Senior Leadership Teams: : What it takes to make them great. (Book Review)

I was asked to review this book by the Health Service Journal and my review was published last month.

As a leader, have you ever considered whether you really need a leadership team? This question is often ignored or the leader assumes that they’ve answered it, until they realise that their leadership team has become dysfunctional. 

This book commences by asking this question, followed by five further questions about the purpose and membership of a top-team and how this has an impact on the organisation’s performance.   The answers to these questions can provide valuable insight into a team’s understanding of how well they are working together. 

The authors provide a template which, in their view, is the foundation of a successful team.  In order to establish a high-performing team, six necessary conditions are required:  three essential (real team, right players and compelling direction) and three enabling (solid structure, supportive environment, team coaching).  The authors suggest that all six conditions do not have to be in place when a team is formed, but evidence of the team’s potential to obtain them is a pre-requisite. 

The last section of the book offers four key competencies which the authors believe are essential for a top team to possess. The book also describes four different types of leadership teams (information, consultative, co-ordinating, or decision-making) and how they should be deployed in an organisation.  The authors provide numerous case studies, although the majority are American and only two relate to healthcare.

I would recommend this book to newly-appointed Chief Executives and their top teams.  Organisational Development professionals will find the book useful when developing staff engagement or communication strategies within an organisation. 

This book is realistic:  it recognises that the journey from a collection of senior managers to a high performing top-team can be hard and painful, but ultimately rewarding.  There is nothing new in this book, but it stops and makes you think.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars


Authors:  Wageman, Ruth, Nunes, Debra, A., Burruss, James, A., Hackman, J. Richard

Publisher:  Harvard Business School Press

 You can purchase this book from Amazon


What’s the point of Exit Interviews?

A recent post by the Evil HR lady was about Exit Interviews the different options available and getting valid reasons for leaving from departing staff.  There were some excellent suggestions for gathering real data, but I want to take it one step further…..

My view is there is little point in undertaking Exit Interviews.  I don’t believe they represent value for money.   Whether they are outsourced (ie through on-line exit interview packages) or done in house (face to face or via paper surveys), they take up considerable resources.  I commented on the Evil HR Lady’s post saying that I had recently recommended the implementation of on-line exit interviews to an organisation I was working with.  I’m not be contradictory here.  I’ll explain my position:

As an HR professional, I strive to deliver best practice in whatever project I’m working on.   Last year I was engaged to deliver a Staff Engagement Strategy within limit resources.   All the research on staff engagement states that undertaking exit interviews is one small, but crucial, element of such a strategy.  I therefore considered the various options and decided that going on-line was the most cost efficient option with the best potential for gathering significant data that could be reported to the Board. 

In the background is a whole raft of research out there including:

  • the majority of people leave their jobs is because of their manager / management;
  • a third of employees leave within a year following a bad appraisal;
  • Induction crisis (ie a poorly managed induction or poor recruitment, or both) is one of the main reasons why employees leave their jobs within the first year;

Therefore, exit interviews are seen as a way of gathering data to prevent the departure of valued staff.   A good exit interview should have an appropriate balance of data and anecdote – similar to that you would find in a good staff survey.   You need the data to be able to tangible measure against any pre-determined metrics.  The anecdotes provide context to the data.   And as the Evil HR Lady says, organisations need to act on this data.  And in my experience, many don’t and give excuses such as “The data isn’t meaningful enough for us to take action”.  

Therefore, a year older and a year wiser, I think I would now try and argue the fact that where resources are scarce (as they are in the NHS), exit interviews are not cost-effective.  Instead, I would support two surveys:

  1. An annual staff survey which would include staff’s intention to leave within the next twelve months and the reasons for this;
  2. An “Induction Crisis” survey, to be undertaken by staff who were within three to six months of starting with an organisation. 

The whole point is about keeping valued staff;  with exit interviews  we trying to close the stable door after the stallion has bolted.  So what’s the point?

Can you teach a manager to delegate?


@thehrstore recently tweeted the following question:

So what can done to make it easier for managers who find it tough to delegate? Any suggestions?

This is an interesting question.  My observation is that some people find delegation easy and for others it’s impossible.  And there’s a whole group of people in between who, with the appropriate support and advice, can become great delegators.

The first part of my answer would be to look at the recruitment process.  How are delegation skills tested in the assessment process?  The kind of qualities you are looking for are:

  1. The ability to see the bigger picture
  2. Good time management skills
  3. Focusses on outcomes as opposed to method
  4. Adopts a supportive and developmental approach to others.

When recruiting for a 1st level manager with no prior experience, you won’t be able to fully assess their ability to delegate.  Instead you’ll be looking for their potential.  In essence, you want to avoid recruiting the manager who believes “It’s Quicker If I Do Everything Myself”.   Unfortunately, some managers are appointed despite having this approach, as their techical expertise is valued more than their ability to manage.

The second part of my answer deals with the development of a manager once they are in post.   Any areas of development highlighted during the interview process should be factored into the new manager’s development programme.  And with regular supervision, 1:1 support, and informal intellegence, any other issues that arise within the first six months – particularly around  their management style and ability to delegate should be picked up.  

I always advocate a bespoke approach to a manager’s development.  You need to consider what their key learning needs are and their preferred learning style before investing in any training and development activity.  Motivation, level of committment and amount of time the manager has to invest in their development should also be considered.  One of the most effective and cost effective methods of developing a skill like delegation is through coaching.  I’m also a big advocate of thinking creatively about development

So, you can teach a manager to delegate, but only if you’ve appointed someone who has the ability to demonstrate this skill.   If it’s all about the recruitment process, I’d be interested to hear about any other qualities you believe contribute to good delegation skills.  Also, keen to hear bout any experiences of working with managers to improve their ability to delegate.