By: Jeremy Blain is the Chief Executive of PerformanceWorks International (PWI)
Even before the pandemic, organisations everywhere were tackling a perfect storm of transformation factors. I call them the five forces of transformation:
1) Adopting digital and enabling the business, it’s people and customer experiences with appropriate and usable technologies
2) Evolving organisation culture to be a better fit for the modern, digitally-fuelled, distributed workplace
3) Leadership readiness. The rapid pace of change is leaving some traditional leaders falling behind the curve in terms of speed, skills, adaptability and understanding of how ways of working are shifting
4) Workforce shift. We are seeing the rise of the blended workforce, the hybrid office and new perspectives around workplaces and work spaces
5) With all the above comes the challenge for some and opportunity for most to ‘walk the talk’ around equity, diversity and inclusion across all its lenses. Something we can evidence has been progressed in part through the pandemic. A more even playing field and remote working have acted as levellers in some organisations and countries in this respect.
Then…the pandemic hit. In many ways, it acted as an accelerator for those businesses who were not transforming their organisations fast enough. Adopting digital and being remote-work ready in quick-time are two easy examples to observe. For others, it exposed legacy systems, 20th Century (as opposed to 21st Century) thinking, gaps in leadership capability in more traditional operations, a disillusioned workforce and human-centred needs that were simply not being focused upon, beyond lip-service.
In this context, it is my assertion that one CEO is not enough. A more collective, collaborative and flatter approach to organisational leadership and business growth will unleash the potential within many of our people, and provide the opportunity for some to go beyond their job description and contribute in other ways as in-role CEOs.
But let me be clear at this point. Being empowered does not necessarily mean doing more. It is about smarter working, broader understanding and wider opportunities; It will be the glue that will be vital for a hybrid workforce and those who may be permanently working from home.
In-role CEOs can be empowered by:
Stepping OUT > this is being more productive and efficient everyday. It’s about being unleashed to make some decisions without going to a manager, problem solving themselves and / or with others, ideas generation, team implementations and new ways of collaborating. In essence, to contribute to the smooth operational running of the business.
Stepping UP > these might be those individuals with stretch, identified as future executive leaders. They can be involved in special projects that do require something extra, attend senior management meetings and contribute more strategically to the business. This may increase short term workload, while providing greater exposure to the business, leadership and wider learning opportunities. It has to retain a balance clearly, so as not to jeopardise job-role deliverables.
Getting this in place now, will start to create new habits, behaviours and know-how for everyone to take greater ownership of their immediate ecosphere. As the momentum builds and the ‘new normal’ of hybrid working kicks in, it becomes the ‘way we do things round here’. But there are certain pillars that need to be in place to set up, guide and support success:
1) Organisation level.
Empowered working cannot happen with a mindset shift at executive leadership level and new line management practices, built on the same attitude shift.
This is where empowerment can fail. The organisation talks the talk but does not walk the talk. This can be simply that the management is paying lip-service to the concept; or it can be more a fear of loss of control, power and more. But in this respect, I love the quote (from almost 120 years ago!) that summarises the ‘why’ to executive leaders perfectly.
Leadership is about empowering others to achieve things they did not think possible. There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. The beauty of empowering others is that your own power is not diminished in the process…it comes by empowering others.’ Edith Wharton, Novelist: “Vesalius in Zante (1564)” st. 12 (1902)
In my book, ‘The Inner CEO – Unleashing leaders at all levels’ I go into detail into the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ at organisation level. This includes the questions to answer at the most senior levels, the conditions to create to make this a reality and the ‘watch outs’ for line managers as they pivot away from supervision and performance management to a coaching-led, growth mindset.
Some line managers will need to be re-skilled. Many organisations have lost the art of coaching sadly, and require a tune-up.
Additionally, the skills that enable leaders and managers to support, collaborate and more effectively communicate with a distributed workforce need to be utilised, and backed up by appropriate and efficient technologies that help rather than overwhelm. Many of the best in class organisations, already doing this, have removed some of the red tape, processes and ways of working that were more predominant in the last century than this one. For example reducing meetings, meeting length, fine-tuning reporting procedures, clearing diaries for coaching and support sessions rather than reporting catch ups etc. Also providing the tweaked skill sets to help people work asynchronously to also recognise their work / life commitments, as much as new ways to work. Underpinning all this for a remote or hybrid workforce, are newly emerging human-centred leadership and management traits. Greater focus on empathy, wellbeing, mental health, compassion and caring for our people – on top of the more traditional bottom line requirements and drivers.
