Follow your leader

Effective leadership and a healthy corporate culture – you can’t have one without the other. That’s the message from two HR professionals speaking at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development’s 21st century leadership seminar at its conference in Harrogate next week.

Abbey’s director of resourcing and development, Laurence Barratt, and Andrew Newall, global director for change management and delivery centres with Allied Domecq, are engaged in huge projects to reshape their organisations. They face very different circumstances, but the importance of leadership in the cultural shifts they are overseeing is common to both.

Abbey is the UK’s fifth biggest bank. When it made a loss for the first time, in 2002, it gave itself 1,000 days to ‘turn banking on its head’ and transform the way customers relate to their money.

For Abbey, creating a culture that nurtures leadership at all levels was vital to ensuring every individual sees their place in the new way the business operates. Barratt didn’t turn to existing methods when he embarked on this journey.

“Many leadership models are highly generic,” he says. “They make interesting reading, but they’re not really that helpful. You must define leadership according to the needs of the business.”

He believes you can only do that if the business is fully supportive. “HR has a key role in transferring capability, but it is not its job to run the business. If the business doesn’t have the idea that you have to transform the culture, then you have failed,” he says.

If the aim of the business is to transform the customer’s relationship to their money, HR has a job to do in delivering that by transforming its people’s relationship to the brand. “If you want a culture change to be successful you have to connect things so they make sense to people. People are influenced by many things – their individual targets, immediate workmates, family and life outside work – and you’re competing for space against these,” Barratt says.

“If you want a business that works in a certain way, HR processes have to be aligned with what it aims to give its customers. Your people should know what they do every day and that the rewards they get are connected to the way customers see the brand,” he adds.

Drinks company Allied Domecq is globalising its operations to bring together several functional and regional operations into one single brand. Though it faces a quite different challenge to that of Abbey, making a global business and brand from a company that operates in 80 countries and speaks 36 languages means it has to undergo a massive shift in corporate culture.

“We had to gel the organisation in a way it had not been before,” says Newell. “We used techniques usually found in the marketing department to get a brand essence for our people that would create a common purpose, and came up with six values – integrity, performance with passion, learning, unity, diversity and celebration. The values are basic human truths so everyone can relate to them.”

As with Abbey, enabling leadership is a key aim for Allied Domecq as it shapes a new culture. Sporting connotations have been employed for their ability to be recognised and understood worldwide.

“We created the concept of the ‘real player’,” says Newall. “People relate to it in Beijing, Brazil or wherever you go.”

As in sport, motivation and support are needed in business to get the best out of the people. Barratt is clear that senior management have to be role models, but he emphasises that it’s the culture of the organisation that nourishes the leaders at all levels. “Culture is how the world influences people, and leadership is the way people influence the world,” he says. “The culture of your organisation should be supportive enough to allow its leaders to move it in the direction it needs to go.

“Our philosophy of leadership is a ‘pull’ approach. If people don’t want to lead, they won’t. The only way is to support those who want to take part – go where the energy is.”

Top tips on leadership for HR professionals

– Make sure you have the right leaders at senior level

– If the culture is on a different wavelength to the business you are trying to build, you will fail

– Scale and speed are key. You need a significant culture shift within one to two years, and to do that you need to focus on how elements of culture connect to the aims of the business

– Transfer capability to people and make it clear that the cultural and leadership attributes you are trying to bring about are what make people fit to do their jobs

– Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That sums up what we want to do.

Laurence Barratt, director of resourcing and development, Abbey

See them at Harrogate

Laurence Barratt and Andrew Newall will be talking at the seminar ‘HR and the 21st Century Leader’ on Wednesday 27 October at the CIPD annual conference in Harrogate. Go to www.cipd.co.uk/annualconf-ex for more on the conference

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