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Oliver Wight Blog

Top Tips for Managing and Leading People

By Lloyd Snowden, Associate at Oliver Wight EAME

13 September 2017

To extract the best possible performance from any business, it is vital to strike the right balance between people and behaviours, processes and tools. Hitting the ‘sweet spot’ where these overlap is fundamental to facilitate lasting change.

All too often, organisations overlook the importance of people when implementing business improvement programmes, focusing instead on tackling their processes and tools. However, the best in business recognise that people are the key drivers in any change programme and that success depends on the organisation’s ability to cultivate the right environment for improvement.

A strong leadership and team-based culture enable organisations to react quickly and with agility, in response to a constantly changing market and customer dynamic. So, we’ve outlined the crucial factors for managing and leading people, as part of an on-going Integrated Business Planning (IBP) improvement programme.

Naturally the way in which the business manages its people has be a fundamental part of the its overall strategy (see our blog ‘Managing the Strategic Planning Process). The organisation’s value statement and guiding principles have to clearly document how the company culture will be lived and breathed, and these must be visible to all employees for it to be an ongoing and proactive process. 

But this is a case of ‘do as I do, not just do as I say’; to succeed, the leadership team has to be the perfect role model, avoiding and ‘Us and Them’ culture and ensuring the expected behaviour permeates down through the organisation via managers, supervisors and team leaders to all employees.

In this way, the values become the very glue that binds the company together and are not only articulated by everybody within the business, but also identified as the common thread running throughout the organisation’s roadmaps for future success. Trust is the key ingredient, since without it behaviour will be compromised and this can be measured through regular employee engagement surveys to ensure the company’s culture remains in line with its values.

A successful business in the modern world is an integrated one, with people, processes and tools aligned with the strategic goals of the company. It is the responsibility of the leadership team to create a ‘people operations roadmap’, which demonstrates the organisations commitment to its employees at the same time as linking this with the overall strategic plan. This should be reviewed annually on a formal basis but should also be the subject of informal feedback form employees to ensure the people plan stays on track. 

What begins as coordination, steadily evolves into control, then automation and eventually full integration, as the organisation matures. Isolation is replaced by integration, with ‘silo’ ways of working becoming a thing of the past as team-culture permeates throughout the organisation.

Leaders need to set the agenda be behaving as a team, thus becoming role models for the rest of the organisation. This means adapting over time to ensure it maintains the right mix of people, skills and abilities for a successful future. So, the Leadership Team not only dictates the cultural change in terms of business needs, but leads by example. By practicing what they preach, they distinguish themselves as true leaders, rather than managers. 

And, crucially, there needs to be a culture which recognises that great leaders are not born, but made. Employees with leadership potential are identified, nurtured and cultivated through education and training, creating home-grown leaders who are personally invested in the business.

Roles and responsibilities run the company; not the organisational chart. People are the game-changers, communicating and deploying the top-down messages. They run the IBP process, deliver the bottom-up performance and enable decision-making. 

Within the best run organisations, teams are the primary means of directing, organising and carrying out work. The right people, with the right behaviour and the right knowledge, will design the right processes. Thus, it’s crucial to match people with the right roles, to first form compatible groups (phase 1) and then form cohesive teams (phase 2), as both the organisation and people mature (see the Oliver Wight Maturity figure below). In this team-based culture, individual roles have to be properly defined and responsibilities outlined, as employees are awarded increased authority and decision-making power.

By encouraging personal investment in the process, people are motivated to continue to strive for improvement. Crucially though, they company has to reward them for their team performance rather than just as individuals.

People need to feel empowered to do their job more effectively, and recognise the impact they have on change. Education builds the foundation for a culture of continuous development, and training refines people’s abilities to use the tools (and talents) they’ve developed. This requires prioritising investment in people, and committing both resources and time to their personal and professional development.

Recognition of a job well done has equal value to appraisals; measurements provide a powerful tool in driving and maintaining behaviours, either through rewards or reminders of the company values and strategic goals. Both result in the attraction, retention and development of employees, with organisations actively encouraging the extension of career paths.

This blog is based on Chapter Two of The Oliver Wight Class A Standard for Business Excellence. To read the seventh edition of our essential guide to business improvement, please click here.