CIPD Podcast 87 - Barriers to leadership

Date: 03/02/14 Duration: 00:21:06 

Recent CIPD research has revealed that although £3.2 billion is annually invested in training for managers across the UK, 72% of organisations report a deficit of management and leadership skills. In this round table podcast recording, we’ll be discussing why this is the case, and what to do about it. What are the barriers to effective leadership in modern organisations, and how can we overcome them? We will discuss some of the findings from the research with CIPD’s Ksenia Zheltoukhova, while Kirstin Furber, People Director, BBC Worldwide, Louise Fisher, HR Director, Xerox and Andy Lancaster, formerly Learning and Development Manager, Hanover Housing and now Head of L&D at the CIPD, outline their personal experiences of organisational structures and leadership capability.


Philippa Lamb: Leadership is a big headache for organisations. Nearly three quarters of them report a deficit of leadership and management skills but 66% of them already provide training and between them they're spending £3.2bn on it here in Britain alone. So why are so many of them still so worried that they don’t and won't have the leaders they need? 

Joining me to discuss that today I have Ksenia Zheltoukhova, she’s a Research Associate at the CIPD; Kirstin Furber, People Director at BBC Worldwide; Louise Fisher, who’s HR Director at Xerox; and Andy Lancaster, at the time of the recording the Learning and Development Manager at Hanover Housing and now Head of L&D at the CIPD. 

Ksenia: your own research, I think this is isn’t it, says that this is a really serious problem. How bad is it? 

Ksenia Zheltoukhova: Well the figures that you were quoting earlier made us wonder at CIPD Research, are we actually looking in the reach of the problem? If there is so much money, over £3bn spent on management development and we still lack good managers at the front line, are we doing enough to develop individual leaders? And the reality is that managers exist within the organisational system and it's good enough investing in the development of individual leaders and managers but if the organisational systems and processes are not aligned with what is required of managers, then people management and good management is just going to be something to tick off in your performance review rather than a way of doing things. 

PL: And are you seeing this level of anxiety across the board, all sorts of organisations, big and small, all sorts of sectors? 

KZ: Precisely. I think it got particularly difficult with the recession when organisations intended to be leaner and so much is now at the front line, so much is required of managers. HR departments ask managers for more, managing difficult conversations, doing performance reviews, participating much more in the processes that would normally be taken care of by the HR function. 

PL: Well Kirstin, Ksenia has raised a whole raft of issues for us but let's do this issue around senior management first, because I think it's really clear that generally we focus a bit too much on senior managers. A lot of the money is going there, they’re very visible but actually they’re focused on other stuff aren’t they? 

Kirstin Furber: I think you make a great point. So I think there's two things I would say. I think you’re absolutely right senior leaders are focusing obviously in terms of where the business is going as well but they’re leading as they’re thinking about where they’re taking the strategy. I think importantly there's a sector of the population, middle managers, which are so critical in terms of really developing a culture of the company and really keeping things on track. We need to make sure the doers are doing things and they’re managing through it as well as the leaders are moving forward in terms of the strategy. So those two groups really working together is very powerful and I think sometimes that middle management group actually get missed. 

PL: Well that's the thing isn’t it because I think Andy I know you have thoughts on this that it’s a very difficult issue for middle managers that they’re very preoccupied with the wider objectives, obviously quite rightly, but they are the employer really for all the people below them and those two objectives often fall into conflict so they really are squeezed aren’t they? 

Andy Lancaster: And I think the reality is that it is like a sandwich, you've got slices of bread each side and the richness is in the middle of the sandwich and I think often the middle managers are the ones who are innovators, they’re managing change processes, they’re dealing with operational staff and I think wise organisations will invest richly in their middle management tier. And I think one thing at Hanover which we recognised was it’s important to define what leadership skills actually are in your organisation because I suspect the three organisations round the table here we probably have very different models of leadership. So I think for us one of the key things is what do our leaders need, what do our middle managers need to be successful? 

