Customer engagement is an essential area for businesses to address, especially as they look to build a strong ongoing relationship with clients.
Your staff are the face of your business – especially when they work directly with clients – which means they also play an essential role in driving future sales, customer loyalty and ultimately profitability.
The benefits here are clear for an organisation. According to 2014 research by US firm Gallup, customers who are fully engaged with a brand record 23 per cent greater value for an organisation than the average customer. On the other hand, those customers who are unengaged with a company recorded 13 per cent lower results across the board.
However, many employees aren’t living up their potential and this comes down to the importance of leadership. While a well-led team will be an asset to an organisation’s customer service efforts, all too often managers simply won’t have the depth of skills needed to really engage with customers.
At the same time, staff are expecting more from their leaders than ever before, with leaders required to actively lead efforts to improve a business and drive new growth.
This has been reflected in recent research by McKinsey and Company, which reported that CEOs are now investing heavily in new skill sets in order to upskill their teams and drive greater engagement with their teams.
Faced with the need to motivate staff and drive customer engagement, leaders must now to invest in their skills in order to stay ahead of their competition.
TEC presenter Colin Chodos will soon be presenting to TEC members across Australia on how they can effectively lead the sales process. Based on the Service Profit Chain model, the presentation offers new insights into how leaders can add value to the sales process.
With competition for customer engagement only likely to increase with time, finding new ways to attract, engage and retain customers is set to be an ongoing business imperative over coming months and years.
Persuading individuals is an essential part of any CEOs responsibilities, making this an area where individuals will need to undertake continual training.
We all influence people on a daily basis – after all, being able to shape the behaviours of others is an instinctive part of being human, as is being influenced by others.
In a business setting, CEOs will often find themselves relying on their ability to influence, whether this is through engaging with the public or aligning their internal teams with strategic goals.
Of course, like any skill, there is a big difference between effective and ineffective persuasion. Ineffective influencers will see their efforts amount to very little actual change, especially if these attempts become manipulative and self-serving.
Fortunately, mastering the art of persuasion is one skill set that can bring substantial benefits to business performance. Being a good influencer can help a leader build positive relationships both within a company and externally which will make it easy to move a company forward without demoralising staff or putting off customers.
While it’s easy to identify this distinction between effective and ineffective leadership, often CEOs will need to take the time to hone their skills in order to realise these benefits. Fortunately, for TEC members, UK-based Speaker Phillip Hesketh will again be presenting his inspiring workshops to a number of groups across the country.
His presentation looks at the seven core reasons behind why people engage with a company, and the five aspects of persuasion which can help to make the most of these opportunities. These pointers will not only help attendees to become better influencers but also assist in achieving long-term success for their organisation.
Determining which leadership qualities to promote and nurture among future leaders is an area all businesses will need to address at some point.
One of the most important questions companies and senior managers will need to address is how to identify and promote individuals who have the right skill sets. After all, there are many qualities that leaders need in order to be effective – adding another layer of complexity when individuals approach further leadership development.
One recent study from McKinsey & Company has attempted to identify the skills leaders need, especially when they are working in management positions on the frontline of a business.
The research compiled 20 key traits that leaders need and then asked a variety of respondents to rank how important each quality was for their daily work. Those who took part in the survey revealed four qualities that leaders need to possess, and these accounted for 86 per cent of the difference between effective and ineffective managers.
The four qualities were:
- Being supportive
- Seeking different perspectives
- Solving problems effectively
- Operating with a strong results orientation
Each of these categories contained a range of different aspects. For example, seeking different perspectives involves encouraging input from staff members, as well as understanding the issues that are currently affecting a company and incorporating this insight into a leadership style.
While these four categories accounted for a large share of the difference between effective and ineffective leaders, McKinsey stressed that this doesn’t mean there is one perfect leadership style. Instead, they suggested that different situations will call for a specialised skill set, with these qualities treated as a core skill set that can then be augmented for individual positions within a business.
Do different levels of leadership require unique skill sets?
Modern businesses hinge on specialisation – as individuals will often make the greatest contribution to an organisation when they are operating in a niche area where they have specific skills.
A 2014 study from the Harvard Business Review tested whether this same approach was true of managers – whether different levels of management should focus on skill sets that match their levels, rather than developing a broader skill set.
In particular, the research aimed to test whether or not specific management functions are best carried out by specialised levels. For example, should middle managers focus more on execution, while CEOs and other senior executives focus on developing effective strategies?
The research found that the skills that make a good manager remain remarkably consistent over time, regardless of the level. When asked to rank the skills that managers needed, the results were steady across different levels.
Top of the list of skills that managers need, regardless of level, was the ability to inspire and motivate others, which 38 per cent of respondents felt was a crucial component of all management positions. Other high-ranking areas included displaying integrity and honesty, problem solving abilities (both 37 per cent), being results driven (36 per cent) and communicating effectively (35 per cent).
Although there are some variations based on the level of leadership – middle managers ranked problem solving higher than all other categories – the top seven skills were consistent across all levels.
At the same time, there were some skills that didn’t perform well. Among the lowest-scoring skill sets were issues like establishing stretch goals (12 per cent), connecting to the outside environment (12 per cent) and championing change (16 per cent).
Finally, the report suggested that even if a job doesn’t necessarily require a certain skill set, developing it can still be useful for demonstrating leadership potential. Although a middle management position may not require developing a strategic perspective, individuals who ignore this skill set will find themselves struggling when they move into higher-level management positions.