This may be an obvious thing to say, but it has been surprisingly rare – particularly since the global financial crisis in 2008. In fact, it has been the pandemic that has brought human-centred leaders and managers to the fore, accelerating the understanding and importance of once called ‘soft skills’. The power skills for the decade ahead.
2) Individual level
Only when the organisation level actions, understanding and conditions are in place can we truly unleash leaders at all levels. Empowered to step up or step out of their job description to contribute more efficiently, effectively and, in some cases, more strategically to business health and an overall sense of belonging.
For many this will mean developing a new suite of knowledge, skills and behaviours. I have created a full suite of assessment, 90-day roadmap and personal development plans to support this process. Why? Because this is where the individual side can often fail before it begins: Where it does not have in place a robust support infrastructure, a line management re-purposed to coach and help the in-role CEOs through their ideas, actions, early trial-and-error and into developing early wins, new skills and more.
This becomes even more important to get in place for the new normal of working from home, hybrid working etc. If we have empowered, supported in-role CEOs, at all levels; we are more collectively taking care of the business, our customers and our colleagues. We are in it together – even more than we were previously.
When the organisation and the individual in-role CEO works together in a truly empowering organisation, great things can happen.
Having interviewed many business, learning and human capital leaders on the topic, from companies like Essilor, JLL, Spotify, 4Fingers Crispy Chicken, Mambu, Nike, HPE and more, there are clear quantitative and qualitative, measurable benefits; for example:
- Greater employee engagement
- Stronger employer branding, making the company more attractive to prospective employees and impacting retention measures of existing employees, positively.
- Innovation at all levels
- A broad growth mindset fuelled by more effective line managers who drive a coaching, versus supervision, culture
- Organisation culture evolves and binds everyone with a stronger sense of belonging
- Legacy equity, diversity and inclusion challenges start to be broken down (as we have seen, the pandemic has been a great leveller in this respect in some more enlightened organisations)
- Individual, team and business results improve rapidly
- Senior executive leaders are able to remove themselves from the operational side of the business and focus again on navigating the increasingly uncertain and unpredictable waters ahead. Defining more appropriate strategies and focusing on everyone can be more involved in strategy implementation
- Emotional wellbeing measures improve and become AS IMPORTANT as the numbers
- …and more…
So how can you fast-track the development of empowered in-role CEOs across your workforce; whether they are office based, remote workers, or hybrid workers?
The 8 must-have success factors according to those I have interviewed for my book are as follows:
- A new, empowering leadership mindset at board and executive leadership level.
- A culture underpinned by behaviours and values that are consistent with the desire to unleash leadership at all levels and empower employees to new heights.
- A can-do mindset throughout the organisation to embrace and own leadership at all levels, beyond job roles.
- A re-imagined, flatter organisational structure which removes layers of management.
- Repurposed line management support underpinned by a growth mindset, driving a strong coaching-led approach in support of unleashed inner CEOs.
- A climate that supports experimentation, learning from failure and rapid adoption of next practices.
- A bold learning and development support plan to provide the strategic and operational knowledge, skills and behaviours required for leaders at all levels.
- A platform of psychological safety promoted by human capital and human resource leaders to enable everyone to have the courage to step up, make mistakes without being judged, to be supported and to feel safe to challenge the status quo with open debate and feedback.
The above should be further fuelled by strong vision, purpose and direction driven by the senior leadership. It should also be supported by a newly revamped approach to recognition and reward. Transcending traditional KPIs and recognising both contribution to job role deliverables and catching people doing it right as in-role CEOs, as they work smarter, better, contribute to the wider business and become part of a more collective, collaborative approach to business health. Whether they are based in the office, at home, on a beach with a laptop or a combination!
It is time to make leading at all levels a reality in our organisations. We have been talking about it for long enough and there are still too few benchmark examples of this happening in reality. Particularly as we consider the new normal of hybrid working, empowering in-role CEOs has just become a must-do, rather than a nice-to-do.
About Jeremy Blain
Jeremy Blain is the Chief Executive of PerformanceWorks International (PWI). He is a specialist in helping organisations, executive boards, leaders and teams succeed in the digital climate and to embed the required skills for successful modernisation.