Top Leadership Challenges – The Results

Mark Conway

Thanks to those of you who took the time to complete the recent Top Leadership Challenges poll. The top 3 challenges as voted for by Gung Ho! readers are:

1. Creating a high performance culture

How leaders believe things should get done is a key driver of culture. Leaders establish culture consciously, or unconsciously, through their own personal motives and actions. Leaders care about what it takes to succeed, and their perception of those needs will impact their behaviours and expectations.

External forces can forge culture change, also. The most obvious external impact today is technology. Nothing is going to impact how we behave more than the current transformation brought on by the internet, unified communications, collaboration tools and other advanced forms of technology emerging in our homes and workplaces.

In the UK today, huge spending cuts are transforming the Public and 3rd sectors, forcing these organisations, some for the first time in living memory, to make radical changes to work practices and their interactions with the public. The result of this new pressure is that government leaders are coaching and teaching their people to run their programs competitively, measure results, build business cases for change, plan strategically, create customer value and so on. There are clearly impacts on the culture, and therefore, the management systems and practices.

Culture provides consistency for an organisation and its people, a critical need in organisations where leaders change due to the marketplace, mergers and acquisitions and down-sizing. Knowing ‘what matters around here’ and ‘what I do is important’ helps people feel they are working with some stability and predictability in a changing workplace.

Since the idea of change being constant is becoming more and more evident, people need help in understanding the vision and their part in it. They also need to be involved in making the change happen. At KC we’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy involving our people in our vision and values and this is not a one-off activity. Every member of every team needs to understand and be engaged in your vision, understand how they can contribute to it and what support they’ll have in getting there.

Two of my favourite brands are Walt Disney and Innocent. Just read a couple of their ‘Corporate’ statements to understand culture and what sits at the heart of these very successful businesses.

Walt Disney

“From the beginning, starting with Walt Disney, we have had five things that make me proud to be part of this Company: high-quality products, optimism for the future, great storytelling, an emphasis on family entertainment and great talent, passion and dedication from our Cast Members.”

 Marty Sklar, Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering


Purpose: ‘Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old’

Vision: ‘The Earth’s favourite little food company’

Values: ‘Create a business we can be proud of – be natural, be entrepreneurial, be responsible, be commercial and be generous’

Changing a culture in an established business as opposed to creating one in a new business is arguably much more difficult. Maybe that’s the shift in mindset required – collaborating on creating a new one could be a better course of action!

2. Reducing costs and increasing revenue

Every business leader that I’ve met faces this challenge and at a detailed level the actions you take as a leader will be different dependant on your business market, your product / service portfolio, your position in the market and the cost profile of your business.

Developing a cost-reduction strategy that maximises efficiency without compromising growth potential is not straight forward. You have to resist pressure to make indiscriminate cuts or slash headcount across the board. You need to identify core competencies where efficiency can be improved, trim and consolidate non-core functions, and reinvest the savings in critical business assets. And before you start, you need buy-in from your employees, especially those in senior and middle management.

Outsourcing might seem to be an easy answer. In many industries, contracting out non-core business functions such as human resources, billing, or payroll to third-party providers is gaining acceptance. Many companies outsource parts or all of their operating processes. But once a company decides to outsource, it also exposes itself to new forms of risk. For example, an inferior supplier of outsourced services can, overnight, inflict lasting damage on a company’s relationship with its suppliers and customers, that is to say its brand.

A strategy for driving profitable revenue growth is much more complex than controlling your costs. (That’s just my view – I’m sure all the commercial accountants will disagree and the Sales and Marketing people will be 100% behind me!)

I’ll keep it really simple. Focus on delivering the best possible experience you can afford for your customers at every stage of their time with you. Every interaction a customer or potential customer has with your brand is an opportunity to change their buying perception of you. Customers can share information about your products and services in a ways unimaginable 10 years ago. Fortune 500 and FTSE businesses have seen >10% share impacts of influential customers through social networks – Positively or Negatively.

3. Keeping employees motivated and focussed on results

I’ve listed a few thoughts below, but read Gung Ho! if you really want some great insight into employee motivation.

