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Are your leaders change ready?


Our leaders need to be equipped with the tools to change and innovate, says Fiona Lander.

The recession has left many organisations feeling somewhat battle weary. Morale may be low and ‘unhappy stayers’ may be draining the energy out of your workforce. For today’s leaders, being told that the key to success and survival is innovation may sound like just a step too far when many have just been focussed on getting though and surviving. With the recession still fresh in everyone’s mind, one of the real challenges is that leaders are still nervous about taking risks – and nervous about inviting yet more change - which is inevitably a by-product of innovation.

The need for innovation

However, at a recent leadership forum I hosted, innovation – and how innovation is linked to engagement, was one of the main themes that came out of the round table discussions. The forum brought together fourteen business professionals from the training arena and allied sectors who exchanged views on the challenges and opportunities that leaders will face as we begin a new decade. They included current and past managing directors and CEOs of global recruitment businesses; training, development and career coaching professionals; HR and legal experts, and academics, including a visiting professor from Henley Business School.

Several delegates felt that the issue called for real courage amongst leaders as in order to achieve true innovation, people have to be given the permission and freedom to experiment. And experimentation does not always lead to success. Leaders then have to accept that any failure is a shared failure – not the fault of an individual. It’s about being brave enough to allow people to have their voice – it may not work – but it could also lead to the ‘next big thing’.

So how does innovation link into engagement? With recent research from the CIPD and PricewaterhouseCoopers telling us that one in three of our workforce will move on if they feel disengaged, it’s clear that engagement has to be at the top of the HR agenda. But this also links into leadership training and development and ensuring that your managers and leaders understand the paradigm shift that is taking place in the nature of the workplace. Because if they don’t know how to engage – or understand the rules of engagement - then those ‘one in three’ will move on!

Hope is not a strategy

Consequently innovation and engagement means winning the hearts and minds of, not just our existing people but also our teams of the future. And with workforces that can now comprise up to five generations – that could be the toughest challenge of all. There are a large number of bruised managers who are frightened to be innovative and forward thinking and who are hoping that momentum and tenacity will carry them through. 

But hope is not a strategy. Leaders need to be planning on how they are going to use their workforce and in what capacity. Generation Y are the future. And if they cannot see a clear career path, or feel that they are being under utilised then they will move on. Generation Y want to work in a community and will move if the culture is too oppressive and they feel that they have no voice. Generation X prefer structure – and what of those born after 1997 – our next generation in the workplace – what will they want? What is absolutely clear is that we will need a much wider leadership toolkit to engage our people in the years ahead.

If organisations are to grow then they need to develop an effective management team – and a management team that can lead change. Leadership development is not about an event or a series of events – and it is not about purely developing people in your own image – it’s an ongoing process.

Innovation itself creates change and the current market conditions are imposing change not only on our business models but on how we interact with our customers. One thing is sure; that it shouldn’t take a crisis to stimulate change. The fast moving avalanche of technology can swamp us, if we are not ready to embrace the changes that it brings. So it is essential that we create change ready organisations that are more adaptable, more innovative and more engaging.

If our organisations are going to be prepared for 2010, we need to push our thinking as leaders. Businesses that win will take risks going forward and create new paths for others to follow. Innovation is essential in creating a standout brand. They will not simply respond to change, they will drive it. But most importantly they will recognise that engaging their current and future workforce is the absolute priority that will enable innovation and change to take place.

Fiona Lander is Managing Director of Lander Associates, performance development and training specialists.
For your free copy of the Lander Leadership Report e-mail [email protected].uk

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