Leaders tested by employee engagement and strategy delivery

Headline findings from an international leadership study by the London Business School (LBS) finds employee engagement and effective strategy execution are leaders’ top two challenges.

Hand and domino rally
The inaugural London Business School (LBS) Leadership Institute study surveyed 1,248 senior directors and executives from 98 different countries on a range of issues.One-third rated engagement as their toughest challenge, despite it reducing turnover rates, improving customer loyalty and enhancing organisational performance. It was the top priority for senior leaders at financial services, manufacturing and professional services firms.Executing strategy was the second most pressing challenge, according to the survey results. Together, they raise the question for researchers of what are the obstacles to employee engagement and strategy execution internationally.

Why are ideal workplace outcomes so hard to achieve? 

“Disengaged employees are unable to put strategy into place effectively,” explained Randall S Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Academic Director of the Leadership Institute at LBS. “The commercial imperatives are clear: without an effective strategy which the workforce fully supports, organisations suffer and results fall.”The responses suggest a strong domino effect. Along with employee engagement and executing strategy, talent management, driving work across organisational boundaries and collaboration across organisational lines (business units, functions and geographies), topped the leadership challenge list.“Employees who aren’t engaged aren’t executing strategy effectively,” Professor Peterson continued. “This is a potential contributor to them ‘keeping their heads down’ and not being motivated to collaborate across silos.”
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Day-to-day tasks v strategic thinking

Leaders are also being thrown off course by focusing too closely on day-to-day activities, according to respondents. For 54%, this routine task-focus is the main barrier to success. For 45% of those surveyed, the greatest obstacle to achieving their leadership potential is a lack of strategic thinking. Vyla Rollins, Executive Director of the Leadership Institute at LBS, said: “These results indicate that cultures overly focused on tasks and delivery can make it difficult for people to step back and create time to think about what the organisation should be achieving strategically.”

Leading purposeful work

Research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical marker of organisational health. The Institute asked respondents to name the leadership skills needed for success. Communicating purpose ranked first.  Professor Peterson said: “To engage staff, leaders may be tempted to simply ‘sell’ reasons for staff to be passionate about their role. But this approach won’t succeed.”High potentials and star performers are motivated by purposeful work that gives meaning to their lives or develops their skills, he explained.“Ensuring staff and stakeholders share a joint sense of purpose encourages them to go above and beyond what’s required. This is critical for long-term organisational success. It’s complemented by the other key leadership skills highlighted by the survey: integrity, setting direction, critical thinking and practising what you preach in terms of beliefs, values and behaviours.”Interestingly, the UK, the Financial Reporting Council FRC's proposals for a revised Corporate Governance Code include a new principle around the intrinsic value of corporate culture. This includes establishing a company’s purpose, strategy and values and satisfying themselves that these and their culture are aligned, for example, through workforce policies. The consultation closes at the end of February 2018.For related news and features, visit our leadership and management section. Look out for the launch of 2018's Relocate Awards, entries open in January. Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory