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.

How I Led Change

Business transformation is complex and deceptively challenging. Various factions within an organisation will be intent on retaining the status quo, which is why over two-thirds of change programmes are doomed to fail. So how do you go about putting the odds in your favour?

Joe Berwick, Business Development Manager at Criticaleye, argues that, first and foremost, there must be alignment at the top. “Without a unified and cohesive team you won’t be able to deliver a consistent and meaningful change story to your staff, let alone execute the strategy with the precision and foresight it needs.

“Underpinning that is relational competence; the ability to develop deep trusting relationships and engage effectively on difficult and important issues. When this is properly nurtured it can unlock a team’s collective potential and mobilise change across the organisation.”

We spoke to a number of business leaders to find out what they’ve learned from the change programmes they’ve been involved in. Here’s what they had to say:

Rachael Brassey
Business Change Lead, PA Consulting Group

Complex change is like building a huge jigsaw without the picture on the box; while the overall strategy is clear, the view of the end state is largely unknown. Having led many business transformation programmes, I’ve found that assessing the nature of the impact and the organisation’s ability to change helps you determine the best approach.

Analyse the nature of the impact. Change will often bring about a significant shift in behaviour, roles and responsibilities, organisational flow, processes and technology. A combination of any two of these creates conditions for complexity.

In 2007 to 2008, I worked on an international change project that affected thousands of people in 125 countries. I’d created a logical left-brained change plan and didn’t think as much about how to shape the delivery. I learnt to look at things from the perspective of those who had to adapt their ways of working. Let this – and not the programme objectives or the senior leaders’ views – steer how to deploy change.

I also discovered that feeling uncomfortable is good. I ran workshops in which we imagined we’d failed in every element of the project. We each took the role of different leaders and captured the lessons learned, ranging from the technical issues down to how people were feeling. This really helped us to fine tune our approach and make it more resilient.

Peter Horrocks
Vice-Chancellor, Open University and former Director, BBC World Service Group

Some years ago, when I was head of BBC Television News we developed a multimedia platform − so the newsroom you see behind the news readers, the way of working, the technology, the workflows, the culture, were all things I put in place.

The main problems were the people skills and existing culture; people thought of themselves as a TV or a radio person and we needed to make a case to move towards a much more holistic approach. There were a couple of thousands people involved and it took about a year.

Some of my fellow senior colleagues told me that to go in this direction would be to take leave of our senses. Lots of people believed that the audience wanted great radio journalism from us and we had great people in radio, so why confuse things. That argument was held at many different levels.

The key to achieving change was to get the most prominent people – such as the BBC’s former political editor, Nick Robinson and its former economics editor, Robert Peston – enthusiastic about it. That meant appealing to their natural instincts to get their stories in front of as many people as possible. If you can connect the strategic change to specific things in peoples’ lives that they want to improve or feel frustrated with, that can help.

Once people saw that the BBC’s most famous journalists were adopting a multichannel approach the scepticism fell. That was significant to delivering the programme on time and making 25 per cent savings.

Mel Rowlands
Deputy Group General Counsel and Company Secretary, Smiths Group

I’m lucky enough to have worked in a number of organisations during times of fundamental change. My experiences have included break ups and takeovers, working across both private equity and public companies, including those undergoing IPOs.

Over the years I think the biggest lesson I have learned is that you can read all the theory, but success is down to people, not process. In my experience organisations become very emotional places during times of change, successful leaders are those who understand that and are not afraid to deal with it.

I hate the phrase ‘buy-in’ as it suggests a paint-by-numbers approach – tick the ‘team on board’ box and then move ahead regardless. Long lasting change really needs the majority of the organisation sufficiently behind it.

Put yourself in front of people, get them to see your vision and understand why it’s important, answer questions, be patient and listen to suggestions.

It’s important that staff feel part of the change rather than having it done to them. That means not standing on a stage giving town hall speeches, but getting off the stage and running workshops − and certainly not allowing your managers to run things while you are too busy ‘driving things forward’ behind the scenes.

Paul Cardoen
CEO, UK, FBN Bank (First Bank of Nigeria Group) and former Deputy General Manager, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU)

At BTMU, I embarked − rather naively − on a change project trying to convert 2,000 years of traditional Japanese employee culture in a modern, international HR framework. In 2009, the bank needed to accelerate its international expansion and develop corporate banking operations overseas. I was brought in to lead a radical change.

My ambitious HR transformation plan did not disappoint; the President and a senior executive team who had worked overseas knew that BTMU needed to embrace this bold vision of reform or fail to achieve its strategic objectives.

The planning and approval process lasted up to one year during which time nobody challenged any of the reforms, so it came as a surprise that the company’s board of 32 Directors did not give it the green light. Their compromise was to introduce reform − but at a snail’s pace.

We got it wrong by not making a soft assessment of the gap between our ambition and the organisation’s starting point. We also ignored the silent behaviours and Japanese culture that puts importance on harmony and consensus. I didn’t spend sufficient time evaluating the emotional readiness for reform, especially of the Japanese senior leaders.

I learnt that the workforce must be diverse enough to support your views and that cultural assessment is as important as your business case. But my biggest mistake was to focus too much on what worked in my previous life with other banks; no two transformation projects are the same.

Mark Parsons
Chief Customer Officer, UK&I, DHL Supply Chain 

I’ve been through four major organisational restructures in my current role and three in my previous one. I’ve found that the benefits of an organisational redesign don’t come until a year out and even then it’s not predefined as it’s down to the behaviours of people. The changes you make only set up the opportunity for people to deliver, which is why it’s crucial to understand the culture.

At Invensys, we tried to put an ERP system into a business basically run by spreadsheets and that ripped the organisation apart because the culture was anathema to the use of standardised software.

The most successful change programmes I’ve been in are ones that had a very simple and central message that people up and down the organisation understood. Large change programmes with lots of moving parts usually end in compromise.

Pace in its own right can be detrimental to a change programme, you need consistency of speed and for it to match the rate at which employees are willing adapt. We implemented a new organisational structure which got stuck at middle management. This reduced momentum and although changes were taking place, the perception that it was going to fundamentally transform the business was lost.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

These insights were shared during Criticaleye’s recent Global Conference Call, Leading Complex Change.

Would you like to share your experiences of leading change? If so, please email maryanne@criticaleye.com.

Read up on how to tackle the four steps in change management, and learn how emotional communication can help you lead change.

Also, don’t miss next week’s Update on whether a chairman should mentor their CEO.

Follow Criticaleye on LinkedIn 

Looking Back on 2014

Comm update_31 DecemberWhen reflecting on some of the central themes to be discussed by Criticaleye Members over the past year, be it digital, the changing consumer, an ageing population, innovation or culture change, it’s abundantly clear that successful senior executive teams understand the need to be collaborative, curious and open to new ideas and insights. How else can they be expected to navigate complex and fast-changing global markets?

