The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) is facing some tough challenges as the results of balancing the defence budget begin to take effect. Significant reform of the MOD’s Defence Equipment & Support Organisation (DE&S) is underway, including the announcement of a re-defined relationship with defence industry; a large headcount reduction; and the assignment of a number of programmes to ‘the whiteboard’, only to go ahead if funding becomes available.
Change of this scale can easily cause a drop in performance and increase attrition amongst staff, particularly those with sought-after skills. As a result, support to operations could be compromised by thinly and unevenly spread skills and resources.
Leaders must focus on rigorously managing performance while building the future organisation to address the risks created by defence reform.
Faced with so many concurrent challenges, there are a number of simple yet effective actions that leaders can take that will have a significant positive effect on those around them, and in turn on the wider organisation:
Rigorously manage performance and outputs
The distraction of an unknown and uncertain future (particularly the possibility of a government-owned contractor-operated organisational construct) will affect individual performance. Leaders must focus on the key output measures within their teams, and spot and address negative trends early. Setting short-term targets with clear deliverables will help teams to concentrate on the task at hand, at a time when longer-term objectives may seem unclear.
Take an analytical approach to establishing the right team
for the future
Defence reform offers a great opportunity for defence, but the benefits will not appear automatically. Leaders must have a clear vision of where they want to be and identify the skills they will need in the future. They must know their high performers and ‘rare beasts’ (those with skills in short supply) and deploy a clear strategy for retaining and developing those individuals who will be critical to achieving future success. Involving them in planning, providing clear career paths and investing in training and mentoring demonstrate to individuals that they are part of the long-term solution
Do the ‘soft’ things well
Maintaining motivation is critical to sustaining performance and retaining key staff. Leaders must share their vision and clearly articulate the route to the future. Bold decisions communicated well are healthier than the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ inflicted by multiple, overly cautious decisions drip fed over a long period. In addition, middle managers need to be coached to understand
the de-motivating effects of uncertainty on themselves and their teams. Leaders need to reinforce the power base of such managers through their involvement and participation in the transformation involved in defence reform; this in turn will help to carry the message through the organisation. Leavers must also be treated well, not only because it is the right thing to do but because their decent treatment reinforces the trust with remaining staff.
Create the time to lead
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – leadership takes time. With redundancies underway teams will look to their leaders more than ever. eaders must delegate what they can to both create the time to plan for the future and to engage with their teams at every opportunity. Moreover, never under-estimate the effect of a leader’s presence – you can change people’s behaviour by just being there. Confidence is infectious. The right word at the right moment is worth tens of carefully crafted communications.
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