Lansons Conversations

Lessons for Leaders

In our last newsletter, Lansons Director Naomi Goodman took a look back over leadership trends in 2018, reviewed key events and gave some valuable lessons to be carried into 2019. In case you missed it, here’s a chance to read Naomi’s piece again.

Lansons leadership

What did we learn from some of industry’s most prominent leaders in 2018?

It’s been an interesting year for leadership in business. We’ve worked with many forward-thinking leaders as their organisations switch gear to manage the unprecedented amount of political, economic and technological change we’re all experiencing. At the same time, the media’s also shown businesses backlash over Brexit negotiations, significant employee and public distrust in corporate and global leaders and an environmental crisis that leaders aren’t yet doing enough to collectively respond to.

So, as we round off 2018, I’ve summarised my seven sentiments for leaders that we can all learn from as we move into a new year.

1. Leadership is about leading yourself, your people and your company to deliver exceptional results. But that only works if leaders show up as the best version of themselves.

Let’s take Elon Musk. His organisations, Tesla and SpaceX, have a brilliant opportunity to make a difference towards climate change and prolonging humanity. Yet his erratic behaviour, smoking weed on live radio coupled with his tough expectation that staff should work 100+ hours a week, is creating too much uncertainty about whether these brands can succeed. 

The International Conference on Climate Change confirmed earlier this year that we only have 10 years left to save the planet. Musk’s behaviour, as founder and CEO, is at risk of damaging the extraordinary potential these companies have to make a difference.

Forward focus: Leadership starts with self-awareness. Think before you act.

2. Experience continues to be the buzzword. But this time it’s not for customers. It’s for employees.

Still strong on the agenda from 2017, the best leadership teams recognise they need to focus on the employee experience as much as the customer. Doing so is a powerful tool for engagement, retention and reputation. So, map the journey – from pre-joining (e.g. awareness, recruitment), to joining (e.g. induction, development, networks, work balance benefits), to if they leave (e.g. exit approach).

Adobe is a great example. It believes in the ‘work hard, play hard’ culture. Given 90% of employees would recommend Adobe to a friend, their promise, “We are committed to creating exceptional experiences that delight our employees and staff”, seems to be working.

Forward focus: Add ‘experience’ into your employee engagement mix.

3. Agility needs to be activated. Outdated command-and-control approaches that don’t allow your company to rapidly change or adapt just don’t work in today’s VUCA world.

We know from previously celebrated brands such as Nokia, Blockbuster and more recently Toys R Us in the UK that complexity and complacency kills. This, plus PwC’s insight that 19% of organisations regard their lack of agility to be their biggest concern for the future, means deciding whether to make moves towards becoming a more agile organisation should be high on your agenda.

In doing so, you and your teams can be better placed to move quickly to respond to new competitors, disruptive technologies or shifts in market conditions. So, make sure you’ve got the right blend of skills and talent ready to make that happen, even if that means an increase in contract or temporary workers.

Forward focus: Create a more agile environment to give your people the freedom to adapt at pace.

4. Distraction destroys productivity.

We spend an average of 47% of our time off task. What?! It sounds shocking but given the volume of data and distraction we’re open to every second of the day; attention deficit is a real issue for business. I always think about workplace distraction as the ‘silent slayers’. A tad excessive, I know.

However, mindless distractions can kill focus, suck the life out of productivity and ultimately, be bad for business. And when you consider 70% of your entire workforce feels distracted at work (Udemy Survey, 2018) – and you combine that with 47% of time off task (sourced via Potential Project, 2018) – then that’s worrying. And costly for business.

It helps to explain why Thomas Davenport, from Accenture’s Institute of Strategic Change, believes that, “understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success”.

Forward focus: Create an environment that helps your employees to be more assertive in their responses and reactions.

5. Empathy versus compassion. As the increase in new technologies makes businesses more efficient, we’ve also seen a rise in employees increasingly nervous about workplace security.

In one of my favourite reads this year, Potential Project’s/Harvard Business Review’s The Mind of the Leader, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, describes empathy as being when you take on the suffering of others and you both lose. With compassion, you are empowered to skilfully action.

I heard a brilliant example of this at a conference earlier this year. When talking about his promise to his 550,000+ workforce, Paul Walsh, Chairman of Compass Group and several times winner of Britain’s most admired leaders, said to them, “I can’t promise you jobs for life, but I can promise you the skills that will give you jobs for life”. An excellent example of a leader in touch with the concerns of their workforce and committed to compassionately respond to them.

Forward focus: Don’t be afraid to combine logic with emotion to skilfully lead with your heart.

6. Reputation. ‘Employee ambassadors’ are so much more than an internal engagement tool.

As Tony Langham, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Lansons says in his new book, Reputation Management: The Future of Corporate Communications and Public Relations: “Leaders care about being successful. They care about being able to enter a completely new market… Or being able to win the next starring role… Or being able to increase sales with a relatively low marketing spend. These things are all more readily achieved by those with the magic ingredient… reputation”.

For me, reputation starts from within. We’ve all seen the damage internal bad practices can have on external brand preference. Facebook’s growth and shares have plummeted over the past few months, in part, due to its continuous stream of bad publicity over its internal mismanagement of multiple situations.
But we’re also seeing where companies are getting it right. Workday was founded a little over 10 years ago. It’s now ranked 2nd among its top 10 competitors globally. Achieves 98% in its customer satisfaction rating. Oh, and guess what, ranks 7th in the Fortune 100’s best places to work.

Forward focus: If you can’t win over your people, you won’t win over your public.

7. Social purpose is so much more than a few well written words. Authenticity is key.

Being seen as a purpose-driven business is, as Tony Langham agrees, the number one trend in global reputation management. Yet there’s such a fine line between purpose, perception and profitability. We’ve seen this repeatedly played out in the media this year. Elizabeth Holmes launched Theranos and promised to change the world by revolutionising blood testing. Yet she lied to secure millions in funding and as a result, what was once hailed Silicon Valley’s next ‘unicorn’ has now shut shop. Its founder fined and shunned.

On the opposite end, Unilever built its incredible brand on balancing profitability with environmental sustainability. Kraft Heinz built its enormous success through aggressive cost-cutting tactics. Yet the threat to Unilever’s clearly defined purpose was one of the reasons it famously rejected Kraft Heinz’s $143bn takeover in 2017. And despite the significant financial value in an acquisition, Paul Polman, who leaves Unilever this month after 10 years as CEO, maintains the belief that in doing so, Unilever stayed true to its brand.

Forward focus: Keep your purpose real. Focus it on your offer, your customers and the truth.

So, as we move into another year, those are my seven sentiments for leaders. Do any of these resonate with you?

This piece was originally published in our Newsletter. Get future editions sent straight to your inbox by signing up here.