Rigid organisational structures stifle leadership development, says CIPD research


Rigid organisational hierarchies are one of the main barriers to improving management and leadership skills in today’s workplaces, according to new research from the CIPD released at the L&D Show 2014.

The research report,  Leadership – easier said than done – shows that many employees are required to use ‘distributed leadership’ as a leadership approach –  that’s employees without formal managerial responsibility being expected to own the organisation’s agenda, lead from the front line and do ‘the right thing’ for the customer and for their employer – but poorly targeted training and restrictive organisational structures are getting in the way.

The report says that that leadership development in some organisations relies too much on developing the capability of individual leaders and managers,  with outdated organisational structures and cultures preventing would-be leaders from applying what they’ve learnt in the training room to their day-to-day work. The report recommends that leadership development should give greater consideration to organisation-wide factors that can help or hinder the practical application of great leadership skills by employees at all levels.

The answer, according to the CIPD, is  for organisations to take the next step from training individual leaders to improving the leadership capacity of the organisation as a whole, by focusing their efforts on understanding what kind of leadership their organisation needs and whether or not the structure of their organisation will support it.

The report makes the following recommendations;

  1. Define the type of leadership and management needed and put appropriate training and succession planning programmes in place. For example, some companies may be looking to grow the next generation of senior leaders, and need to identify potential among junior managers, whilst some may look to achieve greater employee productivity.
  2. Training of leader and manager capability should be aligned to the needs of the organisation. HR also needs to talk to staff about their learning requirements and any questions they might have over organisational change.
  3. HR should identify and influence key players with the power to change the status quo. Implementing formal processes is not enough; they must also understand where individuals are demonstrating leadership behaviours and where shifts can be made in the organisational structure.

Ksenia Zhelthoukhova, research adviser at the CIPD, said: “The fast-moving pace of change in the world requires a more distributed approach to leadership. It’s not enough to have one or two strong leaders at the top of an organisation. Everyone, particularly those on the front line, needs to be empowered to respond effectively to evolving external challenges and help take others with them on that journey. However, our concern is that rigid organisational systems, characterised by hierarchy, short-term focus, individualism and ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, stifle the productivity of employees, undermining their ability to lead on the organisational agenda from the front line.



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