Tag Archives: employee engagement

Leadership’s Biggest Concern: How To Manage Their People

Many leaders had been looking forward to physically reconnecting with their teams for the first time, whom they may have only seen virtually for the last six months. However, the government’s recent announcement means this may now be delayed indefinitely.


It may have been hoped that a return to a form of ‘normality’ will signal an end of their leadership challenges, yet the recent setback means that managing their people is now the biggest concern.

Over the past two months, Tom Graham, a Consultant within Berwick Partners’ Procurement & Supply Chain practice has been speaking with Chief Procurement Officers across the globe, from a range of different sectors to discuss their leadership concerns during this next phase of the crisis. The discussions focused on the complication’s leaders may face as we enter the next stage of the crisis in addition to the part office-based, part-remote way of working at some stage in the future. Together, they discussed the concerns leaders have with re-engaging their teams, how management styles must change and the mental fall-out after a period of isolation, health and economical stress.

A remote/office combination

When I began to write this research piece, the focus had been on the partial return to the office. Yet the UK government’s recent announcement demonstrates how difficult it is for leaders to plan, manage, and motivate their teams.

Over the last six months, the word ‘unprecedented’ has often been used. From the discussions I’ve had it now looks increasingly likely that the long-term effects on leadership will also be unprecedented in scale.

THE IMPORTANCE OF LEADERSHIP

Engagement

As the crisis roles on, the potential for team disengagement intensifies. CPOs are aware of how imperative it is that they are able to quickly re-engage with their teams, recognising that a lack of engagement could have major implications on the success of their future strategies. A recent report from McKinsey, “COVID-19 and the employee experience – How leaders seize the moment”, stated;

Organizational responses are having a tangible impact on employees. Compared with respondents who are dissatisfied with their organizations’ responses, those who say their organizations have responded particularly well are four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to report a positive state of well-being”.  

However, many leaders will find themselves in a challenging situation, needing to set a clear path of direction whilst not having all the answers to all their team’s questions.

One CPO explained the challenges they had faced with motivating a team who had experienced mental fatigue; a peer from a national retailer corroborated that their team has also sought answers and long-term reassurances which they cannot give, leading to a negative impact on employee motivation. McKinsey’s report states: “leaders need to help rattled workforces believe in the future”. One procurement leader believes that this should be one of their biggest concerns, as they look to strike the balance between keeping good practices in place, whilst adapting their approach as we enter a period of increased outbreaks. The combination of lockdown fatigue and a physical disconnect from an office and colleagues will, or may have already, accelerated disengagement. Leaders need to act swiftly to reconnect, re-engage and motivate a team which may have lost members, enthusiasm and direction.

Culture

Rebuilding employee loyalty, whilst not physically connected is a major concern for nearly all leaders. McKinsey’s report once again raised this point, “It would be a mistake to assume that the camaraderie that has sustained many employees early in the crisis will endure long term. Leaders need to take active steps to ensure continued relationship building, particularly for remote workers.”

Across the board, there are overwhelming concerns centred around how the current or future, mixed office and remote dynamic will impact team culture and long-term engagement with the business. A CPO from a major retail bank discussed the on-going challenges they have faced in preserving team culture when working remotely, a concern which has been reiterated by senior leaders in the pharmaceutical sector (they discussed the concerns around dilution in connection points between their team members). Previously, the office environment may have facilitated this, but the sense of being together as a team, is near impossible to create in this hybrid world. One CPO explained how some staff have voiced that they have felt a loss in ‘connection tissue’ to the organisation, where as another explained their concerns around the ability of a team to challenge leaders remotely, questioning whether this new way of working may result in a lack of diversity of thought.

As we enter the next stage of the crisis, organisations must adapt to building teams and onboarding people in a way that they feel connected to the culture of a business. The concerns around erosion of social capital during onboarding processes were raised by one CPO from a global consumer goods company, with a procurement leader from a global entertainment’s organisation wanting to know when we will see an increase in employee’s mercenary mentality. It is predicted that as staff feel less connection to an organisation, we will see a spike in salaries as organisations battle to attract talent.

Communication

The loss of personal connection will be exacerbated as teams find themselves out the office or in at different times and regularity. Potentially, this may create even greater division within the workforce and in some cases, presenteeism is now more of a premium than ever before, with certain team members feeling that a commitment to the office in a time of crisis, will accelerate development opportunities.

Leaders must quickly learn how to successfully (and fairly) manage a physically divided team. It is imperative that those working remotely are not put at a disadvantage compared to those in the office. Concerns from across sector were around the ‘offline’ or ‘coffee conversations’ that could be missed by those who are working remotely, with 86% of those spoken to being airing concerns. Across the board, there are concerns around ‘accidental exclusion’, with one-to-one calls leading to decisions being made that have not been co-ordinated with the team which can cause certain members of the team to be forgotten about. This was confirmed by one CPO who raised concerns around some staff feeling their views would not be heard.