PL: How do you find this at Xerox Louise? Is that an issue you've recognised this problem with the middle? 

Louise Fisher: Most definitely and obviously we're a large matrix organisation. I'd throw the matrix into the mix as well as hierarchy, I think that gives a challenge and I think most of our people work for two or three different bosses in a matrix and I think that has its own challenges as well. So yes, absolutely. 

PL: It really does, I mean that idea you can really feel the experience though, you've got three guys or girls that you need to be pleasing and you have your eye on your own career projection, and yet behind you there's ranks of people who are looking to you for all sorts of more personal guidance. 

LF: And to help them work through the matrix as well. So I would say yes and I would think my counsel to people is behave to any of your line managers, whether they’re dotted, hard, no line at all, just behave exactly the same way and you get rid of confusion I think. But yes your people are absolutely looking for you to provide guidance and clarity as well. 

PL: Louise, we've talked about the top, senior managers; the junior people of course they’re right there too underneath both tiers and I think the sense of Ksenia’s research here is that they don’t have the time to do any of this and they’re not trained for it either. 

KF: I think one of the interesting things is around formal training versus on the job and I think it’s very interesting when you talk about matrix management because my personal view is matrix management, you can't really train someone to do that you just need to practise it, experience it and do a little bit of trial and error around it. I think really you've got your different layers and to your point around junior people, junior people are looking to managers, they’re looking to their boss, they’re looking to their leader, how do they do it? How do they do it on the stage in the company? How are they treated on a day to day basis? And I think that behaviour then translates right down to the company in terms of how do you do it in the right way. I think particularly my personal experience working through media companies, it’s all around relationships and matrix management in a global organisation is all about relationships and you can't really train someone to do that, that's very much in terms of how you do it. So I think there's a question there, where do you put your budget in terms of leadership training, management training, development training around that? 

PL: Well that brings us to a very interesting point doesn’t it because I think again research suggests that HR leaders think leadership training should be about anyone; that's not really what’s happening on the ground often is it? You know it’s just not distributed in that way and I know that at Hanover, Andy, you've developed in-house programmes haven't you? 

AL: We have. We've taken the approach that aligning to the business really is best implemented through having programmes which are designed in-house. So we've allowed our middle managers to design their own programme which sounds very obvious and as an L&D person I ought to be saying that every programme I've designed has had learner input but it hasn’t always been the case. But in this programme we actually gave a blank sheet of paper and said to middle managers, “what do you want from your programme?” And there were some surprising things which I don't think I would have put in. So I think part of supporting managers in the middle tier is to really engage them in their own learning analysis. And one thing we've found at Hanover, and I suspect it might be the same for other organisations, often those who have come into middle management have come because they were very good technically at a lower level. And we find many of our middle managers are more worried about doing the job well rather than worrying about their staff. And I think we have a duty to help them to not only do their job well but to coach them to manage their staff. So I think there's a real transitional issue for people coming into middle management which we need to deal with, with training. 

PL: Yes I mean that's across all sectors isn't it? Generally we're still promoting people who are very good at their job but it doesn’t mean they have any idea how to manage. So you said some of the things that your people came forward with was surprising; what surprised you that they wanted? 

AL: Yeah I mean things like managing change you’d expect to be in most organisations now with the current economic climate and things going on. Our managers wanted to have a module on values-based management which in the third sector again we’d hope that would be the case but again in commercial organisations values are very important. 

PL: Interesting. 

AL: But they wanted something on how do we take organisational values and really make them work in a day to day environment. Now I wouldn’t have put that in my top 12 but that was something they requested, so we had to shape the programme and again I think for the organisation having values, it’s important that middle managers can replicate those and work on those with their staff. So those are some of the themes that have come through which surprised us. 

PL: And there's a lot of mentoring going on as well isn’t there? 

