For companies who aspire to high rates of expansion, productivity and efficiency are a key focus. However, in this push for streamlining processes is it possible for ethical practices to also be a core component in businesses today, and can leadership structures be put in place to sustain and support a shift towards ethical decision making? We explore the links between the two in a conversation with Stephen Bennett.
How has the role of ethics evolved in businesses today? Is it given equal importance in comparison to factors like performance and results when it comes to defining business productivity?
If one takes the concept of ethics there is no doubt that it has become a part of organisational lexicon. This is partly because of recent events which have led to the world economy become unstable. Some massive business failures, clearly the result of dubious ethical behaviour, fuelled the debate around the need of rigorous framework to ensure ethical decision making. This received further impetus when extensive additional regulations were introduced, particularly in the West. All sectors, particularly the finance, have seen significant rise in the amount of regulation to make practices more ethical and lesser business failures.
Regulations are blunt instruments. Its imposing nature can, at times, throttle the ethical drive by imposing a check-list mentality on operations. Regulations started moving the debate forward –Now we are so regulated that it is has created an obstruction in doing business and has started to reduce productivity.
There is a crucial difference between having ethical standards and having imposed standards of ethics. There is a need to win the hearts and minds of people in leadership roles and show them that the ethical way of working is the right way of operating. By doing so, you create the will to live by an ethical frame of working, helping the company to attract talent which want to work hard and believe in what the company values and, in turn, increase productivity. And that is where the role of values-based leadership comes into picture.
How do you see leadership play an important role to establish more ethical practices? What is the role of value-based leadership as an enabler?
The leadership structure has a huge effect on establishing the values that guide the operations of the organisation. Now, a lot of companies have set the values that they want to work with. But what they haven't done is taking steps to translate those into actionable outcomes. Saying words like integrity, courage and respect are easy but the challenge is to live by them.
That is why the concept of value-based leadership has gained importance. The HR function has a pivotal role in developing the kind of leadership structure that not only sets the organisation’s values, but also make sure that everything done within the organisation subscribes to them.
Every IDG leadership program focuses on building skillsets in the three key pillars of Leadership, Followership and Partnership. Why is there an equal focus on the development of followership skills?
Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin. Every one of us is a follower in some way or the other. A CEO of a large public corporation is also a follower as he or she is accountable to shareholders.
There is no doubt that people who want to become good leaders need to have effective followers around them. Almost 90% of what is delivered in organisations is achieved through effective followership not by leadership. The leader can set the framework and the mission, they can set the ‘big how’ of doing things, but when it comes to execution, effective followers are critical.
The word ‘effective’ here is important. The first image that comes to mind with the word ‘follower’ is that of a sheep, but that’s not what we mean. We've spent many years in understanding and defining the nuance of followership. An ‘effective follower’ is a person who would point out to his/her leader alternatives to the suggested plan of action. Their role is to build on the conversation, and this was something that we believe was significantly lacking in the financial crisis of 2008. We need to build followership qualities to add value to what the leadership structure envisions.
How are ethical practices a part of the way IDG functions as a company?
We take a very strong view on it and have clear values. However, if there is a problem where, say, different value sets are in conflict, we encourage debate to resolve it. The focus is on improving business performance through people. Creating sustainable and measurable changes by altering people’s behaviours.
What has been the approach of building leadership by IDG?
We draw a distinction between leaders and leadership. To build leaders one needs those essential skills and characteristics which define a successful leader such as vision, judgement and communication skills. But to build leadership is to effectively develop the collective capital of the organisation and create a common culture and understanding of “how things are done”.
The scope of each of our programmes depends on the competency levels of the individuals involved. We understand the need to create competency frameworks at various levels in the organisation, and once we understand what are the competencies required at each level, we then realistically assess the gaps present.
It’s a diagnostic process including psychometric and personality assessment tools. Coaching is also an important part of our programmes not as a separate tool but it is necessary to integrate it within the business. We teach people within the organisation to coach their own people with the aim of creating a holistic approach towards building leaderships skills.
A key component of your leadership programs takes place at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and involves the concept of “mission command”. How does it add value to leadership models?
The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is a great organisation to partner with. Mission command is about empowerment. The leaders set the mission but it’s the person on the ground that takes the big picture and converts it into what she/he sees in front of them. And that forms the ‘little how’.
Streamlining the chain of command and building the capabilities of leaders at each level ensure a smooth implementation. The leaders responsible at each of the implementation stage should be capable enough to look at different options and choose the best plan of action to achieve the overall aim, and that’s what mission control strives to build. It is similar to what happens in sports. The managers and coaches set the aim but it is the players who actually have to make the moment-to-moment decisions. So our aim is to create a framework within the leadership structure that empowers them to take meaningful decisions. To do this, we utilise the principles of war. The first principle of war is the selection and the maintenance of the aim. The leader has to be able to communicate the aim clearly and ensure it can be easily absorbed by the different layers of the organisations.