cracking the code on leadership, mobilisation & engagement

by Andrew Morris

Unlocking the true potential of the organisation requires us to think, act and communicate differently. What makes this harder than ever before is the chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment that characterises today’s ‘new normal’.

Keeping up with today’s pace of change

The pace of change over the last 10 years in the world, and indeed the industry, has increased exponentially. If this is anything to go by then the next 10 years will produce change at an even greater rate.

Looking back at the last 10 years who could have imagined the number and scale of social and economic developments of the world we live in today? Facebook didn’t exist but now has 1bn users and is worth $60bn. The self-portrait has turned into video sharing – 6bn hours of video are watched on YouTube monthly. It doesn’t matter where you are or what time it is, the 5m global wifi hotspots ensure you are always connected. In short, we have new and ever changing ways of connecting with each other.

At the same time, the pressures on the water industry have been increasing in number and intensity. Executives are getting to grips with balancing the need for external investors and offering attractive rates for return without compromising asset stewardship. Competition will bring with it significant profit opportunity - estimated at £2bn upstream and £200m in retail trading. Infrastructure capacity and age is being put to the test every day by our changing demographics; by 2025 the UN predicts the population is going to be 67 million in the UK alone and 25% will be over 65. Some 295,000 new homes per year may be needed by 2031 to meet expected demand. Energy will dominate our thinking – going by the last 5-6 years where prices have roughly doubled we will need to be ultra-energy efficient in the future.

There has been a fundamental shift in focus to Totex over this last AMP. This means that the traditional view of issues within the industry to be tackled is changing and challenging us in different ways to before. The focus is now on minimising cost and removing wasteful processes.

challenge to the water industry

Jonson Cox, Chairman of Ofwat, stated in his lecture ‘Observations on the regulation of the water sector’ (March 2013) that it was clear just how much more the sector can do to raise its game by building on existing successes, to reduce the cost of service to customers and to ensure that public confidence in a robust water and waste water sector is maintained.

As business leaders today we are operating at a time when the forces of technological and social change and the historic rebalancing of global economic activity have made today’s problems increasingly complex, the pace of change faster than ever and the markets more volatile.

The ever increasing number of variables at play, place an ever-greater premium on developing innovative and unique solutions.

Today we need leaders that can:

  • Make sense of this high tempo ever changing world
  • Develop bespoke solutions
  • Mobilise and engage the workforce

All while balancing the requirements of internal and external stakeholders

tomorrow’s leadership requirements

The fast changing world calls for an approach to leadership that is more geared to constant change than status quo. In AMP 6 there will be continued pressure on costs, efficiency and serviceability - which means everyone will have to maintain a continuous process of improvement. Increasingly, this will require working across the organisation and through traditional functions and silos in a more dynamic, aligned and integrated way.

This integrated end-to-end process world requires dynamic and change orientated leadership. In practical terms this means defining and shaping what problems actually need to be solved, as well as actually solving them.

Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation Inventory measures people’s characteristic preferred style of creativity and problem solving. In short, it attempts to measure the methodology an individual uses to bring about change.

Based on Kirton’s approach, our research into leaders’ cognitive problem solving style tells us that there is a need for greater diversity within management:

  • Diversity of thinking and problem solving
  • Structure and discipline in executing plans and ideas
  • Imagination and creativity to develop and really stretch the art of the possible

There is now a significant opportunity to orientate future leaders around creating nimble, dynamic, and responsive businesses to comfortably meet customer needs, as well as multiple stakeholder expectations. Our research shows that innovation in cognitive problem solving is increasingly more important as people take on leadership roles.

our response needs to be different and quicker

Responding to tomorrow’s challenges at the same pace of change since privatisation (or even the last 10 years) simply won’t make the grade. Understanding how we can incorporate tomorrow’s challenges into our thinking today and how we can mobilise and engage our workforce around this vision could be our elixir.

