Jon Reed, Operations Director at Purple Cubed
This week I was talking to one of our fantastic new recruits; Becca, about a retail job she had at the age of 19. At that time Becca was truly engaged in the company, enjoyed going to work, was committed to learning and doing whatever it took to make the company successful. Then a new manager came in with his own agenda and, in her words ‘on a bit of a power trip’. Becca very quickly decided to leave. That engagement, energy and relationship had ended.
This reminded me that people really do work for people and not organisations. Yet organisations the world over still make poor decisions on leaders and then count the cost when it all goes wrong (or perhaps write it off as ‘something that just happens in business’). So what is it that makes a leader great and how can organisations grow their own?
1. Promote a culture of leadership at all levels
Here at Purple Cubed we don’t think we need bags of hierarchy and management. Instead we make sure we recruit people who will be accountable, have the capacity and emotional intelligence to lead themselves and their colleagues/projects (with access to support when they need it) to success. Hence the term; ‘leadership at all levels’. This allows our people to drive their own development and provides an unlimited opportunity to step up the plate in order to grow. It also allows the business to see who is pushing boundaries and willing to take action to drive their aspirations.
2. Mentoring and Coaching
All great leaders have someone they look up to or that they cite as having a big impact on their career. Ultimately, as we all develop our style, we take the best bits from those that we have worked with and create our own DNA. To help that sharing process, it’s great to give budding leaders a mentor in the organisation who can inspire, develop and, perhaps most importantly, sponsor. Equally becoming a mentor and helping to develop talent is a key facet of any leader so it gives more established leaders an opportunity to reach beyond their day job and learn whilst sharing.
3. Use Data
People often follow gut instinct when it comes to recruitment and making decisions about potential. Though what happens if the person who was top of your ‘next leader’ list suddenly hands their notice in? It’s essential that when you’re looking to make decisions on leadership capability you use instinct in association with data. There’s so much out there (within our own Talent Toolbox we’re using predictive data such as Risk of Leaving and Potential measures to easily assess someone’s readiness), though remember to keep things simple.
4. Consider Context
We’ve all known people who have had periods of sustained success in their roles. Perhaps they have become ‘the blue eyed boy’ who can do no wrong. So why the sudden fall from grace? Often there’s some sort of quick change such as location, environment or manager and all the stuff they were good at and recognised for, comes off their list and the success dries up. As author and thinker Malcolm Gladwell says “The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.” Never underestimate context and avoid moving people too quickly.
5. Help create momentum
As leaders it’s great to see your team respond positively to you and go on to deliver success. I’m a great believer that success breeds success. Work hard to set up your people to achieve success. And from then on allow success to become not only a habit but an expectation that others follow aspired to. There should always be some agreed quick wins that give people an early opportunity to enjoy some accomplishments. Make sure they, and others, know it.
6. Work on individual Development Programmes
This one is a given yet when Leadership Guru, Roselinde Torres, surveyed 4000 companies, 58% of them said there were gaps in their leadership development programmes. Rather than assuming all of your aspiring leaders need the same input and ‘sheep-dipping’ them into a standardised programme, it’s wise to assess each one individually. Coming up with a plan to develop their strengths and then deciding if the areas they’re not so strong on are important enough to work on. Not everyone has to be an expert in everything after all. It’s key that people are driving their own development (with a little steer and a framework from their leader).
7. Give space to learn from mistakes
One of my early managers said “Make one mistake every day, just don’t make that same mistake again”. I agree and have found that often the best way to grow is to learn from any misguided decisions made along the way.
8. Promote networking and collaboration
Every organisation has a variety of talent and knowledge that can be shared around. Investing in social gatherings outside of work and encouraging people from different teams/areas to come together is a great way to share ideas and build relationships. There is a huge upside to being well networked within an organisation and positioning yourself as the ‘go to’ person for x or y. People can only build their reputations through relationships and that often comes from collaboration.
Even for your most impressive high flyers there may not be anywhere for them to go or it may be that they are not quite ready for the next step on the ladder. A great way of testing their ability to perform at the next level (and also setting them up for success – point 5) is to you could provide a loose project brief with a desired commercial outcome (or ask them to come up their own ideas for business improvements), allowing the individual to come up with their own ‘how’. Our idea generation software tool once drew out an idea from a bar tender who had a revolutionary idea to change how his hotel company cleaned its beer lines. Within a year of the company implementing his idea they had saved £500,000 – not a bad return for a project from an aspiring leader.
10. Ask your future leaders ‘If this were your business, what would you do?’ and then see if the responses show their breadth of thought and capability to see the bigger picture.
How good are you at growing your own? And what are the success stories from your organisation?