About Matthew Blagg

A true entrepreneur, Matthew’s experiences setting up businesses, advising firms on strategy and corporate development and sourcing senior executives for boards have shaped his role as CEO of Criticaleye. His acute understanding of the challenges facing today’s leaders means he is well positioned to advise individuals in these roles. Matthew believes that executive collaboration needs careful framing and management so that senior executives get the most out of sharing information and ideas. He also thinks that in an increasingly complex landscape where leaders ‘don’t know what they don’t know’, CEOs should be seizing the opportunity to learn and gain insight from the wider business community. Before Criticaleye, Matthew founded a strategic consulting firm. In this role, he advised firms across a diverse range of sectors, from venture capital to telecommunications, and took responsibility for the international operations of a UK listed business services company, establishing and maintaining its relationships across Europe, the Middle-East, Central Asia, North and Latin America. In 1990, he founded a successful mail order business which he sold in 1995. Matthew has extensive chairing experience having facilitated a variety of events on topics from strategy implementation to emerging economies. He is also a Member of the London Chamber Orchestra Advisory Board and a keen sportsman.

Developing Future Leaders

It’s the responsibility of the Human Resources Director to push a CEO into thinking about leadership capability within an organisation. While there may be operational fires to fight and short-term targets to hit, a chief executive must set aside time to reflect on whether the mix of skills in a business is right for the strategy.

Attendees at Criticaleye’s fourth Human Resources Director Retreat, held in association with Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), agreed that if a CEO is genuine about achieving long-term success, they must identify and develop leaders as a priority.

Andy Clarke, former CEO at Asda, told the audience that when he first stepped into the hot seat he prioritised staff development. “We needed new thinking and diversity, yet still had to develop a strong core of talent from within,” he said.

“I was also extremely mindful of the lack of diversity, so I managed to build a leadership team that was 50 per cent female. The level of debate differed – and I’m not just saying that.”

However, when two of those females were promoted, Andy realised there wasn’t a strong enough pipeline to continue that diversity. As a result, he spent a fifth of his time identifying and developing individuals both internally and externally.

“I did that in conjunction with the HR Director and it was impactful; we were a combined team,” he continued. “At the end of my tenure there was a much greater number of people coming up from within the company.”

Devyani Vaishampayan, Group HR Director at BSI, described how she is concentrating on the talent agenda as the assurance and compliance solutions company looks to double in size over the next two to three years: “The focus of the past was on operational execution – it’s why the leadership team has been successful – but we know we need more strategic skills within the business.”

She then advised: “You need to drive through a message to focus on the gaps that you see in regards to the forward strategy.”

The knock-on effect

As HR Director at Equiniti, Nicky Pattimore is also engaged in developing internal talent within the technology and investment services company. It floated in 2015 and the current leadership team are locked in with equity until October 2018.

“The board are now looking at future succession and we recognise that they can’t all be external appointments,” Nicky explains, noting that several people within the organisation have been identified as possessing senior leadership potential.

This ‘leadership group’ is expected to spend a quarter to a fifth of their time on some of Equiniti’s biggest projects, collaborating with those on the graduate and ‘rising stars’ programmes. “While this group work on these challenges, they must also look at their teams and use them to fill the gaps created when they step out of the day job,” she added.

During the course of the discussions, Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye, emphasised the importance of alignment between the CEO and HRD on this issue. “The HR director needs a comprehensive view of the capability within the organisation and how individuals can be upskilled for the future. To think only about the here and now, rather than the next phase of a business, is a mistake,” he said.

CEOs and senior executives have a responsibility to constantly improve their skills and knowledge, while also empowering and developing those around them. Benny Higgins, CEO at Tesco Bank. He noted: “The beating heart of any business is its people; they are the responsibility of everyone, not just the HR director.”

Matthew Dearden, former President for Europe at Clear Channel, built on this point and said: “Unleashing human potential is an inherent leadership responsibility. You can’t delegate or outsource that – although, you should look to the HR director for support.”

Problems occur when executives are overly egotistical, or become complacent because of success. “If you think you’re perfect, you’re done, because you’re doomed to never be better than you are today,” Matthew commented. “You need to embrace being imperfect and be honest with your colleagues, so you can support each other.”

Although it may take time, you should build people up to follow your lead and, eventually, take the baton from you. “You need to cherish, rather than worry about the fact that people are fine without you – that’s a sign that you’re building a good team and organisation,” Matthew concluded.

These views were shared at Criticaleye’s fourth Human Resources Director Retreat, in association with Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM).

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

The Apprenticeship Levy – Are You Ready?

Apprenticeship schemes are in the spotlight. Not only are UK businesses grappling with the Government target to have three million people in traineeships by 2020, but they’re about to be hit with the Apprenticeship Levy. It may seem daunting, but there are huge advantages.

From April this year, UK companies with an annual pay bill over £3 million will have to give 0.5 per cent to fund national apprenticeship schemes. In turn, they will receive £15,000 to support their own.

It’s a lot to take in – particularly for those who feel the Levy is an unwanted tax, or that apprenticeships are just for youngsters going into manual roles.

“It’s crucial that companies nurture talent − not just from a social imperative but from a business one,” says Andrew Minton, Managing Director at Criticaleye. “Apprenticeships are a great way to do that. They can breathe life and creativity into the company, boost employee sentiment and build a pipeline of talent.”

Timed with National Apprenticeship Week, we asked Members of the Criticaleye Community how they are approaching apprenticeships. Here’s what they had to say.

Mark Castle, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Mace

What I like about the construction industry is that whichever entry point you chose, be it University or apprenticeship, you could still end up being CEO.

At 16, I was very fortunate to be offered an apprenticeship from one of the big Plcs, which I did on day release from college. I still think it’s a great way to learn the practical aspects of a craft.

