A question of leadership

Posted on 6 Jul 2011 by The Manufacturer

The mainstream press is smattered with dismal reports of failing job markets and mass unemployment. But is this the reality for all and can it make a difference to organisations to get a more meaningful insight into the confidence of their industry? Jane Gray talks to Rob Lanham at Harvey Nash to find out.

Professional recruitment company Harvey Nash first teamed up with TM in 2010 in order to conduct a UK manufacturing leadership survey which would provide real insight into the confidence of the sector, the dynamics of the manufacturing job market and the opinions of professionals working within it.

The outcomes were thought provoking. Some confirmed assumptions about the attitudes of manufacturing professionals but others were more surprising – as with the unexpected appearance of job mobility (access the survey results online for more analysis). But aside from providing academic interest, how can such information help companies?

Rob Lanham, a senior consultant with Harvey Nash and a closely involved partner in the promotion of the Leadership Survey explains: “The survey gives a true spectrum of opinion from a variety of participants across sectors and ranging from CEOs to general management and more.” In addition to providing discreet analysis of survey responses, the Harvey Nash research team also include quotes from participants who agree to have their views accredited. This more human touch gives further credibility to the statistical approach and this is important since the survey is designed to give manufacturers confidence in their HR, recruitment and training strategies.

Since the completion of the Leadership Survey just over a year ago, Harvey Nash has tracked the employee turnover and recruitment behaviours of certain participating companies in order to measure responses to the results. Those who have utilised the survey results as a reference point for business activity and personal professional development have stated an increased level of assurance in their actions since leveraging the Harvey Nash data for decision making.

Such confidence can however, only be maintained if survey results are frank. As we approach the launch of the 2011 survey, Lanham is keen to reiterate the message that all online responses are strictly anonymous and confidential.

“It is important that participants are completely honest about the way they are thinking and their organisations are behaving. We do hear concerns that responses will be traced back to companies and individuals but that is not the way our system is set up. It is vital that responses reflect the true sentiment of the industry in order for meaningful actions to be taken on the back of the survey,” says Lanham.

As Lanham details inset, the focus for the 2011 survey has moved on from the immediate concerns of a nation emerging from recession and this year focuses on skills issues. Bringing a different flavour to the discussion of industry skills, which seems to dominate much of the political debate around the need for a manufacturing resurgence in the UK, Lanham explains that Harvey Nash have observed some influential trends which it hopes to understand in greater depth following the 2011 survey.

These trends relate to recruitment behaviours and the opposing forces of recruitment for best practice and low risk recruitment for industry knowledge.

Lanham says: “In the early 2000s we saw a lot of recruitment for best practice. Companies sourced talent from a diverse pool in order to get the best skills in supply chain management, marketing and so on. Today we increasingly see an approach which is aimed at avoiding making the wrong recruitment decision rather than making the absolute right recruitment decision. In my own opinion this runs the risk of being extremely limiting for the manufacturing industry’s talent pool.” Reflecting Lanham’s view that being willing to think in terms of transferable skills instead of sector specialism is a positive step for industry skills resilience, Bill Thurston, CEO of Langmead Farms and previously managing director at Vion agreed to comment in advance of this year’s Leadership Survey.

Thurston says: “In both my past industry and my current one we are actively looking to bring skilled staff from alternative industries for two reasons.

One, the current level of skills I believe is low and processes and procedures are quite tired. And two, because fresh eyes bring in new ideas and regularly better ways of doing things – how many times have we heard ‘we always do it this way in this industry’ and they think it is the only and the best way to do something. Opening minds has allowed step changes to be made and advantages taken over the competition.” Of course knowing where to look for skills which will allow an organisation to lead in their field and yet be supple in the face of shifting markets, technologies and economic or political environments, is easier said than done. For Lanham this is where Harvey Nash steps in. By displaying the Leadership Survey Results and analysis the company provides context but it can provide more practical services. Lanham is aware of his responsibilities. “It is down to us as head-hunters to find relevant skills,” he says.

The Leadership Survey 2011 explained

Summer 2011 sees the arrival of the second annual Harvey Nash & The Manufacturer Leadership Survey aimed at establishing the sentiment, key trends and outlook of the UK manufacturing industry as we continue to attempt to climb out of the global recession.

The inaugural survey published in October last year was completed by nearly 300 senior executives from the whole spectrum of British business, including multinational corporations right through to niche SME’s and their responses threw up some fascinating results.

Not least an overwhelmingly positive sentiment towards the future performance of sector and a lack of truly visible leaders within the sector, something the retail and technology sectors have in abundance.

In addition to the traditional questions on executive remuneration, market sentiment and job security, this year’s survey will focus on the skills agenda by seeking to identify the reasons behind the skills shortage that threatens to derail the recovery.

Numerous articles have been written of late bemoaning a lack of suitably qualified candidates on the job market and it is the aim of this survey to try and identify some of the reasons for this.

Can this perceived skills shortage be attributed to the continuing decline of engineering graduates pursuing a career in the industry, a reluctance to change employer in the midst of continued market uncertainty or a change in work/life balance? Will the advent of tuition fees make the issue even more acute? Alternatively, could it be that employers themselves are lending credibility to this theory with a reluctance to recruit individuals from outside of their immediate sector who have transferable skills rather than a career in one specific industry? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that employers are restricting the candidate pool available to them by insisting that only candidates from their respective industry have the ability to perform successfully in their organisation. Does this need to be the case? Is it possible to transfer functional expertise in HR, sales, finance, operations and general management from one sector to another? And even if employers were more open to transitioning candidates from one sector to another would this solve the issue or is there genuinely a dearth of talent across the sector as a whole? By completing this year’s survey you will be able to share your experiences and offer your opinions around these challenges, contributing to the process and being the first to receive the full report giving you visibility into the views of your peers and commentary on the results.