Why is ‘just good enough’ acceptable?
You need to maximise effort and then strategically apply that effort to things that are critical to success
In truth, improving organisational performance significantly in a relatively short time, at little or no cost is simple – whether within the public or private sector. Guidance on how to do so, is easily accessible. Yet few organisations are doing so despite such a tough competitive and economic environment.
Leadership that is simply not good enough
It leads to the question – is being ‘just good enough’ acceptable? Why are few doing anything about this?
Report after report over many years shows organisations are not developing competent leadership at all levels as a strategic imperative.
Data from the Corporate Leadership Council (which surveyed up to 50,000 employees) shows that :-
- less than 20 percent of staff in most organisations are giving maximum effort;
- Roughly 70 percent ‘just do the job’, giving only the effort they have to;
- 10 percent affect colleagues negatively;
- Those who ‘just do the job’ could potentially give their organisation 30 percent more ‘discretionary’ effort if they wanted to. Even if they performed not 30 percent but 15 percent better, it would totally transform organisational performance, and quickly.
It begs the question – why aren’t they? The simple answer is – their leadership is not good enough.
Report after report over many years shows organisations are not developing competent leadership at all levels as a strategic imperative. An individual’s decision to give high performance is 57 percent rational and 43 percent emotional. Therefore, presenting a logical case for high performance or change alone – without any emotional inspiration – wastes half of the chance for success.
The line manager accounts for 80 percent of the emotional part and over 50 percent of the rational, which means that for high performance, all line managers, not just those at the top, have to be able to lead competently.
What is ‘competent leadership’?
Eighty percent comprises the very simple day-to-day things we all want from our leaders, such as building trust and a sense of partnership, and genuinely engaging those whom they lead. This is what gets the extra commitment.
But if you want a real competitive advantage, or to be world class or the best in your field, just maximising effort isn’t enough.
For example, fair and accurate feedback can increase effort by up to 39 percent and line managers showing they care about people can increase how hard they work by 26 percent. This costs nothing and can be started tomorrow.
At the strategic level, these simple actions could :-
- increase the chance of outperforming competitors by nearly 70 percent;
- increase revenues by up to 40 percent;
- halve days lost through sickness;
- increase earnings per share by up to 2.6 times;
- reduce the risk of loss of talent by 87 percent; and
- help in managing reputational This last is of no small benefit, as has been made clear by recent scandals.
How can you make this happen?
You need these three things in place:-
- within an organisation, it needs to be driven from the very top as a strategic initiative;
- it needs to be facilitated by HR; and
- made to happen in every team, by every leader.
At a team level, line managers can do it themselves – it’s that simple. In six months a positive change could be seen. In years, it will transform performance.
The vital difference
But if you want a real competitive advantage, or to be world class or the best in your field, just maximising effort isn’t enough. For those trying to get to the top, the secret is to focus this effort on what really matters, and to be entrepreneurial. It is possible to maximise effort but not strategically apply that effort to things which are critical for success. That’s why the next stage is so vital.
Senior leaders need to make sure that two or three critical objectives for the organisation are communicated to everyone so everybody’s efforts can be focused on delivery. Everything has to be done in an entrepreneurial way, initially by developing entrepreneurial leaders and then employees. That means a total focus on efficiently maximising customer service by encouraging creativity and innovation, taking responsibility as a leader, constantly making improvements, understanding the whole organisation and being an ambassador for your organisation.
That’s not just for those in customer-facing roles, it includes areas such as HR, IT, finance, risk and other support functions. There is no point in the ‘front’ of an organisation being entrepreneurial when it’s being held back by bureaucratic support functions.
At UBS, between 2002 and 2006, we developed the top 500 leaders to be entrepreneurial and we saw evidence of improvement in a few months and significant bottom-line benefits in a couple of years. This success led to the project becoming a Harvard Case Study and to winning several international awards, such as Best Company for Leaders. So these simple steps really do work. From my subsequent experience elsewhere, I know that entrepreneurial leadership adds value in all organisations from the Red Cross to top law firms, and global banks to the public sector.
The time to act is now – it’s simple, it’s quick, it doesn’t cost much and it works.
Autumn stock photo courtesy negativespace.co
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.