revealed 36 per cent of companies had introduced new innovations in 2012-13, while a further 22.8 per cent stated they were still in the process of developing new products and services.

However, innovation is also an area senior executives are struggling to align with company strategy, making it harder for companies to combine their development efforts with internal processes.

This was the finding from a recent study from Strategy&, formerly Booz and Company and part of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The organisation’s research found that aligning company strategy with innovation is a major concern for companies in coming years, with 20 per cent stating this is the largest obstacle for a successful innovation policy.

A further 14 per cent are concerned about trying to incorporate company culture into their innovation policies, while 13 per cent are looking to build an external innovation network that could improve their performance.

The research found that product innovation is no longer the main area for companies to address, with the majority of research and development spending set to shift away from goods and towards services in the future.

Organisations are also beginning to prioritise radical innovations amongst new products, rather than investing in incrementally improving an existing product or service, according to Barry Jaruzelski, senior analyst at Strategy&.

“With the healthier market conditions, it is not surprising that business leaders say they plan to focus more on big breakthroughs. This will require companies to build new capabilities, an effort which they must not underestimate,” said Mr Jaruzelski.

“It’s not by planning or shifting spending alone that they will achieve this.”

Clearly there are weaknesses in the current approach towards innovation, meaning CEOs are going to need to spend more time aligning strategy with the development of new products and services.

How do different organisations approach strategy and innovation?

Innovation is usually assumed to be a single process, but in fact it will take different forms depending on the composition of an organisation and the different strategies that are in play.

That is the finding from a further research project from Strategy&. The organisation has formulated three unique forms that businesses can take when developing an innovation strategy.

These are:

  • Needs seekers – companies that use customer insights to drive their performance, finding innovative products that are specifically tailored to the needs of the customer.
  • Market readers – companies that are adept at reading shifts in their industry, and will then invest their research and development efforts into areas that are consistent with shifts in the marketplace.
  • Technology drivers – companies that are the most committed to out-of-the-box innovation strategies, relying on new developments and product offerings to offer something new to their customers.

Each of these different approaches to innovation require organisation-wide cohesion, which can then be applied to the specific product innovations that a company is pursuing. Strategy& also suggested that each of these models comes with a unique approach to the innovation process, with each being driven by different stakeholders within a business.
Strategy, not financing the key to effective innovation

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes CEOs can make is to assume that innovation is simply a financial exercise and that by increasing funding into a certain area they will be able to develop new products and services.

A study from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests that the opposite is actually true – organisations that reduce their expenditure in research and development can actually see a greater return from their investments than those with a large budget for pursuing new products.

Using the case study of CISCO, the research suggested that innovation within an organisation consists of two different processes – explorative innovation and exploitative.

The first relates to a company’s ability to pursue big-picture thinking and develop products that are radically different to anything currently on the market. Exploitative research on the other hand, focuses on commercialising existing processes and driving new growth within an organisation.

Importantly, exploitative innovation doesn’t require a significant investment, and can often yield a greater immediate return for a business than explorative research and development.

In the case of CISCO, the researchers found that although overall investment in innovation declined in the early 2000s, the company’s output of patents – i.e. its exploitative innovation – actually increased.

Even more, successful organisations are those that can quickly change gear between these two different forms of innovation. By quickly shifting between philosophies, organisations were able to pursue the greatest number of new products and services.

Strategy underlying innovation

So how does organisational strategy factor into these findings? Well, firstly it illustrates how important company processes and management styles are for supporting research and development within a business.

Building and embedding this flexibility into the way a company approaches its internal processes is a major challenge for CEOs, especially as they look to develop a competitive organisation. Fortunately, the HBR research shows that developing the right strategy is more effective than simply expanding the budget for further innovation.

The research emphasised that effective leadership was essential for managing the strategic shift between the two forms of innovation.

“Visionary leadership is also about helping the company overcome inertia so that it can shift effectively from one frame of mind to another when the time comes. Few companies pivot easily, but those that do position themselves to ride wave after lucrative wave of exploratory, then exploitative, R&D,” stated the HBR authors.

As innovation becomes an increasingly important business function, effective CEOs are going to have to consider how they can align company strategy with innovation initiatives to drive greater value in their company.

9 common leadership styles: Which type of leader are you?

There is never a one-size-fits-all leadership style for every business – all companies operate differently and certain traits will be more successful in some environments than others.

However, having a thorough understanding of various leadership styles enables senior executives to not only adopt the correct characteristics for themselves, but also choose better managers throughout the organisation.

Here is a list of nine common leadership styles and a brief summary of their advantages and disadvantages.

Transformational leadership

Often considered among the most desirable employees, people who show transformational leadership typically inspire staff through effective communication and by creating an environment of intellectual stimulation.

However, these individuals are often blue-sky thinkers and may require more detail-oriented managers to successfully implement their strategic visions. For more information on transformational leadership traits, please click here.

Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership is focused on group organisation, establishing a clear chain of command and implementing a carrot-and-stick approach to management activities.

It is considered transactional because leaders offer an exchange; they reward good performances, while punishing bad practice. While this can be an effective way of completing short-term tasks, employees are unlikely to reach their full creative potential in such conditions.

Servant leadership

People who practice servant leadership prefer power-sharing models of authority, prioritising the needs of their team and encouraging collective decision-making.

Research by Catalyst has claimed this style, described as altruistic leadership by the company, can improve diversity and boost morale. However, detractors suggest servant leaders lack authority and suffer a conflict of interest by putting their employees ahead of business objectives.

Autocratic leadership

A more extreme version of transactional leadership, autocratic leaders have significant control over staff and rarely consider worker suggestions or share power.

