Leadership and the Bottom Line

When deciding how to best allocate limited resources to performance improvement systems and activities, leaders tend to err on the side of factual research.
So over the years, as academic and private sector research established the reliability of such concepts as the profit impact of market strategy (PIMS), total quality management (TQM), business process management (BPM), and Six Sigma, real and perceived risk was reduced, and adoption of those practices became more mainstream. Today we’ve reached a point where Boards can even be held accountable by shareholders for ensuring their companies are applying these proven best practices.
We’re now approaching just such a time in the field of leadership development. An existing and fast-growing body of research is proving a causal link between leadership development and shareholder value. There are three connected facts that establish this:
Fact 1: Leadership development drives employee fulfillment
Fact 2: Employee fulfillment drives customer satisfaction
Fact 3: Customer satisfaction drives shareholder value
These three elements are highly interconnected, and employee fulfillment is maximized by a strong, adaptive culture.
A Strong, Adaptive Culture Impacts Profitability
Several landmark studies have demonstrated the power of corporate culture in successful companies. Agility, speed and resilience allow continuous discovery and exploitation of new products and markets. This is known as ‘adaptive capacity’, and stems from a collective clarity and commitment to shared mission, values and vision of the organization. Culture drives sustainable competitive advantage, and in one study, yielded an 8.7 percentage point difference in operating margin over a weaker culture competitor. The difference derived from higher employee and customer retention, and productivity.
The Cost of Fear and Cultural Entropy
All organizations have some level of cultural entropy, (defined as the energy involved in sustaining bureaucracy, internal competition, hierarchy, empire building, image, blame, information hoarding and the like), but research also shows that companies with weak or toxic cultures suffer from fear paralysis, and high cultural entropy. There is a concrete cost to these fear-driven behaviours, usually reflected in higher turnover and employee disengagement, lower productivity, efficiency and commitment, and lost opportunities. In weak culture companies, it is usually a big, yet hidden number.
Strong Leadership Builds Strong, Adaptive Cultures
While research co-relates high performance with strong, adaptive cultures, and excessive costs with weak ones, it also shows that adaptive cultures cannot be achieved without highly developed leaders. Expert Richard Barrett tells us that “ultimately, the culture of an organization is a reflection of the personality of the leader or the personalities of the leadership group.” To transform a culture, one must either change out the leadership, or the leaders must be willing to reflect upon and make changes to their approach.
It is the domain of the leader to:
• Be self-aware; clear about his/her own values, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, vision for the future
• Clearly understand and communicate the mission, values and vision of the organization (create the culture)
• Align their own and their employees values with those of the organization
• Create an environment of fairness, openness, collaboration, and responsible risk-taking
• Attract, retain, motivate and inspire the best possible talent to engage and deliver on the mission
• Strengthen others resolve during difficult periods by leading by example
• Build trust
Notice no mention of technical proficiency, functional skills, and intellectual superiority. Of course, at higher levels of management, those capabilities are almost pre-requisite, but the important finding of the research is that they alone are insufficient to drive outstanding results. The reason is that today, only pools of bright, highly-engaged, interactive, collaborative people will win the race.
Perhaps the leader could do it him or herself in the past; not any longer.
This is good news. Now we no longer need to speculate on the efficacy of leadership development programs on profitability. The ‘bottom line’ is: leadership development builds the bottom line.
What is the current culture in your organization? How much cultural entropy exists? What steps are you taking to ensure your best leaders are getting the development they will need to step up to the challenges of tomorrow?

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