In the words of John D. Rockefeller, ‘Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.’ While he can be considered a controversial character, when one analyses his methods in the context of modern leadership development, his modus operandi was astoundingly ahead of his time. He recognised that the so-called ‘average person’ could be shown – trained – to perform to the standards of more talented peers.
According to the recent EEF report Unpacking the puzzle, lower levels of leadership and management capability are amongst the key factors impacting on UK manufacturing productivity growth. The impact of this is risk aversion when it comes to investing in new technologies and processes, leading to a slower take up compared with other countries such as Germany and the US. Without doubt, to achieve the highest levels of performance, productivity and quality a workforce needs a management and leadership superstructure which nurtures performance.
The much-quoted adage that ‘what is measured gets managed’ is not conducive to establishing truly high-performing businesses or business leaders. Much of what is not measured – or indeed is even measurable – is often the key driver of high productivity.
How can we define the link between leadership and productivity?
Since the science of organisational, leadership and management behaviours began to emerge following World War II, it has been the study and development of leadership which has enabled so much innovation, organisational flexibility, vision and resilience. Alongside this we have certainly seen in the UK how career progression from the ‘shop floor’ through to managerial and leadership roles has enriched our talent pool and kept us at the forefront of many industries.
For most SME businesses, workforce cost is the biggest investment they make year on year, and for a proportionately small spend on leadership skills development huge benefits can be realised.
A phenomenon I noticed early on in my career in HR is still experienced in many manufacturing businesses: how can they develop leadership skills when they promote the best of their technical staff into management and leadership roles? Sometimes even the most technically talented individuals can lack the broader people skills which are key to optimising teams and encouraging innovation.
Quite often these individuals continue to take on the role of ‘expert’, as opposed to that of inspiring others to perform better. This is where investment in developing leadership capability can achieve the best return on your workforce investment.
No business can enhance its productivity unless everyone is focused on the common goal, understands the role they play in achieving that goal and feels enabled to contribute to innovation and productivity targets.
Great leaders can still be technical experts, but they need to hone their expertise in managing a workforce. A successful leader is one who understands intimately that a company can rise above the ‘business as usual’ mindset, adapt to changes in the market, encourage continuous improvement and create an environment in which succession planning delivers the next generation of leaders.
We are living in a highly competitive world in which poor leadership and management skills can directly affect the bottom line through low productivity and high staff turnover. It is a well-known fact that people do not leave their company; they leave their manager. In that context it is easy to see why, without strong leadership and a defined plan to develop tomorrow’s leaders, productivity, profits and the very existence of a business can be at risk.
How EEF can help you? At EEF we’ve been passionate about developing people and their skills for 120 years. Discover how EEF is helping British manufacturers drive business performance, innovation and productivity through developing their leaders at www.eef.org.uk/make-great