Shellye Archambeau: Leaders in Business Are Human-Centric

10/07/2015
humancentricblog

In the technology sector, it’s easy to forget that effective leadership means more than creating the hot new product or being the first to get it to market. Indeed, countless companies rapidly reach success, yet struggle to grow, innovate or sustain momentum.

Effective leadership means creating a self-sustaining environment in which employees are supported and recognized, yet motivated to keep propelling the company forward. Human-centric leaders understand that without their workers, not even the greatest game-changing idea will go far.

This is true for even the most demanding leaders. Steve Jobs for example, was well known for being tough on his employees, even allegedly firing them in the elevator if their departments were slated to be dismantled. Yet even Jobs highlighted the value of his workers, saying: “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have … it’s about the people you have.” Another powerful leader, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page, echoed Jobs’ human-centric view, saying: “My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.”

While Jobs and Page had very different leadership styles, they shared a common understanding that the people working for them ultimately drove the success of their organizations. Here are four attributes that I believe set apart the leaders of tomorrow:

Penchant for teamwork and creativity

As LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman put it: “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” Teamwork – or the lack of teamwork – can quickly lead to either the success or demise of a company.

The most forward-looking leaders I know do their best work in teams. They are attuned to the needs of their employees, and have woven teamwork and accountability into their corporate cultures. Multinational auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, well known for its focus on employees, is consistently ranked among the best places to work. It’s also extremely successful, currently ranked as the fifth-largest private company in the US, with fiscal year 2014 revenue of $34bn.

Human-centric organizations are helping to evolve the way teams and senior management work together. In 2014, online retailer Zappos.com became the largest company to announce that it would adopt “holacracy,” a new-age structure that removes authority from traditional management hierarchies and distributes power to employees with clear roles.

Zappos took the unusual step of eliminating job titles, managers and micromanagement in favor of nimble, self-managed teams. In an interview with QuartzJohn Bunch, one of the leaders of the organizational transition, summarized the benefits for Zappos employees. “One of the core principles is people taking personal accountability for their work,” he said. “Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their own roles, and holacracy empowers them to do so.”

While Zappos’ radical structure might not be a fit for all organizations, its focus on empowering individual employees and teams exemplifies a potentially transformative approach companies can use to encourage innovation and achievement.

Innovating, not just creating

Companies produce new products and services every day, yet very few manage to keep innovating over the long term. One major reason is stagnation: organizations often discourage innovation by failing to provide employees with resources, empowerment and reinforcement to transform their ideas into realities. However, more businesses are beginning to understand the value that innovation-focused programs can have on their long-term health.

In April 2015, futurist, speaker and The Future of Work author Jacob Morgan cited the successful internal innovation programs of companies like Adobe, LinkedIn, Whirlpool and Ericsson He argued that these differing companies all shared a common goal: to encourage the creation and sharing of ideas. He said they all followed a similar path, providing access to experimental funds needed to get ideas off the ground, run testing and integrate the new creation if successful.

By providing all employees – regardless of title or years of experience – with not just an outlet to share ideas, but also a sense of ownership in the company’s future, these businesses have made innovation into a consistent and lucrative practice.

Emphasizing diversity

The technology industry continues to face challenges in attracting, retaining and developing a diverse workforce. As one of a handful of female African-American CEOs in Silicon Valley, this issue is particularly near and dear to my heart. While I would like to believe I have never been personally singled out or excluded from opportunities based on my race or sex, I have. Many times it is unconscious bias versus focused discrimination. While people’s perceptions and views cannot be changed overnight, today’s human-centric leaders must recognize the value of diversity amongst their teams; this includes diversity of thought, culture, education and experience, and we must all take action to create positive and long-term change.
Some of the biggest names in technology – Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple ¬– publicly acknowledged the lack of diversity within their own workforces and detailed their plans for change. Recently, Apple reported it had hired more diverse candidates in the past 12 months than in any previous year. But while 35% of new hires were women, 13% were Hispanic and 11% were African American, one good year can’t balance decades of neglect. Research from Ernst & Young, McKinsey & Company and others has shown again and again that diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones.

At CES 2015, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich made headlines when, after disclosing the company’s challenges with diversity, he pledged $300m to advance diversity initiatives in the tech sector. And with the diversity problem extending beyond Silicon Valley, tech communities around the US, including Portland, Oregon, have been outspoken in their commitment to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities.

Resolving diversity problems requires not only the support of strong leaders like Krzanich, Cook, Zuckerberg and Page, but also of small startups and midsized enterprises. Leaders cannot be afraid to open themselves up, change recruiting and hiring practices, put companywide goals in place, and measure outcomes against their objectives. Along the way, they need to encourage mentorship of diverse team members, broadening of talent pools and an increase of transparency regarding their initiatives. Only with conscious awareness can the tech sector and businesses in general begin to set long-term change into motion.

Never saying “die”

Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston once said: “Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.” This focus on tenacity, perseverance and productive failure is critical in the technology sector, where innovations are often the outcome trial and error. Even so, companies often allow the perceived risks of failure to consistently outweigh the potential rewards of bold experimentation.

On a daily basis, technology companies – particularly startups – encounter new issues and opportunities to improve, in terms of product development, business operations, funding, customer service and more. The difference between those that succeed and those that don’t boils down to courage, resiliency and the ability to deliver results despite uncertainties that the business faces.

In today’s world, economies don’t operate with predictability or certainty. Business plans fall through and setbacks occur. But a qualified and capable team – led by someone with a courageous “never say die” philosophy – will be in a much stronger position, regardless of everything else.

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As business leaders, we have a tremendous responsibility in how we build and grow our organizations, and adopting a human-centric approach is vital to that process. Hiring the best, most diverse talent is the first step. We must also create an environment in which employees can reach their full potential while positively impacting the business. And fostering strong teamwork and accountability is essential in helping the people you hire reach their greatest potential.

We need to inspire our employees to do better and be better every day. We have to raise the bar on innovation at every opportunity. The best innovations happen when cultures are inclusive and value diverse thought and ideas from all types of people.

Shellye Archambeau is the CEO of MetricStream, a market leader in governance, risk and compliance (GRC) apps.

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