In addition to being accountable for financial success, business leaders are responsible for the culture they create, the people they have and the motivation levels across their teams. More often than not, they go hand-in-hand. Financial results are a true consequence of the individual activities that happen every day in an organisation.
It’s therefore no surprise that effective people management underpins business success. Creating a people-centric approach requires business leaders to align these values within their business model, ensuring they are able to achieve the right cultural mix to build high performance and high engagement.
In a career that has spanned multiple continents I’ve been fortunate to lead businesses through a range of scenarios – from navigating a team through the GFC and quadrupling profitability in the following five years, to co-founding a HR tech start up, and now running the ANZ arm of a multinational organisation that helps solve the world’s biggest challenges.
In that time, I’ve formulated five key learnings for modern leaders:
Have clear values of integrity, teamwork and commitment
Integrity is one of the fundamental values I seek in anyone we hire. It’s the hallmark of a person who demonstrates sound moral and ethical principles at work. Integrity is the foundation on which humans develop relationships, trust and commitment to one another. Ensure your organisation embeds its values in its ethos and that your teams live them out daily (by assessing them during performance reviews, for example).
Be transparent in your communications
Leaders should be transparent about how the business is tracking financially and how this performance maps against the strategic vision. If employees are kept up to date on the struggles or successes a company is experiencing, and the CEO shares frequent, clear communications at team meetings, they will feel that they are valued and trusted within the business.
They are also less likely to feel disenchanted if the company’s performance drops and the financial belt is tightened. In instances like this, it can also be valuable to get the team’s input on your turnaround plan, as it builds more trust and respect in your leadership team.
I’ve taken on roles where companies weren’t performing well. Some people suggested that these problems could be solved by simply getting rid of old staff and hiring new people. This would be a big mistake. More often than not, it’s financially and strategically better to invest in current staff – particularly if you’re hiring not just for technical ability, but for attitude and cultural fit.
Empower your team to speak up
It can take guts for employees to speak up at work if they feel like something isn’t right morally. Businesses must create opportunities for sensitive discussions to happen in safe spaces to empower staff to voice their questions and concerns. In addition, ensure you are hiring managers that will facilitate these open discussions.
At the same time, it’s critical to ensure you’re also acting on suggestions from staff. Build questions into staff surveys that will unearth confronting responses. For example, ‘Do you trust your senior managers?’. If the results come back and only 60% say yes, you need to work hard to fix that.
Hold yourself accountable
Vision is only one part of a business plan, execution is critical. It’s important to ensure that everyone in an organisation is accountable for their role and more importantly does what they say they will do. The benefits of a strong management team always flow down the employment chain. If managers clearly explain a company’s vision and lead by example, staff are more likely to strive to meet their own performance benchmarks.
What’s more, when your entire workforce is led by a strong vision and becomes passionate about delivering it, that can quickly compound into higher productivity and less staff turnover, which will in turn drive other business outcomes.
Have the courage to focus on long-term goals
Business leaders need to show courage, even in the face of adversity. We’re all under short-term pressure to deliver results, but the focus should really be on delivering a long-term competitive advantage. To start with, build a winning team around you that you fully trust, and that you really want to work with.
You spend so much time with your executive team, you want to be sure they are highly capable, ambitious and great leaders that share a vision with you. In addition, don’t be afraid to make hires based on where you want your business to be. It’s beneficial to have strong foundations and skills that will drive the business forward.
There can be a lot of scepticism about people management strategies and styles that focus on vision and integrity. I’d challenge that thinking by suggesting that it comes down to how business leaders communicate with their team and facilitate a positive working environment so that each and every one of them enjoys working together, towards a common goal.