The ability for the younger generation to run a practical and academic career in parallel, and get paid for it, is wonderful. In fact, my son, who left school at 18 with A-Levels, decided to become an apprentice, which I’ve encouraged.

Apprenticeships are massively important for Mace too. The construction industry is responsible for seven to eight percent of GDP, yet we have an aging industry.

Those we take on can be raw, so they do take a lot of time, investment and mentoring. Many companies lose their apprentices because they don’t put in the effort to develop them.

We really encourage our trainees, who join us at age 18, to continue their education. For the last ten years, we’ve run an in-house business school, and the last four years, had a relationship with Imperial College to provide continuous learning. The latter means people who have finished apprenticeships can still develop.

Peter Horrocks, Vice Chancellor, The Open University

My advice on the Apprenticeship Levy is to use it as a tool to deliver precisely what you need for your workforce long term.

In planning apprenticeships programmes, leaders should look at future workforce requirements and use apprenticeships to combat skills gaps, promote diversity and provide meaningful opportunities to progress.

A number of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are entering the apprenticeship market. Some are truly committed to workplace learning, but there has been criticism that others are simply repackaging existing academic programmes. We’re planning to form partnerships with innovative HEIs that share our commitment to work-based learning.

While many institutions are engaging in apprenticeships, it’s important there is clear progression for students. For this, institutions will need to work together to support the transition from Further Education to Higher Education.

The focus tends to be on 18-year-old school leavers yet in 2015 and 2016, 44 per cent of new apprentices were 25 or over. The decline in mature learners has been attributed to high fees and low training budgets − but the great thing is higher and degree apprenticeships provide another vehicle.

Steven Cooper, CEO, Personal Banking, Barclays

The genesis for our youth apprenticeship scheme, which started in 2012, was when we tried to recruit people for an operations centre in Cardiff. We couldn’t find staff, despite Cardiff having one of the highest unemployment rates. We realised many people leave school without the right skills for the workplace.

To tackle that, we offered apprenticeships with real, paid jobs and an eight week induction, giving numeracy, literacy and basic life skills − like how to dress appropriately, communicate professionally and get to and from work. It’s been hugely successful and we’ve recruited almost 3,000 apprentices. Over 80 per cent have stayed on with many taking senior roles, including leadership ones.

We’re now focusing on what we call ‘bolder’ apprentices who range from being in their 20s to 50s, or above, and are looking at getting back into the workplace.

I met a cashier in our Kings Cross branch who is one of our older apprentices. She’d been out of work for a couple of years so was grateful to have a role, which means as an employer I have a loyal colleague. But mostly, I was struck by how many customers loved dealing with her – she’s friendly, engaging and experienced in life, which a lot of people relate to. I can’t buy that.

Dave Newborough, HR Director, E.ON UK

We’re increasing our intake of apprentices from 100 last year, to 400 in 2017. We see it as being good for business, growth and reskilling – but also for society. We have apprenticeships in everything from cyber through to blue collar activities.

We’re currently running three pilot schemes with the Government’s Department for Workplace and Pensions (DWP), with two already complete in Harlow and Colchester. We’ve been targeting people who are not in education, employment or training and have so far recruited 24, of which nine are over 50 years old.

There is a historic ageism around apprenticeship but it’s not just about young people. In the context of the Levy most investment goes into training for the young, yet finding the right behaviours can be much harder and investment support is required for mature candidates too.

In recruiting for our Smart Metering programme, we’re finding that many of the skills we need – such as for customer services – are common in the older generation. This sits well with the DWP’s Fuller Working Lives, a campaign that Minister Damian Hinds recently visited us to promote.

Importantly for us, we’re finding that apprenticeship attrition is very low because candidates of all ages can see career potential within the business, particularly as some have already been fast-tracked. That’s helped to build our line managers’ confidence in the model too. The bi-product is a really strong sense of pride from our troops having seen unemployed people from their own communities find work with us.

Candida Mottershead, HR Director, UK&I, Accenture

We started running our apprenticeship programme in Newcastle in 2013, and have now recruited around 200 across London and Newcastle. Our first group graduated in April 2016 and have since stayed in the organisation. It’s very well-sponsored throughout our executive team and we’re looking at how we can expand our programme.

School leaver apprentices typically have less experience in the workplace, so we need to make sure we give them the appropriate pastoral care and that we check in with them regularly. They all have assigned career counsellors to ensure they are working on the right project and are thinking about career progression.

In the past, apprenticeships were synonymous with certain kinds of careers and employers but now it’s much broader. There is a lot more opportunity for apprenticeships now.

For example, at the moment, our focus is on school leavers. However, we’re beginning to look at different ideas and demographics, such as programmes for people returning to work after an extended career break and ex-military personnel.

I see the Apprenticeship Levy as a different way of funding apprenticeships. I think it will provide more organisations with a focus on apprenticeships in general, which is a positive – not just for individuals but for businesses too.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate and Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

Don’t miss our next Community Update which will cover the highlights from our HR Directors Retreat.

Workforce Planning in the Digital Age

Digital is plunging HRDs into numerous quandaries. How can they predict what new roles will arise and which will disappear? How can they train staff accordingly, and where will they find talent to plug the gaps? These questions are putting greater emphasis on data analytics and the role of strategic workforce planning.

“As well as the impact of a contingent workforce, we’re seeing a rise in remote working – which can potentially offer 24/7 online capacity. This approach to flexible working will change the nature of the workplace,” says Mark Spelman, Member of the Executive Committee at The World Economic Forum (WEF), who has spoken at a number of Criticaleye events on global changes to the workforce.

“We’re also about to move into an era in which everything is connected, online and real time. We’ll be in a hugely different place. I’m not sure our workforce strategies are focused enough on the exponential disruption of technology,” Mark adds.