Steven Cooper, CEO of Personal Banking at Barclays, said: “The environment that leaders need to create, I think, is changing. They need to be much more inclusive, more visible and they need to be engaging with a broader spectrum of colleagues to create partnerships.”

It’s a point echoed by Andy Clarke, CEO of retail concern Asda: “If you turn the clock back only ten years, the pervasive style of communication for leaders was very much tell-and-do. It’s a dying style of leadership today; you have to operate with a level of openness to challenge that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen a decade ago.”

A CEO has to look to build a team that can thrive in a business environment where strategy is far more dynamic and agile. “The most common thing to do in the world of strategy in business these days is to complain about the V.U.C.A. world we live in – so everything is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – and then say that because of this it’s impossible to do strategy,” said Roger Martin, Criticaleye Thought Leader and Academic Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at Rotman School of Management.

“But if an organisation doesn’t understand it has to make choices about where to play and how to win, it might as well not do strategy. That’s why more than eighty per cent of all strategic plans are pretty much useless.”

A numbers game 

The strategic implications of a multigenerational workforce is certainly an area that requires careful thought. Mark Purdy, Managing Director (Economic Research) and Chief Economist at Accenture, commented: “We’ve recognised that there’s a major trend around ageing and increasingly organisations are thinking about this, but maybe what we haven’t recognised is that we have a lot of millennials in the workforce too…

“[T]he successful organisations are going to be defined by their ability to bridge the gap between the ages and capitalise on the inherent strengths of both young and old.”

It’s leading to new ideas on how technology can reshape working practices, from home-working to hot-desking and job-sharing. Vanda Murray, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Senior Independent Director at manufacturing company Fenner, said: “Businesses need to invest in IT to enable flexible working, which may be from home or any remote location, as it is now expected that we are all ‘connected’ wherever we are.

“There are huge benefits to businesses that embrace more flexible working patterns and practices. It helps recruitment and retention – in particular those workers with family commitments – be it younger children or elderly parents. Young mothers often find they cannot balance work and home life without this flexibility for example.”

The way digital continues to change organisations has been another area of debate and discussion for executives. Bal Samra, BBC Commercial Director and Managing Director of BBC Television: “Digital disruption is inevitable so business leaders need to recognise it, collaborate and foster a culture of learning within the organisation so that more is understood with every new project.”

One of the biggest risks for companies is to do nothing with digital. If you’re not constantly testing, learning and evolving, you will be left behind. Simon Johnson, Group Managing Director for UK & International at publisher HarperCollins, said: “Innovative digital leaders are those who are completely obsessed with inventing things and with customer experience… They also need to create the right culture internally, encouraging the people within the business to think more like a start-up.

“This might mean starting-up a skunkworks for innovation, for example… or setting up new business units in direct competition with legacy ones.”

The question of how organisations can excel at innovation remains fiercely debated, especially as new business models emerge. Neil Stephens, Managing Director for the UK and Ireland at food company Nestlé Professional, comments: “The narrative I always put around the need for breakthrough innovation is that the customer is constantly changing and they are always eager to find new ways to enrich their lives…

“[That’s why] we are trying to bring our customers into the innovation loop as early as possible so that, by the time we go to market, we already have customers who are attuned to the opportunities and who have been part of the process from the beginning.”

George Yip, Criticaleye Thought Leader and Professor of Management at China Europe International Business School, observed that Western companies need to learn how to innovate faster and take more risks, whereas Chinese organisations need to learn how to innovate in a more formal way. “Being pragmatic about the kind of innovation companies do is the key to achieving profitability in the digital age,” he said.

If a business has any hope of performing to the highest level, it needs the best people. Creating a culture that attracts and retains those individuals and allows them to flourish is perhaps one of the biggest tests confronting senior executive teams.

Rudi Kindts, Non-executive Director for technical recruiter Matchtech and former Group HR Director for British American Tobacco, said: “We don’t know what the future will look like, so I think increasingly the skills required to be a successful leader will be around agility, curiosity, being able to work in teams and having an acute awareness of the environment around them and themselves.

“What is for certain is that leaders need to build organisations that are able to adapt to the future [and be flexible].”

For CEOs, it’s a case of asking more of the Human Resources Director. Steve Varley, Chairman and Managing Partner for UK&I at EY, explained: “A key benefit of the HR Director is to help leaders understand the link between the inputs and outputs of an organisation.

“Effective ones do two things: they understand the business model – how the business makes money – and, secondly, they work hard to build relationships with the CEO and the board.”

Doug Baillie, Chief HR Officer for consumer goods company Unilever, said: “When I came into this role three years ago, the first thing I did was to get key senior business leaders into a room together and ask them what they expect from HR.

“From this, the choice that came to me was clear: do we, as HRDs, want to be the ones laying the road for the journey ahead or are we content to just fill in the cracks as someone else lays out the path? Actually, I don’t differentiate between a HR Director and a business leader.”

The bottom line is that CEOs need to be great communicators and collaborative if they’re to be good at leading change. As Glen Moreno, Chairman of publishing and education company Pearson, said: “It is extremely rare today for a new leader to come into an organisation with a mandate for business-as-usual. That wasn’t always true. There were times when companies had locked market share and there wasn’t much of a technology challenge, nor was it global.

“It’s all changed now and there are virtually no maintenance jobs anymore because companies are either in trouble when a new CEO comes in, or they clearly need to rethink their position on what they’re already doing.”

I hope to see you soon

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

The Hidden Value of the COO

Comm update_26 NovemberChief Operating Officers (COOs) tend to be unsung heroes. By concentrating on the day-to-day running of an organisation, usually across a range of functions, the COO’s shape-shifting abilities creates time and space for a CEO to focus on strategy and their outward, public facing duties. In many ways, the role can be the ideal training ground for taking on the top job.

Giles Daubeney, COO at international recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, says: “The CEO primarily focuses on strategy and dealing with external stakeholders – shareholders, investors, the media and so on, whereas I am responsible for the management of all the Group’s operations worldwide. That said, we do work closely together on all aspects of the business.

“For example, when reporting to the City, I am there at the results presentations and, actually, the way it’s divvied up is that the CEO will do the higher level group strategy and I will talk in detail about the operations, explaining what’s happening across each of the Group’s regions.”

It is arguably the most situational role on the senior executive team. Mark Castle, Deputy COO at construction company Mace, says: “[There are those] who implement the CEO’s strategy and support the rest of the C-suite in running their parts of the business… Others see themselves as potential CEOs-in-waiting and that can create tension, not just with the incumbent CEO but other senior board colleagues who harbour similar ambitions.”

Caroline Brown, CFO and COO of engineering consultancy Penspen, says: “The role of a COO is akin to having the fluidity of mercury; you seep into the cracks that others aren’t occupying. What makes someone good at it is the ability to be agile and to go with the flow. Someone who takes on a number of different aspects of the role without being fazed by the ambiguity.”

