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Viewpoint: Inspire your team, lead by example

The demise of the News of the World serves as a reminder of the importance of leadership.

It seems the higher echelons at News Corporation were not close enough to the day-to-day operations at the paper. Commercial pressures had superseded the legal and moral duties of the paper which should have been safeguarded from an operational perspective. So what lessons can construction businesses draw from this rather sorry saga?

Setting expectation and providing clear direction

The first thing that leadership can do is to clearly explain and articulate what “good” looks like. This is especially important in operational performance improvement projects because it is not always easy for those at the sharp end of the business to effectively relate company-wide performance targets with their day-to-day actions and activities.

Leadership needs to set an example and be the visible presence that rewards good behaviours and rectifies areas of poor performance. This is something that leaders such as Jack Welsh at General Electric were particularly good at and what appeared to be lacking at the News of the World.

The team looks to the leader for inspiration and engagement

Leadership is a vital ingredient for achieving employee engagement. Recent research at Ipsos MORI has shown that employees with higher engagement levels are more likely, for example, to express innovative ideas and take fewer sick days.

The behaviours that leaders demonstrate at the outset will set the culture for an improvement programme. If you, as leader, don’t take a close interest in the programme then it will not be high on the team’s agenda either.

Good leadership doesn’t just apply internally; it can also have a huge effect on the whole supply chain of an organisation, as was demonstrated by Toyota in the automotive sector, and currently in our sector, where the Highways Agency board is committed to improving performance through implementing Lean.

Leaders build momentum and success early on

As most leaders will tell you, confidence and early success are key factors in achieving significant and ongoing operational performance improvement.

For those tasked with the job of meeting and maintaining new targets it will be an anxious time. In many cases they will be doing their regular job in addition to working on the project team to find ways of meeting higher performance targets.

This is where leadership is essential to provide the confidence, training support and additional resources to ensure early and sustained success. If, as appears to be the case at the News of the World you simply demand more, then the danger is that the team takes short cuts and expedient measures that ultimately prove risky and unsustainable.

  • Stuart Smith is chairman of Bourton Group and its subsidiary The Six Sigma Group


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