Leadership Assessment for our Inclusive, Digital and Authentic Age

Celine Floyd, Co-Director of Cappfinity’s Talent Practice, was recently joined by Jonathan Bond, Director of HR and Learning at Pinsent Masons and Lara Collins, Recruitment and Talent Director at boohoo, to discuss the urgent need to revolutionise leadership assessment on a global scale.

What are the challenges facing today’s leaders?

Today’s leaders face challenges relating to the evolution of the digital landscape, changing workforce demands, Brexit, climate change and the pandemic.  Where once a leader may have had to navigate one large challenge with several smaller issues at a time, today’s challenges have led to the need for a new type of leadership to deal with ongoing aftershocks, which has led to unprecedented pressure on our leaders.

The leader profile is therefore evolving to deal with this change, but only 14% of CEOs report they feel that they have the right leadership pipeline of talent in place to execute their business strategy (Harvard Business Review, 2020).  There is therefore even more pressure on existing leaders to be able to adapt to changing business needs.

Lara Collins explained that at boohoo, the specific challenges she sees relate to the Great Resignation, the new hybrid working environment and how they recreate the fantastic culture they had whilst working in the office, at home.

Boohoo is a young business, and the average staff member age is 29 years old.  Most of their workforce therefore fall into Generation Z, X and Y.  Talent in this age bracket is amongst the most likely to be seeking new opportunities.  So, retention is something they are working hard on.  It’s also difficult to recruit new staff because there are more job offers than candidates, especially in the supply chain, tech and digital arena.  Once new talent is hired, there is then another large piece of work around effectively onboarding them into the hybrid business.

Hybrid working is new for boohoo too and as a creative business, it is imperative that their staff are still able to innovate and collaborate in this environment.  Boohoo have adapted by starting from a place of trust and being clear about their expectations around delivery.

What does this mean for our leaders?

In terms of current leaders, it’s an acceptance of change.  Things are not going to go back to how they were pre-pandemic and so for those who are used to older working models, this time represents their change curve.  For businesses, there’s a need to understand the types of leaders that are going to be able to grasp these ever-shifting challenges and make things work in a new way to create the right culture.  This means understanding their leaders’ strengths.

Jonathan Bond reflected that there has never been a more difficult time to be a leader and that trust in leaders is currently at a record low level.  It’s important to take the time to earn people’s trust, and to do that, leaders must feel confident to be their authentic self by using their strengths.  Trust is built up over a long period of time, but it can be lost extremely quickly, so building people’s trust, recognising individual talent within teams and building an inclusive culture is very important.

Jonathan also said that he believes leadership has gone from being 3D to 4D, because as well as having generational challenges to leading a workforce, there is now location ambiguity brought about by the pandemic and where we want to work.  Finding a solution that works for the business and employees is a big challenge and one our leaders need to feel supported in.

What is good leadership going to look like?

Lara believes that good leadership will revolve around courage, confidence and commitment.  As always with leadership, it’s about building teams that are committed to common goals, but behaviours will also need to change to get the job done.  For example, right now leaders are demonstrating courage through the courage of their convictions.  Leaders will need to take this courage through to navigating the constant changes brought about by the pandemic, as well as continuing to take risks to grow the business.

Jonathan highlighted that one the biggest fears amongst those of working age is being shown-up or judged, this has a massive impact on creativity and performance, and so a key role for a leader is to create an environment of psychological safety, where people can experiment and try new things without fear of being laughed at.

Leaders must be passionate if they are going to inspire, so they need to demonstrate this through a clear love and commitment for what they do.  Finally, they need ambition and confidence, because you cannot have leaders in today’s climate that don’t believe they are able to achieve.

What are the benefits of a strengths-based approach to leadership recruitment and development?

Strengths philosophy comes from positive psychology, which looks at where people have natural strengths and energy, so when we’re talking about development and leadership profiles, we’re not necessarily trying to shy away from weaknesses, but we are trying to find the areas leaders thrive in and where they will have the best fit.

Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses leads to passionate, trustworthy, authentic leaders.  It’s important to instill the confidence in leaders to build a team around them that compliments any weaknesses they have, so that together they deliver a great result.

The methodology behind this looks at a leader’s competencies, but also considers how they’re feeling and how energised they are in those areas.  Combining the two elements in the assessment process allows you to get a better idea of what their authentic strengths are.

Assessing and developing based on strengths is also a much more inclusive way of doing things, because you are embracing people’s differences, celebrating what they are brilliant at and giving them opportunities to show them, whilst acknowledging weaknesses and building a team around them to fill the gaps.  This results in a much more balanced leadership team and encourages psychological safety whereby people feel able to have honest conversations.

How do you support leaders to become more digitally savvy?

Jonathan suggested that presenting ways in which technology can make our leaders’ lives better is perhaps the best way of doing this.  At Pinsent Masons, technology is used to present complicated information in an easy to interpret format, such as HR and selection committee documents for partner promotions.  They also use a board intelligence app, with all the information for board meetings pre-loaded for leaders to read anywhere, at any time.  This has been so successful, that there are now no paper copies of documents required for board meetings.  Digital assessments can also be tailored to the specific needs of the role and the company, negating the need for reliance on CVs only and helping to widen the talent pool.

Access to people is also much better, because leaders know their teams are available through technology, rather than having to have them positioned next to their desk every day in the office.  Technology can also be used to set boundaries, so yes, everyone is available, but notifications can be muted or switched off during the evening and at night to protect wellbeing boundaries for all.

Leadership assessment and development is making huge strides and many businesses have already embedded digital and inclusive ways of carrying out assessments, but more can and should be done to assess for strengths and to encourage leaders to fill gaps of talent within their teams.

Watch the full discussion here.