Yet a formalised method of communicating does not solve all problems, particularly around individual connections to leaders and the business. Whilst virtual coffees and spontaneous conversations have reduced some challenges, they have not replaced office small talk. Leaders from both chemicals and insurance businesses stating that ‘golden rules’ need to be created, with the key point being meetings should either be virtual or physical, but never a mixture.

One CPO felt that more personal desk conversations were often a major motivator for their team. Video conferencing and virtual coffees no longer felt natural and could often feel contrived which again could negatively impact engagement and productivity.

For many, working remotely has highlighted greater inequalities in a team, with the CPO’s we spoke to explaining that younger generations will feel a greater impact on their lives than those more senior in the business. The lack of social benefits and often more challenging, remote working conditions could ultimately lead to a more divided work force.

Rebuilding spirit

Throughout the crisis, we have seen introverts and extroverts handle the crisis very differently. Leaders have needed to home in on their facilitation skills, ensuring that both parties can equally contribute to discussions.

The methods used by leaders to engage their teams are going to be tested like never before, with McKinsey stating that ‘mental and physical fatigue is now people’s default’. How leaders will overcome this will be a major hurdle.

One CPO explained his concerns around how they will overcome this, citing a historical reliance on social engagements with the ‘party pot’ being a default tool to create comradery. Yet there are concerns that this may not be possible in the short term and no longer suffice in the long-term, with leaders having to find new ways to rebuild team relationships without the adequate training or prior experience.

LEADERSHIP STYLES & BEHAVIOURS

Managing performance

Leaders must ensure that their management style is fit and ready for a hybrid way of working. Overwhelmingly it was agreed that leaders must adapt to managing through results and outputs however a CPO from a major retailer explained more focus must be placed on performance management and development, which can easily be missed when working remotely.

How leaders will objectively measure performance, with many of their team working remotely is an area of concern for some. It was commented that different team members living environments, would make it difficult to fairly measure performance in a standardised manner.

Leaders must be authentic and lead from the front. Managing through presenteeism, must be ignored. Concerns were raised from leaders of pharmaceutical and financial services business who believe mid-managers that are not experienced in managing through outputs with too many leaders being inexperienced in effectively managing remote teams.

EQ

The EQ of leaders has been tested throughout the crisis and must continue. Team members will have been impacted differently during the crisis and several CPO’s stated it is essential that their junior managers suspend judgement and develop greater observation skills of potential issues, showing greater empathy.

Managers must develop into leaders and understand how to get the best out of their teams in a period which is still not ‘normal’. A procurement executive from a global insurance organisation stated that leaders must recognise that there is nothing ‘normal’ about what we are going into and must appreciate that for many the next period is a transient phase. Managers now need to understand how to get the best out of individuals, empowering them to make independent decisions. A CPO within the chemicals sector believes that greater training must be provided around having more honest conversations, considering language and cultural nuances when communicating with multi-national teams.

THE WORKPLACE

Purpose in the workplace

Executives from across sector are now reviewing the purpose of the office. As Deloitte discuss in their paper ‘Workforce strategies for post COVID-19 recovery’;

“It is important to remember that transformative change can be difficult and unsettling for many workers. Whilst some may prefer working from home, others may be uncomfortable or unproductive outside the traditional work settings. How leaders accommodate and balance these divergent expectations will help define the future of trust in their organisation.”

There are concerns from across sector as to how being away from the office and your stakeholder community for a sustained period may impact business partnering and the involvement in decision making. Concerns exist as to how social capital can be built upstream when working remotely.

Several leaders explained that certain members of their team have struggled to virtually replace ‘informal coffees’ with their stakeholders.

There are serious concerns that working remotely may have stalled individual’s professional development and stifled creativity. Leaders from both the retail and pharmaceutical sector believe that a lack of sidebar conversations will have a negative impact on innovation.

Maintaining team cohesiveness and connectivity currently – and when 30%-60% of an office may not return – will be extremely problematic. Some believe that we are under the illusion that collaboration has been successful, when the reality is that teams have rallied together during crisis.

A sector wide response has been to look into creating more collaboration areas. Yet the practicality of this has come under question, with the CPO from a leading manufacturing organisation stating that most offices are not currently built to support this, and group size restrictions still apply. With many businesses looking to ‘survive’ during the crisis, it is therefore unlikely that fit out projects or new office space is a realistic priority.

Role requirements

Many employees are likely to seek clarity towards their job responsibilities, particularly if some of their colleagues have been made redundant. An executive from a leading food and beverage organisation stated their concerns in the blurring of roles, with individuals wanting to increase their responsibilities and value to the business.

An executive from a leading hospitality business believes that the crisis may see a broadening of roles and required skill sets longer term. This may have an impact on the external talent organisations look to recruit, or the training and development programmes put in place internally.