Decision Time

Although the context will vary from company to company, the key priorities for COOs are ‘execution’ and ‘delivery’. “Often, you’re driving change as you execute company strategy and that’s hard because people don’t like change,” says Andrew Eldon, COO for Hong Kong-based online retailer StrawberryNet. “You need to communicate clearly with your teams about the company’s overall objectives and strategies so they understand the context of what they’re doing and why it’s important.”

Lucy Dimes, COO of business process services provider Equiniti and former UK & Ireland CEO of telecoms concern Alcatel-Lucent, says: “As COO, in a single day I could be involved in a strategic acquisition opportunity and a cost-cutting programme. I’m also doing a two-day offsite with my team to talk about our plans for 2015 and 2016. So you’ve got to deal with the here and now as a COO, but to do this effectively you also need to be focusing on the future.”

In many cases, the COO can be seen as the co-pilot to the CEO. Adrian Fawcett, Chairman of bed and mattress manufacturer Silentnight Group, and former COO of pub group Punch Taverns, says: “The speed of development in global organisations and the external challenges that go with this mean the COO’s role is becoming more exciting…  In a world where businesses need to respond to customer or market-related issues faster than ever, the COO needs to be the business planner and organiser; it’s a role that requires strong leadership.”

Markus Heinen, Managing Partner of EMEIA Strategy at professional services firm EY, says: “The COO will undoubtedly become more powerful and effective if he or she is able to be part of the board’s strategic discussion. If you don’t have a strategic perspective combined with operational excellence then you will struggle over a longer period of time…

“[Businesses are] becoming more agile and disruptive trends can significantly hit the operations of a business, so COOs need to be on top of this and not only develop their analytical capabilities and strengths, but also think a little bit more creatively.”

A similar point is made by Shaun Chilton, COO of pharmaceutical concern Clinigen Group: “There will be times when you are more operationally focused, but you need to have the ability to [predict] how the tactical decisions made today may affect the future direction of the business. Ultimately, having the dedication to always ask ‘why?’ and refusing to accept anything at face value that doesn’t feel right will lead you to make the right decisions.”

Given the potential for overlap between the COO and CEO, it’s generally agreed that regular communication between the two is important. Andrew Powell, CEO of careers education provider The Training Room and former COO of Colt Technology Services, comments: “The chemistry has to be bang on… Fundamentally, you must have clarity on what your accountability is and make sure that it is clearly understood by the rest of the executive team.”

Mark Pharoah, COO of ComplEat Food Group, a supplier of chilled foods, says that the relationship between the CEO and COO needs to be defined and agreed from the outset: “Once the core strengths of each have been identified and clear responsibilities set out, the operational and strategic input within the COO role should manifest itself with a greater degree of clarity.

“If the CEO is focused on big strategic initiatives, such as major transformational projects or a global growth initiative, then the COO tends to be more hands-on and operational.”

Lucy comments: “The CEO-COO relationship requires the greatest level of contact. It’s vital that you are 100 per cent aligned as you can’t afford for [anyone to feel there are inconsistencies]. The faster the pace you are driving, the more frequent contact needs to be – it might need to be several times a day if you need to discuss, decide and act quickly.

“The key discussions are around: ‘Is this working?’; ‘Are we achieving what we want to achieve?’; ‘What do the month’s results look like?’; ‘Are we on track?’; ‘Do we need to change and, if so, how and when?’”

Unlike the CFO or CMO, the COO is a difficult position to define and there are plenty of examples of companies choosing not to employ one. That said, given the increasing complexity faced by business leaders, there will be situations where bringing in a good COO to form a partnership with the CEO will enable a business to move faster.

Andrew Powell says: “Wherever there are opportunities to do things differently or better, that’s when the COO can really step in and help make the CEO even more successful.”

I hope to see you soon

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

Winning Strategies for Asia

Comm update_12 November1 The scale and pace at which markets across Asia are growing can leave you breathless. For both indigenous and foreign corporates, the pressure is on to move fast, whether it’s responding to urbanisation, creating new technology or simply meeting customer demand. It all presents a rigorous test for executive teams as they are expected to devise winning strategies in a complex, competitive landscape where talent is in short supply.

These were some of the key themes to emerge from the Criticaleye Asia Leadership Retreat, held in partnership with China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). Over the course of 24-hours, attendees gathered in Hong Kong to share ideas on innovation, sustainability, talent and what the rise of China’s private enterprises means for multi-national corporations (MNCs).

Hellmut Schütte, Vice-President and Dean of CEIBS, observed: “Perhaps the golden age in China is over for foreign MNCs. Everyone is here now, labour costs keep rising, and China’s own MNCs are making enormous progress.”

Aside from the emergence of international powerhouses like e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba and telecom equipment and smartphone maker Huawei, competition was described as particularly acute in China’s third and fourth tier cities, where an increasing number of home-grown private enterprises are capitalising on their local market knowledge. “China still presents significant opportunities for MNCs but it’s now a lot harder to realise,” said Stephen Mercer, Partner in Charge of Multinational Clients at KPMG.

“You have to understand what segment of the market you are dealing with as they can be so different. If you were operating in Europe, you wouldn’t replicate your market entry strategy for each country or market and China [is] the same. Unless you are clear about what you are trying to achieve in China, it will be very difficult to succeed.”

For those companies that do get it right, China’s $9.2 trillion economy provides plenty of openings and areas for growth. Hellmut said: “If China ‘only’ continues to grow its GDP by 7 per cent over the next ten years, it will still almost double the size of its economy. If you combine [Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa] … and the next ten emerging markets, all together they add up to the size of China’s economy today. This is very much in the mind of China’s Government when it deals with the outside world.”

The ability to bring new products to market rapidly was generally agreed to be a significant differentiator for successful businesses. George Yip, Professor of Management and Co-Director of the Centre on China Innovation at CEIBS, said: “Chinese companies have a deep understanding of the customer – [they take] a pragmatic, profitable and customer oriented approach to innovation… Western companies can be too slow because there are too many processes in place.”

Sujit Chatterjee, President & CEO of TATA Consultancy Services China, said that “innovation, as it was understood in the Western world, was for a long period about creating new markets, but, as we see in Asia, especially China, innovation is about capturing markets”.

Companies have to be capable of adjusting to the characteristics of a rapidly changing and geographically diverse country. “Each year, Western companies set-up more R&D centres in China than in any other country in the world, including the US,” George added. “Western companies have an appreciation for Chinese methods of innovation; they are eager to learn how to innovate faster.”

A long-term view

If businesses are to continue to take advantage of the consumer appetite for goods and services, attendees agreed that it needs to be done in a sustainable fashion. Peter Wong, President of Dow Chemical Greater China, said: “Sustainability is very much part of our strategy in terms of driving business growth. For example, in China we are looking at a few of the issues the Government is focusing on, such as food security and safety.