In a world where digital innovation regularly makes the unpredictable a reality, how can businesses successfully plan their workforce requirements?

Find the right person for the right role

As Executive Director for People Advisory Services and Data Analytics at EY, it’s Nathan Sasto’s job to find practical solutions for tomorrow’s talent dilemmas. One of which is how best to access the gig economy – a pool of specialist employees who can drop into a business to deliver a specific, short-term project.

“The trend towards the gig economy is certainly one of the major impetuses we’re seeing from a client perspective. We’re doing a lot of work in financial services on this, helping them to understand which roles are feasible for them to outsource,” Nathan says.

Crisis, a charity that offers temporary accommodation and support to the homeless, is one of the many organisations to regularly tap into the community of temporary workers.

Jane Furniss, Criticaleye Board Mentor and former Deputy Chair at the organisation explains: “Crisis employs around 10,000 volunteers each autumn to run their Christmas events. Choice and having control over when and where they work is a huge factor in whether they come back to volunteer again. Because they aren’t paid, they need to feel engaged and be happy with the team they work with.”

Engaging an unpaid workforce means offering roles uniquely enticing to each volunteer – and that requires a lot of data crunching. Nathan knows all too well how complicated, yet rewarding, that task can be.

When he joined EY in 2012, Nathan’s first project was to plan the volunteer workforce requirements for the London Olympics. “They needed 70,000 volunteers to run the Olympic and Paralympic games, covering 3,500 jobs ranging from medics to drivers,” he explains.

“The HR Director at the time compared it to building a Fortune 500 company in three months and then tearing it down – that was the scale of the problem.”

To address this, Nathan and his team built an artificial intelligence-based matching system, comparing over 500 million data points on languages, skills, experience and preference to reach an optimal workforce distribution. He explains: “Once we were up and running, a HR allocation task that previously took 13 people one month to carry out, took a single person just four hours.”

Analytics such as this allow organisations to map their staff requirements against a pool of talent – be that internal or external – and do it in a way that caters to different personalities, desires and skills.

Train your staff to be digitally fluent

Another critical dilemma for HRDs is the need to re-educate the workforce for tomorrow’s employment landscape.

“One of the issues we face is in retraining for digital fluency. We must work out how to move people who were trained to work in one way into a digital world,” says Mark. “Half of the people coming into the workforce today will live until they’re 100. Life-long learning will be critical going forward. I’d argue that the ability to keep your top 30 per cent of staff will depend on your long-term corporate training.”

David Grounds, who supports corporate business leaders in his role as Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, says: “Continuous learning is becoming an economic imperative, it’s no longer enough to come into an industry with a qualification and think you’re the finished article. I see that need at a senior leadership level and right through the business.”

“While constant self-improvement has always been a worthy pursuit, the rate at which technology is changing the business environment means it’s now a priority.”

According to Nathan, a common problem is predicting where best to invest your efforts. “We talk about digital skills a lot but it’s quite a challenge to take that esoteric concept into practical measures, roles and functions,” he explains.

Again, data can help. Analytics capabilities similar to those used by Crisis and the London Olympics to map talent, can be employed to determine what skills will be required for newly developing jobs.

“Imagine all the available roles were on a platter and you could see what skills and attributes were needed for each – you could tell very easily which you’re suited to and what you’d need to do to move between those roles. That’s changing the vertical succession plan and really empowering people to plan their careers effectively,” says Nathan.

Address the fear of uncertainty

This kind of insight can help protect individuals from what the WEFs predicts will be five million job losses due to automation by 2020. HRDs must play their part in supporting staff through that uncomfortable process, quelling concerns and retraining where possible.

As Mark says: “When looking at strategic workforce planning we need to recognise that it’s not just about opportunity and the upside, it’s also about managing the fears associated with the downside.”

Jane warns that if businesses fail to address these insecurities they may see their talent drain away. “Fear of uncertainty about job security can lead some of your best people to go. You can end up with people who either don’t understand the change that is happening or aren’t able to get jobs elsewhere,” she says.

“Your worst case scenario is that you lose the really good people who can obtain jobs elsewhere, while retaining the not-so-good who can’t.”

These thoughts were shared during a recent Criticaleye Global Conference Call on Making Sense of Strategic Workforce Planning.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

Don’t miss our next Community Update on the importance of apprenticeships.

Too Much Information

Annual reports are fast becoming the dustbin for every imaginable corporate risk. This presents a number of headaches for audit committee chairs as they seek to produce accounts that are true and fair, while still meeting expectations on compliance, bribery, culture and business model disruption.

Given the scope of what needs to be covered, keeping a sense of direction and purpose can be tough. Scott Knight, Head of Audit and Assurance at BDO, comments: “The audit committee must not simply respond to management and the auditors, or just edit the debate in some way. They need to control the agenda, even if some of it is merely putting a marker in the sand and saying: ‘Right, this issue is important but we will come back to it in a year’s time.’”

John Allkins, who is Chairman of the audit and risk committee at Punch Taverns, and Non-executive Director at Renold, Fairpoint and the Sweden-based Nobina, says: “The audit committee chair needs to be able to run a process that enables everybody to have their say, even if they are not the ‘financial experts’…. Provided each person can contribute, the committee will arrive at the best answers.

“That committee as a whole should talk to management, advisors, internal and external audit – and actuaries, if pensions are a big issue for a business.”

On the table

The pressure is mounting on audit committees to show a greater degree of scrutiny, notably in light of substantial EU audit reforms. Tom Beedham, Director of Programme Management at Criticaleye, comments: “When a public interest entity runs aground, accusations will inevitably be levelled at the non-executives about how they allowed a crisis to occur.