Mental Health

The mental health fall out as a result of the pandemic is the overwhelming concern for leaders from across sector. 96% of those spoken to raised concerns around the mental health issues forthcoming of their team members. During the early stages of the pandemic, the World Health organisation issued a statement that noted “elevated rates of stress or anxiety” caused from lockdown. Leaders unanimously felt unprepared and untrained to suitably tackle the topic as we return to the workplace.

Immediate

A CPO from a leading retail bank stated their concerns on how their teams would adapt to life when they get back in the office, raising concerns around their team’s loss of perception of self, and acknowledged that spotting signs of mental health concerns may have been challenging remotely, yet much more apparent in person.

A recent study suggested that extroverts are more likely to struggle when adapting to life back in the office. It was claimed that the common question of ‘what have you been up to?’ could prompt anxiety, with extroverted team members feeling that they have failed to adequately answer the question with ‘nothing’. An executive from a chemicals business agreed that this is a major concern.

A recent study conducted by the University of Manchester and University of London, called ‘Lancet Psychiatry’, described the mental health inequalities caused by lockdown, “with people living with young children showing greater increases in mental distress than people from child-free homes”. It continues:

The greatest increase in mental distress was seen in young people aged 18 to 24 and those aged 25 to 34”. It goes on to find, “new inequalities in mental distress have emerged, with those living with young children and those in employment at the start of the pandemic being at risk of larger increases in mental distress”. It concludes, “Our findings suggest that being young, a woman, and living with children, especially preschool age children, have had a particularly strong influence on the extent to which mental distress increased under the conditions of the pandemic.” 

Ongoing

The mental health fall-out will be an ongoing issue. A CPO we spoke to explained, “‘humans like a beginning, middle and end and we are in the middle with no end in sight”. This is something leaders must monitor closely with time. The Lancet Psychiatry states;

“As the economic fallout from the pandemic progresses, when furloughs turn into redundancies and mortgage holidays time out, the researchers say mental health inequalities will likely widen and deepen and must be monitored closely so that steps can be taken to mitigate against a rise in mental illness”.

This is a concern for many leaders who recognise that further job cuts and a recession, will have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of their teams.

A CPO from a leading insurer, stated that it is imperative that team members feel that they have more to offer than just ‘the day job’. Leaders must have the confidence to ask difficult questions, showing authenticity and concern. McKinsey’s recent report, titled ‘Communications get personal: How leaders can engage employees during a return to work’ they state;

“It provides a historic opportunity to overcome the stigma of mental and emotional health as taboo topics for workplace discussion, especially the feelings of isolation and shame that are attached to job losses and other employment casualties.”

Leaders must learn how to manage their own mental health and wellbeing. Nearly all spoken to agreed that measures needed to be put in place to mentally support the leaders too.

Conclusion

As we enter the next phase of the crisis, leaders are going to be tested in ways they have never been tested before. For organisations and functions to emerge from the crisis strongly, it is imperative that leaders find solutions to the multiple problems they may face. Engagement, management styles and mental health are all going to be on-going issues. Organisations must build new strategies, whilst rebuilding team culture and togetherness. Whilst we may be coming towards the end of one crisis, without the right stewardship, businesses may be hurtling into another.

Tom Graham specialises in recruiting senior Procurement and Supply Chain leadership roles across all sectors. This article was originally published on LinkedIn an has been republished here with kind permission.

How To Cope When You’re Working For Someone Half Your Age

Increasingly employers are looking to fill their ranks with ‘digital natives’, which usually translates to people younger than you. But how do you work for someone half your age?

By Petr Malyshev/ Shutterstock

Millennials (Gen Y) and Post-Millennials (Gen Z) now make up 40 per cent of the workforce.  So, if you are over 36 years of age you should probably get used to the idea you will one day be working for someone young enough to be your son or daughter.  How you deal with that reality can make a big difference to how happy you are at work and your chances of career progression.

Increasingly employers are looking to fill their ranks with ‘digital natives’ which usually translates to people younger than you. At the same time older workers are staying in their jobs for longer or rejoining the workforce after ‘retirement.’  And while every workforce has always been a mix of the old and the young and everyone in between, for many workplaces how that mix is distributed throughout the organisation has been changing.

In a traditional organisational hierarchy a significant part of the reason you were promoted was because of your length of service. This meant that older people tended to be more senior and young people tended to be lower in the chain of command.  Today this structure still very much persists in government organisations such as the Public Service, Law Enforcement,  the military, Health and Education.  But sheer weight of numbers (of younger workers) and a trend towards less structured workplaces has meant that May-December working relationships between a Boss and their direrct reports is more and more likely particularly in industries where social media capability is a requirement.

Naturally psychologists have a term for this. It’s called ‘status incongruence’ and it means a situation where a person’s status is not what you would expect, in this case, because of their age. 

