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Picture: 123RF/CATHY YEULET
Picture: 123RF/CATHY YEULET

No one in business likes to talk about failure but the reality is that in today’s rapidly changing economic environment businesses do fail. When it starts to happen, business leaders deflect responsibility and blame everything from changing markets, to poor productivity, fraudulent accounting and other circumstances beyond their control.

For leaders who identify and set the right strategic direction, effectively harness the energy and resources of the organisation to achieve the strategic goals better, faster and more profitably than anyone else, sustainable long-term success is attainable.

Lacklustre business performance is not just a South African malaise. A recent survey by global performance management consulting company Gallup shows a picture of business leaders around the world failing spectacularly.

Some of the results are chilling:

  • Worldwide, only 15% of adults in full-time employment describe themselves as highly involved in and enthusiastic about the work they do, which implies a staggering amount of wasted potential and massive losses in productivity.
  • About 70% of well-formulated business strategies fail due to poor execution.
  • Only 2% of leaders are confident they will achieve more than 80% of their strategic objectives.
  • Just over half of organisations achieve less than half of their strategic objectives.
  • A staggering 95% of employees do not understand their organisation’s strategy.

But these issues aren’t new to business; nor are the benefits.

In its recent State of the Workplace study, Gallup quantifies the benefits for involved, engaged, empowered teams: a 22% improvement in profitability, a 37% decline in absenteeism, 21% more productivity, 41% fewer quality defects and significantly lower staff turnover.

What is new to business is that “today’s workplaces are experiencing changes at unprecedented rates. The rise of digitisation and automation, increased access to information, and the globalisation of markets are among the trends challenging traditional approaches to work, company cultures, management and jobs.”

The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution also presents leaders with technology that they can harness “to assimilate and to act on large quantities of information and data so that they can more quickly respond to changes in and outside of the business.”

The power of technology does not lie solely with leaders to manage better. Instead, technology and concomitant processes also need to help employees to understand clearly what they need to do, and are empowered, enthusiastic and adaptable enough to be able to do it.

Simple enough but the devil always lies in the detail.

How do we overcome the challenges of tons of data rendered unusable because it is scattered over different information technology systems, or people collaborating electronically but in an unstructured manner using separate systems? And what about inefficient meetings that are plagued by poor attendance, late minutes and unclear actions … or decisions with little management and accountability … or projects with limited visibility and being reviewed in different ways?

What effect does this have on the business? Firstly, the lack of cohesion and focus means that employees, who may be willing and want to do a good job, end up confused. Secondly, business leaders, who have invested in, and implement, time-consuming reporting scorecards with detailed key-performance indicators wonder why employees are underperforming.

So how can we bring leaders and employees together with a single focus?

High-performance leadership (HPL) has been around for some time, having been implemented at businesses that are truly world class. Part of their success is due to a strong value system of trust, respect, caring and leadership, which HPL inculcates into businesses.

It’s an ecosystem that works: it is premised on teams, throughout the business, working effectively together and who trust each other. For trust to exist, there has to be respect that is founded on genuine caring for each other. Caring comes from the heart but is nurtured through values-based leadership.

Unfortunately, leaders, even the strong ones, don’t stick around forever. So does this mean that when the good leaders leave the system falls over? No. But how does one factor sustainability into HPL? It’s by making sure that HPL culture is woven into the fabric of the business. By this, I mean operationalised with a fair amount of discipline so a high-performance culture is built at every level.

For the HPL to deliver, there are five fundamentals that need to be applied:

  • HPL should be used from the CEO to the shop floor. It is for everyone and attendance at forums and meetings is essential because engagement between people promotes the values of HPL and operationalises the system;
  • A cross-functional approach with constructive discussions around issues leads to recorded actions/tasks, which in turns builds a delivery culture;
  • Reviewing performance, in short feedback cycles, maintains the required progressive momentum;
  • Discipline regarding time, attendance, agenda, recording, preparation and participation is important; and
  • Leadership is still necessary. HPL is a system and does not replace the management function.

So how does HPL work in real life?

Firstly, HPL requires a culture change that is driven by leaders who can get things done through others. Secondly, you need an enabler that will help your business document and share organisational operations and help teams to understand their role in the business. And that’s where technology like Activios plays a role.

In true Fourth Industrial Revolution style, a structured technology-driven system helps employees to manage themselves better by knowing, day by day, what activities and goals have been achieved and what is still to be done. It’s the technology that acts as the catalyst for allowing a high-performance culture to exist.

Activios’s client CEO Dave Larkin, who is piloting the software at Freshmark, sums it up: Everyone knows what has been delivered and it is managed throughout the organisation in exactly the same way. “I use the system to help me manage my priorities, see what the pressure points are and what tasks haven’t been completed in time. It is not only doing this for me. It is also doing it for everyone else in the organisation.”

About the author: Niels Andersen is MD at Activios, management performance software, developed in SA.

This article was paid for by Activios.