“Such criticism is justified if NEDs categorically fail to ask pertinent questions to both the CEO and finance director, not to mention each other.”

It means holding a wide range of conversations. John says: “I like to communicate beyond the normal committee members, including the CEO and CFO. I will talk to the head of internal audit, the financial controller, and the company secretary, who will be involved with issues like whistleblowing and bribery. That way, you tend to get a total view of the business.”

The axis between finance director, auditor and audit committee chair is vital. Theresa Wallis, Non-executive Chairman at medical devices company LiDCO, says: “In a small company, the auditors will speak with and see the finance director and finance department on a fairly regular basis. Given this, it is important for the chairman of the audit committee to also make time to establish a relationship with the audit partner.”

Andrew Walker, Chairman of the audit committee at Plastics Capital, says that it requires “people who are numerate and fully understand the class of business they operate in – things become unzipped when there is a lack of understanding of the real financial risks”.

If you are questioning these matters, such as capitalisation of development costs, you should expect pushback. “You need to be quite sure of your ground in order to be resolute; these are the crunch times when the audit committee earns its crust,” adds Andrew.

Seeing the wood for the trees

Aside from regulatory change and an expanding risk register, the biggest shift for audit committees relates to data and analytics. Scott from BDO says: “We have probably seen more innovation in audit in the past three years than over the last 20. It is changing the way audits are done, such as removing sampling so you can look at entire populations.”

At present, some committees lack expertise about how to use this information while also maintaining a healthy degree of scepticism. Scott warns: “There is a risk that audit committees can take false assurance. While an auditor might be able to scan ten thousand invoices a minute, this technology won’t be able to tell whether it’s a fake invoice or the real thing.

“Equally, the audit firms have very sophisticated tools looking for outlier type journals but if the general IT controls are weak, say around password security, then it is impossible to tell who is really posting those journals.”

It is essential for committees to be comprised of individuals who understand the different pressure points within an organisation. Theresa states that “you need people who are independently minded and are prepared to think carefully about the judgements that need to be made, who proactively ask good questions and don’t just accept the recommended approach”.

According to Tom at Criticaleye: “It is the responsibility of the chairman of the audit committee to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities and feels able to raise issues they believe are important.

“Without the right degree of openness, an audit committee can quickly become blinkered to the financial, operational and strategic risks within a business.”

In the current environment, no company can afford to have its board of directors behave like nodding dogs.

These views were shared during Criticaleye’s Global Conference Call, How To Create an Effective Audit Committee.

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update, which provides an outlook on the retail sector.

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Holding Up the Mirror

The criteria for what makes an effective leader is changing. If senior executives are serious about sharpening their leadership skills, they need to be open to receiving constructive, candid feedback from colleagues. It may be an uncomfortable experience, but taking the time to evaluate and assess personal performance is increasingly important.

According to Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye: “Leaders should not be precious when receiving challenge from their peers and colleagues. They need to welcome honest, open critique from those around them and factor it into their approach – ego and a reluctance to adapt are damaging traits.

“Openly discussing vulnerabilities and promoting frank dialogue will help you determine how to improve performance and engage your teams.”

Failure to do this could lead to stagnation, says Judith Nicol, Director for Leadership Services at Warren Partners. She explains: “If as an individual or as a team you don’t reflect and continue to develop self-awareness, you can’t improve your effectiveness. All you do is produce more of the same and it becomes your default position.”

360-degree feedback

At Land Securities, Chairman Alison Carnwath uses 360-degree feedback for the leadership team, including the CEO.

“If you want to provide a balanced view to a chief executive about how they are doing, beyond simply saying: ‘You’re doing a great job, keep going,’ you have to find tools to help you,” Alison notes. “My CEO absolutely wants to hear what his direct reports think about him, cogitate on that and talk to me about it. It gives him some hints as to what he could do better.”

As well as providing the chairman with a fuller picture on leadership performance, using such tools can make a good impression further down the organisation. “Most people say ‘yes’ to CEOs the whole time, so the opportunity to receive frank feedback is great. It also sends a good signal that they are willing to learn and be challenged,” Alison adds.

Handling sensitivities

Adopting this kind of approach requires a mature and open attitude. Alan Armitage, CEO at Standard Life (Asia), found that encouraging his leadership team to critique one another has helped them assess their own style and characteristics, as well as understand how they can best work together as a team.

The executives have to trust each other for this to work. “It’s easier to do when the team has had some successes and you’re wanting to take it to the next phase,” Alan says. “If there are conflicts or issues this could just antagonise the situation further.”

Last year, Alan introduced 360 feedback to his leadership team on a more regular basis. “I felt the team was mature enough to take direct feedback from others,” he explains. “We even managed to take into account some of the cultural differences they have versus a Western organisation.”

There has to be clarity on why you’re introducing new forms of appraisal. If it’s not implemented effectively, it can easily backfire and result in suspicion and unwanted politics.

Nicky Pattimore, HR Director at Equiniti, says: “I’ve seen organisations introduce it for development purposes but then suddenly it’s built into performance assessment, which creates distrust.

“There is often nervousness around these kinds of tools if they have not been used before. Being clear on why you’re using it and ensuring it’s done in a safe environment is important.”

It’s a point echoed by Judith from Warren Partners. “A lack of transparency is a killer. Right from the off you’ve got to be very clear about why you’re doing this, what good looks like, and crucially what information is going to be shared with whom, as well as what support will be given.”

While the success of using frank feedback in leadership development hinges on the attitudes of the chief executive and chairman, a strategic HR director who can guide its implementation is key.

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

Do you have a view on 360-degree feedback for leaders? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at: dawn@criticaleye.com

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update on how to create an effective audit committee.

