Faced with inconsistent leadership capabilities across a complex organisation, this HR team aligned its performance feedback, succession planning and talent management strategies to create a unified and reliable leadership pipeline.
Few things are more critical to a company’s success than growing its people and cultivating its future leaders.
Ascending the corporate ladder tends to be made possible by exceptional performance in an employee’s existing role. However, as those involved with succession planning know all too well, proficiency in one role does not automatically translate into effective leadership capabilities.
Successful leadership demands a unique and wide-ranging set of abilities, and identifying and cultivating true leadership potential is one of the most challenging tasks placed on the shoulders of HR professionals.
The HR team at EACH, a community-based health and support service provider, recognised the critical role of strong leadership in achieving its vision that ‘everyone has the power to live well.’
To help boost leadership capability at the organisation, they launched a company-wide initiative that proved to be a resounding success, so much so that the company was awarded the Sir Ken Robinson Innovation and Creativity Award at the AHRI Awards last year.
EACH’s Managers of Organisational Development and Culture, Meredith Carrington and Tam Bourke, spoke with HRM about how the team brought together the areas of learning and development, inclusion and diversity, feedback and reflection, succession planning and leadership development to create an airtight leadership pipeline.
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Crafting consistent leadership expectations
EACH’s success is deeply connected to its workforce of 2000 staff and volunteers, delivering 150 programs across multiple locations. However, variable leadership practices, lack of defined leadership expectations and promotion based often on technical competence, without providing clarity on the required capability and mindset shift, had resulted in challenges in staff engagement and performance.
“We didn’t have a lot of clarity around what great performance and behaviour looked like at different layers of leadership in the organisation,” says Bourke. “And I think that’s really critical because without that clarity, it’s difficult to get consistency across the organisation and it doesn’t set people up for success when moving from one layer of leadership to another.
“Sometimes people are promoted into [leadership] roles for the right reasons – because they’re great at what they do – but then they don’t have clarity around the changes they need to make, and that can result in all sorts of challenges.”
To address this, the team implemented a culture and capability transformation strategy called Leading@EACH. This initiative adopted the Leadership Pipeline framework (an external methodology), which clarifies an organisation’s performance and behavioural expectations of each different layer of leadership in relation to both core business deliverables and key strategic priorities.
The program aimed to create greater clarity on what people can do to best deliver in their roles, enable people with better ‘human’ processes and practices, and provide more support and development.
As well as ensuring and supporting consistency of capabilities and behaviour across the organisation’s existing leaders, this unified strategy is also instrumental in recruitment, helping EACH’s hiring teams to identify the mindset and skills they require for a given leadership role.
Layers of leadership
According to Carrington, it was crucial that Leading@EACH was not reserved for team leaders and executives; the key to the initiative’s success was the decision to bring the entire workforce on the journey.
“We needed to think holistically about this because everybody has the ability to influence. Everybody can enable the work of others. And everybody has the ability to show up, if they have clarity around what’s expected in terms of behaviour and performance,” she says.
“We believe that everybody is a leader, no matter what your role,” adds Bourke.
“We think that everybody is a leader.” – Tam Bourke, Manager of Organisational Culture and Capability, EACH
“Traditionally, and formally, we talk about leadership in terms of managers. But the vast majority of our staff here at EACH are incredibly passionate, capable people who are leading every single day. We’re sending a strong message that everyone has a role to play in leading the organisation.”
In recognition of this, EACH implemented a tailored leadership pipeline to define successful leadership for all employees across all areas of the organisation.
In order to clarify the different stages of leadership and how to progress between them, EACH divided leadership into ‘layers’.
The seven layers of leadership are:
- Leading self
- Leading teams
- Leading leaders
- Leading function
- Leading directorate
- Leading organisation
- Leading board
“Every single one of those layers is crucial. Without one, the others fall down,” says Carrington.
“If you don’t have people in the ‘leading self’ or ‘leading teams’ layers doing what they’re meant to be doing, then those in other layers will not be working at the level appropriate for their role.”
Training and support looks different at each layer. For example, the ‘Courage to Lead’ program – which is aimed at the Leading Function, Leading Leaders and Leading Directorate layers – is an immersive learning experience consisting of a three-day intensive workshop to help senior leaders move towards EACH’s collective vision of sustainable growth, courageous leadership and a collaborative culture.
Meanwhile, the program aimed at Leading Teams (and aspiring leaders) is ‘Leading Others’, a four-to-five-day facilitator-led internal learning program for small groups. This is designed to build on and strengthen the leadership skills of existing and aspiring leaders.
Making the leadership pipeline framework work for your business
At EACH, the structure of the leadership pipeline and the overhaul of its performance and development approach was co-designed with employees, with over 200 staff contributing to the leadership standards at each level of the business.
The complexity of EACH’s business model meant that versatility was key.
“Because of the nature of our work and our workforce, it had to be flexible. One approach doesn’t necessarily fit all of our people. So we want to empower our leaders to be able to take ownership of [the framework], but also make it their own,” says Bourke.
“The co-designing approach is one of the key success [factors] around this… When people feel a sense of relatedness and belonging, and they’re having a really genuine, human-centred conversation that isn’t compliance-driven or top-down, they will naturally respond to that.”
“Everybody has the ability to influence. Everybody can enable the work of others. And everybody has the ability to show up, if they have clarity around what’s expected.” – Meredith Carrington, Manager of Organisational Culture and Capability, EACH
In order to implement a framework like this, Bourke and Carrington suggest taking the time to think about the narrative and ground your design, actions and communication strongly in the ‘why’, and that needs to be linked to organisational strategy, vision, purpose and values.
“One thing that was critical to bringing our people on board was that we quite deliberately thought about branding. And we’ve carried that branding through the organisation so people always mentally recognise the next step in the Leading@EACH strategy,” says Carrington.
Employees at EACH can access information about the pipeline and the company’s leadership layers on-demand via the company’s intranet. These layers are visually represented to highlight that the framework is not a hierarchy, and that each layer is equally important and essential to achieving business objectives.
It’s crucial that employees understand the expectations at all layers of leadership, says Bourke, to understand the shift needed when moving between layers and to avoid confusion or micromanagement.
As a leader of teams, you need to empower and support your people to solve problems and deliver, rather than solving them yourself.
“If you don’t have that clarity, you can end up with a clogged pipeline, where you’ve got senior leaders having to work downstream. As you’re moving into leading functions for directorates and organisations, you need the ability to lead upstream and out.
“In terms of the horizon, [senior leaders] should be looking at the next three to five years, not only at what’s going on next week.”