Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wanted: Bosses who show they care

By Marissa Lee

WE ALL want a certain something from our bosses but what the head honchos actually deliver can be off the mark, according to a new survey.

Human resources consultancy Towers Watson polled 20,000 employees in 22 countries from last November to January and found that two-thirds placed caring about others' well-being as a leader's most desirable trait.

Trustworthiness was next, followed by encouraging talent development and leading changes in practices and policies effectively.

While these desired qualities would mostly fall under the umbrella of people skills, the top four traits actually found in leaders tend to be more task-oriented, according to the study.

These four traits comprise being trustworthy, which 61 per cent of employees agree is evident in their bosses, exemplifying organisational values (60 per cent), effectively communicating change (60 per cent) and effectively managing risks (58 per cent).

'Employees increasingly want their leaders to connect with them on a more emotional level, out of concern and not just out of necessity,' said Dr Brent Ruge, Towers Watson's head of employee surveys in South-east Asia.

Managers who are only managers cannot be leaders, and with all the buzz about productivity, closing the manager-leader expectation gap is now more relevant than ever.

Along with efficient organisational structures and cost control, Dr Ruge lists employee engagement as one of the cornerstones of a productive company, and that engagement must stem from employees having their leadership expectations met.

'In general, when people's expectations are not met, it could drive down their engagement, make them not work as hard,' Dr Ruge said.

'All else being equal, you want to have good people practices to take advantage of all that infrastructure you've built within the company.'

But there are other more uniquely Singaporean obstacles standing in productivity's way.

Dr Ruge said: 'Your strength is your weakness. In Singapore, there is a lot of emphasis on individual talent, which makes people very competitive individually. But the downside to that is a long-term trend in the difficulty of teamwork and collaboration with other work units.

'From what I've seen over the years, Singaporeans tend to work well in small teams, but when you talk about cross-team collaboration, it tends to break down.'

One reason why competition works against productivity is that collaboration is not built into the rewards system. According to Dr Ruge, most companies' key performance indicators are built around individual attainment and do not place a substantial emphasis on teamwork. So when teams are made to work on cross-division projects, their priorities are not aligned as they should be.

'It's natural that people focus on what they're measured on,' said Dr Ruge.

Companies should therefore set clearer teamwide, companywide goals and align performance systems to those greater goals.

Other findings from the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, which polled 1,022 employees in Singapore, showed that workers here were more 'mobile' than their global counterparts.

Only 25 per cent of workers here said they had no plans to leave their current employers, compared with 42 per cent globally. And half of Singapore employees are willing to switch organisations when suitable job opportunities arise, compared with just one-third globally.

With Singapore recovering from the recession much faster than the United States and Europe, Dr Ruge also pointed to job-hopping as a potential problem on the horizon.

'Because Singapore has climbed the economic ladder and more jobs now are high-knowledge, high-skill jobs, any turnover you experience is going to be more painful and will affect productivity to a greater extent,' he said.

'So you want to make sure you retain your people and inspire them to expend some discretionary effort on behalf of the organisation.'

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