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Taking the Top Spot

The learning curve for a rookie chief executive is notoriously steep. They will have to adjust to an unprecedented level of accountability as they assess the talent within the organisation, build strong relationships with the board and articulate a strategy that captures stakeholders’ imaginations.

Conventional wisdom focuses on making your mark in the first three months, but many CEOs will tell you it’s not so simple in practice. In most cases, the job is never quite as advertised, even if you are promoted from within.

Matthew Blagg, CEO at Criticaleye, says: “There is a lot to accomplish as a new CEO. While you should go in with a strong understanding of the business and what you hope to achieve, you will also have to spend a lot of time uncovering hidden truths and evaluating your team.

“You will need a strong network around you, including a leadership team that you can trust and collaborate with, and external confidants whose experience and knowledge you respect. Never hope to go it alone.”

Here, we share advice from a range of business leaders on the skills and actions new CEOs need to address.

Listen Before You Act                                                                                                                              

Debbie Hewitt, Chair at Moss Bros Group, advises new CEOs to spend time reflecting and listening to the board before taking decisive action.

Usually first-time CEOs have worked in the business before, which can bring its own challenges. They have a track record, style and approach that was conducive to a different role. As a chair, I always advise people to spend time thinking about how they will adjust.

Most new CEOs were previously commentators on what their predecessor didn’t do well. The natural inclination is to go in and fill the gaps as they see it, so I encourage new CEOs to think about the business, not what their diagnosis was under the previous leader.

It’s also common to want to jump in and make new hires or lose people they don’t think are right for the business, but I urge them to think first about the strategy and then build the team around it.

NEDs are an invaluable source of input – I recommend asking a lot of questions as it’s essential to get feedback on the leadership team from the board. Far too often new CEOs want to illustrate that they know the business and its problems, but actually once you’ve got the job it’s really important just to listen because the board has an impartial view of the business, your team and your predecessor.

When a new CEO is not used to working with NEDs they need to balance how much information to give versus drowning them in detail. Some CEOs worry that information will be used as a stick to beat them, but the board doesn’t need to hear about what’s going perfectly.

Get Your Team ‘On The Bus’                                                                                                                

Matthew Dearden, former President for Europe at Clear Channel, reveals how he got his team on side.

You need to be very clear on your expectations for performance, as well as the behaviour and values that will get you there. As a leader you will have some non-negotiable requirements – make sure people understand them and then bring in the team to agree the rest.

A polished appearance doesn’t necessarily equate to underlying talent. You have to figure out exactly who you need and show patience to those who possess real ability but are rough around the edges.

I found it useful to bring in a small number of external hires – partly because of what they brought to the team and partly because of the signal their appointments sent to the rest of the organisation.

Over the first year, about half of my senior leadership team changed. It was important to do that with respect and humanity. You need to have clear, honest conversations about the direction you’re going in. That will usually excite those who fit your needs, and those who don’t appreciate it will decide they should move on. That’s better for everyone.

I talked a lot about emotional commitment and used the question: ‘Are you on the bus?’ It became a motto, so when I took the top team away for an off-site trip, I hired a double-decker bus to take them to dinner. I acted as conductor handing out tickets for those committing to coming aboard. Some thought it a bit cheesy, but five years later they still talk about that magic moment of accepting the ticket and getting on the bus. It built a sense of drama and that’s critically important if you’re going to get people to come with you on a tough journey.

Create a Culture of Ownership                                                                                                      

Peter Sephton, CEO of The Parts Alliance, discusses the dynamics of being a new CEO under private equity backing, and how he created a culture of ownership.

One of the first things we did was to create a founder mentality by involving a wide group of people in defining and building our strategy. We branded it the ‘10 steps’ as it was designed to keep us 10 steps ahead of the competition.

We broke our business into divisions and introduced new performance management metrics with real-time updates throughout the day. Regional directors were assessed against those metrics so performance was highly visible. This was an important aspect of building a founder mentality.

I also took the opportunity to distribute sweet equity widely. One of the key advantages of being a PE-backed CEO is the ability to do this. Through this, behaviour changed as people realised they were in effect running their own business.

We kept a sense of ownership at a local level by deciding not to change the operating brands of the businesses we acquired. Local branding is critically important to your buy and build strategy – too many opportunities go wrong because of corporate arrogance and the ‘conqueror syndrome’.

Prepare Early For The Role                                                                                                                

John Goddard, Partner and Member of the Global Leadership Team at LEK, explains that CEOs typically have only six months to really make an impact, so early preparation is vital.

The CEO’s chair can be an uncomfortable place to sit. As well as more scrutiny and higher expectations, you will have limited time to make your mark in shaping the business.

It’s popular to say that the first 100 days are make or break for new CEOs, but we have a different metric: you have six months to fail and two years to succeed. In other words, you need to make significant progress in your first 180 days. If you do this convincingly, you’ll be given more time.

There are four very practical steps you can take before your first day: identify and address any gaps in your industry knowledge and how the business competes; start developing some strong relationships with the board — you will need them; find a confidant outside the business who can provide a broader perspective, such as a fellow CEO or a trusted advisor. Finally, begin to formulate a high-level narrative, which you will need to inspire confidence both internally and externally.

Some of the individual team members may resent you as the newcomer, a few may even have applied for the top job. They may be waiting for you to make your first mistake. A quick way to assess the team is to commission an external executive audit, but there is no substitute for spending time with them yourself.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

What are your experiences, thoughts or concerns about being a first-time CEO? If you have an opinion you’d like to share, please email me on maryanne@criticaleye.com

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update on the importance of 360 feedback as a leader.

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Unlocking International Growth

An organisation’s ability to expand internationally will depend on the talent and strength of its leadership. Problems occur when boards ignore questions on resource and capability, opting to plough onwards, bewitched by the promise of growth.