AL: Yeah and I think the one mistake I probably made was not to have enough peer coaching going on. So we're now using actual learning sets and groups and we find a group of middle managers together can thrash out issues which maybe they wouldn’t always want to discuss with their line manager but it gives them the option to talk to a peer and say, “How would you go?” So I'm very pro collaborative learning. 

PL: Is that something that you two do as well? 

KF: Well just something that's just sparked my thought is something that we're doing is trying to mix the senior leaders with the middle managers, with the employees. So we're doing reverse mentoring now and we've just started it and I really think it’s the leaders at the top that are trying to understand actually what goes on lower down and what are some of the issues? That's very different to what I'm thinking it is and particularly I think in the digital world, where maybe we've always thought as senior leaders in one direction because that's what we've known, that's what we've experienced. To have a junior person who’s come with a very different viewpoint, that really is starting to gain a very difference in how we're thinking about our strategy, but also for the more junior manager trying to really understand actually, “can I work through an issue? I've got a day-to-day issue, I really need to work through with my employee,” so that's a really quite effective way in terms of just bringing all those different levels together. 

LF: I think just to answer your question we take around 80 industrial placements every year and if I think back to when we were doing A levels and graduate degrees many years ago, I think we were less confident than the people who we're recruiting now who are aged 20, 21, in the third year of their graduate programme and these 80 people manage themselves. They run events, they raise money for charity, they work on projects together, they don’t need our guidance, they’ve got the innate leadership abilities and we're just allowing them the freedom to get on with it. 

PL: Do they do it well? 

LF: Very well. I mean I have to say, the confidence and the abilities that they bring are far superior to that that I was recognising in teams 20 years ago. 

PL: You see I think that's really interesting because another thing that's in the research which I flagged up as ‘ignorance is bliss’ is that the data suggests that the people who think this is really easy are the very young people who’ve had no training; they’re just not worried about it at all because they just think they can do it. 

LF: They just get on with it. 

PL: But they get more worried about it, about a year or two years into their management careers, when they suddenly realise just how much they don’t know and then they worry and worry and worry for about five years and then when they’ve had some experience they tend to feel a bit better. I was intrigued by that and it kind of plays into what you’re saying but you're saying they’re still doing it well so what does that say about the training? 

LF: Well this is in, say, the placement year that they have with us, they go back and finish their degree and then some of them then come and join us as graduates. But we run a management appointment process that we're rolling out across all our countries and we've run it in the UK for many years. These are people who are aspiring to be people managers and we put them through a programme before we license them, if you like, to be a manager and what we focus on is insight. We really do focus on 360 degree feedback, getting to know yourself, your abilities, your strengths, your development needs so that they’ve got that skill as they progress through their career. 

PL: So this is distributed leadership really isn’t it, which is great because I wanted to talk about that. I mean this is the obvious thing to do isn’t it that if you've got a squeezed middle that have just got too much on their plate, one way or another you have to spread the load; I mean do you guys do it in practice? Does it work at the BBC? We hear a lot about senior managers at the BBC. 

KF: I think it’s really interesting what you say about spreading the load and I think sometimes I wonder as HR professionals we overthink about it and I think it’s very interesting what you've just said, Louise, around people just go and do it.

PL: It’s fascinating and we're spending £3bn on the training. 

KF: Exactly and I think there's a little bit of a dilemma I personally have around sometimes just do it, don’t analyse, don’t talk about it. I think that's a real challenge for our profession and I think in the leadership development you can spend a lot of time, I know I've done it in the past, on PowerPoint presentations and analysis and competencies etc. but you know what, just ask people what they want and just do it. I think that's how you learn now. So I think that's something that certainly goes through my mind.

PL: So are we essentially saying, I want to get on to OD anyway, because obviously that is a big issue, but are we essentially saying we're spending money in the wrong way? 

LF: Well I'd just like to ask, concerning your research, the £3.6bn I think you said, is that on the 10% that’s on classroom training or is that all of the hours of coaching and on-the-job training as well in your research? For me most of the learning for these people will happen as they’re being coached by their boss, immediate feedback, immediate learning and that's cost free. It takes time but it’s cost free, you're not spending budget. 

PL: Yes, are you talking about formal training? 

KZ: Absolutely and I think that’s one of the challenges and I agree with you, Kirsten, it’s so difficult to measure or we spend so much time trying to understand where we invested and what is the return of the investment. In the research we only asked the HR professionals about the formal training so we wouldn’t be able to measure all the cost-free training or actually the investment in time that goes into it. But I wonder why the HR professionals spend so much time measuring the return on investment and I wonder whether it is because they’re being asked to justify the leadership and management development programmes that are going on in the organisations because I think many agree it is important but in order to get any budget to do it what is important you have to first… 

PL: Demonstrate the ROI. 

KZ: ...point out the business case yes. And then all this time, and in the survey that is one of the most frequent categories cited by the HR professionals when we ask them, “what are you doing about leadership and management development?” and they say, “well, we’re demonstrating the business case.” It’s not about developing the content, it’s not about looking at where the leaders are or the OD bit, it’s about justifying it. 

PL: So should the focus be much more internal then? Should we just be looking at the good people we've already got and getting them to assist each other? Obviously sometimes you all need external input but maybe we're just too focused on that, is that how it should be? 

AL: I think there is always room to bring fresh talent into an organisation and sometimes you need fresh faces and fresh ideas. But I think shrewd organisations will have a strategy to develop their own leaders and I think the issue of distributive leadership is a really interesting one because we're finding there's certain leadership topics which younger people need to lead on; the social media understanding in our organisation probably is at its highest with the younger people. So I think we have an issue about where we're developing leaders and what we're looking for. I think for me, I think you’re absolutely right in terms of the research, often we focus on how’s and what’s and I think unless you answer the “why do you need your leaders in the organisation?”, I think it’s a more difficult thing. So I think the ‘why’ question is really important. Why does the business need leaders and what are they going to be offering? And I think that's across the board, it’s looking at all levels of the organisation. 

PL: And we should be drawing on internal resources to drive the rest of it?

KF: I think absolutely, certainly my view is internal because then it’s absolutely geared to what your business needs. I think the challenge, going back to your ROI, is the push, rightly so from the business, given the economic climate, is every year you need to say, “is it working?” and we need to change it. Well actually with leadership and management and development you need two or three years to start to see it come through and I think that's a real challenge because you’ve got to hold your nerve of, yes, this is the right thing to do but I can't provide any hard data in terms of this is the amount of money we've put into it. So I think that's one of the challenges in terms of just giving that confidence.

PL: Yeah and it is interesting because again going back to the report and formal training you've got this astonishing statistic in here, Ksenia, that only 7% of HR professionals see it as their role to evaluate how effective the leadership management training is. I found that absolutely extraordinary. So all this money is being spent, they’re not actually evaluating, they’re just box ticking largely and yet we're all, I think, agreeing around the table, it doesn’t really work that well. So the system is not working quite as well as it might is it? 

KF: But it’s very interesting I thought, that stat, because does that mean HR people, rightly so, think actually it’s all of the leaders, it’s not just the people director, it’s not just the HR team who are responsible for developing leadership? 

PL: Do you think that's what it means? 

KF: And I wonder if have we told our companies that actually no, it’s not just down to us, there's sort of an assumption out there and I wonder where that stat might come from. 

AL: I think it’s symptomatic of evaluation across the board. Most of us know that we have all these programmes going on and often we don’t evaluate, and I think part of the issue is the measures in evaluation have to be built in at the design stage and often I think programmes get kicked off and they run, they look successful, but we haven't thought about the measures. So I think as HR, LD, OD professionals there's a real job to be done right at the beginning to say before the programme starts, how are we going to measure? And again it’s something, I have to look back at my career, I haven't always been successful in doing that but I think now, at the stage I'm at now, that's a key part of the design process. 

