Key takeaways from the 2017 Leadership Institute survey

Employee engagement and executing strategy top the agenda

A new survey suggests that employee engagement is a major leadership challenge for today’s organisations, despite it reducing turnover rates, improving customer loyalty and enhancing organisational performance.

The inaugural London Business School (LBS) Leadership Institute survey reported one-third of 1,248 senior directors and executives from 98 different countries rated the issue as their toughest challenge. It was the top priority for senior leaders at financial services, manufacturing and professional services firms.

Effective strategy execution was the second most pressing challenge, according to the survey results. 

In a world where people are an organisation’s most important asset, why are ideal workplace outcomes so hard to achieve? 

“Disengaged employees are unable to put strategy into place effectively,” noted 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 suggested a strong domino effect, according to the report. 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 explained. “This is a potential contributor to them ‘keeping their heads down’ and not being motivated to collaborate across silos.”

Leaders are thrown off course by focusing too closely on day-to-day activities, the main barrier to success according to 54% of respondents. Some 45% of those surveyed said the greatest obstacle to achieving their leadership potential was 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.”

Research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical marker of organisational health, so 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.”

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