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Leading the charge
Adrian Gostick (Bestselling Author & Owner, The Culture Works) tells Sanghamitra Khan it is in the power of leaders to influence morale, productivity, and profitability in the organisation
Issue Date - 01/07/2012
Aglobal thought leader on workplace strategy, Mr. Adrian Gostick has authored several books on employee engagement. ‘The Carrot Principle’ by Mr. Gostick and Mr. Chester Elton has been a regular New York Times bestseller. His research has been called a ‘must read for modern-day managers’ by Larry King of CNN, ‘fascinating’ by the Fortune magazine. Mr. Gostick’s books have been translated into 20 languages and have sold more than one million copies worldwide. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CNN, National Public Radio and others, and has been quoted in business publications such as The Economist, Financial Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Fortune.

Mr. Gostick earned a master’s degree in Strategic Communication and Leadership from Seton Hall University, where he is a guest lecturer on organisational culture.

Q. In today’s organisations, what is the central task of an effective leader? How does that translate into a business’ success?
A. For our new book All In, we conducted a research involving 3 lakh people and it identified the characteristics of the world’s most successful leaders in this economy. We found the best leaders set a clear vision for their employees, created a strong customer focus, instituted an open communication policy, partnered with their talent, recognised great work, and held employees accountable for hitting their goals. When managers were effective at these skills, their organisations were three times more profitable than those that were just average — not three per cent more profitable, but three times more!

Just take a minute to think of your favourite boss. Chances are, they were not easy on you. They asked a lot. But they probably challenged you and believed in you. That is what great leaders do.

Q. What is the impact of rewards and recognition on employee performance?
A. One of the key findings in our research has been in rewards and recognition domain. Most managers believe they are already good at handing out thank-you notes, but less than one in four employees believes his or her boss provides anywhere near the appreciation he or she deserves. The vast majority of employees say they have more energy and ideas, but do not feel inclined to share, as their manager offers a little or no recognition.

Q. What should be the HR’s function when diverse, and sometimes conflicting, culture co-exist in the organisation? What kind of culture is best to boost a company’s financial growth?
A. It is HR’s role to help identify with clarity what a positive culture looks like in an organisation, both at macro and team levels. The specific type of culture will vary depending on the industry and corporate goals, but a few elements remain constant in any type of culture — people want to feel that they are making a difference and that their work has purpose.

HR can provide tremendous value to each division and team by helping define what behaviour really will move the organisation forward, and then helping teach those values to employees.

Q. How important is collaboration in making a great team? What are the factors that actually make a team achieve results and that too in a sustainable manner?
A. Have you ever worked in a team that did not get along? How successful was that team? Probably not very, especially in the long term. Consider some sports teams, where even those with great talent cannot create breakthrough results if their players fight in the locker room or on the field. Likewise, work teams that struggle with idea stealing, back-stabbing or fault-finding rarely achieve great things. Collaboration is essential and we must learn how to work together better. First, great teams define their noble cause — what gets them excited about coming to work every day. Next, they create a set of rules to live by. The most common we have found are world-class results, share everything, and root for each other.

Q. How should an employee who is good at work but difficult to work with, be dealt with?
A. Cultural fit is more important than competence. A CEO told me a few weeks ago, “One bad apple can set your company back a year or more. Do not be tempted to hire or keep someone who is bad for your culture and your esprit de corps.”

Move quickly if someone is difficult. Give them a chance to improve, but do not take too long. If you do, the impact on morale will be lasting.

Q. HR has always been considered to be a female stronghold. But can we say that being successful in this solely depends on gender?
A. Certainly not. We know great leaders in HR who are female and those who are male. What matters more than gender is the ability to not only think strategically, but actually get something done that moves an organisation forward.

Q. How much influence can a leader have on morale, productivity and profitability?
A. As we have demonstrated through our research, the manager is the core influencer of the kind of culture at play in a team, division or whole company. And yet sometimes leaders doubt if it is in their power to influence morale, productivity and profitability. They know some work groups perform better than others, but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons and even a little uncomfortable to wonder if it is within their power to shape success.

Recently, we worked with a health care system in San Francisco in the United States that had embarked on an experiment. The organisation classified each department within its hospitals as green, yellow or red. Green departments had higher-than-normal team productivity and profitability and also great employee engagement scores and better-than-average employee retention. They were the kind of work groups we all want to be a part of, so workers came and stayed.

In contrast, yellow departments had average employee survey scores. They were not bad teams but they were not great.

As you might imagine, red departments were poor on every metric, especially employee turnover. It seemed workers could not get out of the red work groups fast enough. Then the organisation moved quite a number of managers of green departments to red departments, and managers of red work groups were asked to lead green workplaces. What happened? The head of human resources shook her head and said, “In every single case no matter the background or expertise of the manager, within a year the red departments were green and green departments had turned red. It was the manager who made the difference.”

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