Experts offer their thoughts on leadership, HR’s purpose and the dangers of poor goal setting

At this week’s HR Tech World Spring 2016 conference in London, we heard how HR is adapting to the changes technology is bringing to the leadership, learning and talent arenas.

Leadership isn’t about being in charge

Leading an organisation needs to be less about putting a spotlight on those who are ‘in charge’, and more about taking care of the people in their charge, said author Simon Sinek during his opening keynote speech.

Many leaders focus excessively on being ‘in charge’ and fail to look after their staff, he said. Sinek emphasised that the “cost of leadership is self‐interest” and that leaders need to set the tone for an organisation by doing the ‘right thing’ for the business.

He also criticised bosses who are too driven by technology and therefore don’t interact with their employees face‐to‐face and build strong professional relationships with them. As he put it: “You cannot lead [an organisation] from behind a computer screen.”

Sinek said leaders who are physically present in an organisation are better able to experience the delights that come with leadership: “The greatest thing is seeing someone achieve something they thought they couldn’t.”

He added that if there is not a compassionate yet robust leader in your business already, then all employees have the potential to lead by example. “Be the leader you wish you had,” he urged delegates.

We don’t spend enough time thinking about the future

Peter Hinssen, founder of Nexxworks, which helps global organisations think more like nimble start‐ups, said most organisations don’t spend enough time focusing on the future.

He said that 93 per cent of businesses’ time is used for urgent matters in the present and 7 per cent is focused on ‘tomorrow’, but no time seems to be spent concentrating on the ‘day after tomorrow’. Organisations must spend more time thinking about the long term, rather than being sucked in by the day‐to‐day running of the business, he said.

It’s time to step away from HR

HR professionals need to take a step back from HR‐related duties and focus on the organisations they work for as a complete entity, said Nick Holley, professor and co‐director of Henley Business School's Centre for HR Excellence.

“HR [professionals] need to take accountability for staff, but line managers are there to ‘fix’ things for individuals,” said Holley. “HR needs to focus on helping the organisation recognise its capabilities.”

Workplace reward can be addictive

Sinek also explored the potentially addictive nature of workplace goals and rewards, which are frequently used by employers to help workers realise their potential.

Environments where employees are “overly rewarded” are counterproductive because teams tend to work much more effectively and efficiently when there is a positive dynamic between colleagues, he argued. It is vital to set appropriate goals for both workforces and individual employees, he said, with progress measured against tangible goals. “People are no good with abstract objectives such as vision statements,” Sinek explained. “How do you know when abstract goals with no metrics are met?”

He emphasised that non‐measurable aims such as vision statements can mean that employees never ‘achieve’ what their employer wants from them. HR has to strike a careful balance between over‐rewarding staff for hitting simple goals and creating an overly competitive and toxic workplace as a result, and setting abstract goals that are impossible to achieve.

Retaining staff isn’t always an achievement

Measuring employee retention can be reflective of “how bad you are at sacking people”, claimed Bill Boorman, managing director of RecruitingDaily.

High retention rates could be a symptom of the inability of line managers and HR professionals to dismiss employees who are not performing well enough, he said, which could lead to the organisation not performing as well as it could.

Boorman also emphasised that HR should regard all employees as temporary workers to “get the best from them”. That way, staff are more likely to challenged, trained and appreciated during their time at an organisation.