High-performance working is a method of working that promises increases in productivity of 20 per cent if staff are motivated, involved and offered autonomy.
This is a prize worth fighting for, but our research shows that unless organisations appoint leaders with appropriate styles of leadership, they are unlikely to achieve it. On a positive note, the research highlights HR practices that can help organisations to appoint the right kinds of leaders. The literature on leadership suggests that it is a combination of transformational leadership and the contingent reward element of transactional leadership that will create a culture of high-performance working.
(The former focuses on inspiring and motivating individuals by paying attention to their needs, whereas the latter seeks to motivate through rewards that are dependent on performance.) In contrast, the literature identifies "laissez-faire leadership" and "management by exception" – where management is invisible until things start to go wrong – as styles that will undermine attempts to introduce high-performance working.
Given the critical link between leadership style and high-performance working, it becomes vital to select managers with transformational and contingent reward leadership skills. However, our research revealed serious obstacles in the way of selecting for these skills. In particular, recruiters would sometimes substitute criteria of their own devising for those laid down in job specifications. Leadership skills could also be enormously difficult to measure.
These lessons came from studying the way two public-sector organisations approached the task of leadership selection, and comparing this with their track record in introducing high-performance working.
One organisation, where there was little evidence of high-performance working, had a recruitment system that described selection criteria in transformational and transactional leadership terms. But interviewers in this organisation used a different set of criteria when selecting candidates.
The other organisation, where indicators of high-performance working were more in evidence, had succeeded in ensuring that the leadership criteria in job specifications were applied at interview. It did this through training that emphasised the importance of these criteria, while also placing them in the context of a leadership framework, focusing on seven broad areas of competence. These included "achieving personal growth" and "active leadership", with the latter focusing on fostering commitment, diversity and a learning culture. This leadership framework was used not only for recruitment but also underpinned many of the organisation's other HR practices.
Discussions with key players revealed some initial difficulties in gaining acceptance for this framework. However, the short-term problems were balanced by the long-term success achieved by the organisation. This goes to show how careful concentration on leadership skills in recruitment, as well as in other HR processes, can create the conditions necessary for high-performance working. Key points
• Organisations must recruit leaders with appropriate leadership styles if high-performance working is to be achieved.
• Recruiters tend to use selection criteria that they’ve devised themselves, ignoring those in the job specification.
• Recruiters agree that identifying candidates' leadership styles is inherently difficult.
• The criteria used in recruitment, appraisal or training processes need to reflect the leadership styles that the organisation values.
Gloria Moss, Lyn Daunton, Roz Gasper
Prof.Lakshman 5th December 2006 From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa