Kate Moss is probably better known for her choice of boyfriends and her fashion sense. But last month, the supermodel unwittingly caused a stir among senior executives at fashion chain Topshop when the company’s brand director Jane Sheperdson left amid rumours she hadn’t been consulted on Moss’s £3m appointment to design her own range of clothing.
A lack of consultation among senior staff can cause resentment and misunderstanding, and HR directors should take heed from the Topshop example, says Lucy McGee, director at HR consultancy DDI.
“The senior team is often not a team at all, but a group of very driven, individual, high achievers,” she says.
“If you don’t take some steps to foster some sense of team spirit, they will often function as lords of their own fiefdoms. They may end up operating independently, and sometimes even competitively, and view attempts at a more collaborative working style as interference.”
While HR professionals can’t always be expected to mediate in such situations, they can use their professional and technical skills to encourage team coaching to avoid crises occurring in the first place, she says. “Teams work far better if they have an understanding of one another’s preferences and strengths and weaknesses.”
Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says that teambuilding courses and ‘away days’ can help.
“Any organisation that wants to get its senior people ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ needs to see it as a priority,” he says.
“So much of top management misbehaviour and backbiting is simply a belief that you have a mission that’s different from your colleague across the corridor.”
Helen Pitcher, chief executive of HR consultancy Cedar, believes HR should promote a culture of “very honest, very frank discussions so that people don’t get to crisis point”.
Senior figures often forget that they can still progress their career at their current employer, she says.
“We so often talk to clients where any conversations about their future have been initiated by headhunters or venture capitalists, rather than anyone from within their organisation.”
Female executives are often the worst culprits of misunderstanding their senior colleagues because they perceive the executive board to be a predominately male domain, says Olwyn Burgess, client services director at HR consultancy Chiumento.
“When women have been mentored by senior males outside their industry, they can gain an understanding of how that gentlemen’s club works and get inside a male head,” she says.
Whatever the make-up of their senior team, employers need to breed a culture of consultation where top managers are not overruling each other all the time, concludes Karen Black, head of the employment law team at Boodle Hatfield.
Ultimately, if someone feels they have been so badly treated that they have no option but to walk out, they could claim for constructive unfair dismissal, she advises.
Top tips on supporting senior management
Take measures to ensure senior teams share the same objectives.
Stay close to your senior directors and help them think through the implications of some of their decisions.
If your top team is not united about the organisation’s strategy, how can people at any level of the organisation know what’s expected of them?
By Kate Hilpern