Series: Six Fundamentals of Fast Growth (4)

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So, we have talked about embedding your values and the importance of having the correct operating model in place, which is supported by clear roles and responsibilities. This series talks about ‘6 Fundamentals of Fast Growth‘. Unfortunately we cannot opt to take some of these on board and leave others out.

The importance of ensuring your leadership team is engaged is critical for growth success.

Many organisations focus on ensuring that staff are engaged but believe it’s simply a manager’s duty to be engaged themselves. Consider how ineffective our HR strategies would be and how difficult it would be to motivate and engage staff if our leaders themselves were disengaged.

Recent research suggests that on average only 47% of UK MD’s are in fact engaged. Senior management levels of engagement average at around 69% (Source: Achievers). So if we do not take the time to ensure engagement at the top, we are going to have significant issues when we next look at staff engagement.

We must caution confusing ‘incentivised’ with ‘engaged’. providing significant equity may mean the boss turns up everyday and does his job (to some extent) but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are delivering to the extent they could be.

We’ve spent considerable time in businesses looking at engagement levels of leaders so how do we assess this?

Your staff will tell you to some extent how engaged their managers are when you hold engagement sessions with them, ideally independently facilitates. The way in which the leader sets strategy, direction and how they lead and develop their teams are all signs of levels of engagement.

By interviewing managers in a range of sectors we often find disengagement. This may be caused by certain fundamentals of fast growth not being in place i.e. an ineffective operating model/organisational structure or frustration linked to the lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities. Many Leadership Teams operate with an unhealthy level of conflict. In our experience, the best Leadership Teams are those where management meetings are not all about patting each other on the back but where the team challenge each other, hold each other to account and support each other. Sadly, some management teams feel that they can vent their frustrations openly and have ‘corridor conversations’ about each other, which is heard by the team and this creates a toxic culture. if we believe our staff and clients do not see these behaviours we are mistaken.

So how do you get the elephants out of the room? A bit like engagement with staff, many leaders fear tackling this stuff as it risks opening ‘a can of worms’. Many managers do not like conflict and believe that their careers will be affected if they speak up. The only way to address these issues, without radically changing out the team, is to take the elephants into the room. Ask your leaders what they think the elephants in the business are, but be prepared to listen and act.

Bring elephants into the room, in a group discussion, and put them under the spotlight and highlight them (everyone knows what they are anyway). This process gives the opportunity to provide clarity on issues which cause the frustration and whilst there may not always be answers that everyone is happy with; it does lead to an outcome. One of the most common issues we face is equity distribution. MD’s may feel reluctant to close this conversation down and so they leave it open – a continuous carrot which is there to try and retain managers. Sometimes you have to just tell the team that whilst you may be able to incentivise them in other ways no more equity will be issued. If you lose a manager due to this, then the chances are they are disengaged anyway so we need to be careful about creating expectations.

Some managers will never be happy – just like some staff wont. We always want the best staff and not always the right staff; so if the discussions continue to occur around their demands perhaps they need to move on. There is always someone out there to fill the role and do it just as well, but the hassle factor concerns often prevail.

So, look at your managers as you do your staff. Your managers have a duty to engage others but you have a duty to engage them. Identify their issues, cut out the noise and agree the key blockers causing barriers to growth. Once you have done that address the issues or close them down if you cannot, ideally providing reasons why and communicate what you have done to address the issues(s). Unfortunately, the CEO or MD do not typically have someone looking out for them and their engagement levels, which perhaps explains the delta between MD and Senior Management engagement.

So, what elephants do you have in your organisation and is it time for them to leave the building?

Get the fundamentals in place and head into advanced growth or plateau, fire fight and potentially go into decline. The choice is yours.

If you would like more information please drop us a line at

Dean Hunter is Founder of Hunter Adams, a UK leading HR consultancy which grew 2000% in its first three years of trade and was recognised as ‘Best New Company’ in 2015 (Scottish Business Awards).