Clear leadership needed to drive workplace performance

Leaders should never under estimate the power they have to improve life for their employees. Survey findings released this week from consulting firm Mercer revealed that “clear leadership” is ranked as the number one factor that would improve UK employees’ work situation.

Mercer reports that employees are looking for leadership that sets the direction for an uncertain future while 43 per cent expect their work situation to become “more stressful” than the global average indicates (23 per cent).

“Faced with the ever-increasing rate of change in business, disruption in how work is done, allied to the political and financial instability, companies need strong and clear leadership to navigate the uncertainty ahead,” says Mark Quinn, Mercer’s UK career leader. “Companies that get on the front foot developing effective and supportive leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to get ahead of their competition.”

It seems leadership is also playing heavily on the minds of many HR professionals. The 2017 Global Talent Trends Study also found that when they were asked to list their main priorities for the year, developing leaders for succession ranked as their highest priority. The hope is, of course, that they will develop a breed of leader who is sufficiently supportive and effective to help reassure employees that the company is in good shape to face the future.

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Mercer’s study shares insights from more than 7,500 perspectives globally (of which more than 550 are from the UK) and compares the views of senior business executives, HR leaders and employees. But it appears leaders themselves are less worried about leadership. With Brexit clearly weighing heavily on their minds, when asked what external challenges will have the biggest impact on their business, more than a third of UK leaders stated increased border control. In line with a global trend, the study found that the vast majority of companies (89 per cent) say they are planning to redesign their structure in the next two years but only six per cent of business executives regard their organisations as “change agile”.

Chances are that you could draw off the findings of any employee- or business survey at the moment and find similar levels of concern about the future. Yet amid all of the uncertainty that lies ahead, there is one thing we can all be sure of and that is of the need for strong leadership.

Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s career business, reckons that in an era when digitisation, robotics and AI are “wreaking havoc” with traditional business models, it is easy for executives to focus on things like superior technology as the solution to staying ahead of the competition and, in doing so, overlook the human element. He believes growth rests on engaging and empowering today’s workforce in ways “we are just beginning to uncover”.

Part of any leader’s remit going forward is to uncover how they can simultaneously ensure individuals feel both secure and comfortable in their roles but also encourage them to become agile and change-ready to play their part in the future.

Comfort and change might not make easy bedfellows but no-one performs at their best when the Sword of Damocles hangs overhead.


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