Ruling with an iron fist is rarely appreciated by staff, which can lead to high turnover and absenteeism. There can also be a lack of creativity due to strategic direction coming from a single individual.

This leadership style is best suited to environments where jobs are fairly routine or require limited skills. It is also common in military organisations.

Laissez-faire leadership

More commonly used to describe economic environments, laissez-faire literally means “let them do” in French. This is typically translated to “let it be”. As such, laissez-faire leaders are characterised by their hands-off approach, allowing employees to get on with tasks as they see fit.

This can be effective in creative jobs or workplaces where employees are very experienced. However, it is important that leaders monitor performance and effectively communicate expectations to prevent work standards slipping.

Democratic leadership

Also known as participative leadership, this style – as the name suggests – means leaders often ask for input from team members before making a final decision.

Workers usually report higher levels of job satisfaction in these environments and the company can benefit from better creativity. On the downside, the democratic process is normally slower and may not function well in workplaces where quick decision-making is crucial.

Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leadership models are most often implemented in highly regulated or administrative environments, where adherence to the rules and a defined hierarchy are important.

These leaders ensure people follow the rules and carry out tasks by the book. Naturally, this works well in certain roles – such as health and safety – but can stifle innovation and creativity in more agile, fast-paced companies.

Charismatic leadership

There is a certain amount of overlap between charismatic and transformational leadership. Both styles rely heavily on the positive charm and personality of the leader in question.

However, charismatic leadership is usually considered less favourable, largely because the success of projects and initiatives is closely linked to the presence of the leader. While transformational leaders build confidence in a team that remains when they move on, the removal of a charismatic leader typically leaves a power vacuum.

Situational leadership

Developed by management experts Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969, situational leadership is a theory that the best leaders utilise a range of different styles depending on the environment.

Factors such as worker seniority, the business process being performed and the complexity of relevant tasks all play an important role in what leadership style to adopt for any given situation. For example, situational leaders may adopt a democratic leadership style when discussing commercial direction with senior executives, but switch to a bureaucratic strategy when relaying new factory protocols to workers.

However, many people have a natural leadership style, which can make switching between roles challenging. It can also be difficult to gauge what style is most suitable for certain circumstances, holding up decision-making processes.

Breaking bad: Are you approaching change management the right way?

Maintaining business success is impossible without change.

Whether it’s advancing technologies, shifting market conditions or a stuttering economy, there are many factors that can make or break an organisation in today’s rapidly evolving commercial landscape.

However, many leaders are guilty of a common misstep when approaching a change management project. They fail to identify and eliminate negative behaviours in the workplace.

While senior executives are keen to spread best practices and streamline existing processes, these efforts are often undermined by destructive influences.

An expanding body of research is showing that the first step in any change management project should be to curtail these damaging factors before embarking on organisational improvements.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Effective change management can achieve excellent results, but CEOs may need to dig deep and uproot legacy issues that are contributing to disharmony.

This can be an ugly process, and can even highlight failings at the upper echelons of management. Behaviours such as jealousy, laziness, dishonesty and fear are not only destructive at an individual level, they can spread like wildfire through an organisation.

A recent American Management Association study showed colleagues heavily resent employees who dodge their duties. Furthermore, nearly 70 per cent of respondents claimed this laziness damaged overall performance.

What is more worrying for senior executives is that 44 per cent of respondents said it diminishes engagement in the workplace. Half said it reflected a lack of shared responsibility.

Sandi Edwards, senior vice-president for AMA Enterprise, said: “Employees understandably become resentful when they see co-workers shirking responsibility without accountability – in such a situation, organisational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering.

“A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk and responsibility aversion.”

These types of working environment spell bad news for any business implementing a change management project.

Ways to stop the rot

Once you have decided to target negative influences, there are several ways of breaking bad habits and promoting a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

This may involve dealing with problem employees, revitalising out-dated processes or re-adjusting unrealistic expectations. Here are three tips for approaching change management the right way.

1. DO sweat the small stuff

Even relatively minor problems can become major headaches if left to fester, as the “broken windows” theory suggests.

This popular proposition put forward by criminologist George Kelling and political scientist James Wilson in 1982 suggested that in neighbourhoods where a single window on a building is left unrepaired, other broken windows and structural damage soon follow.

The idea is that even a small unresolved issue indicates a lack of care and attention, eventually leading to widespread apathy and escalating destructive behaviour. The premise has been supported by several studies.

Business leaders should take note. Identifying small, yet persistent problems within your organisation can drastically improve productivity, boost morale and keep workers engaged and motivated for change.

2. Separate bad apples

Every company has bad apples and if your business is big enough there could be several. As a CEO or director, the temptation may be to leave the task of dealing with disruptive employees to line managers or department heads.

However, what if the problem is company-wide or involves the line managers themselves? Coming up with a solution may require a cross-departmental strategy that is outside the scope and responsibility of individual managers.

One approach is to collect all of your bad apples into one or multiple teams and assign them new leaders. There is likely to be a few big personalities involved, so they will need to be headed by strong managers who are up to the challenge.

Channelling their negative energy towards a common goal could have surprisingly beneficial outcomes. Even if a team continues to underperform, the damage will be limited to one area and other employees won’t be affected.

3. Build an effective change management team

Who you assign to a change management team is vital. The leader of this team needs to be high in the organisation to indicate the importance associated with the task.

However, seniority is not the only factor. They must also be well respected and have a good relationship with employees who, ultimately, are the driving force behind effective change management.

Getting popular staff members on side with a change initiative can drastically improve its chance of success. But recognising these employees can be difficult for directors who have little contact with personnel outside of senior management.

CEOs and directors should take the time to do research, improve communication and be objective when building the best change management team.