Sunday, 16 March 2014

Where is your leadership focus?

The primary focus of most companies has been the results - sales, margins and profits.  During this extended period of recession and slow growth, this emphasis has become even more pronounced.  Stock markets want quarterly reports from publicly traded companies and analysts forecast their expectations down to the penny.

But I am increasingly persuaded that this focus is putting the cart before the horse.  Our insistence on results has the unfortunate consequence of marginalizing the underlying fundamentals.  Specifically it tends to ignore the process taken to achieve these results.  The irony of course is that the process influences results more than any forecast.  The primary issue should not be the results, but the productivity that the environment produces.

Studies continue to show that a significant percentage of employees is disengaged at work.  Somewhere between 40-70% identified in this category.  Even at the lowest end of the range it is clear that there is a real problem because a disengaged employee is an unproductive employee.

The point is not to ask how bad things are.  Does it really matter is if 40% disengaged...or 50%...or 60%?  The point is that any level is serious and as leaders, what must we do to turn around the situation?  This is not simply an issue at your workplace.  The problem exists across Canada, across North America and around the world.  Productivity is so far below any reasonable expectation that the question that MUST be asked is 'why'.

My observation is that the problem seldom lays in the ability or desire of the employees.  Rather the primary blame rests with the leadership whose job it is to inspire their teams.  As part of this recognition it should be remembered that most of the leadership team are themselves employees looking for inspiration.  So the failure often begins at the top and washes it way down throughout the organization.

Leaders must first focus on the culture for which they are responsible.  Research repeatedly demonstrates that a negative workplace produces poor engagement, poor decisions and poor productivity.  It takes a sustained effort starting from the top of the house to effect change.  But the studies also indicate that a positive work place leads to better decision making on the part of all employees.  It also leads to greater engagement and better results.

Employees look for inspiration and opportunity to excel.  Leaders who create these settings have a much greater likelihood for success.  Once this type of environment has become ingrained you no longer are striving to achieve a budget.  Rather you are maximizing results from an inspired team that feels no limits.

None of the economic data being reported today suggests that there will be any material change to the current state of affairs.  What that means is that the winners in this economy will be the companies whose productivity is exceptional.  Growth will seldom be organic.  Rather, one company's gain will be another company's loss.  You will only out perform if your staff are inspired by your leadership.  So shift your focus from results to process and environment.  My bet is that the results will take care of themselves!

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