In today’s current corporate climate, it’s necessary for businesses to evolve – and this means effectively distributing leadership roles, writes JEFF SCHWISOW.
McKinsey has found that only 23 percent of companies use a formal process to put into operation important strategic decisions. In 52 percent of companies, these decisions are made by a small senior group and poorly communicated to the rest of the organisation.
As a result, the success rate for the implementation of strategic plans is dismal, with the percentage of failed implementations ranging anywhere from 63 percent to 90 percent, depending on the research. In fact, Robert Kaplan of Balanced Scorecard fame estimates that 90 percent of strategies fail due to poor execution.
At the heart of this strategic execution failure epidemic is a command and control operational structure that dates back to the turn of the 20th century. This model is founded on the belief that businesses are made up of thinkers, called ‘managers’, who direct the doers, the ‘workers’.
However, senior executives are far too starved for time to actively lead the strategic adaptation required in today’s highly dynamic business environment. To successfully evolve, businesses need to be intentional about leveraging leadership across the entire organisation.
For people to take on leadership roles that will shape the business, they need to be engaged in and motivated by activities that will benefit the organisation. It has become clear this takes more than beanbag chairs, foosball tables and trendy in-house cafés. Staff need to be given something meaningful to be engaged in and a purpose to be motivated by.
In the early 2000s Google implemented its famous ‘20 percent time’, where employees were encouraged to spend up to a day a week working on ideas outside of their normal project work. The only criterion for this work – it needed to be something they believed would “most benefit Google”. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin said they did this to empower people to be creative and innovative. Google claims that ‘20 percent time’ resulted in new products that currently account for 50 percent of its revenue.
Before ‘20 percent time’, 3M had ‘15 percent culture’. For nearly four decades, it has encouraged employees to spend 15 percent of their time on the projects they choose – what former chairman William McKnight called ‘experimental doodling’. This policy underpins structured, employee-led collaborative processes that have made 3M one of the most innovative companies in history, as well as one of the most consistently profitable.
The field services division of Powercor/Citipower maintains a portfolio of projects that are specifically targeted at realising the business’ strategic objectives. These projects are developed and led by field management staff. Projects selected for the portfolio are the highest priority strategic initiatives that the business unit has the capacity to complete – making them both meaningful and achievable. Senior managers lead through sponsorship – supporting and enabling the project teams, so that they maximise the opportunity for success. As a result, the division has successfully completed 15 of 18 projects, secured some valuable strategic wins and built important working relationships with other business units.
These examples highlight intentional programs to use the leadership bandwidth of the entire organisation to generate value-based business outcomes – employee-led activities that solve problems and create new opportunities. Giving staff the tools, support and trust to pursue meaningful change sends a powerful message about the value that the organisation places in its leadership.
However, the most enduring benefit comes from the development it creates in its employees’ leadership capabilities. Leading meaningful work creates what Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile describes as “an upward spiral of creativity, engagement and performance”, which drives a quest for new leadership opportunities in their day-to-day activities. The result? Leadership bandwidth continues to expand, and adaptation becomes part of the operational fabric. ●
Jeff Schwisow is a strategic execution specialist and the author of Projectify: how to use projects to engage your people in strategy that evolves your business. Find out more at www.jeffschwisow.com.
This article also appears in the August/September issue of Facility Management magazine.
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