PL: And in a way, perhaps the more useful way to actually review how effective they are is, you mentioned social media Andy, that whole thing of just getting internal feedback on whatever social media platform you’re getting your people to use and discuss how well it worked for them. Did they find it useful? Was it money and time well spent? Do you do that at the BBC? 

KF: We’re starting to think about getting a bit of a pulse score because I think that's just quite, okay has it worked, has it not? Is there engagement, is there not? So that's something we're working on at the moment and we're just actually designing our leadership programme around that and that's where we’ll tweak it. I think what’s so interesting is what you were saying about getting input from your managers in terms of what they want and then I think on the back of that, okay has it worked for them but that's really where you’re going to find, you’re really evaluating aren't you in terms of where it is? 

AL: And I think as well, 360 is always quite an emotive subject in some organisations but surely we must be asking the teams of our managers and leaders, “has your manager changed?”, and I think most teams actually recognise change in their manager. I'm sure my team would recognise some things where I need to be sharper but hopefully if I've been on a development programme they would recognise things which have changed in me. So I do think we've got to ask our teams, “has the programme been effective for you in your role?” 

PL: It’s the brave new world of transparency, isn’t it, in action? I mean it’s frightening, it’s confronting but it’s the only way that you know it really works. 

LF: But I think also we just need to be careful that we're not measuring what we want from today’s management but actually we need to be thinking about what do we need in three/five years time. 

PL: Indeed. 

LF: And one of the things that we look for is learning agility and we assess people’s potential with respect to how agile they are at learning and how willing they are to learn and we stop looking at people, we reduce their potential score if they’re not willing to relocate, if they’re not willing to move out of their function because that inhibits their learning agility. So if all they’re doing is repeating the same experiences that's not going to help us in three to five years time. 

PL: So what underpins this, and we're coming to the end of our time, but what really underpins this it’s OD isn’t it? You have to get the OD right, otherwise all of this is a complete waste of time. So how do we do that Ksenia? 

KZ: You've put me on the spot there. 

PL: Just in a couple of minutes.

KZ: Just easy. Actually you all said something at the very beginning of this conversation which I really appreciated and that is one of the recommendations of the report is to define what leadership means for your organisation because that's where it all begins. You can't start planning the development programmes, you can't start doing the business case unless you understand what leadership is. And in the research I think too often we, as researchers, think we know what leadership is, we know what management is, but it’s not true; it’s so specific to the organisational context. So in the report we advise every organisation to decide first, what it is for you and then to decide on the development programmes according to that definition. 

PL: Does that chime with the rest of you? 

AL: Absolutely for me. 

PL: Yeah the way forward. I think it’s that ‘knowing and doing’ gap isn’t it and another point from the report, it’s that difference between thinking you understand management and actually doing and it is interesting you ask any manager what good management, what good leadership is, they can all come up with a really quite comprehensive and convincing line on it can't they? 

LF: But it’s also situational isn’t it? And I think that's a strength of leadership in that they can adapt their leadership style for the situation and the individual that they’re with at that moment, or the groups of people that they’re with at that moment. 

PL: So top tips of making it better in organisations generally. What would you say to people, you know, if they’re addressing this, they’re not happy, they know it’s not really working; where’s their starting point? 

KF: Go with your gut. 

PL: Yeah? 

KF: If you know there's an issue go with it, drill through it and go back to the practical thing of make it happen and ask people’s opinion. 

LF: Transparency and honesty I think, both in asking for feedback and receiving feedback and having both ears open when you’re receiving feedback. 

AL: And I'd say define what your leaders and managers need to look like and then let them design the programmes as well, involve them.

PL: Ksenia, your research, final word. 

KZ: Courage and I think you’re all saying that. It’s going with your gut. It’s asking the people. It’s trusting them, empowering them to do the right thing. That's leadership. 

PL: Food for thought. Thank you all very much. Really interesting discussion. Thanks for joining me today.


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