3 minute read

HR Viewpoint: Tim Pointer on how society is watching leaders today

In disruptive times you need purpose, intent and energy as a leader. It's time to build tomorrow's organisation because society, and talent, is closely watching you, says Tim Pointer, senior VP HR at the world’s largest brand management company, CAA-GBG Global Brand Management Group

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Tim Pointer: It's been an incredibly disruptive time for leaders because so many of the routines and the habits and the rituals that they’re dependent upon have gone. The way that they plan and experience their day has changed. Their commute has gone, their ability to talk to people or to manage by walking around in so many cases has vanished.

To use that Marshall Goldsmith quote, many leaders are saying: "So what's got me here is not going to get me there, or it's not going to get us through". So they’re having to reposition their ways of working and how they give themselves energy. So what their personal rituals are to make sure that they're ready for the working day and are setting themselves up for success. And then to take that energy into how they set their colleagues up for success. 

Of the habits that I’m seeing succeed, probably the first is curiosity because we're expecting our leaders not just to give us clarity for the immediate business future but we're also asking them to engage with us in our collective understanding of the world around us. And that might be health, that might be government schemes, that might be the broader economic factors. It might be international trade. It might be the impact of Brexit. It might be different volatility for various states in which we have colleagues, or have customers, or have supply chain – and that requires a constant need to be up to date with information but also to be choiceful as to how much of the insight that you pass onto the team. 

Because if you give everything you will overload and people drop into a bit of a stasis. We've all had that experience where we just go "too much. too much, turn off the devices. I don't need any more information right now. Oh, hang on a minute, Trump's got COVID, actually turn them all back on again" and we go through these really interesting responses to all of the data that's coming in.

So what we're asking leaders is to have that curiosity; to be that lightning rod. To bring it in, but then to be choiceful about what they transmit out because that then helps all of us to distinguish and find our way through our day and to understand how we sense make the work that's coming to us.

When we look at the leadership behaviours needed and how we build from everything that we've seen so far in 2020, I believe there are certain winning approaches which are starting to clarify, and that I see in my day-to-day work. It won't surprise you that it starts with purpose.

It starts with that clarity of what are we here to deliver? So often across organisations we fall into established ways of working because it makes us comfortable, doesn't it? We know what we know. We behave the way that we behave. We know we can do it. So if you're going to disrupt that, if you're going to ask someone to do something differently to the way that they've worked for the past 15 years, you have to be so clear as to why. You have to grab hold of that purpose, tell that story and repeat, repeat, repeat. And break it down into the intent that you bring to every project, every conversation, every collaboration. So the first for me is that focused on purpose. 

The second would be about relationships: who is critical to our success, whom are we dependent upon? And the more we talk about that, we may find that there are people within our stakeholder map who have become more important to us and some who've become less important to us. And we might need to shift some of our conversations, our meetings, our metrics and our resources accordingly because we're suddenly very aware of this key dependency that wasn't so key before but will be for our future success. And that may change some of the dynamics within our teams. There are many CEOs who are listening to different people today than they were at the start of this year. And that will continue to change. 

The third would be about communication – not just broadcasting but how we're attracting the right information, being selective as to what we focus on and enabling the rest of the team into that conversation. Why? Because we know that if it's a collective decision, if I have skin in the game, if I've been listened to, then I'm much more likely to go and act on it. Whereas, as charismatic as you are, if you asked me to do something, I may, I may not. If it's our decision, I'm much more likely to have the agency to go and act on it in service of a purpose. So who must we engage and bring into those conversations? 

Next would be about learning and development, and innovation. Not just what we have to learn as individuals, but what we must learn as an organisation. If you go back to the infamous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People it’s the sharpening of the saw, what must we do differently? What must we unlearn and relearn to succeed?

That then turns into resources and the need to be absolutely critically clear about the resources that we will need both to succeed, but also to transform into that operational success. Then we're talking measures and those leaders that pick the right measures, qualitative and quantitative and stay really wed to them. Who's accountable for that information? When there's an underperformance dig into what's happening there – which part of our ecosystem at this stage is not performing the way that we want it to? How are we going to respond to that? What have we learned? And also that improvement, that appetite to constantly course correct. Because the environment that we're working in is changing all the time. Every day you wake up and you're like, "okay, what's the situation today? What does it mean for our business?" 

And then finally, and this is really important, how do we give energy and recognition all the way through this and celebrate our successes? For me, this is neither a marathon nor a sprint. It's a marathon of sprints. We have to keep picking ourselves up, ready to go again. This may be the biggest challenge for leaders to look after themselves so that they have enough energy, but to give energy and celebration and moments of success to pick them out and to share those with the team so that people can reflect on a job well done. And tomorrow we go again.

So recently I hosted the Business Culture Connect virtual conference. And one thing that struck me from those organisations right across the two days of case studies was the importance of our intent. So you start with our purpose, but how does that translate into intent every single day that we come to work? What also came through was this sense of opportunity that, even though this is a really tough awful time across the globe, there is the opportunity, if you take it, to really build out tomorrow's organisation because COVID-19, isn't the only horror that we're seeing. Just look at the response to the murders in the US, look at the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement and how that's resonated across country after country. The response, I think, brings hope, and brings a really clear need for the organisations of tomorrow by intent today to be different. That focus will enable successful organisations.

And if you're not going to do that, I don't think you will be around. Because our society is watching.

Tim Pointer is senior VP HR at the world’s largest brand management company, CAA-GBG Global Brand Management Group, and founder of the Business Culture Awards

This is one of a series of interviews The People Space is conducting with HR leaders and futurists in advance of the release of new research into leadership behaviours in disruptive times by our Brand Partner 10Eighty on Wednesday 14 October, 14.00- 15.30 BST. In this interactive session, you’ll also have the opportunity to take part in a small discussion group to explore the identified themes and what these mean for businesses. If you're interested in attending the event and receiving your copy of the white paper, please register here.

Published 8 October 2020
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