Turning away from obvious opportunity is tough, especially in the current economic climate. And yet carrying on regardless has sent plenty of famous retailers and consumer goods companies crashing into the rocks.

The priority for any business, after assessing the size of the prize in a new market, is to look at the human factor and ask: ‘Do we have the people to execute the plan?’

Giles Daubeney, Deputy CEO of recruitment concern Robert Walters, has seen the business grow over the past 25 years from a single office to 54, spread across 26 countries. “It’s no good having someone up on high calling the shots with no knowledge of the local market − you can make grave mistakes that way,” he says.

“The most important thing is to have the right person to do the job. Not having enough people is one of the biggest constraints to growth.”

For large organisations, there needs to be clear decision making between HQ, regional and local operations. David Comeau, Criticaleye Board Mentor and former President for Asia Pacific at Mondelez International, saw the latter company transform from a country-focused set of independent operating units into a category-focused global organisation. “I think a lot of people struggle with this pendulum swing between how centralised or de-centralised a company should be,” he says.

According to David, it was critical to make changes as rules and responsibilities were not clear. “For example, there was a brand manager for Oreo in Latin America who thought they were growing the brand globally, but there was also a brand manager in each country. We hadn’t addressed how the local teams would be involved or how the new order was going to run; it was difficult to accomplish anything,” he explains.

“We worked with the countries to redesign the organisation and asked their opinion on the best way to accomplish what we were trying to do. Collectively, we designed a structure that would allow us to operate globally but still be effective on a local basis.”

This remains a hugely complex undertaking. Tom Beedham, Director of Programme Management at Criticaleye, warns: “It’s all too easy if you’re based in the head office to say: ‘These are our values and this is our culture.’ But the further out you go you may find the message has changed or the perception is different. Learning from peers about how to approach a new market before you enter will mean you are better prepared and can accelerate faster.”

GSK has been evaluating the make-up of management teams across various countries, explains Kris Webb, Senior Vice President of HR for Pharma across Europe, Emerging Markets, Asia Pacific and Japan: “We’re making decisions to ensure that what is happening in our businesses across the globe is aligned with the values of the whole company.”

Aside from the internal dynamics of organisational design, strategy and competency, companies must also navigate the risk of political volatility, currency fluctuations and rising labour costs – to name but a few. Yet the case for expanding internationally is evidently strong, not least because growth in many domestic markets remains challenging at best.

Mark Collings, Head of International for SME Banking at Santander, comments: “Businesses that trade internationally are more resilient than those that remain in their domestic market, and tend to see higher rates of growth.

“If you’re operating internationally you’re not dependent on one market, so if economic instability hits in one geography, you can rely on your presence in other markets to weather the storm. This can put you in a much stronger position and provide growth, even in uncertain times.”

Just don’t underestimate the importance of people and culture before moving into a new territory.

This article was inspired by the recent Criticaleye Discussion Group, Key Considerations for International Expansion, held in association with Santander.

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

If you’d like to share your experiences on international growth, please email dawn@criticaleye.com

Read more from Santander’s Mike Ellwood on the bank’s growth strategy

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update, which looks at the mistakes leaders make when communicating a company’s values.

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The Evolution of the Workforce

Evolution is typically energised by a single but significant change, the effects of which are radical but slow coming. Language, the ability to walk upright and the introduction of money each happened in pockets spread over land and generations. Yet now we’re being hit by numerous and instant technological changes that affect us worldwide, and employers are struggling to keep up.

“Due to exponential technological disruption, digital can completely transform a business within a year,” warned Nils Michaelis, Managing Director for Digital within the APAC Products Operating Group at Accenture.

Speaking at Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat, held in association with Accenture and CEIBS (China Europe International Business School), Nils went onto explain how another important factor — the consumer — has been a catalyst for the creation and evolution of many jobs, even among the top roles.

“A couple of years ago, the then CEO of Macy’s gave himself the title of Chief Customer Officer and was one of the first CEOs to do so. This got the whole company to rotate towards being customer-centric,” Nils explained.

From a leadership perspective, the difficulty lies in creating a talent pipeline that is able to deal with these changes. “As leaders, we need to turn our attention to how we bring the workforce together, and how we reskill them,” said Chris Harvey, Managing Director for Financial Services across APAC at Accenture, who led the keynote address.

However, in a Criticaleye survey of attendees at the Asia Leadership Retreat, only around half said their executive team are collaborative and 85 per cent said the behaviour of their executives can create silos.

While it’s a global business issue, it’s particularly important in Asia where talent is in dangerous demand, competition has led to high staff turnover, and many of the family and founder led businesses aren’t doing enough to train and promote talent. So, how can we progress?

From aptitude to attitude

For many business leaders, including Alan Armitage, CEO for Standard Life (Asia), the spotlight has turned from highlighting an employee’s functional aptitude to their attitude.

“I used to focus on the project plan, but realised more effort had to be put into behaviours and people,” said Alan. “We’ve put a strong emphasis on behaviours, both individually and collectively, especially on whether we have the right blend of individuals within the team and if they will work together in a productive manner.”

In her work with businesses both in the UK and Asia, Jamie Wilson, Managing Director at Criticaleye, has found that “high performing teams show collaboration, innovation, trust and the ability to handle the ambiguity of change”. She added: “It’s these traits that will see them through today’s fast-changing business environment.”

Alan recognises that in order to attract the best talent, Standard Life needs to offer its staff the opportunity to develop in a way that suits them. By doing this, the organisation will also reap the benefits of having a diverse range of skills across its workforce.

“The next generation have less affiliation to the company itself but more to those that develop their skills and brand at a personal level,” Alan noted.

“Every single member of our team has an individual development plan. Those plans need to be absolutely distinct from the individual’s day job and their performance-related plan. They are focused on where the individual would like to be in three years’ time. They need to be challenging and also outline the steps an individual needs to take.”

