We’ve seen the advent of global competition, rapid technological development and widespread political change. The business world has moved from being relatively stable and simple to being increasingly dynamic and complex. Organizations now face new challenges and leaders must perform to high levels in increasingly unpredictable situations.
This new world requires a new set of leadership skills to ensure high performance. The question is: can we identify leadership and team behaviours that underpin outstanding performance in dynamic, complex and competitive environments? And more than that, can people learn and develop these skills?
It’s the quest for answers to these questions that drove the founders of the Centre for High Performance Development (CHPD) to research leadership performance for the last 20 years. Simon Foster, a client director with CHPD, explains how its research was developed with institutions such as Harvard and the London Business School.
“We began with simulations. We established Organizations to simulate not only the business world, but also the military and national governments. In a simulated situation we could change the environment from being stable and simple to dynamic and complex. Leaders and teams from a variety of industries managed our simulated Organizations for extended periods of up to one year. Essentially they were wrestling with the problems of running a dynamic organisation in a dynamic environment.
“After some three years of research and the expenditure of several million dollars, we had some valuable insights, but wanted more actionable data. A dramatic change in approach was called for. We introduced behavioural observation and slowly patterns of behaviour emerged which correlated with superior performance in dynamic environments. In particular, we identified a cluster of behaviours we now call the “Thinking Behaviours”. With renewed confidence in our methodology, we went on to identify three further clusters of behaviour that together make eleven ‘High Performance Behaviours (HPB)’.”
During the 1990s, the 11 HPBs were thoroughly validated at the London Business School and then developed into a form that could be used by Organizations across the world.
CHPD’s research suggests that these four clusters of 11 HPBs are the key to successful leadership in today’s complex and dynamic environment. The good news for us is that these behaviours are not innate and can be learned. Furthermore, in its assessment and development of thousands of people around the world, CHPD is yet to find one person who has strengths in all areas.
FOUR CLUSTERS OF BEHAVIOURS
THINKING – Information Search, Concept formation and Conceptual Flexibility.
The three behaviours in this cluster are crucial to strategy formation, planning and the ability to see the '‘bigger picture’. Whilst they make the highest contribution to performance they are often the least developed and least valued in most Organizations. When these are not well developed, Organizations are constantly fire-fighting, the workforce is often confronted with many un-coordinated initiatives and a lack of information leaves the organisation’s strategy vulnerable.
DEVELOPMENTAL – Empathy, Teamwork, and Developing People.
These behaviours are relevant to flat, flexible, team-based structures which have to integrate with other teams. They build the ownership, involvement and commitment of people and nurture their contribution. They improve the performance of people through development of their skills and creation of an atmosphere of learning. When these behaviours are not well developed, an organisation can become fragmented and less than the sum of its parts. For an organisation which relies on the quality of its people, under-development of this cluster represents an absolute limit to its growth.
INSPIRATIONAL – Influence, Building Confidence and Presentation.
The behaviours in this cluster relate particularly to building confidence and excitement throughout the team and are crucial to achieving ‘buy in’ to ideas. In a crisis where decisions are required quickly, these behaviours create an atmosphere of confidence within the team. Without these behaviours you will see confusion, pessimism, lack of direction.
ACHIEVING – Proactivity and Continuous Improvement
These two behaviours make things happen and break through bureaucracy. They ensure that tasks are structured and that plans and ideas are implemented. They give people responsibility and encourage continuous attention to improving the performance of all aspects of the team. If this cluster is not well developed there may be a lot of talk and little action, a lack of empowerment and too much focus on activities which don’t add value.
So, to return to our earlier question, CHPD’s research shows that you can indeed identify the behaviours that are needed to be a high performing leader in today’s dynamic world. And more than that, these behaviours can be learned. The key then is in identifying where your strengths lie and what you can do to address your areas of weakness. This requires rigorous assessment and observational tools and targeted personal development plans, claims Dan White, client manager with CHPD. An examination of which, we’ll have to leave for another day.
ELEVEN HIGH PERFORMANCE BEHAVIOURS
Information Search – Gathers many different kinds of information and uses a wide variety of sources to build a rich informational environment in preparation for decision-making in the organisation.
Concept Formation – Builds frameworks or models, forms concepts, hypotheses or ideas on the basis of information. Becomes aware of patterns, trends and cause / effect relations by linking disparate information.
Conceptual Flexibility – Identifies feasible alternatives or multiple options in planning and decision-making. Holds options in focus simultaneously and evaluates their pros and cons.
Empathy – Uses open and probing questions, summarises and paraphrases to understand the ideas, concepts and feelings of another. Can comprehend events, issues, problems and opportunities from the viewpoint of others.
Teamwork – Involves others and is able to build co-operative teams in which group members feel valued and empowered and have shared goals.
Developing People – Creates a positive climate. Provides coaching, training and developmental resources to improve performance.
Influence – Uses a variety of methods (e.g. persuasive arguments, forming alliances and appealing to the interest of others) to gain support for ideas, strategies and values.
Building Confidence – Takes a ‘stand’ or position on issues: unhesitatingly takes decisions when required and commits self and others accordingly. Makes others feel confident in the future success of themselves and the organisation.
Presentation – Presents ideas clearly, with ease and interest so that the other person (or audience) understands what is being communicated. Uses symbols, non-verbal techniques and visual aids effectively.
Proactivity – Structures the task for the team. Implements plans and ideas. Takes responsibility for all aspects of the situation even beyond ordinary boundaries – and for the success and failure of the group.
Continuous Improvement – Possesses high internal work standards and sets ambitious, risky and yet attainable goals. Wants to do things better, to improve, to be more effective and efficient. Measures progress against targets.