Organisations Leadership Agility Challenges Management Essay

Pratt Whitney is a U.S.-based aerospace manufacturer with global service operations. It is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation. Pratt Whitneys aircraft engines are widely used in both commercial aviation and military aviation.

The commercial repair development team is responsible for the support of 13 repair business units around the world. With repair development engineers distributed among 6 locations in US and Singapore, the organisation supply repair development, analysis, technology development, and reverse engineering services for all Pratt & Whitney engines as well as those of other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). 

The organisation’s core value forms the foundation of its culture. See Figure 1. The core values aim to instill a sense of pride and satisfaction in its employees. Wherever its employees work or live around the world, the core values are shared by everyone across all levels of the organisation.

Figure 1: Pratt and Whitney’s Core Values

1.2 Context of Sector

The Sector which I’m working in, the Cases, Composite, Combustors and Externals (CCCE) Sector, provides total engineering support to our customers as part of P&W’s aftermarket business to service commercial aircraft engines. We are committed to design and develop high quality, cost-effective P&W and Competitors’ repairs with competitive lead-time. My team members are co-located in East Hartford, CT; Lansing, MI; Springdale, AK and Singapore. We also deploy engineers on-site to work with our customers to resolve technical issues. Our existing customers are PSD (U.S.), PWAI (Ireland), CAS (Singapore), PWAutoAir (U.S) and IAT-Asia (Singapore).

1.3 Context of Job Responsibility

My current designation in the CCCE Sector is a Project Engineer. Some of my current job responsibilities are as follows:

Manage program budgets, Earned Value Management System (EVMS), outsourcing and team workflow.

Evaluate repair requests and interface with internal & external customers to establish repair technical requirements.

Co-ordinate release of repairs in conjunction with other engineering units, ensuring that substantiation and validation requirements are met.

Manage turnaround time to meet customer needs and ensure on-time delivery for all customer requests.

Co-ordinate the design, development and substantiation of repairs in conjunction with local business units and P&W OEM Engineering; as well as manage a portfolio of repair development technology projects from laboratory to shopfloor.

Develop and present technical findings to the management team.

1.4 My Own Leadership Agility Challenge

Being a junior ranked project engineer in an organisation which practices a relatively hierarchical structure, I am faced with a lot of challenges in my everyday work. My key role is to lead teams on repair development projects consisting with various stakeholders across various countries. Some of my own leadership agility challenges are as follows:

Mentoring team members

As each project team consists of members of various diversities, there will be a couple of new hires being assigned to the teams as part of their on-the-job training. As the project lead, I have to mentor these new hires to ensure they build their proficiency adequately.

However, different cultures demand different approaches to mentoring. The mentees will differ in their levels of learning maturity, self-esteem and the alternative resources they can call upon. Companies often assume that perceptions of mentoring are pretty standard. I believe that it is a fundamental error to assume that everyone will have the same understanding of what mentoring is and what mentors should and shouldn’t do.

At a relationship level, I often find it hard to establish an appropriate balance between being directive and lenient. I believe it is an important skill for a mentor is to recognise when to lead and when to enable the mentee to lead discussions. One of the feedbacks I ever received was that my mentees feel that I directs tasks at them, rather than engages them in reflective dialogue.

I feel that a couple of my mentees have the lack of trust in me, thus it is difficult to achieve the level of friendship necessary for rich communication. There are also some mentees who tend to expects or demands too much from me. They expect to be spoon-fed and merely push the blame to the mentor when things go wrong. It is important, therefore, that expectations are clearly-defined from the beginning.

Mentoring also requires a reasonable level of support from within the organisation. There have been examples where my mentees and I have been penalised for charging training hours to our customers, because there is no specific time allowance under “billable hours” procedures. Lack of expressed interest by top management is also likely to undermine mentoring programmes.

In addition, our HR function leaves the mentees to the mentees with no proper training guidelines. When relationships ran into difficulty, or participants needed advice, there was no provision to support us and the HR professionals were just too busy running the next initiative. The mentors have been trying to work with the HR to develop a training guideline which allows the new hires to come up to speed with the limited training overheads. This has to be properly managed to ensure that both objectives can be met.

Understanding behavioural style of my team

As a project leader, I often encounter situations when I try to motivate my team members but he or she does not seem to care. It seems that my management style only works with certain members who share similar traits as me.

As every team member has his or her own behaviour and working style, it is vital to handle the differences in among of them. I believe to really get it to work in the long term, the employees need to change their own behaviour and style, which can only come from within. Therefore, it is important to understand the different styles of behaviour and what each style needs. This is one of the agile challenges when leading a team.

