Take me to your e-leader!

A new survey of Australian companies has described a critical leadership shortage in Australian e-business, and identified strategies for attracting and retaining outstanding talent.

The report, based on in-depth consultation with 52 companies, was published by management consultancy A.T. Kearney. It divided its findings into four key issues: the impact of e-business on Australian leadership teams, the ways companies can both attract and keep the right leaders, and ways they can minimise the cost of attrition when leaders move on.

The report delivered some predictable findings, and a few surprises.

What most makes a leadership position in e-business attractive to a skilled candidate? It will astound no one that salary package headed the list, along with flexibility of working conditions. Interestingly, however, the most crucial single factor cited was the quality of the candidate's prospective manager. Working for a good boss, it would appear, made the difference between satisfaction and discontent.

Quoting from a 1999 report by the Corporate Leadership Council, the Kearney report turned up another surprise: it concluded that HR executives consistently overvalued the importance of "work challenge", company reputation and project responsibility to prospective leaders.

Key strategies for attracting real leaders were said to hinge on tailoring the position to the applicant's goals and desires, offering the flexibility of temporary leave, maintaining contact and good relations with departed executives by establishing a company "alumni" network, and concentrating on development of leadership talent within the enterprise, rather than seeking it elsewhere.

And how to keep e-leaders once you've got them? In addition to the still-popular "give 'em a raise", the Kearney report suggested frequent reviews to assess employees' changing needs, some form of equity as part of the package, creation of a more social work environment, exit interviews with CEOs, and giving more acknowledgement to top performers.

The survey found that, paradoxically, many of the best-performing executives get little acknowledgement or attention of any kind compared to other colleagues who may be the source of problems for the company.

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