“If we bring our capabilities together, we believe that we’ll be able to find a solution that is going to help the Government tackle some of these challenges, like food spoilages.”

Setting the right strategy and implementing it is key. Peter Lacy, Managing Director of Strategy Practice & Sustainability Services for Asia Pac at Accenture, said: “Companies need to be aware of opportunities to improve their approach to sustainability… It needs to be integrated into organisational design so that support functions are created to incentivise people, so they want to make improvements. That’s as true here in Asia and China as it is elsewhere in the world.”

The challenge is to create alignment across the whole organisation. “At Dow in China, I’ve been trying to build a cross-collaboration model,” said Peter Wong. “It’s been about looking at what the issues are and seeing how people can jump beyond their own boundaries. Hopefully they’re thinking about how we can better collaborate, utilising the R&D lab to [address] the issues we have – if you don’t even understand your true capability, you can’t really develop an innovative mindset.”

Cecilia Ho, President of International Paper Asia, commented: “There actually has to be a change in mindset around sustainability; you’ve got to accept that if you do not operate sustainably you cannot operate at all. [If you understand that], then you’ll do it because it’s beneficial to the company as well as to the environment…

“You can do all the communication and internal marketing – and we certainly do – but the most important thing is that employees are convinced that you practice what you preach. So it needs to be driven by the senior leadership team.”

According to Peter Lacy, thinking sustainably can be a real driver for innovation:  “At the moment a lot of the focus in Singapore, India, China and Japan is on urbanisation and smart technologies and how they can be used to better manage energy and transport systems. There is a ‘digital revolution’ taking place, and we are really only just beginning to see the power of connected physical and digital infrastructure in areas like cloud computing, mobile tech [and the] Internet of Things (IoT).

“This is clearly a strong business imperative, but it’s also a sustainability benefit… Companies in China especially are using things like smart-metering and smart-grids to drive energy efficiency per unit of GDP.”

Matthew Smith, Global Head of Market Development for the Internet of Things at Cisco Systems, estimates that over the next ten years the connectivity of devices will create profits and cost savings of approximately $19 trillion. “People are not afraid to fail in China and that type of attitude is going to be really beneficial in this kind of economy,” he said.

The impact of the IoT will be felt in multiple sectors, from retail and healthcare to life insurance and, of course, energy. Matthew continues: “Texting went from zero to $300 billion in about six years. Thanks to WhatsApp and We Chat, it’s gone back to zero again – the point is a lot of new markets will emerge due to the Internet of Things.”

People first

If technology is unlocking new business models, and globalisation creates a more competitive environment, what kind of skills-mix is required to come out on top? Even for those companies that have a theoretical answer to this question, the reality of identifying and keeping the right people continues to be tough.

In the marketing industry, for instance, digital is having a seismic impact on the way customers behave and this requires a different set of skills. Chris Riquier, CEO for Asia Pacific at Taylor Nelson Sofres, said: “As marketers, we’re not investing sensibly and we’re not recognising the ROI today. We’re also ignoring new platforms, which means we don’t have the skills and expertise in the business.”

The quality of graduates, particularly in China, was also discussed. Hellmut questioned whether the country’s education system, with its emphasis on hierarchy and rote-learning, was preparing the younger generation for the dynamism and innovative thinking required for the modern workplace. “Ten years ago there were one million graduates, whereas today you have 7.5 million graduates and the number of universities and colleges has doubled during the same period,” he said.

“There has been tremendous growth but there is the problem of young people coming into the job market and being unable to find employment. At the same time, you have companies crying out for people. As companies must innovate in order to compete, it is not easy to find the talent you need when they come from this rules-based background.”

In order to overcome the shortfalls in talent, companies were encouraged to start looking regionally to bring in people of the right calibre. Michael Guo, Partner of Human Capital & Change Management Advisory for Greater China at EY, said: “Businesses are increasingly connected. Ten years ago the prime movers in Asia were China, India and Indonesia…

“Now … there are so many different countries where different solutions are required, and for that you need a diverse range of talent, especially for your senior leadership team.”

Global leadership

When discussing ‘Asia’, it’s important to remember the distinct national and cultural differences. Each country and region will present its own idiosyncrasies in terms of doing business, from how relationships are built, bureaucracy navigated and the regulatory environment understood. Nevertheless, the Retreat demonstrated there are questions being asked of senior leadership teams in Asia that will resonate internationally.

Andrew Minton, Executive Director at Criticaleye, said: “Whether leaders are confronting issues around sustainability, talent or digital transformation, they must be able to… see the bigger picture in order to shape their own strategy.

“That’s why, regardless of geography or culture and irrespective of industry or function, there is an overwhelming need for leaders to step out of the day-to-day if they’re to combat complexity successfully.”

Executives need to be prepared to reflect, collaborate and benchmark with others. Trying to establish strategic clairity in isolation is no longer an option.

I hope to see you soon

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

Making it as a First-Time CEO

Comm update_29 October1All eyes are on you as a first-time CEO. No matter how experienced you think you are, there will be aspects of the role that take you by surprise. It’s why many new CEOs take the opportunity to assess the business, looking to build an accurate picture of performance by meeting different stakeholders. Once you’ve got to grips with the various realities, the pressure will be on to act decisively.

“On my first day, I was very conscious that when I walked into the office everybody was looking at me thinking, ‘Well, who is this guy?’” comments Howard Kerr, Chief Executive of standards and training provider BSI Group. “They were saying, ‘We’ve seen the company announcement and we’ve seen his CV, yet, from what we can tell, he’s got no obvious credentials for this job.’”

Mike Turner, Chairman of engineering concern GKN and former Group CEO of BAE Systems, comments: “What was new to me and surprised me the most was the rigour of the external communications with the shareholders. I thought you just went along with your finance director and that the focus would be on your earnings.

“Frankly, they’re not that interested in the past, they want to know about the future: where’s the growth coming from, do you have a clear strategy and, above all, are you delivering that strategy successfully?”

Often an adjustment period is needed to deal with the greater visibility and profile. Tony Cocker, Chief Executive of energy concern E.ON UK, says: “I’d been working for the company in Germany and it was completely out of the public spotlight. So, when I came back to the UK I was intellectually but not emotionally prepared for the pressure of dealing with the… perception of mistrust of energy companies from the media, some politicians, consumer organisations and many customers.”

Sarah Boyd, CEO of retail chain Guardian Health & Beauty, Singapore, which is owned by Asian retail group Dairy Farm, comments: “I was surprised by the sheer number of decisions that I was faced with. But it was more about the fact that the majority of those decisions were being made based on gut feel, rather than using good quality data and analytics.

“I was absolutely terrified because people were asking me to make decisions on things for which I had no frame of reference, and I found that incredibly uncomfortable for a while.”