Build commitment among team members

It is not unusual that most of the members are assigned to these projects in an involuntary basis, adding on to their usual work load. As a result, their commitments to the projects remain very low. Without the buy-in from these members, they will come out with excuses to either push their work away or postpone their delivery date.

As my team members work from different geographical locations and timezones, it is virtually impossible to be physically monitoring their tasks at all times. I will require my members to practise due diligence and deliver their tasks on time.

In addition, some of my team members are technical expertises with many years of experience in their field. It is difficult for me to commend their respect as I am just a “rookie” in their eyes. It is important to overcome all these agile challenges in order for a successful closure of the projects.

1.5 Organisation’s Leadership Agility Challenge

Insufficient open communication among employees

Expectations and opinions are not shared openly, thoroughly, and effectively. Some might be due to the failure of the team leader to communicate the vision and strategic objectives to stakeholders, which resulted in the members not getting out enough information to understand what they’re supposed to do with it. Every tactical action supporting the strategic objectives needs to be included in an overall communication plan so that the strategy is reinforced. For example, new initiatives or objectives are outlined but not communicated throughout the organization as to how the new objectives should look and feel, what steps to take, time-frame, etc.

This can result in organizations become introverted in their communication strategies, whether the group is a large company or a small team. Some team members like to develop their own strategic plans and keep among themselves. Other responses also indicate that lack of communications routinely allows plans to die out after their launch. There will be no regular internal press to generate momentum for task completion.

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Communication is also much more than words and pictures. Communication is also delivered through demonstration. If the management team does not follow the strategy themselves, it will be difficult for others to follow and adopt the strategy.

Transition to new model of leadership

The traditional leadership is more of a hierarchical structure, where each level has a clear and defined role in a top down strategic process. But the current level of business complexity, plus the need to respond quickly to change, is challenging this way of thinking and forcing the development of higher levels of agility.

Building a new leadership model where management focuses on “acting in time” rather than “being right” will require a change in mindset. Key to achieving this shift is the notion of value-based leadership i.e. ensuring that management behaviour is consistent with the organisation’s core values. It is not just leadership competencies that will need to change to achieve this shift. Throughout the organisation, employees’ goals will need to shift and stretch.

The idea here is to set targets that cannot be reached through ‘business as usual’. Employees need to feel that they are being challenged to innovate and drive change. It is the organisation’s challenge to convince the employees that they will not be perceived as failures if they are unable to reach any extreme goals and objective.

Dealing with conflicts

In the organisation, conflict inevitably arises in one form or another in varying degrees due to the team dynamics of having people with differing backgrounds, ideas, and potential agendas coming together in an effort to accomplish a common goal. Conflicts among employees will occur from time to time, and the managers may struggle to positively resolve conflicts that arise.

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Healthy and constructive conflict is a component of high functioning teams. Employees must be open to these differences and not let them rise into full-blown disputes. Else, team conflict can easily result in veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a setting where team members don’t openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Because disagreements and differences are inevitable with the employees, it is a challenge for the organisation to encourage them to work through conflicts and maintain respectful working relationships in the process. This includes reminding the teams that differences are inevitable when passionate people work together. It is important that teams view friction and disagreement as a healthy stage of team development instead of something to avoid.

2. Provide an evaluation of how agile you and your organisation are

2.1 Leadership Agility Index

The 12 leadership agility practices are learned capabilities that require extensive exposure to and practice in a broad variety of experiences where influencing others is key, coached reflection, and a level of emotional and mental resilience that comes with maturity (McKenzie and Aitken, 2012). A recent study of leadership and organisational agility (Horney, Pasmore and O’Shea, 2010), illustrates higher performance from organisations embracing agility. By mapping the leadership practices of the organisation to my own, it enables me to address my shortcomings and identify areas of improvement to help my organisation better.

Below is my score for self leadership agility index:

The 12 Leadership Agility Practices

Score

Evidence

1. Personal Values Sensitivity

3

Using the Shared Values Index (SVI), my trait is more towards ‘Stay Steady’. I enjoy staying in the comfortable zone with no surprises in my daily life and work.

2. Sense Make-Give

3

I do share my personal or work experience with others to allow them to gain more exposure, although these experiences are not groundbreaking.

3. Create Learning

4

I enjoy learning as I believe equipping myself with more knowledge will be useful to meet the demands of the future.

4. Mindful of Impact

3

I do come up with good solutions, but most of the time these solutions are arrived when non-critical decisions are required, i.e. in my comfort zone.

5. Emotional Intelligence

3

I am rather sensitive to others’ emotional distresses, and I often try my best to manage my personal situations as well.

