Comment: Adopting a new style of leadership

Standard Life: Changing leadership strategy successfully. Picture: Neil Hanna

Standard Life: Changing leadership strategy successfully. Picture: Neil Hanna

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A new style of leadership can boost businesses, writes Simon Hayward

We live in a world where technology, the internet and social media enable customers to tell companies exactly what they think of them, exactly when they want to.

So how can Scottish businesses respond quickly to changing customer needs and competitive pressures?

All too often, new initiatives get bogged down in bureaucracy and a lack of accountability. Where there is a lot of noise but not a lot of output, we have to ask if the customer is front-of-mind.

Many of Scotland’s most forward-thinking business leaders are cutting through unnecessary bureaucracy to embrace a new style of “connected leadership”, eschewing hierarchy in favour of shared responsibility. Instead of making every decision at the top of an organisation, they enable decisions to be made closer to the customer – where they have the greatest impact.

“Letting go” of control can be a frightening thought for many leaders. But for those not afraid to share power, the benefits in terms of increased customer satisfaction, sales and productivity can be tremendous.

To make this work, it is important that employees are capable of making decisions in line with the organisation’s overall strategy, purpose and values. This creates the sort of agile business which can respond to changing customer needs very swiftly.

Often this requires real cultural change across the organisation. You need a climate where people not only feel comfortable about taking responsibility but also safe enough to take risks.

One organisation that is transforming how it operates in order to be more customer-centred is Standard Life.

It has recognised that customers are driving change, and that it is essential to adapt to achieve the vision of being customers’ first choice for life savings. Standard Life has ensured its internal culture underpins its vision through our values and behaviours.

The role of the modern, connected leader is to ensure that employees can communicate in line with a clear set of values, and create a supportive culture where employees can make decisions that benefit both the customer and the business.

• Simon Hayward is chief executive of Cirrus, a leadership specialist. His book, Connected Leadership, will be published by FT Publishing in December

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