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That human thing

Dr Simon Hayward

To cut through complexity of change, we must focus on critical activities that can really transform organisations. A vital role is identifying and prioritising which activities will have greatest impact, and helping peers focus on people, maintaining those all-important human connections.

Article by Dr Simon Hayward author of Connected Leadership: How to build a more agile, customer-driven business and CEO – Cirrus.

The value of HR professionals as crucial drivers of business transformation was a key finding of our recent research – in partnership with Ipsos LEAD. The report, Leadership Connections: HR’s role in business transformation, found that HR leaders can connect the C-suite with colleagues across the organisation in order to create a shared sense of direction and values. They are well placed to encourage collaboration and shared decision-making. The vast majority of UK organisations say they are experiencing transformation, and most employees support business transformation initiatives. However, the research found that only half feel these initiatives are well managed. The reasons behind the wave of transformation engulfing most organisations include changing customer demands, the need to operate more efficiently in complex marketplaces, and economic and political upheaval such as Brexit. Agility emerged as a key survival factor. However, less than a third of UK employees believe that their organisation is either relatively or very agile.

Alongside agility, collaboration has emerged as a desired leadership attribute. In the UK, just over two-thirds of employees saying their leader encourages collaboration. HR professionals can encourage both agility and collaboration by helping leaders to adopt a more ‘connected’ approach to leadership. This marks a pronounced shift from the old style of hierarchical command-and-control to a new way of leading through influence, based on a shared sense of purpose and direction. This helps to build more agile and adaptable organisations, capable of successful transformation. Often this requires significant shifts in behaviour and organisational culture. Organisations with a culture of always learning, innovating and adapting to changing circumstances are more likely to succeed as they can move quickly and easily. It is also helpful to prioritise ruthlessly and focus on one or two key goals, rather than trying to juggle multiple initiatives at once.

It’s also important to define a very clear vision and sense of purpose. The research shows that, statistically, having a believable and compelling vision is a vital component of an employee’s engagement with an organisation, even more so than having a great line manager. In the UK, under 60 percent of employees believe that they receive a clear vision from their leaders about the future direction of the organisation, with roughly the same amount stating that they endorse that vision. HR can help by ensuring the organisation’s purpose is clear, resonant, and widely understood. Devolved decision-making is also key to successful transformation, breaking away from the traditional command and control structure and instead equipping employees with the skills to use their own initiative. Just over three-quarters of employees claim they are actively encouraged to use their initiative at work, but only 53 percent saying they feel that they can make mistakes. The freedom to make mistakes, and to learn from them, is an important part of developing agility. It’s important to place your customer at the heart of your transformation, and to empower the people closest to your customers to meet their needs.

By devolving decision making to this level of the business, you can increase your customer centricity, competitiveness and drive performance. Today’s demanding customers are not prepared to wait for decisions to trickle down through a hierarchy. Today’s demanding employees want to be empowered to take responsibility, and to have a job that is meaningful and rewarding. Genuine empowerment is a climate where people are trusted to do the right thing, where they are coached to make good decisions, and where they are confident that mistakes will not be punished. Many transformation initiatives are still focused on process and systems than on actually empowering employees and engaging them with change. It is more about culture than delegation of individual tasks, devolving decision making and empowering front-line employees, increases customer centricity, competitiveness and drive performance.

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