6. Access Capability

3

I work as a team most of the time, hence have sufficient opportunity to learn from one another.

7. Cultural Competence

2

I do live and work in a diverse environment, although I do feel more comfortable with people of similar culture.

8. One to Many Dialogue

2

I am still overcoming my fear to speak to a public audience.

9. ‘Total’ Leadership

2

I feel that I am still not a role model to others as I have a lot of shortcomings and many things to learn and pick up.

10. One to One Dialogue

2

I tend to lose my patience during coaching.

11. Performance Challenge

3

Working in teams enables me to give and receive both positive and negative feedbacks, and these contributions help in my personal growth and development.

12. Agility Resilience

3

Although I tend to stay in my comfort zone, I will still make the necessary changes in order to remain competitive.

Total

33

Below is the score for my organisation’s leadership agility index:

The 12 Leadership Agility Practices

Score

Evidence

1. Personal Values Sensitivity

4

Using the Shared Values Index (SVI), My organisation combines ‘Stay Steady’ with ‘Move Forward’ to drive its business. It needs stability to ensure aircraft safety is not being compromised, while challenging its employees to hit the stretch goals. My organisation’s primary focus is still our customers (Repair shops, airlines, etc)

2. Sense Make-Give

4

Being an engineering firm, no communication is done without the aid of facts and data in support. My organisation always encourages employees to think of ways to improve repair yield and reduce cost. A quality operation system similar to six-sigma is used for process improvement and waste elimination.

3. Create Learning

3

Employees have to work in a culture where we have to constantly fight with challenges and must come up with fresh ideas while maintaining the airworthiness of the engines. Sponsorships are given to employees to further their studies.

4. Mindful of Impact

3

A lot of decisions are made based on technical specification and calculation. In addition, engineering judgment based on past experience and field experience are also considered in decision making. Even during crisis mode, safety will never be compromise.

5. Emotional Intelligence

2

My organisation does not seem to be receptive to the feedback of the employees. Many of the issues were just being shelved aside without further action. Conflicts among employees are not properly dealt with.

6. Access Capability

4

As an engineering organisation, its success is originated by the knowledge the employees have. Every engineer has the opportunity to take charge of projects to proliferate their leadership capability.

7. Cultural Competence

4

Being a multi-national corporation, the organisation values diversity and cross cultural learning. Employees are working together at different geographic location and timezones.

8. One to Many Dialogue

2

Due to proprietary and sensitive information of the U.S. military aircraft, information is not flown freely in the organisation. There is a limitation of what the employee can perform and learn in the organisation.

9. ‘Total’ Leadership

2

Remuneration for the managers and the engineers differs greatly. U.S. expatriates are provided with luxurious accommodation and cars while instructing the employees to focus on cost reduction projects.

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10. One to One Dialogue

2

No formal coaching is given to the new hires. They are being attached to senior engineers to guide them as an on-the-job training. HR does not provide sufficient training hours for these new hires as well.

11. Performance Challenge

3

My organisation has a strict hierarchy, thought it still encourages employees to give feedback. However, due to the bureaucracy system, a lot of decisions have to be agreed by the management and as a result, not much changes or improvement will be made.

12. Agility Resilience

3

Due to the competitive business environment, innovations are highly valued as they will return as profit to the organisation. Other non-profitable suggestions are often being thrown aside by the management.

Total

36

2.2 Evaluation of Leadership Agility

From the analysis of my leadership agility index, it could be found that the practices which I have a low score of 2 are partially related to my leadership challenges. Hence, these practices need to be worked on to better prepare myself for a future leadership role.

My development plan will focus on:

One to One Dialogue – This will help me to increase my mentoring skills.

Cultural Competence – This will help me to understand the different styles of behaviour.

One to Many Dialogue – These will help me to communicate and build commitment among team members

From the analysis of my organisation’s leadership agility index, there are a couple of practices which could be improved further to fulfil the objective of the organisation. It could be seen that majority of my organisation’s low-score practices coincide with my personal ones. Hence, the development of my organisation’s agility could go hand-in-hand with my personal agility as well.

My organisation’s development plan will focus on:

Total Leadership – These will aid the organisation in the transition to new model of leadership.

Emotional Intelligence – This will help the organisation to deal with conflicts among the employees.

One to Many Dialogue – These will help the organisation to improve the communication among employees.

