Interview with Vlatka Hlupic

1. What exactly is your ‘6 Box Leadership diagnostic tool’ and what impact can it have on a business if they adopt it?

In the recent past, many millions of dollars, pounds, euros, yen and so on have been spent on executive coaching, leadership development and organizational development. In some cases, the results have been tangible and impressive; in others they have been disappointing. My research over the past 20 years has led me to conclude that those that struggle do so because of some major conceptual and strategic errors: these result in many programmes being disjointed and separate. So executive coaching is not linked to the plans for reconfiguring the organization; or the company is restructured away from a strict hierarchy, but its leaders still have a very hierarchical mindset. Another common problem is that efforts to engage employees with motivational exercises are not matched with leadership development, so some of their managers still have an oppressive managerial style.

This conclusion led me to develop the 6 Box Leadership Model, in which essential elements of the development of leaders, other employees and the wider organizational capabilities are considered together, with the links between them better understood. Three relate to people: Culture, Relationships, Individuals; while three relate to processes: Strategy, Systems, Resources.

To understand what is happening in each dimension, I have developed a comprehensive questionnaire-based online diagnostic tool which indicates the strengths and the weaknesses in the six different dimensions. This can also be categorized by unit of the business, or employee population. Each category is marked with a score representing a different ‘level’ of operation. Level 1 refers to alienated and disengaged workers, while Level 5 refers to inspired and passionate teams engaged on a mission of real purpose. Questionnaire-based surveys are used to identify which level an organization or team is operating at, as well as indicating the major strengths and problems.

This is different from a standard employee engagement survey, which charts the level of enthusiasm/morale of the workforce, typically a snapshot on an annual basis. Looking at aspects of culture, processes and so on together with engagement enables a deeper understanding of the real dynamics in an organization. In practice, for example, the 6 Box Model has shown that a company had a good culture, but that some customers were being let down due to weaknesses in training; or that morale was high but there was a risk of burn-out, and so on. Organizations that have adopted this approach have experienced various benefits: from improved engagement, innovation, performance and growth to increasing profit in two years by 200% on average.

2. Do you believe it is possible to humanise organisations and how can this benefit the bottom line of a company?

I would invert the onus here: all organizations comprise people; their natural tendency is to be humanized; all organizations perform at their best when getting the best out of their people, including in terms of financial results. It took much misdirected effort in the past to dehumanize the workplace. When a new hire begins his or her work, they’re typically highly motivated; they want to get on with their colleagues, serve the customers well, and get a fair reward. My research points to the conclusion that the overly bureaucratic and hierarchical 20th Century business model often gets in the way of this natural human response. So we have to reform the culture and the ideology of business, as well as systems and structures. My research has convinced me that we need not just improved quality of management but a transformed culture and attitude: away from the utilitarian ‘just get it done’ approach, to one that empowers people to serve the customer.

This is a pragmatic approach, not a utopian one. And there are a lot of practical examples showing how it can be done. Over the past two decades, a large research base has been built up showing how an enlightened approach to leadership and management has a transformative effect on customer service, and helps businesses become more innovative, helping to create wealth in the private sector, or produce better services at the same budget in the public sector.

3. You talk about people being fully engaged at work and the positive impact this can have on performance, profit and innovation. What factors need to be addressed to create this engagement, or can it not be influenced?

You need to address both individual mindsets and organizational culture, and understand how they’re linked. It’s inadequate, for example, for an organization’s managers to go off on a workshop learning how to be more emotionally intelligent if, back in the workplace, staff have to obey an excessive amount of rules and aren’t well paid or well treated. Organizations have to become communicative, empowering places. People can’t be happy all the time, but they can have a sense of purpose in their work and the freedom to cooperate with colleagues to serve the customer.

This typically starts with the senior leaders, and ‘ripples out’ through the employee population. There is a lot of research in neuro-science now showing that moods and feelings are actually infectious, even affecting brain chemistry, so a positive attitude can rub off very directly. It helps if one changes the mindset – away from believing the company to being a static structure or set of resources, towards understanding it as a dynamic, living enterprise.

My research indicates that reform should observe the following key principles – overseeing a shift:

• From a controlling mindset to an empowering one
• From setting rules to establishing principles
• From issuing instructions to creating teams
• From overseeing transactions to building alliances,
• From a focus on short-term profits to serving all stakeholders.

Of course, it isn’t necessarily an easy transition, depending on the starting point, but the point is to understand the importance of culture and mindset; and to understand the importance of the inter-relationships between leaders, employees, the wider culture and the customers.

4. Your book is called ‘The Management Shift – How to Harness the Power of People and Transform your Organization for Sustainable Success’. Many esteemed business Professors and corporate leaders have praised your book, what do you believe your book brings to the table that other management books do not?

It is correct that there are many excellent books on empowering leadership and the engaged workforce. Some focus on the principles involved, some more on the practice; some focus on individuals, others more on the collective. The Management Shift is, I would argue, ground-breaking in that it addresses all the dimensions: the How, the What and the Why, at an Individual and Organizational level. So it’s a rare combination of thought leadership and practical handbook.

I’m very pleased by the reaction from leading business thinkers, including legendary figures like Marshall Goldsmith, John Adair and Arie de Geus. With the support of these individuals and others, I’m seeking to build a progressive constituency in favour of transforming the business model and the dominant business culture.

In the world of business, we often think in terms of disruptive technology being things, but I would argue that the most disruptive forms of innovation are ideas. If we can break with the dehumanizing concept that organizations are like machines, that thwarted so many employees and their employing organizations from reaching their potential, the wider benefits will be immense. We need to replace that limiting belief with the liberating concept of the organization as a living community. We now have the evidence to support this development, and are able to demonstrate how to make the change in practice. This how is one of the main contributions of my book.