What keeps South Island chief executives awake at night

Sheffield director Mike Stenhouse says .
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Sheffield director Mike Stenhouse says .

A survey of South Island chief executives revealed they were more worried about health and safety than about increasing sales or winning new markets.

Recruitment agency Sheffield conducted in-depth interviews with the heads of 60 medium to large companies and local authorities for its first leadership survey. 

When asked what kept them awake at night, workplace health and safety came out tops at 22 per cent, followed by building the leadership team, political or economic uncertainty (each 10 per cent), and attracting or retaining talent (8 per cent).

Only 3 per cent lost sleep over increasing sales, entering new markets and company reputation. 

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Sheffield director Mike Stenhouse said concerns about the new Health and Safety Act were to be expected with many respondents talking about accountability, compliance and the administrative ​burden.

But the big surprise was that chief executives did not rate dealing with future change as a big issue.

​"Why are our leaders not thinking about disruption and change more, because most of us in our businesses are needing to continually review our business models, and adapt to changing environments?"

Stenhouse said almost a third of those surveyed did not have a well defined succession plan for their senior team.

Although the vast majority said they had internal candidates ready to step up into leadership roles, 75 per cent of respondents said it was hard to find leadership talent, with "soft" people skills such as  communication being in demand. 

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Just over half said it took new leaders three to six months to get fully up to speed, but 25 per cent said it took more than 18 months.

"We'd argue that's really too long, and therefore what are companies doing about the quality of their induction and orientation programmes? " said Stenhouse. 

Another notable finding was the fact that most chief executives surveyed did not read widely.

Half reported that they did not read blogs or leadership websites, with even fewer listening to podcasts, and Stenhouse said this was probably a generational issue as the majority of those surveyed were baby boomers. 

"Where are they getting their new insights from?

"Maybe it raises questions about our leaders needing to take more time to reflect and think strategically about their organisation and where it's going.

"Are our leaders being too busy being busy and not spending time looking over the horizon at the threats and opportunities out there?"

New Zealand Institute of Management and Leadership chief executive Debra Buckley said CEOs were possibly  feeling overloaded and "working in the business rather than on it."

She was not surprised at the reported gap in people skills, and said coaching senior leaders in communication was still common.

"In New Zealand we have promoted on technical ability, not necessarily leadership ability."

In terms of cultivating talent Buckley said she was seeing more organisations looking for tailored education programmes for second tier leaders, and creating those opportunities for promotion could be used as a retention strategy.

There was a tension between bringing in new blood and promoting internally, she said.

Christchurch had been through a very tough period after the earthquake where there was a need to bring in new people with appropriate skills.

Now there was a feeling of needing to consolidate using existing staff.

 

 

 - Stuff

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