‘Creating People Advantage 2011. Time to act: HR certainties in uncertain times’.

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Translation of the Editorial for HENRY January Newsletter:


I had an opportunity to visit three Japanese companies last September – the idea was of course to become more familiar with the currently topical “Lean Management”. Although I had already several years read about this approach, it was anyhow quite impressive to join in the monthly “Gemba” meeting held by the Managing Director where the details on the agenda were systematically and concretely brought up for discussion together with the production crew.

When I returned to Finland, and followed the ongoing discussion on difficulties in strategy implementation, I realised that the term “agility” has perhaps hit better home in the strategy planning process and rhetoric than in managing people. When Western leaders present their strategies with PowerPoint images and agonise why the staff response is so indifferent, the Japanese leaders understand what it means to be “on the same wave length” with their employees. In our companies the staff steps into the conference rooms to hear presentations whilst their minds are in the football stadium – or worse still, quite many of them are on parking lot of the stadium – and ask each other ”what’s the Power, where’s the Point”? It is time to introduce “Shifting Leadership”. The very leader who used to sit at the tip of the organisational triangle will become successful only with the deep internalisation that in the operative business management the triangle has been revamped upside down. The sales executive who encounters every day “the king”, the customer, or the member of production crew who puts the finishing touch either on the product or service, are the new frontline staff. The role of a leader is to become the coach of his team: listening, asking, helping, challenging, clarifying and making sure that right decisions are taken. What shifting leadership calls from us is capability of giving better support to and of enriching the decision making.

Luckily we are forced to improve on this as the “Generation Y” (born in 1980 or afterwards) already have a presence in the working life. It has the needed courage, and it will exercise its power to challenge their “Baby-boomer” (born 1940 – 1960) and their “Generation X” (born 1960 – 1980) bosses to put in order the basic elements of leadership like fairness, encouragement, sense of responsibility, ongoing dialogue and feedback. Generation Y is group-orientated and have a high self-esteem. What shifting leadership calls from us is a much better grasp of the situation and an adequate dose of humbleness.

From my perspective the greatest challenge of all is how we can pay attention to those quiet, loyal everyday heroes of the workplace who week after week perform their duties with high professional skill. Very often they do not get enough credit and positive feedback. Their well-being is now under heavy pressure as even more work has been pushed onto them during the recession. Dealing with problem cases consumes an unproportionally big share of time from us team leaders and HR professionals. In Talent Management we focus on the so-called high fliers as assets. The inconspicuous who toil at their work pass unnoticed, because we take it for granted that they are always available and “fit for fight”. Shifting leadership calls from us a new inspirational grip in engaging these people.

This is a starting shot for further discussion amongst HENRY network under the multi-dimensional and versatile annual theme “Shifting Leadership”.

I wish a Happy New Year to all HENRY subscribers.

Kenneth Soderholm
President of the Finnish Association for Human Resource Management – HENRY Ltd
SVP, Human Resources Development
Fazer Group