As HR professionals, most if not all of our work takes place within a multifaceted system. And all of that complexity can make the challenges we’re working to solve feel overwhelmingly large.
Achieving outcomes on a systemic scale requires us to maintain a sort of double vision: we have to simultaneously hold onto a macro understanding of the broader context and a micro understanding of the particular variables that feed an outcome. But we can cut through some of the complexity by narrowing our focus to the links between those two layers. This is where where leverage points come in: that is, mechanisms in the system that are primed to spark transformation.
Leverage points in HR
Most of us are familiar with the idea of systems thinking. It focuses on the fact that processes and problems don’t exist in isolation; they are part of complex networks of factors and inputs.
To make change in a system, you need a leverage point. A leverage point is any part of a system that has an outsized impact on the functioning of the system as a whole. Identifying leverage points can help us hone our attention and pick the right actions to take to change the system by pointing us toward certain key questions: what part of a workflow, what process, or what decision maker has the most influence over this piece of the system?
If you make a change in a leverage point, the system changes, for better or worse. A leverage point does not always mean changing something that is bad and making it good. Often, a leverage point is something that's working in many ways but also leads to unexpected problems, and so must be changed carefully. Even if the changes are small, that leverage point is what you want to aim for.
Learning for managers: a key leverage point
One example of an organizational leverage point is upskilling your managers. Managers account for 22% of a company's overall revenue, and poor management is responsible for all sorts of organizational ills, from lack of growth, to attrition, to issues with employee engagement, and more. Where previously only the C-suite needed leadership capabilities, now (especially in a world of hybrid and remote work) managers are responsible for all sorts of complex decision-making as they support their team through uncertainty and transition.
A recent Business Insider article explored the relationship between burnout and ineffective management. Similarly, in the Harvard Business Review, Lynda Gratton recently explored how most managers aren't prepared for the type of leadership they're called to perform today. As the title of her piece proclaims, managers can't do it all. But with a strategically designed learning initiative, they can do much more than they are today.
Every system has multiple places where finely tuned, strategic intervention can create a ripple effect that leads to lasting change. We just need to identify them. In the case of L&D, upskilling managers is a great starting point for addressing problems in variety of areas.
Want to learn more about leadership training for managers? Josh Bersin Academy co-creator Nomadic also has a leadership Academy focused on just that, and they've upskilled managers at some of the world's largest companies. Learn more about their approach to this work by checking out their recent report.