The fluid workforce

Leaders must acknowledge their workforce will be more fluid than ever before; that may mean hiring more people on a part-time or consultative basis, and also acknowledging that an employee’s development might result in them leaving the company.

This is something Criticaleye Board Mentor, David Comeau, realised back when he was President for Asia Pacific at Mondelez International. Rather than being afraid of the fluid workforce, he saw it as a way to improve the company’s reputation as an employer.

“People need to own their own career and development,” said David. “We realised people would leave the company, so we told them we would celebrate when they leave − but also when they return.”

David explained that three-years ago the company launched a programme through social media that openly recognised employees who chose to develop their careers by moving on. “This allowed both us and them to promote their skills and success to those outside of the business. It’s helped their development while also getting the word out on the great things going on at our company,” he said.

Planning ahead

This kind of attitude teaches leaders to embrace, rather than fear, mobility and succession planning. Indeed, it’s an increasingly crucial way to manage tomorrow’s liquid workforce. “Succession can be a great exercise as it forces honest discussions about building the team,” said David.

Neil Galloway, Executive and Group Finance Director at Dairy Farm Group, said that “we’re increasingly trying to learn from exit interviews with people who we didn’t expect would leave the company”.

One of the things he discovered was that employees wanted to see there are opportunities for them to grow within the organisation. “In some cases, we had to create mobility through forced changes in order to make room for talent to move up the business. This has meant putting all roles − including mine − into a succession plan. It was a surprise to some that I was already talking about finding an internal successor within a few months of joining the group, but it sent a strong message,” Neil explained.

Although the requirements on your workforce – be they skills or entire roles – are both changeable and unpredictable, your employees will want reassurance.

“You need honest, transparent discussions with external candidates, so they understand the situation they are signing up for,” said Neil. “And you need to give colleagues candid feedback on their capabilities and potential, both the opportunities and limitations.”

These views were shared during Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat 2016, held in association with Accenture and CEIBS.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

Do you have any experiences of the changing workforce you would like to share? If so, please email maryanne@criticaleye.com

Read more from our interviewees as Nils Michaelis discusses the customer experience and Alan Armitage reveals how to motivate the executive team.

And, don’t miss next week’s Community Update on how to tackle international expansion.

Follow Criticaleye on LinkedIn 

Big Ideas in the Boardroom

“Boards can sometimes fall back into thinking that all they’ve got to do is governance and then they’ve done their job, but that’s a trap,” says Andy Brent, Senior Independent Non-executive Director at Connect Group. “It’s important they are engaged in the long-term strategic direction of the business.”

Balancing short-term imperatives with long-term goals is one of the most challenging issues a board will contend with, as highlighted in Criticaleye’s recent survey.

In fact, 95 per cent of respondents said that boards should pay greater attention to creating long-term value, while devoting more time to strategy was cited as the best way to drive better business performance.

On top of this, the time spent on corporate governance and reporting issues was seen as a potential barrier to adding value, with over half saying that it diminished the value a NED could add to the business.

“Non-execs and the board have to spend time on governance because it’s a key part of their role,” says Celia Baxter, Non-executive Director at Senior. “But I think that if it’s all the board does then it’s not going to be very helpful. The board has to grow the business and purely focusing on governance is unlikely to do that.”

This point is echoed by Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye, who said that NEDs have to apportion their time carefully in order to add maximum value: “Non-executive directors must be the champions of their executives, but they must do so in an increasingly complex and competitive environment – whether that’s getting the right balance between supervision and strategic input, or ensuring teams have a diverse set of views and experiences.”

Closing the gap

The interplay between the executives and NEDs must be open and transparent. You cannot get sucked into an ‘us and them’ mindset.

Pauline Egan, Non-executive Director at AIB Group (UK), says: “[The relationship] varies from company to company. It is indicative of the culture and whether or not the executives see the NEDs as a sounding board, a source of alternative perspective and independent challenge, or just a regulatory nuisance that must be complied with.”

Chairman and NEDs have to make the effort to be visible. Andy comments: “Make sure you put the time in to go and visit your business regularly outside the cycle of board meetings, both to ensure that you know the people and so they know you understand what they’re doing.”

Andy goes on to say that there has been a conscious effort at Connect to make sure this is happening. “We rotate our board meetings around the different company locations; wherever we go we’ll have a pre-board breakfast session with the local management team,” he continues. “It helps us meet more people and gives us a chance to see the nuts and bolts of the business.”

Ultimately, this interaction helps the NEDs and executives understand their respective challenges and how to work together. “It’s very important NEDs get that alignment,” he adds.

Don’t get overloaded

The information that boards are expected to understand and provide oversight on continues to expand, particularly in regards to risk. For some NEDs, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees.

Phil Smith, Chairman for UK&I at Cisco, comments: “You need a good company secretary and chairman to make sure you’re giving issues the right focus, and to ensure you’re not getting bogged down in unnecessary details and losing the purpose of the board.

“For example, if the board receives reports with hundreds of KPIs to look at, you can focus on one or two but ultimately the important issues are drowned by the less important. The company secretary has to be vigilant on the information coming to the board.”

Quite simply, “the board does not have the time or even the proper context in many cases to review a dozen 80-page papers”, Phil comments.

This has put additional pressure on audit committees in particular, and an increasing number of sub-committees are being created to deal with specific challenges.

Tim Eggar, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman at Cape, says: “Much of the governance can be done outside the main board, especially a lot of the process work. It’s then up to the chair of each committee and the chairman to ensure it’s not swamping the agenda for the main board meetings.

“The committee chairs should also ensure that routine governance process isn’t dominating.”