  • Lead by Example – NO EXCEPTIONS
  • Involve them – when people are involved in fleshing out visions, plans and projects, they buy-in faster and resist less. This means you can implement the change(s) more quickly and easily.
  • Set challenging goals. My experience has taught me that people strive to achieve what is expected of them. If you set challenging goals your team will work hard to accomplish them, providing of course, they are realistically attainable. It is amazing what people can accomplish when they are given the opportunity to perform.
  • Communicate – Your people need and want regular updates on the progress of the business and their personal performance. Talk to your team members regularly, letting them know if the business is on / off track.
  • Celebrate individual and team performance. Catch people doing something right and focus on recognizing excellent performance.
  • Give people the tools to succeed. No team will stay motivated if they do not have the necessary tools required to do their job.
  • Manage poor performance. While poor performance and conflict are seldom enjoyable to deal with, you have a responsibility to your team and the company to manage it.

Customer Service ~ Basil Fawlty or Walt Disney

I’ve just got back from a few days away with the family at Center Parcs in Nottinghamshire (UK). We had a great time…and whilst Center Parcs is not everyone’s thing, we love it there – It’s very relaxing and there’s something to do for most people with most budgets. I’ve been a customer for probably about 15 years going once every year or so.

Obviously during our time there we interacted with a number of Center Parcs’ staff, and my experiences ranged from below average to excellent, but on the whole pretty good. As I said, we had a great time; but it did get me to thinking how come parks like Walt Disney World can perform consistently better in the realms of looking after its customers? How can one company provide a consistently higher level of customer satisfaction and thousands of ‘Raving Fans’?

So I’ve put down some thoughts that have helped me get to some sort of conclusions:

W – Wear Customer spectacles – Get your staff to see things through the eyes of the customer. Allow your people to really understand customers and experience what they do. Ensure that EVERY member of your organisation is focussed on the customer – even (and I would say especially) those that don’t directly face customers every day.

ALWAYS deliver what you promise – Under promise and over deliver if you have to, but NEVER the other way around. ONLY THEN look for incremental positive change.

L – Look, Listen & Learn – Share all customer feedback – good and bad and ugly; and question every day how it can be done better. Get everyone to keep their ears to the ground – What great experiences have our customers had? What can we learn from other industries or our competitors? Why are customers joining us / leaving us / talking about us? All of this insight is ‘GOLD DUST’ if shared, thought about and used to power positive change.

T – Treat all your customers well – It’s often the little gestures that a customer will remember, so if you can afford it and it’s the right thing to do, do it. Hospitality for your large clients is often important and strengthens partnerships, but don’t forget that some of your smaller customers could one day be much larger and that they’ll remember those that supported them along the way!

D – Disaster Strikes – We all have disasters now and then – With complaints / major issues / customer escalations – react quickly! This is your opportunity to turn a poor brand experience around into a truly positive and memorable one, for all the right reasons!

I – Improve – Make it everyone’s responsibility to make improvements to the way you do business. It’s not always easy to engender this with your teams – but stick at it – it will pay off!

S – Smile – You will be amazed at the difference a genuine smile will have on your customers and the negative impact when you don’t. Watch out for ‘Energy Vampires’ in your organisation (thanks to Paul Sewell for that term – I’ve stolen it with pride!). Try this – watch out for the next time when you ask someone how they are and they say – ‘oh ok’ …’not bad’ … or ‘well, I’m feeling run down’ – look inside yourself and check how that made you feel – conversely when someone responds – ‘great thanks’ ….’ yeah really good’ – how does that make you feel – Well, guess what – that’s how we make our customers feel if we let them know that we’re having a bad day! Not good is it?

N – Never Stop – looking for improvements – you can always get better – you can guarantee your competitors will be watching your every move and trying to find your weak spots!

E – Enjoy – We all work hard, but find time to let your hair down with your teams – Relationships flourish when you’re having fun and it’s all about relationships – with your teams AND your customers

Y – You – It all starts with you – wherever you are in an organisation YOU can make a difference. Get practicing!

%d bloggers like this: