Senior management commitment as an overarching principle and a critical behaviour across any organisation, in any sector or industry, cannot be underestimated. This unwavering dedication by a credible figurehead underpins successful adoption of industry best practices and processes in portfolio, programme and project management and leads by example, demonstrating the desired organisational values that enable measurable cultural and performance improvements. Since cultural change that promotes collaboration, transparency and trust only begins when senior management start to model the behaviour they want the organisation and its people to emulate.
Successful adoption of any industry best practice portfolio, programme and project management methodology or product delivery framework requires enterprise wide commitment and support to enable continuous maturity improvement. Without senior management commitment or demonstrated leadership, initiatives stall, fall substantially short of expectations or just plain fail in delivering clear line of sight between strategic intent and benefits realisation in operational service. As such, senior (and middle) management ought to publicly champion and positively communicate the value of the portfolio definition and delivery practices, participate in investment decision-making about the composition of the portfolio, explain the rationale for any investment decisions, and take a system-wide view rather than an individual perspective.
The importance of visibility
Senior management have a crucial role in setting the culture and explaining where the organisation is heading and what employees need to do to help it succeed, as well as sharing progress and accomplishments. Strong, visible and inclusive senior management commitment is crucial to organisational performance through best practice portfolio, programme and project management. Senior leaders must be seen to be actively interested and committed, and visibly demonstrate what they say by how they behave. There is little value saying one thing and doing another. The challenge for senior management is not only to improve culture and trust but also to develop skills and qualities that build positive worker experiences and capabilities. For employees, it is their perception of leadership attributes and performance that is crucial for improving workplace engagement and fulfilment.
Leading by example
Astute senior management understand that, both by design and default, their role always - leads by example - to one extent or another as inaction can speak just as loudly as more proactive behaviours. By virtue of their visibility, senior management actions, behaviours and attitudes are constantly being observed and interpreted by employees. Senior management cannot avoid the fact that - everything they say and do - is a reflection of the desired values and ideology of the organisation. It also conveys how well the organisation adheres to the ‘rules’ (both written and unspoken) it sets for its employees.
When senior management behave as if these ‘rules’ do not apply to them and are not held to account for their actions, it becomes easy for employees to simply disengage. This often leads to an organisational environment that Professors Heike Bruch and Bernd Vogel call “Resigned” inertia. Its an environment where people mentally withdraw and become indifferent to the organisational (including strategic) goals so employees achieve only what is expected. In an environment of hypocrisy - saying one thing and doing another - this energy can easily become corrosive and damaging. This is characterised by high levels of distrust and conflict resulting in a higher turnover of employees and disunity across the organisation where team siloes become more prevalent.
What do we mean by commitment?
American author, Kenneth Blanchard of ‘The One Minute Manager’ fame once said “There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you only do it when it's convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” For senior management, clarity of purpose and unwavering commitment is a critical ingredient to enable organisational success through improved performance and engagement. Senior management commitment is the bond employees experience with their organisation. Broadly speaking, employees who are committed to their organisation generally feel a connection with middle and senior management, feel that they fit in and, feel they understand the goals of the organisation. The added value of such employees is that they tend to be more determined in their work, show relatively high productivity and are more proactive in offering their support.
In summary, strong leadership through senior management commitment is the most critical and underestimated enabler when introducing change to culture and performance to any organisation, of part thereof. Organisations must ensure visible and coordinated support from the most influential executives (not necessarily by those with C-level titles). They must also take into account the enthusiasm or often, the lack thereof - of the people who must deal with organisational changes. As such, senior management need to articulate where the organisation is heading, clarify priorities and share progress while middle management must reinforce the big picture. Organisations and its people will only ever change when senior management visibly demonstrate those desired actions, behaviours and attitudes they want people to emulate.
AXELOS Global Best Practice. (2015) Management of Portfolios. 4th impression. Norwick: The Stationery Office.