While the phenomena has been discussed by sociologists since the 1950s, it’s only recently that studies on the impacts for organisations have started to appear. One such study was recently performed by researchers from Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas in Dallas.  One of the lead researchers, associate professor Orlando Richard told The New York Times the research showed “older workers are not as responsive to [a] younger boss, because they feel he or she shouldn’t be in that position,” and, “[they] are less committed to the company. They’re not as engaged in the job. If they’re close to retirement, they may not leave, but they may not work as hard.”

The study also found that organisations with older workers reporting to younger workers needed to adapt their leadership style to take account of that.  Transformational Leadership is popular among the types of firms likely to experience status incongruence.  But the research suggests this style of leadership in particular is likely to be less successful. 

Transformational leadership requires a leader to work with teams to identify needed change, create a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and execute the change in tandem with committed members of a group.  In order for this to work, the members of the team have to believe in the credentials and ability of the leader.  While that is not impossible where the leader is significantly younger than a team member, it is something that needs to be taken into account in how a leader works with the team.  They will have to work harder to establish their credentials, so that workers can see past their relative youth and develop faith in the leader’s abilities.

It is also something that the organization has to bear in mind when selecting a younger person to lead a team. If that person is not capable of convincing the team that they have the credentials to be there then status incongruence is likely to result in a team which significantly underperforms its ability.

For their part, older workers should focus on not being guilty of reverse ageism.  They need to recognise that age, like gender and race does not define a person’s ability.  They should especially resist the urge to give the leader tips on how they would do the job.  They should strongly resist the urge to say “having done this for years …” and leading with ‘in my day’ is not a good plan no matter who your boss is, but it is definitely a land-mine with a younger leader. 

Instead they should use their experience to help their younger boss in a non-threatening way.  Making yourself and your experience valuable is likely to be a pathway to doing better in any company but this is likely to be especially the case in an organisation that values skills over age.

Is Employee Turnover Killing Your Profits?

It’s a good idea to get the bottom of why employee turnover happens and how to limit it.

By KeyStock/ Shutterstock

Employee turnover costs US businesses more than one Trillion (1,000 Billion) US dollars a year.  That represents about 10 per cent of all US corporate profits, so it is nothing to be sneezed at.  It is therefore probably a good idea to get the bottom of why it happens and how to limit it.

According to the latest statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US business turned over 44 per cent of its employees in 2018 and in some industries it was significantly higher.  It was 87 per cent in the Arts and entertainment and 75 per cent in accommodation and food services. At just under 15 per cent, Federal government agencies experience the lowest turnover.

Gallup research suggests each employee loss costs the business 150 per cent of their salary.  Deloitte Consulting partner Josh Bersin says his research shows that, depending on the position,  it could be as high as 200 per cent by the time you account for hiring, on boarding, training, ramp time to peak productivity, the loss of engagement from others due to high turnover, higher business error rates, and general culture impacts.

Besides those obvious cost cascades there are some less obvious, but no less important costs.  The significant direct costs put real time pressure on an organisation to hire a replacement and get them trained, settled and productive quickly.  The pressured hiring process can often lead to the new hire not being a good fit for the job and leaving (or being let go) within a year, thus compounding the costs.

The Harvard Business Review says that as much as 80 per cent of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions.  Similarly Leadership IQ’s Global Management Survey reported that 46 per cent of new employees turn out to be a bad hire within 18 months and only 19 per cent will turn out to be an unequivocal success.  When it came to teasing out the factors behind the failure they found  a lack of technical skills explains only 11 per cent of new hire failures, whereas coach-ability (the ability to accept feedback from bosses) accounted for 26 per cent of failures. 

Employee turnover is very real and very costly, so doing anything at all about it, no matter how small the impact, is likely to be a good investment.  The research suggests that there are some especially important factors that are key to retaining employees (that you want to retain).

Obviously the first rule is don’t rush.  It is important to ease a potential new hire into a job.  Ensure they have a good sense of who they will be working with and what the expectations are well before they are signed on.  This means going beyond the standard probation period clause and pro-actively ensuring compatibility with your culture and team preferably before they start.  Throwing a new hire in the deep end and hoping for the best is likely to be a bad idea.

Pay is also obviously a factor but the research shows that if the only thing you do is throw money at them, you are unlikely to be able to stop a valued employee leaving. While being paid too little for the role will definitely motivate churn, overpaying will not make up for an unhappy workplace.  A workplace survey by Equifax for example found that 44 per cent of workers who leave within a year take a pay cut. They want to get out so bad, the pay is not enough to keep them there. 

Pay does have an effect but it is relatively small. According to Glassdoor surveys, every 10 per cent increase in pay only reduces the likelihood of an employee leaving by 1.5 per cent.  So if you double their pay they are still 85 percent likely to leave. 

