Female leaders aged 55+ best at wicked transformations

31 July 2015 Consultancy.uk

Strategic thinking is sometimes needed to help businesses deal with the most wickedly difficult issues, such as transforming to meet radically disruptive challenges. However, as a recent PwC report highlights, only 8% of thinkers in leadership positions exhibit strategic capabilities. The study finds that women over 55 are better suited than men to enact the kind of transformations considered ‘wickedly’ difficult. As only 18% of executive positions are filled by women in the European region, the kinds of thinkers required may be structurally ruled out.  

In a recently released PwC report, titled ‘The hidden talent: Ten ways to identify and retain transformational leaders’, the consulting firm explores the kinds of leaders required to tackle the wickedly difficult issues. As a result of disruptive technology and whole new business models, the kinds of thinkers needed to cut through the ‘Gordian Knot’ may not be those that are better suited to attending to business as usual.

Tame, Critical and Wicked problems

According to the report, the performers needed to deal with what sometimes become questions of survival are strategists. These kinds of thinkers exhibit a combination of global vision with detailed understanding of both the business and the way in which the environment is changing. This understanding allows them to formulate the moves to get through the tangled web toward the kinds of transformations required for the business to flourish.

The research finds however that only a tiny proportion of professionals have the capabilities to lead these kinds of transformational changes, with the irony that these kinds of professions are often structurally (and institutionally) discriminated against. According to PwC, the group in which the requisite skills are to be found in highest abundance are women over 55.

Of the leaders studied, female leaders are more likely to be strategic in their thinking, at 10% vs. 7% for men, while those aged 55 plus have a more keen strategic insight, at 14%. Male leaders tend to be achievers (goal and target oriented) – thus better suited for management.

The percentage of male and female leaders

Lack of female leaders
Research by Mercer shows that women are the least likely to land high level positions. Internationally, women represent only 19% of executive roles, in Europe/Oceania the number falls even back to 18%. A consequence is that only 8% of the 6,000 professionals analysed for their capabilities in Europe showed the kinds of strategic leadership skills required to help their business grow.

Commenting on the survey, Mark Dawson, Partner in PwC’s People and Change practice, says: “Industries including retail, banking and healthcare have wicked problems knocking on their doors right now. How successfully they deal with these will largely depend on how well they can harness and retain Strategist leadership talent within their ranks.”

David Lancefield, PwC’s Strategy and Economics partner, adds: “Strategist leaders can fill the aspiration gap CEOs refer to when it comes to transformation. But the way many companies attract, retain and empower them requires an overhaul. Businesses must work hard to attract and retain Strategists because they hold the keys to transformation and, in some cases, survival.”



Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.