Efficiency Versus Engagement in Leadership

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 9th May 2016

For decades, a large proportion of UK managers and leaders have seen it as their primary responsibility to push for greater efficiencies, cutting costs, removing layers, streamlining services, and shedding people.

Top leaders are encouraged to drive their organisations almost exclusively through financial measures, and many have their careers and remuneration packages directly connected to measures of efficiency.

The logic of a focus on reducing costs to increase margins has been seen as almost irrefutable. But how effective is it really, and are there better ways of striving for organisational success?


A new leadership approach

Here’s the thing. We work in environments where more than 70% of employees don’t trust their managers, and only 30% actually feel engaged with their work.

Three of the highest-profile strategic challenges faced by UK organisations are engaging workforces, attracting and retaining talent, and bringing about innovation. These are predominantly ‘people’ issues, requiring an inspiring, engaging, empowering and developmental mindset, a human leadership style, and a focus on building successful and positive relationships across the organisation and with its stakeholders.

No matter how efficient an organisation is, it can’t achieve success if its people aren’t willing or able to make it happen. By scaling down workforces, at best what we achieve is the same for less. The only way to achieve more is by engaging employees enough to release the discretionary effort that is currently latent.

In our current situation, a management that continues to pursue further efficiency savings is only going to exacerbate the problem, disengaging even more of the workforce. It will reinforce the feeling that the organisation exists to increase the wealth of a small minority of people at the expense of the vast majority, and that employees are merely an overhead that will be retained or discarded at the whim of quarterly targets.

Achieving more

When thinking about the best way to accomplish organisational goals, we need to ask ourselves the following questions.

What is the purpose of an organisation? Is it simply to generate the maximum return on assets and the largest trading profits?

Or is it also a key part of the fabric of our society – a community, creating and sustaining the employment opportunities that a major economy needs to survive, while enabling the flow of services and money throughout the land for the good of all?

Is it the engine of innovation, creating and deploying new ideas that generate new opportunities and improvements in the standard of living of the population?

Or is it, perhaps, all of these?

If we are to address all of these issues at once, then a management cohort that is focused primarily on efficiency, and that steers only by financial measures, is not the right one to lead us towards a better tomorrow.

We need leaders who can inspire, motivate, empower and engage their workforces, and who can create a climate of innovation. We need leaders who actually recognise that their people are the source of all ideas, service and performance, and deserve to be treated as human beings, not just human resources. We need leaders who are taught how to be leaders, and who are ready to depart from the leadership principles of previous generations.

We live in a time of great promise in terms of new breakthroughs in science, technology and design, and these present unparalleled opportunities to build a better world. So it’s time to step up.

We deliver a range of professional programmes that support experienced, new and aspiring leaders to achieve recognised qualifications at graduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels. The programmes are suited to those at every level, from new graduates to supervisory staff, and right up to board level. Our flagship postgraduate and doctoral programmes, recognised by the Chartered Management Institute, help senior leaders to reflect on their strategic challenges and explore the latest thinking as they refresh and enhance their leadership capabilities and impact.

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