On the other hand opportunities for advancement and training are significant factors in employee retention.  Humans like to feel they are getting somewhere. Research repeated shows that role stagnation leads to turnover.  Glassdoor have even put a number on this, saying that every 10 months at an unchanged role increases the likelihood of an employee leaving by 1 per cent. 

According to exit surveys conducted by Gallup, more than half of all exiting managers say that in the 3 months before they left, no one in the organisation spoke to them about how they were feeling about their job or their future with the organisation.  If no-one is talking about your future with the company, it’s easy to come to the conclusion you don’t have one.

Gallup recommend proactive engagement about an employee’s opportunities for growth are key to retaining valuable employees.  They suggest you know the employee’s long term personal goals, allow them opportunities in roles bigger than their past experience and help them to acquire new skills to advance their careers.  In short, treat them as you yourself would like to be treated.  Let’s call that the Golden Rule for Employee Retention.  You could so a lot worse than applying it in your business.


What to do When You Feel Like Quitting

Feel like quitting? It’s important to ask yourself some key questions before you hand in your letter of resignation. 

Moving jobs is consistently rated by psychologists as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life (more stressful, for example, than the birth of a child or planning your wedding). So it’s vital for your own well-being that you manage the whole situation very carefully.

Before you even begin to start the process of hunting for a new job, you need to ask yourself the key question – what’s my motivation?

Why Do People Start Looking Elsewhere?

People look for new jobs for a whole host of reasons, but they generally fall into one of the following groups:

  1. Dissatisfaction with the work they’re doing
  2. Dissatisfaction with their remuneration
  3. Dissatisfaction with their working environment
  4. Dissatisfaction with their manager(s)

It’s interesting to note that people are often only motivated into actively looking for a new job when they are unhappy with more than one of these aspects. If you currently find yourself in this position, here’s my advice.

What to Do When You Feel Like Quitting

Before you storm into your boss’s office with your letter of resignation, you should think carefully about whether your dissatisfactions can be resolved in your current situation. Let’s look at these one by one.

1) Feeling Unsatisfied?

If you are finding your current work is unsatisfying, first check if there are other, more interesting projects coming up for which you could volunteer. Or, if you are finding that your expertise is causing you to become “pigeon-holed” into one area, look into whether there are internal opportunities to cross-train into different and more exciting areas, and gain new skill-sets.

2) Struggling on Your Salary?

If you’re unhappy with your salary, you need to check whether you are being fairly remunerated for the work that you do. This information may not be easily obtained within your company because of individual confidentiality, but job-boards contain a lot of data, and sites like Glassdoor will give you a rough idea of whether you are being paid what your skills and experience are worth.

If you have been with the same company for a long time you may find that your pay has only increased by small increments each year, and your own boss may be unaware that your salary is unfair in relation to the market as a whole. Before you hand in your notice, you should at least talk to your manager, armed with the relevant information, to give them a chance to improve matters for you.

But be warned, you may have already hit the salary threshold for your skill-set, in which case you should think about learning new skills, developing niche expertise or taking on more responsibilities.

3) Unhappy with the Working Environment?

Your working environment covers everything from the company culture (which you probably can’t change) to the working hours and your work-life balance.

People’s needs change throughout their careers: if your domestic situation changes because of childcare needs or caring for a relative, talk to your HR department or manager about adjusting your working hours.

Increasingly, companies understand the cost to them of losing experienced staff (and having to find and train replacements) so they are much more willing to be flexible in accommodating the needs of their teams.

4) Bad Manager?

Perhaps the hardest problem to resolve is a bad manager. Micro-manager, absent manager, unappreciative manager, bully…it’s an old truism that “people leave managers, not jobs”.

If you’re feeling unappreciated you may need to run an internal PR campaign and make sure that your boss has realised all of the things that you’ve achieved for the company.

If the person you report to is irrepressibly miserable, or a shameless bully, you may have the capability to neutralise or ignore their toxic behaviour. However, it may be too emotionally-exhausting and this will be all the worse if the company’s senior management don’t seem to care.

Focus On Being Happy

So, if your managers are steering your company onto the rocks, while paying you a pittance for working every hour under the sun…it’s maybe time to go.

At least you have investigated whether the situation can be saved, and by looking at your motivations you will know which aspects are most important for you.

This will save you many hours of pain and stress in the job-hunting process because right from the start you will know what your “red-lines” are.

  • If you absolutely need a certain level of income to support your family then you can rule out everything below that;
  • If you absolutely need to be able to drop your child at school in the morning then you can focus your attention on those employers who support flexible working hours;
  • If you’re committed to learning new skills then you need to find a company who will truly support your drive for self-improvement.

Once you know what you’re trying to achieve with your job-move then you will be focusing on the things that are important to you, the things that are most likely to make you happier and less stressed. This is really important not just for your own well-being but also because there is a huge body of evidence that proves that happy people work more effectively, and so you are creating a virtuous circle for your next job.

And now it’s time to think about the next key step – your CV!

Richard Harris is Managing Director at Mohawk Consulting. Mohawk Consulting is a specialist recruitment company, working within the professional services market, particularly at the level of experienced hire/manager/director.

Smashing through the bamboo ceiling

You’ve heard of the glass ceiling – the male privilege which has historically prevented women from rising to the top of their organisations. Less well-known, however, is the concept of the “bamboo ceiling”.

It refers to the processes and barriers that serve to exclude Asians or people of Asian descent from executive positions in Western-run organisations. The term was coined by Jane Hyun in her book focusing on Asians in American workplaces, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians.

We’ve recently witnessed a cultural shift in our most progressive organisations wherein gender equality in the workplace is now firmly on the agenda. There are a host of agencies such as Catalyst and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency that are working to address the imbalance, although there is a long way to go.

The difference between the glass and bamboo ceilings, however, lies in the fact that while a company may admit to historic gender bias and pro-actively work to address the problem, racial bias remains in the shadows. Cultural diversity quotas and programs do exist, but the statistics at the executive level are particularly damning. In the US, for example, Asian-Americans hold only 1% of board seats. Australia shares this problem: a recent report by Diversity Council Australia revealed that while 9.3% of the Australian labour force is Asian-born, only 4.9% make it to the senior executive level. Similarly, only 1.9% of ASX 200 senior executives are Asian born, despite 84% of surveyed Asian talent saying they plan to advance to very senior roles. There’s a huge disconnect here – if you are Asian in Australia, chances are very slim that you will make it to the top, no matter how ambitious you are.

The consequences are alarming. 30% of Asian talent have said they were likely, or very likely, to leave their organisation within the next year. For one in four, negative cultural diversity factors significantly influenced their decision.

Tony Megally, General Manager of specialist procurement recruitment and search firm The Source, says that while Australian organisations are hiring more Asian-born talent than ever before, there are still significant cultural barriers to overcome.

“We’re seeing a trend where talented Asian professionals feel they have to change, or Westernise, their names in order to make sure their resumes aren’t passed over”, Megally says. “This shows that there’s still significant cultural bias in Australian organisations, although no recruiter would be willing to admit they passed over a candidate due to a hard-to-pronounce name.”

Bias holding back Asians in business – even in Asia
Even more alarming is the existence of the bamboo ceiling in Asia itself. According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, locals rise only so far at Western firms, with multinationals still relying on ex-pats to fill top jobs decades after expanding into the region. Tellingly, 40% more Westerners are placed in CEO-type roles in the region compared with other roles.

Dr Tom Verghese, author and founder of Cultural Synergies, says there’s a real lack of Asian leaders in the top echelons of business. “I’ve been working on developing Asian leaders in the market for 12 years”, says Verghese, “but multinationals do have some understandable reasons for using expatriates in Asia. All global companies inevitably have their organisational culture rooted to their country of origin. There is something in having a person familiar with your language and culture as that link with head office. A very human tendency that we need to be conscious of is our sense of comfort – or bias – that ‘same is safe, and different is dangerous’. Companies want one of their own ‘guarding the store’, and there can be advantages to having an outsider in the top job because they can make changes that an insider would hesitate to make.”

Bad for business
Having less diversity at the top can be bad for business. Companies need to reign in their use of ex-pats, in part because they are expensive hires, and having white-majority executives means a lack of understanding of consumer needs, trends, purchasing power and brand positioning. In short, organisations are excluding the very people who know Asia best.

Multinational organisations in Asia need to focus on the following ways to shatter the bamboo ceiling:

  • phasing out the reliance on expatriates for top roles
  • actively developing and grooming local talent for leadership positions
  • training local talent to fill perceived capability gaps rather than looking elsewhere
  • seeking out talent that knows the local market and understands cultural hierarchies
  • setting quotas for local representation in executive teams
  • understanding the difference in what a good leader looks like across different cultures.

“Multinationals need to embrace cultural intelligence and develop a much broader context around what global leadership looks like”, says Verghese. “A facilitative leadership style may be effective in Australia, for example, but a directive style works better in Asia”.

The Faculty Asia Roundtable hosts quarterly meetings in Singapore, where CPOs from the region’s leading organisation meet to share learnings and best-practice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

Supply Chain Sustainability as a Competitive Advantage

Industry leaders understand that supply chain sustainability can be a competitive advantage. Utilised effectively, it brings a wealth of opportunities.

Read the first part of this article here.

Global brewing giant SABMiller embraces the idea that water is strategic. It cut its water consumption by 28 per cent, now only using 3.3 litres to make 1 litre of beer. It is on track to achieve its objective of 3 litres by 2020. Iconic sports brand Nike has adopted 3D printing to eliminate waste.

Companies not focusing their supply chain efforts on differentiation are at risk of falling behind. Innovation can also involve changing consumer behaviour. Here again, collaboration is key between different functions, from R&D to marketing and procurement and supply chain.