First impressions

So, what should be on the agenda for those who are new to the role in those first 100 days? The most common pieces of advice fall into three areas:

  • Spend time assessing the business internally in order to separate fact from fiction;
  • Meet external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, analysts and advisors, to get an idea of how the company is perceived;
  • Once the period of assessment is over, be decisive.

A good starting point will be to sit down with the chairman. Lord Stuart Rose, Chairman of online grocer Ocado Group and former CEO and Chairman at retailer M&S, says: “The relationship between a CEO and Chairman is absolutely built on trust and mutual understanding. For example, when discussing my recovery plan for Marks & Spencer with the Chairman, he just said, ‘Right, well I’m backing you’. “It was about giving me time and keeping the board and the shareholders off my back, while I focused on getting the job done. Every chief executive must crave a hugely supportive chairman and every chief executive who is any good deserves one, until he proves [otherwise].”

Greg Morgan, Director at search firm Warren Partners, comments: “I think, crucially, you need to agree with the Chair on what your objectives for the first 100 days are going to be. [You then need to] establish, again, in consultation with the Chair and the board, what your strategic and operational priorities are… and work to define them so that everyone is [in agreement].”

What they say

Don’t underestimate the value of talking to people in the business during these early days. Sarah comments: “For a retail CEO, certainly, it’s about working in-store for a period of time and spending as much time as you can with the people on the ground who are actually delivering the results for you. After all, you can’t start adding value at a more senior level until you really understand what’s happening.

“If I’d come into this business and said, ‘Tell me how our stores are run,’ and I just sat in my office… I would have been so far from the truth of what actually happens in-store.”

Tony says: “You absolutely need to take the time… to meet and listen to colleagues at all levels, as well as customers, very early on. You’ve got to prioritise listening so you get a much better feel for the organisation in your first 30 days.”

Understanding external stakeholders is increasingly a key part of the CEO’s role. Greg comments: “Going the extra mile in terms of your due diligence is probably the distinguishing feature of people that do it well. The incoming CEO must talk to advisors to the business, people that are no longer with the company and, of course, customers, investors and analysts.”

Howard says that he did “an awful lot of travelling around” to make a concerted effort to speak with those on the frontline and to deal with customers: “In my case, because I was coming into a business and a new industry, I didn’t come with any preconceptions, so I came in being genuinely curious.”

It’s about absorbing as much information as possible and carefully choosing how to relay the messages you think will have the biggest impact. “You’ve got to prioritise listening to colleagues but then also listen to customers and other external stakeholders,” says Tony. “I remember the first newspaper I sat down with was The Sun [the UK’s most popular tabloid], which was a deliberate decision because many more of our customers read The Sun than the Financial Times.”

Lights, camera, action

Once a CEO has developed their own view on strategy, it’s time to ring the changes. Mike says: “Get your direct reports, your team right, and have your head of communications in attendance at your executive committee [meetings]. He or she has to know what’s going on in the business and [likewise] you can make sure the key messages are getting out to all employees, especially around the company strategy. It’s a real failure when employees say, ‘I don’t know what the company strategy is’.”

Howard comments: “[In my case] the executive team was, to a large extent, not really fit for purpose, so I had to replace the HRD, the legal director and the FD. I also had to move a couple of regional directors around, so there was quite a lot of change required…

“Basically, I didn’t have enough evangelists on my team to support me on the messages I wanted to convey and to help me execute the strategy.”

When speaking to former CEOs, a familiar refrain is that, in retrospect, decisions could have been made at a greater pace. Lord Rose says: “When I look back and assess the mistakes I’ve made, it’s always about not acting quickly enough. Whether that’s not firing somebody or not pushing a plan through forcefully enough, there’s always the question: could I have gone faster?”

Put simply, the spotlight will be on a new CEO to show real leadership. “You’ve really got to energise yourself, but triply energise the team who are working for you, because if you don’t [motivate] the team, you don’t get the job done,” adds Lord Rose.

I hope to see you soon

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

A Matter of Reputation

Comm update_8 OctoberConsistency goes a long way to building a strong corporate reputation. If a CEO waxes lyrical about the pride the company takes in putting customers first, or eulogises about how it supports communities and tries to ‘give something back’, then the business cannot be found to be doing the exact opposite. That’s a sure-fire way to attract a swarm of negative publicity.

From environmental disasters, to rogue pricing and bad customer service, there are plenty of examples of companies which have seen their once gilded brands fall into the gutter. Nick Barton, CEO of CityWest Homes, a provider of housing management services, says: “The crucial thing to think about is how it might break down if things start going wrong. That’s when your reputation is so fundamental, because when things become uncertain people will cling to what they are most comfortable with. Trust is the fundamental part of your reputation.

“People will go with you, even if things are going wrong, because they believe you’ll do the right thing and will fix it. If there’s no reputation and no trust, you will lose your audience, market, investors, bankers, whoever, very quickly.”

Over the years, a company’s character will invariably be defined by the way it has operated. Ian Wright, former Corporate Relations Director at alcoholic beverages concern Diageo, says: “First thing, and absolutely critical to any corporate reputation, is sustained strong business performance; you can’t expect to be a well-regarded company without being good at business and without having a strong track record of success.”

Pam Powell, Non-executive Director at Premier Foods, notes that building trust is increasingly hard among well-informed, sceptical stakeholders. She says it’s necessary to devise clear policies around things like sustainability and to be able to demonstrate that actions are being taken to improve performance, as this is critical for maintaining corporate integrity.

It’s a case of devising a watertight communications strategy. Samantha Barber, Non-executive Director at electricity company Iberdrola, comments: “To have an engagement strategy with stakeholders who are onside and supportive is actually quite straightforward. It’s a completely different kettle of fish when you are interacting with those who are openly and vocally hostile to your company and brand. To make it work, it requires very active and constructive listening… and to have a respectful dialogue on all sides.

“With a really hostile stakeholder group, you may never be able to win them over completely to your side and they may never be openly supportive of your company, but what you might be able to do, through greater understanding between your corporation and that group, is neutralise the negativity and hence its impact on your corporate reputation.”

Tone from the top

Employees should be under no illusion about what’s expected of them. On the flipside, they in turn must be confident that the senior leadership team is going to follow the same rules and codes of conduct.

For Ian, “it won’t succeed unless the CEO is absolutely committed, otherwise people figure it out quickly”. If a CEO has a passion for excellence in customer service, it has to be bought into by his/her “executive colleagues… and then it needs to be transferred and made into a real feature across the organisation, including the board itself”.

Without that buy-in, things will go awry. Tim Kiy, MD of Operations for Marketing, Communications, Citizenship and Public Affairs at Barclays Africa Group, says: “Reputation is something that’s owned by every single person in the organisation but the tone is set from the top, primarily by the board and the executive committee.

“They have to understand exactly what it is they want in terms of both a culture for the organisation and the relationship with their customers, and that should be imbued in both the brand and the brand positioning.”

