Leadership Considerations in Productivity Improvement

Leadership Considerations in Productivity Improvement by Kevin Erickson, Productivity Alberta

There are a wide variety of concepts within the area of leadership; all of which are important and informative. However, I’d like to look briefly at just a few that I believe have a particularly important link to an organization’s success in building a culture of continuous improvement. This does not mean that the concepts are mutually exclusive of any others, but they should challenge you to think about leadership and how it relates to productivity improvement efforts.

Leader vs. Leadership
leadership_article_graphic_feb_2013It is important to understand the difference between leader and leadership. A leader is the individual that, whether formally recognized as such or not, provides influence over others. Leadership refers to the process, in context, of building social networks, developing commitments, and accessing resources.1

Leadership development is concerned with improving the strength and quality of these leadership processes and social systems. Leader development, on the other hand, is concerned with improving the strength and quality of an organization’s human capital through the use of a combination of individually focused competency models, assessment tools, training, and coaching.

Therefore, the organization needs to pay attention, not only to developing productivity improvement leaders (Champions, Sponsors, Black Belts, etc.), but also the systems that encourage its people, from managers to maintenance, to think about its formal strategy, operations, and processes with productivity improvement in mind. These systems may include a variety of processes such as rewards & recognition, recruiting, communication, or reporting structures. Aligning these systems with productivity improvement efforts will help enable its leaders in managing the changes that the improvement efforts bring.

Values-Based Leadership
leadership_article_graphic2_feb_2013Values-based leadership recognizes that leadership is a social process. Any organization is its people, and therefore, leaders must understand that they do not have “control” over the larger group of individuals. Individuals within an organization are free to leave at any time. They can choose to put 110 percent effort into their job or to do just what it takes to get by. They can provide innovative ideas or they can sabotage the effort of others without anyone knowing. This includes productivity improvement efforts.

In order to achieve maximum collaboration and effort from the individuals, a leader’s values “must be rooted in the most fundamental of moral principles: respect for people.”2 They must “always and at all times [be] focused on enlisting the hearts and minds of followers”.3 By understanding one’s own values and beliefs and grounding them in this philosophy, a leader is able to create trust which will help them overcome the resistance that typically occurs during change efforts. This is shown by the fact that “trust is the most significant predictor of individuals’ satisfaction with their organizations.”4

In order to create sustainable leadership in an organization, these values must be embedded in the culture of the organization through understanding its shared values. This requires an organization to “help individuals understand their own values and beliefs”. This can be done through various formats of clarifying personal values and then establishing a set of core values that are shared by the collective group. “In a practical, business sense, values-based leadership provides for internal, strategic unity while at the same time encouraging independent entrepreneurial initiative.”5 This entrepreneurial initiative will be critical for individuals within the organization as they embrace the concepts within productivity improvement.

Shared Leadership
leadership_article_graphic3_feb_2013Continuing the view of leadership as a social process, leadership should be recognized as occurring naturally within the social system. According to Doyle and Smith, “such leadership does not reside in a person.”6 Kouzes and Posner said “Leadership can happen anywhere, at any time.”7 Understanding this point is critical to the success of change efforts. It is an understanding that the social system that the leader is attempting to influence is seeing influence exerted on it from many different areas, both internal and external.

In a shared leadership model, communications and shared values are essential and leadership should be evaluated by how organizational processes enable people to work together. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that consideration is given to constructing processes that will support shared leadership in order to strengthen leadership throughout an organization and not just within individuals.

The fact that an organization’s productivity improvement efforts are doomed if they do not address the required cultural components seems to be largely accepted. However, many organizations still fail to do this effectively.

I suggest that it is simply because most organizational leaders are over-confident in their understanding of leadership. This, of course, is not in disrespect to these leaders. Rather, it is a recognition that many successful leaders get where they are due to varying skillsets that are not always leadership specific but equally valuable. Leaders appear to recognize that productivity improvement includes managing the social system.

I believe that, if leaders approach improvement efforts in their leadership processes with the same rigor as improvements in their operational processes, the success rate among organizations launching productivity improvement initiatives would increase markedly.

For more information
To read more on productivity improvement and see examples of productivity leaders at work, head over to the Productivity Alberta blog.

  1. Paul Iles and David Preece, “Developing Leaders or Developing Leadership?”, SAGE Publications 318, vol. 2(2006), http://lea.sagepub.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/cgi/reprint/2/3/317, (accessed January 8, 2009).
  2. James O’Toole, Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership, (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 1996), 11.
  3. Ibid, 11.
  4. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 227.
  5. James O’Toole, Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership, (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 1996), 71.
  6. Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith, “Shared Leadership”, The Encyclopedia of Informal Education (2001).
  7. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 8.

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