For senior executives, honing these skills and developing them if they are lacking is an important area for companies to address. However, among the first challenges companies need to face is determining exactly which skills the employee is lacking and then making moves to address these weaknesses.
Are you identifying your own skill gaps?
When CEOs look at their own skill sets, it is just as important for them to consider any potential gaps in their own abilities.
The problem is that these leadership gaps can be hard to identify oneself, which is one of the main reasons individuals pursue leadership coaching.
However, research from the Center for Creative Leadership suggests that CEOs are actually over-investing in some skills, while failing to invest on other, more important areas. The research compared the skills CEOs were prioritising against those they ranked as being points of weakness.
The research revealed that some skills, like building and maintaining relationships, were actually being over-invested in by CEOs, with the level of attention given to these skill sets actually outpacing their value for a company.
On the other hand, skills like change management and strategic planning are areas where leaders are aware of their own weaknesses, but are also finding it difficult to implement further training.
Finally, some skill sets fell in the middle, with skills like resourcefulness deemed to be areas where the amount of training CEOs were undertaking was suitable for the level of responsibility that comes with the positions.
For business leaders, managing their own skills, identifying areas where they can improve and having the right foundation of competencies is going to be a crucial part of ongoing development. By prioritising these areas, CEOs will be well placed to drive future growth across their businesses.
Learning is a process that every organisation will need to prioritise as they look to realise the benefits that come from retaining organisational knowledge.
CEOs will often have years of experience and personal development under their belt before they assume a role at the C-Suite level. However, ongoing training is an equally important part of CEO development, especially if they want their skills to remain sharp enough to meet the challenges that come with a high-pressure environment.
So what are the skills that company leaders are interested in developing in the future?
Strategic thinking the top concern for CEOs
Among the core skills that leaders within an organisation are looking to develop, strategic thinking has emerged as the leading consideration.
That is the finding from the most recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) CEO survey, which took the pulse of organisational leaders around the world. When asked which skills they would need to develop in the future to remain competitive, a third (32 per cent) stated strategic thinking would be the most important responsibility.
Among the other skill sets that ranked highly in the study were a focus on talent management and acquisition (20 per cent) and adaptability (19 per cent). Skills that also ranked in the study included personal qualities like integrity (15 per cent) and leadership ability (14 per cent).
Underlying these specifics is a serious focus on soft skills – those social abilities that will underpin an individual’s performance at a senior level and are essential for leading an organisation. The ability to think long-term, be agile in decision making and have a broad vision for an organisation were all pointed to as essential soft skills for a CEO.
PwC went on to highlight six core competencies that the organisation felt CEOs would need to develop further in the future. These six were:
- Focus on the core abilities that an organisation possesses and ensure this specialisation remains at the forefront of company strategy.
- Re-evaluate the business you’re in and reposition as necessary to maximise the business’s core abilities.
Anticipate policy and regulatory issues and then work to address them before they impact on an organisation’s performance.
- Build diverse yet aligned partnerships with other companies that share your goals.
- Incorporate digital technology and have a plan to guide future investments in IT capabilities.
- Develop a strong mix of talent at every level of an organisation.
By matching these organisational shifts with improvements in a CEO’s own skill set, PwC suggested that leaders would be well-placed to guide an organisation through future challenges.
While there are clearly a number of skills that those within the C-Suite will need to develop in the future, it is equally important for organisations to undertake continual training in order to reinforce the skill sets that already exist within the company.
Ongoing training brings organisation-wide benefits
Just as businesses require ongoing training to realise the benefits of these changes, companies will also need to ensure they have the right processes in place to keep their staff educated at every level.
This issue was cited in a study from the University of Illinois in the US. In a study of organisational learning within supply chains, the research revealed that, over time, learned processes drain away from a business.
The result is that any increases in productivity to come from improved training efforts will gradually fade as staff turn over and workers move into new roles. This lost knowledge will leave an organisation without many of the benefits they originally saw around their performance.
According to one of the study’s authors, Professor Anupam Agrawal, the growing importance of organisational learning in preserving a competitive advantage.
‘The development and depreciation of knowledge within organisations are processes that occur concurrently in all firms, in just about all industries,’ said Mr Agrawal.
‘When you teach someone something, or if this person is learning on the job, the arrow does not continually point up… It’s going to come down, so you have to correct course every so often, because as you are learning, you also are slowly forgetting.’
What does this research mean for senior leaders?
For CEOs, this research paints a clear picture of the importance of ongoing learning within an organisation. If staff aren’t communicating knowledge effectively to one another, the accumulated skills of a company will slowly fade. In a knowledge economy, preserving core skill sets within a business is only going to grow in importance.
Along with effective training, senior executives will also need to be sure they have effective succession management policies in place to hand knowledge on to workers who are remaining within an organisation.
Finally, the gradual loss of knowledge underscores the importance of senior executives undertaking their own training programmes in order to drive greater performance. Maintaining organisational knowledge within the C-Suite will be an essential process for companies to undertake as they look to maintain a competitive advantage.
As Professor Agrawal noted; ‘You work to arrest the problem, and you do what is the right thing to do at the time, but it doesn’t solve the problem in the long-run.’
‘You have to continually improve but then also realise that there’s a slight erosion of your knowledge going on as well. The assumption that quality improvements are retained indefinitely is not correct.’
By addressing skill gaps as they emerge, and also focussing on developing new skill sets, such as those identified in PwC’s research, both organisations and CEOs will be well-placed to stay ahead of emerging trends. With competition between firms only likely to increase in coming months, being able to hone these skill sets will be essential for leaders to navigate changing market conditions.