EMEA Next Practices: Creating Enterprise Leadership with Rob Cross

The Next Practices Weekly call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders each Thursday at 11am ET / 8am PT. On this week's call, i4cp Vice President, Business Development & PartnershipsJohn Sutton and i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone were joined by special guest Rob Cross, Senior Vice President of Research at i4cp to discuss his research on "Creating Enterprise Leadership: How Top Quartile Leaders Collaborate." Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Cross began by noting that it is not a good idea to simply increase your network and expect greater collaboration benefits. In fact, there is a negative relationship between simply knowing a lot of people and the likelihood of success.
  • Cross noted that when facing collaborative overload, busy leaders often think about their big projects and big time commitments first. But the research suggests that when overwhelmed, focus instead on the minutia and the routine that are taking up time, causing stress, etc.
  • For example, consider if you can cut back on meetings where you aren't providing critical value. And don't jump in on a project or email thread if the help you can give will be minimal.
  • One participant noted that there can be a tension, as being of service is one of their company values and it drives a lot of unsolicited 'helping'.
  • Another participant noted that at her organization they are going through a cultural change that includes emphasizing impact/outcomes over activity, but that they have a long way to go. It is the right goal, but the behavioral change is something that will take time to achieve.
  • Author John Boudreau added the following insight in the participant chat: "My sense is that it is very common that virtually everyone has too little idea about what things really make a difference in organization or unit performance.  Back in 2007, Pete Ramstad and I (and later Ravin Jesuthasan) talked about 'Return on Improved Performance' (ROIP).  The key question is NOT 'what's important?' but 'where would improving performance make the biggest impact on our key outcomes?' I find that shifting to this second question changes a LOT of how people think about who is vital, what to work on, and what it means to have a talent strategy."
  • We asked the following poll question of event participants: "What action--if done more systematically--could most improve your collaborative efficiency?"
    • 36% I block time in my calendar for reflective work.
    • 21% I proactively shape others’ expectations of my role to streamline collaborative demands.
    • 14% I periodically remove routine information requests, decisions and meetings from my work-stream.
    • 14% I strategically schedule time for collaborations important to my professional and personal goals.
    • 7% I position my involvement in collaborative work where I add unique value.
    • 7% Clarity on expertise and values I want to experience guides collaborative work I seek out or accept.
    • 0% I proactively initiate network connections important to my professional and personal success.
    • 0% I employ regular meetings and/or technology to address one-off requests at a single point in time.
  • Cross noted that he wasn't surprised to see the top response was "I block time in my calendar for reflective work." While it is not the most strategic of the actions in the list, there is a very real loss of productivity--especially for reflective, conceptual, or creative work--due to the fracturing of time throughout the day. This loss arises from the constant context switching between meetings, emails, creative work, etc.
  • He also offered up that some people don't block off time for reflective work, but do the opposite in blocking time for collaboration or email/Teams/Slack time and don’t check those except during those specific times of the day.
  • Another important predictor of being a highly successful leader is having a diversified network, not necessarily a very large network (except in certain fields, such as being a real estate agent for instance).
  • Leaders who are highly successful also spend 15-20% more exploration time within their diverse network (both internal and external to their current organization). Why? Because such leaders stop seeing problems through an overly narrow lens. They also end up having more opportunities over time.
  • In addition, often the biggest career moments do not come "in bright neon lights." They are often micro-moments, that because you leaned-in you received significant benefit. But this practice, as well as spending a bit more exploration time with people in your network, are too often the practices that people jettison first when they experience overload.
  • Cross noted that medium time horizon network ties are critical to achieve execution and scale. Specifically, boundary-spanning ties are critical to individual innovation and performance on four fronts:
    • Cultivate connections to break out of narrow ideas. Identify domain experts, technical specialists, and downstream stakeholders or consumers whom you should engage as work evolves.
    • Tap networks to fill knowledge gaps. Reflect on technical skills, market knowledge, cultural understanding, or political awareness gaps related to your work.
    • Envision projects as sets of activities for a network. Identify activities to distribute in network. Diffuse ownership early, create mutual wins, and advance development objectives. Exit the center of the network.
    • Connect with influencers to gain perspective and efficiency. Reflect on formal leaders and stakeholders – informal influencers and energizers who will spread the word, and naysayers or detractors who will slow diffusion.
  • Another important element that impacts successful leaders' performance is energy creation. This doesn't mean charisma or cheerleading. The question to ask is: “When you interact with this person, how does it affect your energy level?” Here are nine energy-building behaviors from the research:
    • I strike an effective balance between tapping people in my network to get work done and connecting with these people on a personal level unrelated to our work.
    • I maintain a good balance between what I ask for and what I contribute to those in my network.
    • I consistently do what I say I am going to do and follow through on commitments I make to people in my network.
    • I am committed (and show this commitment) to principles and goals that are larger than my own self-interest.
    • In meetings and one-on-one conversations, I engage others in realistic possibilities that capture their imaginations and hearts.
    • I am typically fully attentive in meetings and one-on-one conversations and show my interest in others and their ideas.
    • I create room for others to be a meaningful part of conversations and make sure they see how their efforts will contribute to an evolving plan. 
    • When I disagree with someone’s plan or a course of action, I do so in a way that focuses attention on the issue at hand and not the individual.  
    • I maintain an effective balance between pushing toward a goal and welcoming new ideas that improve the project or the process for reaching a goal.
  • Energizers exhibit these behaviors consistently. It can be difficult to do when you are overwhelmed, as you can easily slip from some or all of these behaviors in those moments.

Links to resources shared on the call:

To ensure open discussion, this event is exclusively for HR practitioners. Vendors and consultants are not permitted to attend.