What’s the Return on Investing In People?

 investors in people So how are our Australasian large companies stacking up against Global Best Practice in terms of putting people at the heart of their business?  That was the question that we put to one of our strategic partners, Stuart Burgess, the MD of Investors in People NZ & Australia.

One of our key principles at Leadership by Design is to keep abreast of latest thinking and research that helps us to challenge our clients to be world class from a leadership, learning and change perspective.  We all know that the research over recent years has highlighted the payoff for any organisation of investing in its people and developing leaders attributes  but how many are listening?  A recent survey  released by Right Management in Australasia identified that less employees are engaged with their organisation than were 4 years ago and there is a distinct difference in engagement scores between Managers and the members of their teams, so what’s happening out there?

Stuart has the unique opportunity to check that out every day through benchmarking organisations against an International Standard of best people practice, Investors in People – check out what the Standard looks at in detail & who is involved through this link www.iipnz.co.nz.

At its heart, it’s about making sure that people are aligned to the vision and goals of the organisation; that they have effective leaders and managers to support them to get there and that they have the skills, knowledge and motivation to achieve success.  Stuart doesn’t survey staff; he interviews a cross-section of the organisation and gets to the heart of what’s really going on.  So what is he finding?

Q. Stuart, you have been interviewing staff in organisations over the last 6 or 7 years at IIPNZ.  You must have noticed some key trends over that time and I am sure there is some great practice out there.  Where do you think organisations have improved over the last few years?

“Absolutely; everyone seems to focus on the bad news, but I am definitely seeing the benefits of the focus on Vision and Values over the last 2-3 years. The organisations we work with are much clearer about where they want to be in 5 years time and how they want to be in delivering on the vision.  That has been a key improvement

One of the other things I have come across a lot over recent years is many more organisations being involved in getting feedback from their teams on engagement levels and culture.  This is a great principle, however, it would be fair to say that when I actually talk to people, many of them say that they are not sure anyone is listening to them/doing anything with the information before they get another survey!  This highlights the key leadership attributes related to fostering engagement. Leaders need to  looking to get people involved in improving things, and part of that is feeding back some tangible outcomes”

Q.  Great point; I am sure lack of focus and communication on what’s happening at the strategic level will be actively disengaging people in that situation.  Interestingly in terms of your point around Vision & Values,  one of the things we find and that global research suggests is that Leaders still find it hard to translate that vision for the rest of the organisation – what would you say to that?

“Absolutely. Whilst organisations have done a much better job of setting the vision, I still find every day that staff have little understanding either of the vision, as it has often changed so often, but more importantly what it actually means for them on a day-to-day basis.  The only vision that’s worth its salt is a shared one.  That doesn’t mean people have to be involved in setting the overall direction, but they must be able to translate it in a meaningful way.”

Q.  You have talked quite a lot already about the Leaders & the ‘top table’.  There is an abundance of research around what Leadership attributes are critical in order to be effective and how they should be doing it.  We believe that Leaders have to be themselves but they need guidance and support to develop at each level in their career.  What are people looking for from their Leaders based on your discussions?

“I am delighted to say that there are some great examples of individual leaders and managers doing a great job. This is however still inconsistent and expectations are not always being clearly defined or made accountable. One of the biggest issues I have to feedback to Leadership teams is that there is not enough discussion amongst them about what their organisation needs its leaders and managers to be able to do or how they are going to support them to do it.  Too often it is left to HR or Learning & Development as a functional task, rather than understanding that having a Leadership strategy and a clarity on important leadership attributes to prioritise will support engagement and successful change”

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Q.  So what about the Leadership team Stuart?  There is a huge body of research that suggests that too much time is spent on working with the individuals in a Leadership team rather than focusing on getting clear on what the team is there to do and how they could be doing that more effectively as a group.  Would you agree with that?

“ Definitely.  It is amazing how many times I actually ask the members of a senior team what they believe they are actually there to do and they just can’t answer the question!  If they aren’t clear about their sense of purpose, what chance have they of really working together to drive the business forward.  I find there is still too much focus on defending areas of responsibility rather than thinking about what’s best for the whole organisation”

Q.  Almost finally Stuart, we are seeing very low levels of satisfaction reported in learning programmes in a number of global surveys – is that your experience?

“ It amazes me that in these tough economic times, I still have conversations with senior people who don’t know how much they are spending on Learning & Development, why they are spending it and what difference any of it is making!  At the core of the Investors in People Standard is the principle that learning and development is aligned with the overall objectives of the organisation; that its impact can be measured and is!  This is a huge gap in most organisations and I still find a lack of strategic thinking around “what do we need the people in our organisation to be able to do for us and them to be successful”

Q.  And finally, I am sure we have some organisations that are right up there in terms of global best practice.  Are you able to share a success story with us?

“Delighted to.  Why wouldn’t any organisation be proud of making that particular grade?

We all know TNT – we see their courier vans every day, but did you know that they are the first organisation in the world to have every site around the world meet this global standard of best people practice.  What do they do well? – here’s one example:

  • They have a fantastic strategy called No 1.  To be No 1 is the overall vision but what No 1 means to all of the areas of the business is defined by them.  This has really brought clarity to everyone in the business and they understand where they fit in the big picture
  • Each part of the business defines No 1 in terms of a set of behaviours and people are rewarded based on demonstrating them.
  • Staff feel involved, engaged and ‘valued’ in every sense of the word in delivering the vision for TNT”

Thanks so much to Stuart for sharing his insights with us – great to hear it from the ‘horse’s mouth’.

In summary, how often do we hear the phrase ‘our people are our greatest asset’ or ‘we believe in Investing in Our People’.  There are clearly some organisations out there who ‘get it’ and a future post will focus on looking at a Kiwi organisation which has just won a global award for its Leadership & people practices.

If your Leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations. We are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking. Click here to contact us

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