Last year Humanity in Business ran an event exploring ‘Leading Great Business Outcomes through Employee Engagement’. The day of conversations with leaders from organisations including Optus, Starlight and Virgin Money highlighted how they have delivered outstanding results by creating highly engaged workplaces through values based leadership.
I found the day incredibly fulfilling and left with lots of great ideas around how we can be more effective and conscious leaders. Now that I've put together my notes, here are seven insights I distilled at the core of their successes.
1) Walk Your Talk
Head of Customer Marketing at Optus, Tyrone O’Neill, questioned leaders in the audience with "What is the talk you’re actually trying to walk?". He said those who are clear on their talk, walking their talk by living true to their values and are on purpose are more trusted. Tyrone shared that personal values are far more important for engagement than organisational values and questioned how can you connect the two? A key part of walking your talk starts with looking in the mirror first,“Leadership starts from who you are and your personality… we need to understand ourselves”.
2) Two Way Feedback Is the Most Important Thing You'll Have
HR Director at Novartis, Nathalie McNeil, shared how giving and receiving feedback has been crucial to increasing engagement at Novartis holding peers true to their values. To be open to feedback you need to be vulnerable enough to take it, mindfulness practice can help develop this skill. Nathalie shared “The worst thing as leaders we can do is ask for feedback and do nothing about it” ….. “When teams see us fumbling to improve that's where the authenticity comes in.”
3) The Art of Vision
CEO of Starlight, Louise Baxter, believes “Vision is not an annual event it's a daily discussion.” She shared it needs to be achieved through consensus and not just created by a leader. This ensures it is then owned with input from everyone. Once Starlight had their destination under Louise’s leadership she had to ensure everyone was on the bus which included signing a commitment canvas. To make this happen at Starlight Louise has done lots of listening and sees this as the most important thing she can do as a leader. This approach has helped to create a highly engaged and productive Starlight workforce.
4) Accept Failure to Innovate
Associate Dean of the University of Sydney Business School, Richard Hall, is the man behind their highly successful MBA program. He shared how this journey began around 5 years ago when the University Dean said we need an MBA. Richard shared how failure was a key part of innovating a world class MBA program. He quoted the Silicon Valley mantra "Fail fast, fail early, fail often". Richard ensured vigorous feedback mechanisms were in place during the first 12 months of their MBA. He showed how important moderating and demonstrating a tolerance for failure is to generate innovation. He questioned what's the worst that can happen when great ideas don’t work? “We'll fail trying something great.” After this session the audience were asked to reflect on what percentage of new products come from services that didn't exist three years ago? And what's stopping you and your people?
5) Engagement Is Key
AON Hewitt who featured on an engagement panel shared strong leadership is more than a competitive advantage, it separates world class organisations from the rest and there’s solid data to prove it. Their Best Employers list of companies drive higher engagement, revenue growth and shareholder value than other organisations. This it backed up by other engagement specialists’ data including the stock performance of companies in the Tower Watson Engagement Global High Performance Norms vs the Dow Jones and S&P Indexes. The organisations listed in the ‘Great place to work’ guide on average provide more than two times the return. Hard to argue against this!
6) Leadership Is All About Learning
A key conference insight was the “Best leaders are the best learners". Learning was mentioned multiple times throughout the event including due a CEO panel where it was stated, “If you're not learning faster than your competition you're done.” Do you promote lifelong learning in your organisation? You can read up more on this in our recent post on leadership vs. management.
7) Engage the Head, Heart and Hand
Jan Pacas - MD Hilti Australia shared the need for his people to belong to something that stands out and makes a real difference, “An emotional connection to something special”. He questioned leaders in the audience on what's their organisation’s point of difference? Jan talked about leaders engaging the head, heart and hands: Head – for absolute clarity on where they want to be, Heart- for the emotional engagement that sits behind this and Hands – so they can act and make it happen.
Values driven leadership seems to be getting hard business results. An inspiring day which finished with action setting on participant tables and a couple of questions to reflect on: What are you doing to ensure your people are engaged and giving their absolute best? Are your people truly aligned behind a common goal and vision? Would love to hear any reflections on these insights and questions above.