Stepping sideways for a change

Are the people hiring future leaders even aware of other ways to skin the cat?

AUSTRALIAN business, especially agribusiness, is full of organisations that use vertical, top-heavy management styles to operate, resist change and innovation and give those at the top greater control, SAM TRETHEWEY wrote last week.

To follow this week, Sam shares some new concepts that leaders are integrating to ensure their businesses move with the times.

OLD school management styles put a lot of power at the top of the hierarchy - something those of you you familiar with my column will know I'm not too happy about.

To get an insight into how things could be different, I ran the above by one of Australia’s youngest females at the helm, Genevieve George.

Genevieve is the founder and managing director of OneShift – a website that matches people with jobs.

She told me that while old school management approaches still exist in Australia, as part of the new wave of Gen Y business owners, she believes that these styles and relationships are changing.

"Top-heavy businesses are on the way out and more relaxed work styles are taking over," she said.

"This does not relate to how we approach our work, but rather how we approach each other. From what I can see, businesses are collaborating together to produce a more supportive network which everyone can benefit from."

Gen has bought up a great point, that "businesses are collaborating together" - something autocratic models resist, but more flattened systems are built on.

The biggest difference between vertical and horizontal leadership is co-operation. A vertical leader doesn’t have to be a good follower. But a horizontal leader must know how to be trusted – and how to trust. In addition to being trustworthy; they must also be a risk-taker, and know how to be vulnerable.

Trust is also a huge part of cultural strength. And companies that have strong cultures, like any strong culture, make waves in their field. I’ve addressed this before in regards to Australian agriculture.

This all sounds like fluff I’m sure to the “old suit” types, but it’s fluff that has forged the way to success for big companies like Google, Virgin and Miele as well as a host of other small to medium businesses.

Last week, I noted the equation we’re using to manage and lead right now isn’t working. The values in the equation are past their use-by and don’t match this faster paced, globalised world - testified by the solution, which isn’t delivering. We need leaders that shift that equation, with new values, but unlike the ones before, they need to be variable.

Hiring and firing is one of the more effective ways to have the right people for the right outcomes and culture into a business. Last month's Harvard Business Review pointed out in a recent article (“21st Century Talent Spotting") that ‘potential’ now trumps brains, experience and competencies when looking for the best employees.

Potential adds variability to equation. The Harvard Business Review article stated that “in the past few decades, organisations have emphasised 'competencies' in hiring and developing talent. Roles have been decomposed into skills and filled by candidates who have them. But 21st century business is too volatile and complex – and the market for top talent too tight – for that model to work any more”.

Those hiring - or leading - should be focusing on ‘potential’ over existing competency, the article says: the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into new and challenging roles.

One Australian company leading the way in this is the ANZ bank: across the 33 countries they operate in, they continually hire staff with potential, then place them in roles that are complex and uncomfortable, as that’s where most of the learning comes from.

Are we hiring for that in agribusinesses around Australia? Or are the people hiring future leaders even aware of other ways to skin the cat?

One of the costs to this antiquated system of management and thinking is innovation. That’s one of the big edges players lead with in competitive marketplaces.

And as Bill Coughran - a senior vice president at Google - said: “the role of a leader of innovation is not to set a vision and motivate others to follow it. It’s to create a community that is willing and able to generate new ideas”.

Never truer words have been spoken, we have an opportunity in Australian agriculture to create that through new ways and structure that are built on the learnings from the past and leave open those in the future.

I believe in that, as do others, and it’s all something that is so much easier with horizontal management structures. Here's cheers to some sideways thinking for our sector.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
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15/07/2014 9:02:25 AM

This is all well and good Sam, but how do you measure potential? Or how does one promote themselves as having potential when they're applying for a job and going through the interview process, but don't have any experience to back them? It's all a bit ambiguous. From my experience going through job interviews over the years, companies/organisations prefer to see some "runs on the board" before they're willing to take a punt on some kind of gut feeling that someone has "potential", and I don't see that changing any time soon in the current economic climate.
Sam Trethewey
15/07/2014 10:02:31 AM

Lou: It's ambiguous to you because you're unaware of the process or systems leaders in HR are now using... How do you measure potential, the HBR suggests looking at: The right kind of motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination. ANZ, Google and others are using systems that work... obviously, they're going rather well.
15/07/2014 10:54:42 AM

I would have thought those "how do you measure potential" indicators - i.e. the right kind of motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination - were assets "systems leaders in HR" had been using for quite some time now... Nothing revolutionary there.
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