A good chairman will understand how to set the right rhythm for discussion in the boardroom, so that governance and compliance are executed to a high-standard, while proper consideration is given to the business and its resilience over the medium to long term.

Andy recommends regular strategy reviews, whereby the board comes together and looks ahead to think seriously about where the business is going, and whether it possesses the leadership capability to get there.

“Don’t run it as a session where the executives come with the plans and the non-executives sign it off, but rather a working session where the teams come together, challenge each other and maybe even go through one or two iterations of what the strategy should be,” Andy adds.

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

Our survey also found that two thirds of NEDs and chairs do not frequently meet the HRD to discuss executive leadership development. Why might this be? If you’d like to get in touch about this, or any of the findings, please email dawn@criticaleye.com

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update, which will bring you highlights from Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat, in association with Accenture and CEIBS.

Cracking Cross-Team Collaboration

As Managing Director of Strategic Development for the UK & Ireland at Experian, Steve Thomas has done a lot of work integrating a company that’s acquired 200 businesses over the last 15 years. Yet he was acutely aware that the structure they were brought into was not compatible with long-term success.

“We weren’t able to project growth from the divisions at the desired revenue,” he explains. “The four top opportunities across the group were cross-divisional. It was clear we had to work differently to achieve our ambitions.”

As with many businesses adapting to modern challenges, agile and collaborative working offered solutions, so Steve pooled some of his best talent into a cross-functional team. But in his efforts to change the business, he was struck with how to balance resources.

“The innovation team never suffered from capex or opex availability, but from resources. The people essential to the project were needed in other areas of the business so they didn’t dedicate enough time to it,” he explains.

Steve goes on to relate how the existing operations were also put under strain to perform at the same standards, yet with less means. “With leaders giving up people to the project, they felt they didn’t have the resources to do what they’d committed to, making meeting revenue targets more challenging,” he says.

Redefine the tribe

Gary Browning, NED and former CEO of Penna shares similar experiences. “I inherited a company that in 2006 was very siloed and almost set up to be internally competitive,” he reveals. “It was really difficult to get people to work together across divisions for the benefit of the client. We had people asking why they should allow their top person to go off and work on something that didn’t count towards their own results. It took a couple of years and huge amounts of investment to break down that mindset.”

Gary describes how the company had to “redefine the tribe”, encouraging people not to see themselves as a member of one of its divisions but of the whole company.

“Interestingly, we had more resistance the further up the organisation we went. The younger, more junior staff had a real desire to be part of the one tribe, but as you went up to middle managers, seniors managers and MDs, they wanted to keep ownership of their people, P&L and clients – that’s where we had to do the most work,” he explains.

Progress was made by creating a system that rewarded collaborative behaviour. “Previous management’s view was that to achieve collaboration, you should remove all measurements from a local level. They took out local P&L and had just the one measuring a £100 million business with no local KPIs. That may sound like a solution to breaking down silos, but it caused a huge problem in the business because we completely lost accountability. I put those measurements back in again, but it was into an environment where people already wanted to collaborate,” Gary explains.

“We did that in a number of ways: hard bonuses, soft rewards and spot bonuses. We launched an employee of the month scheme, but the only way you could be nominated was through behaviour, not sales. We promoted and recruited for behaviours and set KPIs for them. But we never totally cracked it – it’s incredibly difficult.”

Win over your divisional leaders

While Roger Edwards, Managing Director of the Municipal Division at Biffa, embraces the collaborative approach his company is taking, he is able to shed light on the impact cross-functional teams have on divisional MDs. Biffa’s lead agile team is working on a project that will transition customers to a digital platform, but it’s also applying a lower-burning collaborative ethos to ‘business as usual’.

“Having just successfully listed on the stock market it’ll be crucial to act for the greater good, because ultimately we’ll be judged on share price and not on divisional success. We need to create the mindset that it’s the company first and division second,” he explains.

However, being a divisional MD himself, Roger sees the challenges at a local level, in particular not knowing how long your team members will be gone if reassigned, how to hit the numbers without them, or whether to hire replacement resources in their absence.

So how can a company support its divisional heads? “If I let someone go for the benefit of the business, I want to know that it really was of benefit,” says Roger. “Communication on the milestones and success of the project are needed so that people can understand and support it.”

Communicate the rationale

Cross-functional teams can be a way to test and promote staff in areas they have the most potential, but you must be clear on what you’re trying to achieve and why.

“Most people fear change and won’t want to go into the unknown without reassurances,” says Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye. “Communication is always central to that, but you must also create an environment in which team members really feel they are better off for the work they are doing. That means finding what people are good at and growing them in the area of the business most suitable to them.”

Carol Peckham, Vice President of HR Transformation for the UK & Ireland at DHL Supply Chain, also argues for clarity on the responsibilities of those people. “For me, you have to understand where the critical talent pool is so you can use it on priority projects, rather than always asking colleagues to do things on top of their day job, which tends to be the norm in a lot of organisations,” she says.

“We’ve been looking at cross-divisional talent sponsorship so we’re talking very honestly about what each individual needs to do to develop their own careers across DHL. We’re also recognising people who proactively move colleagues around the organisation.”

It’s a slow process at DHL, where leaders have taken a gentle approach to agile working due to concerns about resistance. “There are more ideas coming through and we are only at the beginning. Ultimately, there is a fine balance that needs to be addressed. This type of approach requires agility and the right behaviours to adapt at speed, but at the same time you need to bring colleagues with you and allow them to see the benefits of working across divisions,” Carol explains.

These insights were shared during Criticaleye’s recent event, How to Bust Organisational Silos.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

Do you have a story you’d like to share on cross-functional working or agile teams? If so, please email maryanne@criticaleye.com

Don’t miss our next Community Update, which provides practical ways to improve diversity.