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More and more decisions at the top of global companies are made through leadership ensembles—groups of leaders that flexibly configure themselves according to the type of decision. Like the cellist who takes on different roles depending on whether he or she is playing with a quartet, a chamber orchestra, or a full orchestra, today’s leaders group into different configurations to debate a controversial change in company direction, or draw on close relationships to quickly ratify a decision, or discuss a range of possible solutions to a problem.
However, to lead effectively, ensembles have to understand how they fit into and shape an operating model. As part of a study of leadership behavior, the Accenture Institute for High Performance interviewed more than 50 top-level executives and found that leadership ensembles may focus on different modes of authority and control but generally follow four default blueprints of working together, namely Incubators, Directors, Diplomats and Engineers.
While leadership ensembles can certainly shift their operating model blueprints to better match their environment and growth strategy, we found that many top leaders often fall back on a default blueprint that influences how they work together.
Read more about Leadership Ensembles: Orchestrating the Global Company.
Accenture’s survey of leadership development practices was conducted in June 2012 among close to 200 global human resources and leadership development professionals. The findings are summarized in a four-part series on Leadership Ensembles, of which this one is the final.
The global leadership ensembles we studied varied on two dimensions. First, leaders place greater emphasis either on issues of talent and culture or structure and process. Second, they either seek to create a highly integrated organization with uniform standards, or prefer to allow a high degree of autonomy to local operations. These dimensions suggest four relatively distinct blueprints for designing operating models at the top.
Many companies also take an approach that is often based on an unspoken agreement among top leaders rather than an informed conversation of benefits and drawbacks. We provide a checklist for you to find out what is your organization’s default operating model blueprint and if it matches your goals and vision.
Following are the four operating model approaches that successful ensembles can take to frame the context for decision making at the top:
Incubators Ensembles that apply this blueprint value a cohesive corporate culture and see themselves as stewards of the values and behaviors that will generate future success. They make acquisitions with care, emphasizing cultural fit with any new addition.
Directors Ensembles taking this approach want decisions to be made by those who are closest to the operations involved. They therefore see great value in keeping many decisions local and, like engineers, focus on using processes and structures to delegate responsibilities.
Diplomats Ensembles that apply this blueprint pursue outcomes through a process of give-and-take among local businesses, and also between local businesses and headquarters.
Engineers Ensembles that apply this approach want to optimize the organizational structures and processes as they view changes to processes and structure as the most immediately useful tools at their disposal to ultimately build and foster a uniform culture.
Ensembles can significantly improve their operating model blueprint in three steps: understand which blueprint leaders currently prefer; continually assess how that blueprint helps or hinders the organization’s goals for global expansion; and understand the connection between the blueprint and the way the ensemble works.
Ensembles that have neglected or been less effective in designing a global operating model find it hard to suddenly shift to a different blueprint. Read on to know how to avoid that trap.
If you chose high talent, culture and high global integration, your ensemble’s default mode is Incubator. This mode helps ensembles looking for growth and branching into new markets, but not when the focus is on consolidation in existing/local markets or on systems and processes to build greater capabilities.
If you chose high talent, culture and high local autonomy, your default mode is Diplomat. Helpful for expanding globally to access new markets, and integrate new talent and ideas, it is not effective if near-term goals focus on global supply and efficiency or a globally integrated structure and processes to build greater capabilities.
If you chose high process, structure and high global integration, your default mode is Engineer. This suits ensembles looking to consolidate their operations ahead of understanding local innovations or enhancing local autonomy, not when they want a globally distributed leadership model or boundary-less corporate center that’s agile and responsive.
If you chose high process, structure and high local autonomy, your default mode is Director, suitable for ensembles seeking fast decisions made by those closest to the operations. You may want to change if your goal is to reduce complexity and redundancy or to establish a shared corporate identity to devise new ways of working.
Robert J. Thomas, Joshua Bellin, Claudy Jules and Nandani Lynton
July 16, 2013
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