Leadership Commitment, a BIG Topic!

Some might say that for every cause there has gotta be a Leader, an icon that embodies the cause so to speak. And, that icon, that person must possess the ability to inspire others to have the commitment to the cause. And commitment… well this is a dedication to a cause, the cause being something bigger than the self. A cause can be described, visualised and documented.

The Leader really should have a plan, without which any efforts put into achieving an objective will be random at best, and probably not be interconnected so results – nothing like assured!

Or, to put it another way, a cause may well be worthwhile and in business the cause will be framed in commercial terms normally. But an organisation without Leadership to guide the people along a well planned path is not likely to succeed and so jobs will be lost and customers left without the great solutions your organisation could have provided. But I’m glad to say from my own experience its a rare organisation that doesn’t have some form of a strategic or business plan. Rare but by no means improbable.

Yet why is it then that some organisations fail to, or struggle with fulfilment of the cause?

Example; I once was involved with a company that had the goal of 0.5% defect rate. Admirable you may think but here’s the thing, they had records going back for several years all of which plainly demonstrated they consistently year-on-year missed the target. Sometimes not by much and other years by more than double.

There was clearly no evidence of a lack of commitment here; the staff seemed committed to the cause from all areas of the business, there were slogans on display committing to being being a world-class supplier and everyone understood the 0.5% commitment and yet the goal remained elusive. Why could this be?

I took up the challenge of trying to help and looked up Dr. Russell Ackoff, a pioneer of Systems Thinking to see what I could glean from his writings. From Dr. Ackoff I then went on to two further detailed studies he referred to, one by Arthur D Little and a second by Ernst & Young in which in both cases over 3000 respondents were asked about quality programs they had been involved in. In both studies more than 2 thirds said they had been a failure.

In both cases there appeared nothing wrong with the programs themselves, so the conclusion was there was something wrong with the way the people were trying to pursue them. The roadblock here is that organisations lack the knowledge needed to effectively implement quality improvement programs and achieve the results they want.

As a Lead Quality Auditor I can honestly say that over time I have fewer and fewer conversations with CEO’s/MD’ concerning the quality programs they oversee (and for that matter they have similar levels, if not less interest in the Health & Safety, Environmental and Information Security programs they also oversee).

Does this mean that the Senior Managers are less committed than they once were? No, not automatically anyway, their absence from the conversation is not absolute evidence of a lack of commitment.

Organisations tend to focus on the money-generating activities over all other activities. Areas such as Production Control, availability of materials, and staffing levels. The result is that these areas or activities are well resourced and understand clearly their purpose in delivering on the value proposition for the customer. Hardly ever have I found a problem in these areas. By contrast however, when I look at document control, change management, transfer of organisational information or internal communications the picture is often a very different one.

So I offer you some ideas on how best to report on characteristics of the business often overlooked;

  • Use a bold headline – CEO’s are big-picture people and less likely to feel they have the time to read through endless pages of data if it has no direct effect on them and their business performance
  • Provide evidence – whatever you are saying make clear the evidence you have, use examples and maybe 3 or 4 bullet points
  • Make clear what the risk is, so be sure to include it
  • Tell them who you collaborated with to generate the information

Present Your Argument in Writing

When dealing with a Leader it is well worth the effort of presenting your case in written form. The CEO/MD may want you to explain verbally face-2-face, or via video link or by phone but if you present them with a written proposal they can always look back on it in time and may well recall just who you are.

Programs that encourage commitment to a cause can in my experience be developed from deep within the organisation, it’s not just the job of the CEO/MD to dream them up, it’s often times your’s too. So if you are going to offer your thoughts I recommend strongly you make best use of your Quality (and other) Management Systems for structure;

  • Sell your quality program as a tool for improved output performance
  • Frame what you’re saying in terms used commonly by the Board or Industry Influencers
  • Talk about how investment in area’s lacking leads to an improvement in results
  • Offer to provide guidance on your proposals and give examples of how this approach has worked in the past

Leadership Commitment, a BIG Topic? You bet it is and it’s really up to you to Lead!

Leadership can come from any part of an organisation, you don’t wake one day, get promoted to boss and you magically acquire the ability to be a leader. You develop leadership ability over time and practice it as and when you can.

A leader needs a plan – you can be a leader, so make sure you have your plan and make sure it’s in-line with the organisational goals.

Tell the boss, CEO/MD (or whoever) about your plans, put them in writing and make them have impact.

Lastly, if you practice leadership often enough, and you accept you’ll screw-up from time-to-time then eventually you’re going to be recognised as an expert in your chosen field of leadership. You’ll so much improve your chances of more responsibility and the rewards that come with it.

Do you want help in developing leadership qualities in yourself or team?

Philip Dawson MBA

Strategy Consultant | Trainer | Systems Thinker

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