Tony Cocker, Chief Executive of energy company E.ON UK, comments: “It has got to start from the most senior levels then be nurtured and fostered at every level. To do that you’ve got to have the right behaviours; you need simple, clear strategies and people at the local level… need to feel empowered to do the right thing for the customers.”

Certainly, the external messaging has to be equally transparent and it pays to be on the front foot. Andrew McCallum, Director of Corporate Affairs and Business Support for oil and gas company Dana Petroleum, says: “Stakeholders, whether they’re customers or suppliers, governments, policymakers or campaigning groups, have become ever more powerful in influencing the reputation of companies and, in turn, their ability to deliver their strategies and goals.”

One of the main reasons for this, he continues, is that they are now able to communicate much more readily about issues. They’re able to do so pretty much in real time, through social media in particular, and “they can have quite a big bearing, these different audiences, on the level of trust that any company, brand, or government for that matter, enjoys”.

Earlier this year, E.ON UK was heavily penalised by the energy industry regulator, Ofgem, for mis-selling to customers. Tony explains that, when any organisation is under intense scrutiny, showing yourself to be accountable is crucial: “From a personal point of view, as the CEO, you have to represent the organisation and if you make mistakes, in my view you have to stand up and apologise for them personally, as we have done.

“Clearly, in this day and age you have to go on the television… in our case you also go in front of select committees which, again, is televised. You’re in front of a stakeholder and you’re talking to customers, so you are very much representing the company and I think your values, therefore, will have to be very true to the values of the company.”

Clarity, conviction and consistency, as ever, make all the difference, and when things inevitably do go wrong, it certainly helps to be able to own up to mistakes. “The critical thing is to ‘be’ – to behave identically to your desired reputation, not simply to state it,” says Pam. “Trust must be earned through consistent behaviour across millions of touchpoints, large and small alike.”

I hope to see you soon

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

Why Leaders Need Mentors

Comm update_1 OctoberExecutives in high-octane roles can easily suffer from tunnel vision. That’s why good mentors can be priceless, as they can draw on years of experience in business to make suggestions and impart pieces of advice which are untarnished by hidden bias or personal agendas. Indeed, those executives that use a mentor to free up their thinking rarely regret doing so.

“It’s not about passing judgement or even giving directives, it’s more about being a sounding board in an open and trusted manner, so that the mentee feels completely comfortable in discussing any of the challenges he or she may be facing,” says Stephen Chu, Philanthropist and former CEO of the Hong-Kong based Hui Xian Real Estate Investment Trust. “I find it very useful when a mentor gives me feedback with a number of options, not just a: ‘Do this or do that.’ Rather, it’s more about asking: ‘Have you considered this or have you tried thinking about it from another perspective?’

“Nobody knows a particular challenge or situation better than the mentee, so it’s ultimately up to oneself to make the final decision… [but] simply having a chance to look at things from different angles is what I’ve always found very useful and enlightening from a mentor, and very helpful in making a decision.”

Vanda Murray, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Senior Independent Director at engineering company Fenner, comments: “Most people will need different mentors at different stages in their career. At a senior level, it’s more likely to be a conversation to talk through key issues and get advice from those who have been through similar circumstances.”

It’s that broader perspective which is invaluable. Herminia Ibarra, Criticaleye Thought Leader and Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, says: “[One trait of mentors] that nobody talks about is the ability to articulate a point of view – what’s important in leadership and why. This helps the mentee not just emulate the behaviour of the mentor but instead work to assimilate the thinking behind it.”

Wise counsel

For Neil Stephens, Managing Director for the UK and Ireland at food company Nestlé Professional, being assigned a mentor was pivotal in his transition to becoming an MD: “[My mentor] focused on leadership qualities, how to manage in a matrix organisation, and what skills and competencies are required to go from functional leadership to general management leadership.

“It was brilliant for me, because I was able to have that conversation in a confidential way, communicate hopes and fears, and he was able to either confirm them or, more importantly, give tips and techniques to actually manage that change, and what to do beyond the job to help me get there.”

A similar point is made by Tim Kiy, MD of Operations for Marketing, Communications, Citizenship and Public Affairs at Barclays Africa Group: “About five years ago, I had an opportunity to work with a mentor who helped me tremendously in terms of career management…

“[He] was able to bring objectivity… [and] had enjoyed a long, successful career. That was incredibly helpful because all too often you get lost in your own thoughts, so it’s important to get perspectives from other people.”

Rebecca Lythe, Chief Compliance Officer at retailer Asda, comments: “When I moved into my current role it was a big change and required an adjustment in terms of my style… I could have spoken to somebody else on the team, but it wasn’t the same as asking somebody independent. I needed someone objective, who didn’t know any of the other characters to bounce my questions off: ‘What is it like being a junior member around the board table? How do I tackle certain things? How do I react to certain things? How can I do things differently?’ It has really helped to stretch me and has given me greater confidence.”

Trust plays a big part in the relationship between mentor and mentee. Jane Furniss, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Deputy Chair of homeless charity Crisis, says: “When I was CEO of the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission], I remember telling my mentor about things that were happening that I would not have told anyone… I knew that I had to be able to tell her things that, if repeated, even to another trustworthy person, would have been extremely damaging to me personally.

“That’s why I always remind my mentees of the trustworthy nature of our relationship when we are talking about sensitive issues, so that they feel confident in talking to me… You have to establish it and re-establish it on a number of occasions.”

Sense of purpose

The structure of meetings and frequency will vary, but the rule of thumb is to have an agenda of sorts to frame those two-way exchanges. Tim comments: “The important thing when working with a mentor is, right at the outset, to understand what the relationship is there to do.

“As you would do with any other activity, set goals for that and understand whether that is a six-month horizon or a lifetime co-relationship. The point is, what are you trying to achieve and over what period? You can all too quickly fall into: ‘Well, let’s get together once a month and just chew the cud.’”

Jane says: “It helps if someone comes along and says; ‘I’ve got a problem that I really want to work through with you and here’s the definition of the problem’, because that can make for a very active session which is useful for the mentee.

“But quite often, and I know I was the same, you don’t actually think about the mentoring session until two minutes before the person arrives because you’re just too busy. In those circumstances, what I find is that getting someone to talk about what’s front of mind actually gets to the problem anyway.”

As for mentors, if the relationship is to work they need to enjoy getting to the bottom of what their mentees need. Herminia notes there has to be the ability to empathise and connect with people who are different, whereby mentors can demonstrate they are able “to remember what it was like when one was younger, less successful and less clear about one’s leadership, so they can identify with the person going through all the challenges of transitioning from a much more clear-cut technical or functional role to leading”.

Angus Fraser, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman of The Caldecott Foundation, a charity set-up to help vulnerable children, says: “I’ve never had a problem being enthused about other people’s challenges and I get a big kick out of actually getting under the skin of things and relating them to my own experiences.”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring and it’s easy to overcomplicate it. But, increasingly, executives are realising that having a mentor is a vital part of their toolkit for leadership development.