We should be aiming for a new approach to mobilisation and engagement that gives us:

  • Creativity – holistically developing solutions that are as relevant tomorrow as they are today
  • Flexibility – moving people and funds between problems and technical competencies irrespective of hierarchical position within the organisation. Staff that are competent and comfortable in a world where the variables change constantly
  • Innovation – industry leading ways of driving high performance from new operating models to asset maintenance strategies
  • Speed of response – real time insight that highlights business problems and allows a measured response and avoids the need for crisis management.

why is mobilisation and engagement so important?

Workers are increasingly less loyal and transient. It is estimated that the UK voluntary average for staff turnover is 10%, costing the UK £42bn a year. If we agree our world is complex and fast changing, then we need to get a handle on this new approach sooner rather than later.

Being bold and brave in an uncertain world is not going to be as easy as it sounds. Resilience and intelligence are qualities traditionally associated with leadership. But we need more; the capacity to inspire is essential. The ability to connect and engage in a timely and relevant manner is crucial.

Practically this means that organisations need to be comfortable with, and have the processes and systems in place for devolved accountability where the operators become the stewards of the business.

how to mobilise and engage the work force?

Calibration of our starting point is key. In order to know where to go, we need to know where we are coming from.

Having an understanding of how change ready the organisation is allows us to understand what actions we need to take in order to mobilise the business around the objectives. With mobilisation and engagement we need to ensure that our workforce is comfortable with change.

Once we have established our change readiness, there are some practical change techniques we can use to mobilise and engage the workforce:

  • Communication – clarity on where the journey is taking us and the compelling reasons for embarking on the journey is the first step in engaging. How and when to communicate the journey are the next steps. The key to successful communication is using language and media that are relevant and engaging to the workforce of today and align with how they communicate in their own lives.
  • Pulsing the organisation – focus groups can be used to great effect when it comes to understanding the true state of operations. Listening and reacting positively to themes raised is a key step in building trust.
  • Trust and transparency – the level of trust in business relationships is the greatest determinant of success. Therefore we need to establish a practical way for implementing and measuring those elements of the Trust Formula put forward by David Maister.
  • Devolved accountability – often one of the hardest elements of engagement to implement, but if there is sufficient trust within the organisation then accountability for the operations is best managed at the level closest to actual performance. If the workforce is responsible for operational performance our experience shows that they also become the stewards of the business. How to put a price on goodwill and ownership of business performance? At the same time leaders need to create a positive environment that encourages problem solving and practical creativity.
  • Having the right tools for the job – if operations are going to take accountability for the organisation’s infrastructure, and ultimately business performance, then it is absolutely vital to have relevant and timely performance data available. This will highlight problems early on in the cycle and allow for better solution ownership.
  • Networked organisations – internally networked organisations share information more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organisational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion. This gives organisations a mechanism to harness the knowledge and creativity within the organisation to best effect.

an engaged and aligned workforce delivers better performance

Growth is driven by ever better ways to use workers and resources. Being bold in this high tempo world and taking a fresh approach to a new kind of leadership and engagement model, where the organisation is well connected and networked, will bring with it just rewards.

We need to be honest with ourselves when assessing our organisation’s performance and the degree to which we have the right leadership and engagement model in place.

  • Are we getting what the organisation needs from the current Leadership Development Programme?
  • Is there a shared and aligned understanding of the business’ objectives?
  • Are our most valuable assets focused on the real business problems and dilemmas?
  • Are we measuring the right aspects of the organisation’s performance to give us maximum return on our investment?

Peter Drucker was right when he said “what gets measured gets managed”, but Robert Sternberg is also right when he says that we need “to move beyond the narrow conceptions of the skills needed for life”, in other words we need to measure what really matters.

The rewards for breaking the code on leadership, mobilisation and engagement can be huge. Leading an engaged and aligned organisation and being able to quickly counter today’s complex and uncertain world with vision, creativity, flexibility and innovation will allow the organisation to thrive.

To find out more, get in touch with Andrew Morris: / +44 (0) 20 7298 7878