3. Produce a development plan to increase personal and organisational agility including how you will track progress in achieving this

3.1 My Own Development Plan

One to One Dialogue

The GROW model (Whitmore, 1996) can be used to support the person in exploring and clarifying what they really need to achieve their (GOALS), to ensure they fully understand where they are at present (REALITY) and take responsibility for closing the gap between their current reality and the organisation’s expectations (OPTIONS for change). Time should be taken to go through all the options available, to test the validity of each option and to jointly establish which option is the very best for them at that point in time. Finally, their (WILL) to carry out the necessary change actions must be tested and confirmed. There is no point identifying what the specific goal is, explore all the options to find a way forward and then having no motivation to follow through.

Figure 2: GROW Model (Adapted from Whitmore, 1996)

As a project leader, there are 3 main skills that I need to teach my mentees for them to perform their work well, namely technical proficiency, project management and customer relationship. I will adopt the GROW model for my mentoring process. For each individual, I need to find out what is his goal and motivation during his stint in this organisation. As each member comes from a different background, I have to customise the training plan for each individual depending on their culture, skills and values so as to meet his objective.

I understand there will be times where some mentees are very slow in learning or grasping the necessary knowledge. I believe this is part of the coaching process and I will need to identify the areas for improvement so that I can provide extra coaching in these areas. I will also ask for feedback from my mentees so that I can improve on my coaching. Another approach to develop my mentoring skill is to learn from my seniors and co-coach together with them. In this way, I can learn from others the useful coaching skills that I overlooked and adopt them during my coaching. Most importantly, I have to focus on relationship building with my mentees. Only then, I can gain their trust and they can revert to me the problems that they face without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable. Else, these problems may never be resolved if they are always hiding them from me.

Cultural Competence

According to Lewis (2010), the American belongs to a culture which uses linear-active time, do one thing at a time, concentrate hard on that thing and do it within a scheduled timescale. These people think that in this way they are more efficient and get more done. Managers in linear-active cultures will generally demonstrate a task orientation. They look for technical competence, place facts before sentiment, logic before emotion; they will be deal oriented, focusing their own attention and that of their staff on immediate achievements and results. They are orderly, stick to agendas and inspire staff with their careful planning.

I think that diversity is an important ingredient allowing organisations to be innovative, competitive and to offer a rewarding place for their employees. I need to understand that the diversity of the team members will help to bring in different opinions and creativities to provide a more holistic approach in problem solving. Although the team members are pretty much diversified, all of us being engineers allow us to form an “engineering tribe” to work within our shared objective.

Being a Singaporean working in an American MNC, it is important for me to understand about the American working culture. My American manager has been guiding me along in my work and this helps to increase my cultural competency. In addition, should there be a short overseas attachment, I will definitely apply for it and I believe that this will give me an opportunity to gain more exposure in overseas working environment. Figure 3 below gives an overview on the development of cultural competence.

Figure 3: Cultural Competency

One to Many Dialogue

Baker, Jensen and Kolb (2005) propose conversational learning as an experiential process of learners constructing meaning from their collective experiences through conversation. As participants engage in conversation by embracing the differences across these logical arguments, opportunities to hear new perspectives beyond their personal frames of reference can be increased. Hence, important decisions are always made after several rounds of meetings and discussions.

I understand that there are many factors which could impede or alter my message received by the receiver. The attitudes I bring to communication will have a huge impact on the way I compose myself and interact with others. Not only do I need to be aware of my own body language when speaking, I need to take into considering the attitudes and knowledge of my intended audience as well. Diversity in age, sex, and ethnicity or race adds to the communication challenges, as do different training backgrounds.

As my team members are located in different geographical locations, face-to-face interaction cannot be done. Most of the mass communications are done via emails and phone conferences. Quite often, I failed to get any response from my intended recipients. I certainly need to train up on my email writing and etiquette so that my messages get read and acted upon. During the phone conference, I should encourage everyone to speak out and put forth their concerns to ensure that I get my message across the board. In addition, I will also need to listen to the other person’s words and engage in communication on what the other person is speaking about. I believe that it is important that I understand and reflect about what the other person is speaking before blurting out irrelevant criticism.

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3.2 Organisation’s Development Plan

Total Leadership

According to Harris (2010), leading companies are still seeking effective ways to break down barriers between management and workers. People in leadership positions have not been able to earn the trust of the employees. The organisation should give their employees the challenges they are seeking and trust them more. Aitken (2007) mentioned that leaders must know the exact look of their walk and its precise link to the values origin of their talk before they begin attempts to influence their followers. Figure 4 below shows that both formal and informal leaders act as role model to their organisation culture through their everyday communications and actions.