I hope to see you soon.

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

5 Ways to Master Social Media

Comm update_27 August1Facebook has an average of 829 million daily active users. Every minute more than 120 professionals sign up to LinkedIn and 5,700 tweets are sent per second. There’s no doubt social media is a powerful communication tool for individuals and businesses, so building an online presence and engaging should be high on the agenda when it comes to being an effective leader in this digital era.

Richard Branson is a great example of a leader who engages across multiple channels. The Virgin Group founder currently has over 4.37 million Twitter followers, is active on Facebook and Google+, and publishes thought leadership on LinkedIn. While many executives struggle with deciding how to create a personal and corporate profile through social media, Branson effortlessly blends the two.

Of course, such a profile and persona are rare in business. For many executives, social media presents a conundrum. How much of your own personality do you want to reveal and what are the consequences of getting the balance wrong between professional and personal? Criticaleye spoke to a range of Members who are frequent users of social media about how to get it right and why it’s essential for leaders to dive in and explore the benefits.

1) Set Goals 

Before you take the plunge on any social network, it’s important to have an idea of what you’d like to achieve, whether that’s networking, publishing thought leadership or exploring customer attitudes.

Andrew McCallum, Director of Corporate Affairs and Business Support at Dana Petroleum, comments: “Don’t just do it because everyone else is – have a real, strong business rationale for doing it… set clear boundaries and directions of what you’re trying to do and how you’re going to measure success.”

While there is a risk of over-thinking the pros and cons of social media, you do need to consider your own profile and that of the company you represent. “Executives can jump on these bandwagons without asking themselves, ‘What am I really trying to achieve?’” says Paul Brennan, Chairman at cloud storage provider OnApp.

2) Understand the Channels 

If you’re going to engage with social media, it’s useful to understand the context of different channels. Sarah Bentley, Managing Director for Accenture Digital UK and Ireland, says: “Facebook still seems to be in the realm of the personal. I think that there are employers who still check that, but… it’s legitimate for that to be a personal aspect of you.”

LinkedIn, with 313 million users, is viewed as the best channel for business connections. Richard Gillies, Group Sustainability Director at Kingfisher, comments that his LinkedIn “has got lots of people on it so it’s become a Rolodex” of useful business contacts.

Sarah says: “[LinkedIn] is also a good recruitment marketing tool… I can see what personal networks look like, but also if there’s a particular client or person in the marketplace that we want to have communication with.”

Twitter, the microblogging site with 271 million users, is generally regarded as the most dynamic. Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC World Service Group, says: “The main tool I use is Twitter… it’s very versatile. It allows people to have multiple interest groups. Twitter is the primary source of recirculation and the distribution of news so it’s particularly appropriate for me.”

Beyond these sites the use of others like Google+, Pinterest and Instagram seems to depend on industry sector and personal preference. Andrew McCallum says: “There is also some geographical distinction, in China for example Qzone or Sina have got millions of users.”

3) Know Your Corporate Policy 

If you’re a company founder or employed by a start-up you’re likely to have more freedom in the way you communicate on social media, whereas corporate leaders will have stricter guidelines to adhere to. Andrew McCallum says: “I think [knowing] the policy around it, really understanding the boundaries is key… be very specific about what’s out of scope or off limits.”

Domestic and international politics are areas best avoided (unless you’re Richard Branson), as are heated exchanges with customers. Laura Haynes, Chairman of brand consultancy Appetite, says: “You are dealing with your own and your company’s reputation every time you tweet or comment on LinkedIn and Facebook, therefore it’s incredibly important that you understand the impact and implications of your communications.”

Andrew Powell, Chief Operating Officer at careers education provider The Training Room, makes a similar point. “Even though you can retract or delete a tweet, you can get caught out if you let your passion overspill… If you’re really passionate about something, think before you tweet,” he says.

It’s important to remember this especially if you or your company comes under fire. Peter comments: “You have to be prepared to take a certain amount of flack. But don’t ever rise to the bait, don’t get angry. If someone is behaving inappropriately, it’s okay to block them.”

As with any communication, it’s a case of applying common sense. Andrew Powell says: “There’s a bit of guidance around policy and dos and don’ts from the marketing team that you need to be aware of, but you need the ability to express yourself. Provided you don’t bring the company into disrepute – experiment.”

4) Learn and Explore 

One way of ensuring you’re up to speed is to learn from those already versed in the technology. Sarah comments: “I look at what my children do, who range from one to 16… Internally we’ve got a reverse mentoring programme where we’ve got this great analyst who joined us as a graduate… and he’s setting up a whole programme for our execs, me included, to help coach and train us.”

Andrew Powell also found it useful to learn from employees on the frontline referencing an example from his previous role as COO at Colt Technology Services. “Every country I visited, my first three meetings of the day would be 45-minute sessions, back-to-back with people from the floor of the business, talking about technology, social media, what’s going on and just listening and learning,” he says.

According to Peter leaders should be capable of working it out for themselves: “The whole world is going on Twitter. You don’t need to do a complicated course to learn how to use [social media], just sign up, have a look at it and work it out for yourself… If a leader can’t get into something like Twitter and start to work out how it might be a useful tool for them, they haven’t got the curiosity or technological skills which make them a leader in the digital age…

“Dip your toe in the water. You can start using it and consuming it well before you start to post yourself. Get comfortable with the culture of the people you’re following and see what the conventions are, the language they use… the style.”

5) Be Authentic

Navigating the line between personal and corporate may be difficult to master, but once you’ve found your voice it’ll soon become intuitive.

For Sarah sharing a little bit of personal information is good: “I do think that consumers, employees or potential clients would be very suspicious of somebody that was 100 per cent corporate and not having an element of the personal in there. So the odd comment about watching rugby or what you’re having for dinner is fine… there needs to be that element of humanity.”

Andrew Powell agrees: “[Twitter] created a whole different dialogue, where people felt a lot more comfortable in an executive’s presence and therefore the conversation and information was a lot richer for me…

“[Employees] knew what football club I supported; they knew what my kids were up to on a weekend… Suddenly you were talking to a human being rather than a level in an operation.”

Others take a completely different stance, like Paul who draws a clear line between the public profile he maintains professionally and his personal life. “I would never… start talking about my children or that I did a triathlon over the weekend, because I really don’t think it’s pertinent to the opinion piece I might be giving on cloud technology.”

***

It’s understandable for executives to be reticent about using social media. Why run the risk of being trolled, falling foul of regulators or upsetting customers? Besides, what does it say about the workload of a CEO if they’re spending their time tweeting when they should be focused on running the business?

While there is some credence to these objections, they can be used as a smokescreen for fear and lack of curiosity. The reality is that with minimal preparation and a basic appreciation of the rules of engagement, the negatives can quickly be surmounted. Given the emphasis on communication as a core leadership skill, it’s somewhat negligent of executives to not make time for social media and see it as another means of building closer relationships with various stakeholders.