One of the three pillars of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is to halve the environmental footprint of their products by 2020. They have developed a purpose-driven strategy to double their revenues, while still having a positive social impact. Their business model has put supply chain sustainability at the heart of strategy, and they use innovation to embrace it.

Cost of Sustainability

A common misbelief is that sustainable solutions cost more. In most cases, they are more profitable, with a faster return on investment. Business and sustainability go hand in hand, and better solutions have emerged, both for businesses and the planet.

True, there are more expensive examples. Traceable palm oil, which ensures zero deforestation during production, is one of these. However, renewable energy solutions, such as windmills and solar panels, can be profitable immediately.

Many companies also put a lot of effort in reducing transportation, with the objective to decrease gas emissions, as well as the transportation cost itself. From a labour perspective, the overall cost could be diminished by improving productivity and respecting minimum wage.

When companies take the long-term approach that sustainability requires,
 initiatives can be cost neutral or 
better. Some companies have increased their revenue by as much as 20 per cent, while reducing supply chain costs by up to 16 per cent. According to the World Economic Forum report written with Accenture, this has been done by implementing sustainable supply chain practices.

Best practices have been identified to support companies achieve a “triple supply chain competitive advantage” of increased revenue, reduction in supply chain cost and added brand value. The result is improved competitiveness and reduced operational risk.

Employee Engagement Key to Sustainable Success

46 per cent of CEOs reported that employees would be among the most influential groups in guiding their action on sustainability over the next five years – second only to consumers.

When it comes to employee engagement, it is important to communicate internally to all levels of the organisation. Best practice should come from within, and companies should ensure that their external actions on sustainability are also reflected internally.

Taking care of the workforce, engaging them in implementing a corporate commitment to sustainability, will drive greater productivity, and thus greater profitability.

Giving employees a purpose and empowering them to have ideas and find solutions at a local level could make a real difference in supply chain sustainability. It is more challenging to have sustainable operations in some global regions than in others. Leading supply chain executives encourage their teams to go beyond their own boundaries, inspiring, guiding and supporting them.

Companies who are leveraging supply chain sustainability as a competitive advantage are outperforming their less sustainable peers. Many studies show that these sustainability leaders have higher, faster-growing stock value, better financial results, lower risks, and more engaged workforces.

Aligning employees’ engagement with supply chain sustainability strategy is key to building an innovative, environmentally responsible, and socially conscious business. Workers on the front line are often in the best position to identify inefficiencies and propose solutions.

The best companies integrate their sustainability strategies into their employees’ day jobs. This is done by incorporating sustainability targets into the employee’s annual objectives, and incentivising them.

Shared Responsibility

Sustainability is the responsibility of everybody, but especially those involved in the supply chain who are in a position to act.

Communication and training are important factors in generating awareness across the workforce. To attract talent, particularly millennials and future generations, companies behind on the subject will lose in this battle too.

Many multinational organisations have set sustainability targets to be reached by 2020. Winning companies will master the balance between commercial gains and “it is simply the right thing to do”. They will embrace internal and external collaboration and will drive supplier and consumer behaviour.

In a world where social conscience is fed by social media, and fear of the speed and scale at which information can disseminate globally, it is crucial to behave responsibly. Those organisations which do not act now on supply chain sustainability face the risk of long term brand and reputational damage.

Dear Boss, I Quit! Why Good Leadership is Key

Looking for the real reasons your staff are leaving? Instead of focusing on the ‘business’, you may want to take a look at your leadership.

This article was first published on Boxchange.

I’m sure that you, like me, are saddened every time someone in your team has resigned, (apart from the one or two rare exceptions when I have actually danced a celebratory jig around my desk, but that’s for another article!).

Mostly, my natural reaction has always been a human one I suppose. “Why would they do that?” or, “What’s wrong with them?” or even, “The fool must be leaving for money!”

But as the years rolled by I have become much wiser.

Lack of Leadership

Experience tells me that people don’t change jobs solely for money, and they almost never resign on a whim or in a fit of anger. People joined your company because they believed it was right for them, and they desperately want it to be right.

However, something, at some point, makes it wrong and if you are able to uncover their real reasons for leaving, and you should, you will find that it’s not ‘the company’ they blame. It’s not the location, or the team, or the database or the air-conditioning…

…it’s the leadership!

Of course they very rarely use that word. They may not mention management at all.

Instead they talk about “morale,” or say “communication is poor”, and, when they express frustration at the lack of clarity for their career progression, they are telling you that it’s the leaders they are leaving. After all, leaders are responsible for morale, communication and career path.

Discover the Real Reasons

And don’t be fooled by the results of your employee engagement survey – they rarely get to the heart of the matter. A ‘company’ is just a legal entity and a ‘business’ is simply a building containing a collection of desks and computers. No one resigns because of that.

