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British business leaders will be heartened to see the UK named as the world’s top destination for highly skilled workers. Most respondents to a Deloitte survey on what makes Britain an appealing place to live and work say they are attracted by its job opportunities, cultural diversity and work-life balance.
The findings make for pleasant reading amid uncertainty over Brexit. A recent study showing that London has retained its position as the globe’s most attractive financial centre provides more good news. The survey, carried out by Z/Yen Global Financial Centres Index, takes into account factors such as quality of staff and infrastructure when ranking 92 cities worldwide.
But some commentators argue that the UK will suffer greatly when it eventually severs all ties with the European Union (EU). So how can post-Brexit Britain still attract top foreign talent amid this uncertainty?
“The UK has underlying strengths that will likely persist,” says Rob Goffee, Emeritus Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School (LBS). “We’re a liberal democracy with many attractions and an economy with wonderful creative industries, world-leading sectors of research and development and top-class universities that educate people from all over the world.”
Professor Goffee speaks from a position of authority, having co-authored Why Should Anyone Work Here? with Gareth Jones, Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at LBS. The book explores how to create authentic organisations using the DREAMS model:
Small to medium-sized (SMEs) British based companies can do relatively well in two areas – diversity and simple rules – where larger organisations often struggle. This, in turn, can make them attractive to highly skilled workers.
“John Lennon and Paul McCartney were pretty similar – white, working-class and male – but they had different mind-sets and methods of working. They arguably did their best work together, showing why it pays – creatively – to have people with distinct ideas and attitudes”
Difference beyond diversity is about bringing together people with different attitudes and ways of thinking – an approach that worked for the Beatles, according to Professor Goffee. “John Lennon and Paul McCartney were pretty similar – white, working-class and male – but they had different mind-sets and methods of working. They arguably did their best work together, showing why it pays – creatively – to have people with distinct ideas and attitudes.”
Simple agreed rules show employees in a clear and concise manner what’s expected of them. It’s an area where large organisations often struggle, according to Professor Goffee. “The bigger the company, the more rules become complex and imposed,” he says. “You often find that smaller, entrepreneurial ventures can allow a more diverse culture and avoid the build-up of bureaucracy. That’s usually the case in creative industries, which are populated with a significant number of SMEs.”
Professor Goffee adds that British and overseas talent want to join firms offering freedom and flexibility. “Talented employees at all levels will be attracted to authentic workplaces where they can express themselves, which is something that UK companies in sectors such as creative, R&D and education are pretty good at providing.”
Authentic organisations require leaders who engage followers’ minds, hearts and souls by staying attuned to their needs and expectations. In their earlier book, Why should anyone be led by you? Professor Goffee and Jones explain how such people have to be themselves – but with skill – as they alter their behaviours to respond effectively in different situations. They must also know when to show or withhold emotion, get close to followers while keeping a distance and maintain individuality but still conform to the working culture and environment.
Many successful organisations are characterised by leaders that exemplify the organisation’s values and culture. Professor Goffee points to Sir Alex Ferguson, who won 49 trophies when managing Manchester United, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick and Virgin founder Richard Branson as examples of organisations that embody the person at the top. “They practised what they preached, creating workplaces that look and feel authentic,” he says.
“Leadership is about expressing yourself and using those different qualities you possess to inspire others. Organisations that encourage similarity and conformity may struggle to develop new leaders.”
Creating a pipeline of authentic leaders comes from encouraging people to use their differences rather than forcing them to excessively conform to ways of thinking and behaving. Professor Goffee says that employees can be themselves – which is essential for becoming an authentic leader – at an organisation that celebrates individuality. But he believes larger organisations sometimes struggle to create an environment where the individual qualities needed for effective leadership can flourish.
Established companies that want to attract talented people from around the world typically face two fundamental challenges in creating the DREAMS organisation. They are the short-term performance pressures of shareholder capitalism and the growing amount of bureaucracy when scaling the business. The first sees companies focusing more on keeping shareholders happy rather than building a vibrant and attractive workplace. The second relates to the volume of red tape that can build up as organisations grow.
“Bureaucracy has hampered the business world for the best part of 200 years – and we still don’t have a definitive solution”
Most global companies repeatedly struggle with how to cut bureaucracy. Professor Goffee says: “It’s hampered the business world for the best part of 200 years – and we still don’t have a definitive solution. One approach is to break organisations down into smaller parts that are relatively decentralised and autonomous, which works to some extent. But those entities still need to work together and that’s challenging when they’re operating independently from one another.”
Professor Goffee adds that red tape stifles individuality and undermines efforts to create authentic leaders. “Processes of standardisation and bureaucracy can end up pasteurising people, making them look and act the same rather than celebrating their diversity,” he says. “Leadership is about expressing yourself and using those different qualities you possess to inspire others. Organisations that encourage similarity and conformity may struggle to develop new leaders.”
The outcome of Brexit may be uncertain, but it’s clear that highly skilled workers will continue to gravitate towards organisations offering diversity, authenticity and simplicity.
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