As Peter puts it: “People can be a bit nervous about it but get over that and try it out. You’ll be surprised at how much it improves your effectiveness as a leader.”

I hope to see you soon.

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

5 Ways to Boost Employee Engagement

Comm update_13 August

If employees have a sense of purpose, feel valued and are able to trust an organisation and its leaders, the chances are they will be passionate about what they do for a living. In order to create such a working environment, boards must think carefully about communicating a message which is universal and yet resonates with a diverse range of individuals who possess different motivations.

While no company is ever going to get it completely right, a high price will be paid if leadership teams fail to understand why it’s vital to take engagement seriously. Criticaleye spoke to a variety of Members to gauge their views on how to forge an approach which is strongly tethered to business performance. 

1) Give Employees a Voice

Empowering employees so they can actually make a difference will help them feel more connected with the organisation. Therese Procter, Personnel Director at Tesco Bank, says she encourages people at all levels to collaborate and push themselves: “I might get our graduates involved in having a focus group with me, so they put forward fresh ideas on how we might do things in a different way. Or, for instance, when I was in Newcastle recently, I had the opportunity to work with some of our frontline colleagues.

“They spent an entire morning teaching me what it is that they’ve been doing in order to make the operation leaner and more agile. They’re coming up with the ideas that are making the business better for customers, rather than those ideas coming from executives, and I want to continue to build an environment where that can happen.”

It’s about taking the time to ensure others are able to share their opinions. Clodagh Murphy, Managing Director of technology services provider Eclipse Internet, says: “I run informal sessions once a month where we select colleagues randomly to have lunch with me so we can chat…  [and] I just ask: ‘How is it going?’ It allows me to gauge how engaged the employees are.”

2) Get Your Middle Management Onside

Don’t underestimate how much middle management dictates the mood and tempo of a business. Mike Tye, CEO of Spirit Pub Company, says: “If I can’t engage the senior team with what we are trying to achieve, and if that doesn’t eventually filter through to our general managers and our units, then we’ve lost the war. The critical thing is that general managers have got to talk to their teams and say: ‘This is what we’re about,’ and they’ve got to do it regularly.”

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), stresses the importance of good line management: “It’s going beyond the typical dimension which would be: ‘Do I think my manager is competent?’ into spaces such as: ‘Do I think they have integrity? Are they consistent in actions and behaviours? Are they what some people might call benevolent? Do they recognise me as an individual and reward, encourage and support me?’”

3) Push for High Performance

While no-one would doubt the usefulness of surveys and scorecards and crunching the data around what employees are thinking, there is a limit as to how insightful these tools can be. 

Peter argues that some of the claims made around measuring employee engagement are spurious: “You can read reports that suggest if you increase your engagement score by X per cent, you’ll increase your return to shareholders by Y per cent. Well, I don’t think that basis of engagement is sufficiently sound. More importantly, you cannot make calls on those links as there are too many other intervening variables.”

According to Colin Hatfield, Founder of communications specialist Visible Leaders, questionable assumptions are being made about what engagement means for an organisation. “People are confused,” he comments. “They say: ‘Well, if we build engagement we will get high performance.’ But I think there is a danger that you can build engagement and think that it’s going to lead to high performance but actually what you end up with is a highly engaged workforce and performance levels may not shift.”

Colin gives the example of an organisation with exceptionally high engagement scores where the employees were seemingly happy, receiving great benefits and remuneration packages, but a significant change was required for the company to get back on track. “The point is that engagement doesn’t automatically deliver performance, although to deliver performance you need engagement,” he says.

Leaders have to establish clear goals so that people are aligned with what’s delivering value for the business. “The danger is that with all of the talk about the importance of engagement, everybody’s eye has been taken off the ball about performance,” adds Colin. “What we need is a more balanced view between managing the two dynamics.”

4) Keep Communicating

If a leader is going to be listened to, he/she will need to be consistent in their behaviour otherwise employees will switch off. In fact, many employees will be looking keenly for any sign of contradiction or lack of authenticity.

Clodagh says: “If you’re trying to manufacture a message because you think you should be saying something, that’s when you become unstuck. Whereas if the message you’re getting out is actually what you’re doing, it’s what you’re living and breathing every day, then it’s simply the way things are. You’ve then got to find the different ways of ensuring everybody is on that journey.”

It’s about tailoring the message and finding ways to inspire others. Kevin Murray, Chairman of brand building and CSR consultancy The Good Relations Group, suggests that a CEO’s vision needs to flow through the entire company, right down to the people on the frontline so they understand how they are contributing to the corporate culture. “To engage your employees you need to be inspiring, a good listener and recognise the impact you have on your staff,” he says.

Mark Jones, Managing Director of hospitality and business education centre Wyboston Lakes, says: “A leader has to define success and work towards achieving it. It’s all about people, especially in a service delivery business. I take it as a personal crusade to assist the team with their levels of engagement and understanding.”

For this to hit home, consistent and regular communication will help people to have faith in the leadership team. Peter says: “If I, as an individual, trust first and foremost my line manager, but secondly the wider leadership of the organisation, then I’m more likely to go with it and I’ll have an underlying base of engagement that, provided I can maintain that trust, should broadly be sustained even in difficult times.”

Not everybody is going to want to come aboard. Nick Barton, CEO of property management company CityWest Homes, says that it’s crucial to have a plan to address the disengaged people within an organisation: “It is this group that will constantly hold back even the most engaged workforces so they must be dealt with and quickly. This group have been described as ‘mood hoovers’ – those that feed on failure and wallow in a nihilistic trough. They exist in every organisation.”

5) It’s Not All About Money

A healthy remuneration package matters, but pay alone won’t necessarily make an employee loyal or high performing.

Mike says: “People need to feel that they’re being paid fairly. The thing that is most likely to upset or disengage people is unfairness or inconsistency, but most people join a business knowing what their salary is.

“I always describe remuneration as almost a bit of a sugar rush – it’s great when it happens but unless everything else is great as well, the benefit of that sugar rush will soon wear off. It’s not normally the key reason for people to stay in an organisation, rather it’s the culture, values and leadership engagement that are the big drivers.”

Clodagh comments: “If [pay] is fair and equitable, it doesn’t motivate at all. If it is unfair and inequitable, it demotivates, usually. So I think in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s right down the bottom [in terms of driving engagement].”

***

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to aligning employees. Rather, it’s a continuous process of two-way communication around the journey the business is on. It involves a mixture of repeating messages, finding new approaches to inspire others and behaving with integrity.

“Engagement is not around any one single thing,” says Colin. “You’ve got to be aware of all of the potential drivers of engagement as it really is different strokes for different folks. These need to be managed in an integrated way and you have to be alert to the fact that people within a single team are going to be engaged, motivated and inspired by different things.”

I hope to see you soon.

Matthew

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