It’s the decisions, the motivation, the atmosphere, the ethos, the support, the training, the vision, the inspiration and the direction set by the leadership that your employees will follow…or leave!

Take the time to have an honest look at your business or department without further delay. If you’re losing too many people, (or have high absenteeism), you need to discover the real reasons why.

If you’re not sure how to get to the root cause then ask. My colleagues and I are happy to offer our free advice, and it could transform your performance and results in 2016.

Boxchange offers a fully integrated business change solution that fits almost every conceivable change challenge your business may, or is currently facing. We focus on delivering value, return on investment & ensure effective knowledge transfer throughout.

Transforming the Procurement Function from Within

It’s a tall order to come in and completely transform the procurement function within an iconic global company.

But Kelly Irwin didn’t beat around the bush when she started as Head of Procurement at the Australian subsidiary of Swiss group at Holcim (which has since merged with the French group LaFarge) five years ago.

The company, which is a leading supplier of aggregates, concrete and concrete pipe and products, had plenty of room for improvement. In fact, the company’s procurement department was mostly handling complaints, rather than handling strategic buying for their future.

The 20+ year procurement industry veteran soon realised the magnitude of the role, so set about implementing improved systems and processes for the procurement function. The first step was to establish a centralised purchasing model, then build a talented procurement team to support her role.

“It was a very dysfunctional team that had little direction, that wasn’t aligned with the company’s strategic directions,” Irwin says.

Building an Effective Team

Today, Irwin heads of a team of 34 people and manages a mind-boggling AUD $900 million budget. She has implemented and centralised structure and processes within the procurement function. She has previously worked in procurement for Qantas and building firm Boral, though this role with Holcim Australia is her first where the procurement buck stops with her.

With those changes bedded down, her remit is again broadening, and she will now handle all buying across New Zealand for the company, with a recent trip across ‘the Ditch‘ to establish processes there.

Not only this, Irwin has developed a highly effective procurement team, which has been awarded the Internal Customer Excellence Award for Holcim Australia for three years in a row.

Her approach has transformed the procurement function for the company, with her team has an 80 per cent engagement score, which was the highest in Holcim Australia in 2015.

Irwin has strong capabilities in building effective working relationships with teams, development of Procurement strategy, management of supplier and keyholder expectations, highly developed negotiating skills, contract management, risk management and compliance expertise and operational experience through the implementation of change initiatives and process improvements.

Irwin was also recently awarded the CIPS Procurement and Supply Chain Management Professional of the Year.

Building Individual Engagement

Irwin keeps staff informed on all aspects of the business, has an open door policy, and doesn’t mind being contacted after hours.

“I recently read that people play harder when they know the score. This is something Holcim Procurement do well. Not only do we have clear goals, (quantitative, savings targets), but we have the measurement tools the accountability element to keep score on how we are tracking.

“I believe this shared goal, as well as individual accountability to reach this goal builds individuals’ commitment to team uniformity direction, and overall engagement,” she says.

To emphasise her point, she recalled talking to someone in procurement who had major issues trying to speak to the head of the department. This was slowing down their ability to tackle their own role.

“This person would need to book a meeting with their superior two or three weeks ahead, and it was usually a walking appointment as he was always in between meetings. I honestly don’t know how someone can be that busy, that they’re practically unavailable for their own staff. You’ve got to make sure your staff feel engaged and supported, and that you’re a team.”

Nearly 70 per cent of her team is degree qualified, though that wasn’t a prerequisite when she entered the industry more than two decades ago.

“I always look to hire people that complement the skills we have, and find people who have talents in areas we need to improve in.

‘Be Inquisitive Problem Solvers’

Like so many working in procurement, it was never a deliberate decision to follow this career path.

Irwin deferred university and entered the workforce before stumbling into a procurement role, with the sound of buying things for a living appealing to her. She’s since completed a number of qualifications, certificates and management courses that support her role.

“Procurement is one of those professions that you’ll excel in as long as you’ve got the right soft skills.”

Irwin describes herself on being approachable, down to earth and honest. And she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

“Though depending on where you’re standing, that can be a bit rough as well,” she admits.

Procurement professionals need to be inquisitive problem solvers with strong communication skills, she says.

“While your superiors might be great at what they do, with all due respect, they don’t necessarily know more than you about your function within the business. Realising that you could well have a far better idea of the best approach than other senior people within your business can be professionally liberating.”

As far as the future goes, Irwin says the procurement function has an increasingly broadening remit.

“Procurement was entrenched in a brown cardigan mentality in the past, but that’s changing, and we’re now a business function that’s well respected across the globe.”

Kelly Irwin is one of the leading Australian professionals to speak at the second annual Women in Procurement 2016 event, which inspires leadership, advances careers and drives innovation in procurement, and supply chain function and practice. The event will be held in Melbourne in 21-23 March. Book your ticket here.