Figure 4: A model of `leadership culture’ within the context of organisation culture/s

(Cited in Aitken, 2007, pp.19)

The management team have to let the employees know how their activities contribute to a broader agenda. Managers should do more teaching and less telling, instead of ordering people to do something, they should set an example and show them how it is done. Managers should look into ways to improve engagement. Doing these improvements in a random and unsystematic way will not succeed with the employees. Success comes from consistency in behaviour, feedback, challenge, and teaching because worker engagement and learning are intertwined.

The managers need to start behaving in the same way that they expect others to behave. They are advised to make the relevant habit changes that demonstrate the espoused vision and values of the organisation. After which, they have to continually monitor the gap between their espoused and actual values and behaviour by receiving feedback on their progress to ensure consistency.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotions play an important role in the way in which employees respond and adapt to organisational change (Cartwright and Pappas, 2008). This has been consistently associated with a range of negative behaviours, including reduced productivity, increased staff turnover, low levels of job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Feldman, 1995; Rousseau and Parkes, 1993). Emotional intelligence means exploring, embracing, and ultimately relying on emotion in work that is, at the end of the day, deeply human. See Figure 5.

Figure 5: A Model of Team Effectiveness (Adapted from Urch Druskat and Wolff, 2001)

According to Urch Druskat and Wolff (2001), the teams require a team atmosphere in which the norms build emotional capacity (the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations) and influence emotions in constructive ways. It is about behaving in ways that build relationships both inside and outside the team and that strengthen the team’s ability to face challenges.

The management should lead the employees in developing greater emotional intelligence and boost their overall performance. To build emotional capacity through regulating team-level emotion is simply to create an affirmative environment. Everyone values a team that, when faced with a challenge, responds with a can-do attitude – favouring optimism and positive images and interpretations over negative ones. For example, the manager should consciously resist the temptation to join the complaining and blaming and instead tries to reverse the cycle with a positive, constructive note.

The managers should learn of individual employees’ emotions, and need to be adept at regulating them. Regulating group emotion often means providing outlets for stress; for example, setting up a relaxation room or a gym for the employees to distress and ease their tense emotions from work. In addition, the management should learn to ensure that they are aware of the needs and concerns of their employees and build relationships with those individuals and groups. The managers should constantly seek feedback from their employees to examine each of the emotional intelligence scales and identify the employees’ strength and opportunities for improvement.

The organisation can focus on emotional issues in leadership development courses, negotiation and communication workshops, and employee-assistance programs like those for stress management. These training programs can sensitise team members to the importance of increasing emotional awareness and showing people how to regulate emotions.

One to Many Dialogue

According to McKenzie and Aitken (2012), it is equally important to promote performance against current targets, just not to the exclusion of ongoing learning. Encouraging performance alongside learning and development raises the absorptive capacity of the organisation.

The management should learn to accept that others can have a different point of view. They have to adopt a constructive attitude to encourage their employees to express themselves and must defer judgement and avoid shooting down ideas. The management should ensure that team members see one another making the effort to grapple with perspectives; that way, the team has a better chance of creating the kind of trust that leads to greater participation among members. Additionally, the management should take the lead and set an example by encouraging others when they are down and praising them when they do well. It is important to celebrate milestones as a way to sustain team communication and cohesion. Do note that it takes time for teams to mature and develop a climate of trust and mutual respect.

The best way to get out of a crisis situation is always communication and the managers have to be able to talk to their employees to resolve any conflict present. At times when the conflict has got so out of hand that communication and negotiation are impossible, the management can resort to companies who specialise in managing conflicts between co-workers. As a neutral and impartial party, a neutral mediator will be able to give a fresh and objective perspective on the crisis.

The management should make conscious effort to build team spirit in the organisation. Team-building outings, whether purely social or outward bound-style physical challenges, could be used for building this sense of collective enthusiasm. An ‘all employee meeting’ should be held every month where the management conveys information to the employees. Employees’ surveys can be are held yearly to provide feedback to the management. There should be regular meetings between the engineers and their supervisors to discuss about their work and other non-work related issues as necessary.

3.3 Tracking of Progress

For my personal development plan, I give myself a timeline of 2 years and at the end of the second year, I hope to attain a score 40 points for my leadership agility index, especially in those practices which I am weak in. One way to measure my development plan would be through the use of a 360-degree feedback. This will include direct feedback from my subordinates, peers, and supervisors, as well as a self-evaluation. I hope to do this every 6 months to track my development progress and adjust my approach as necessary.

For my organisation’s development plan, it needs a much longer timeline between 3 to 5 years due to size and complexity of the organisation. Similarly, the 360-degree feedback can be used annually to track the development plan as well. In addition, gathering honest and unbiased feedback and conducting follow-up surveys can be used to support the planned development activities.

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