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Employee engagement tops business leaders' challenges, according to global survey
Source: London Business School's Leadership Institute , Author: Posted by BI-ME staff
Posted: Sun February 4, 2018 3:29 pm

UAE.  The two top challenges facing today’s leaders are employee engagement and effective strategy execution, according to a survey of 1248 senior directors and executives, of which 10% come from the Middle East.

Almost three quarters of the total respondents come from global organisations, multinationals and large companies*.

Also among the top five challenges are talent management, driving work across organisational boundaries and collaborative working across teams.

These are just some of the findings from a new study carried out by London Business School’s Leadership Institute which explores the issues facing the world’s leaders of business and other organisations.

“Importantly, these top five issues are all intertwined: disengaged employees are unable to put strategy into place effectively. The commercial imperatives are clear: without an effective strategy which the workforce fully supports, organisations suffer and results fall,” explained Randall S. Peterson, Academic Director of London Business School’s Leadership Institute.

He continued: “This is particularly pertinent today given the growth in the service economy: people really are an organisation’s most important asset. So for success, employee engagement has never been more important. 

“Furthermore, this widespread study demonstrates that four of the top five issues facing organisations relate to managing the workforce. The UK, for example, is plagued by poor productivity, so organisations need to address the full range of people management issues to up their game.”

“To engage staff, leaders may be tempted to simply ‘sell’ reasons for staff to be passionate about their role.  But this approach won’t succeed. The best performers are motivated by work that is rewarding in itself: work that gives meaning to their lives or develops their skills.”

Aligned to this, the survey also asked respondents about the most important skills required by leaders for success. Communicating purpose ranked as the single most important skill. 

Professor Peterson argues that firms need to be focused not only on issues such as staff needs, fair pay, a safe working environment and resources, but also on individuals’ goals and aspirations which also support organisational goals.

“Ensuring staff and stakeholders share a joint sense of purpose encourages them to go above and beyond what’s required. This is critical for long term organisational success – and is complemented by the other key leadership skills highlighted by the survey, namely, integrity, setting direction, critical thinking and practising what you preach in terms of beliefs, values and behaviours,” explained Professor Peterson.

Drive change through collaboration
Almost 80% of respondents said that change was driven, or mandated, by senior management while only 10% was driven by people lower in the organisation and 9% consider that their organisation resists change.

Commenting on the results, Vyla Rollins, Executive Director of the Leadership Institute, said:
“In an age when change is increasingly accepted as a constant, it’s important to approach the development and execution of change initiatives in a way that works in organisations facing 21st century challenges.

She added: “For example, according to our study, a ‘bottom-up’ approach to change is rare and the prevalence of senior manager-led initiatives may go some way to explain why employee engagement is such a concern for many organisations. It’s therefore well worth organisations acquainting themselves with some of the emerging collaborative approaches to change, whereby senior leaders’ responsibility is to facilitate and orchestrate change, rather than mandating and driving change via clusters of individuals in senior roles.”

“The results also suggest that individuals may lack the skills to lead and manage complex change involving multiple stakeholders. We find many organisations still use a linear approach for large-scale organisational change, which can often be more disruptive than the change they are trying to introduce.”

A focus on day-to-day delivery is leaders’ main barrier to success
The primary reason leaders are unable to reach their full potential is a focus on day-to-day delivery, according to 54% of respondents, followed by a lack of strategic thinking (45%) and organisations’ inability to adapt to change (35%).

“These results indicate that cultures overly focused on tasks and delivery can make it difficult to feel okay with stepping back and creating time to think about what the organisation should be achieving strategically,” said Vyla Rollins.

Effective senior management teams
Respondents were also asked how well they perceive that senior management figures work together. Worryingly, 58% of participants have concerns about how their organisation’s top executive team appear to work together from focusing on their own agendas to regular conflict and even in-fighting within the team.

Professor Peterson commented: “So it’s no surprise that respondents also feel they are struggling with executing strategy, building engagement and creating meaningful change in their organisation.

“Behaviour at the top of an organisation informs how individuals further down lead and behave, as well as influencing organisational performance.

“Effective conflict resolution is critical to building trust for the future in any group or organisation. This means all parties need to accept the decision as legitimate and commit to implementation. The problem with simple voting procedures, which are extremely common, is that some members’ views are typically shut down and this can de-legitimise the team’s decision and undermines commitment.”

Managing failure
The survey also explored how organisations deal with failed initiatives and there is an overwhelming feeling that such projects are met with negativity.

In fact, 59% of responses suggest that the results of failed initiatives are not shared across the organisation, or else not talked about. However, what’s more concerning is that a further 11% of responses demonstrate that individuals involved typically disappear from the organisation, while 14% suggest that the results are shared but the individuals concerned are stigmatised.

Only 11% of responses reflect that results from projects which have failed are celebrated as important learning opportunities. Start-ups and SMEs appear more likely to embrace failure than larger organisations.

Professor Peterson notes: “For any organisation to succeed at innovation, they must develop ways to make it acceptable to talk about projects that don’t progress as planned and then turn them into learning opportunities. It takes a real shift in beliefs, mindsets and behaviours for companies to start to innovate more effectively.”

“So to help organisations thrive, leaders must learn how to manage failure. Naturally you need to minimise potential downside costs by beginning with a small pilot project, for example, but also by maximising benefits and extracting as much value as possible from what is learnt. Simple questions can be valuable, for example: ‘What went well, and why?’, and, ‘What could have been done to help bolster possibilities of success?’”

How is failure managed in your organisation?

A multiple select question. 1265 responses from 948 respondents.   The figures reflect the percentage share of responses for each category

*About the survey respondents

1248 individuals responded to the survey
Role of respondent
35% Member of the executive team/runs entire company or unit
31% Reports directly to member of top executive team, company or unit
15% Vice President, Director or Manager
7% Front line supervisor or team leader
6% Professional (eg consultant, lawyer, professor)
3% Individual
3% Other
*Type of organisation
27% Global
22% Large
21% Multinational
21% SME
9% Start-up
Respondents by sector
22%  Financial services
11% Technology and Telecoms
10% Education/Energy
8%   Manufacturing
8%   Professional services
5%   Construction/Engineering
5%   Retail/leisure and hospitality
31% Other

Respondents came from 98 different countries, with 30% from the UK

Photo Captions:
1. (above)   Randall S. Peterson, Academic Director of London Business School’s Leadership Institute.
2. (inset)     For illustrative purposes -  (File photo)

About London Business School
London Business School's vision is to have a profound impact on the way the world does business. The School is consistently ranked in the global top 10 and is widely acknowledged as a centre for outstanding research.

As well as its highly ranked degree programmes, the School offers award-winning executive education programmes* to executives from around the world.

With a presence in five international cities – London, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai – the School is well positioned to equip students from more than 130 countries with the tools needed to operate in today’s business environment. The School has more than 40,000 alumni, from over 150 countries, which provide a wealth of knowledge, business experience and worldwide networking opportunities.

London Business School’s 157 academics come from more than 30 countries and cover seven subject areas: accounting; economics; finance; management science and operations; marketing; organisational behaviour; and strategy and entrepreneurship. 

The School’s Leadership Institute was launched in 2014 to connect leaders, and the challenges they face, to the world in a unique way.

Its mission is clear: to have a profound impact on the world through supporting the generation and application of path-breaking research on leadership.

At the Institute’s core is research across a spectrum of topics and disciplines, including successful leaders who embody our evidence-based teaching on leadership.

For more information, click here.



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