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

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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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Beware the Lazy Thinkers

“The rise and fall of empires is dramatic in the consumer and industrial technology space,” says Andy Griffiths, CEO of the Consumer Appliances Division at Glen Dimplex. “Getting teams together to continuously challenge and reappraise your market, which changes every day in this digital world, is fundamental.”

This continues to be a central challenge for companies across myriad sectors, whether they’re in B2B or B2C. “You have to get away from the running of the business because it can be intellectually lazy. Studying this month’s figures, working out this quarter’s results – that’s not interesting,” continues Andy, who is also former President for the UK and Ireland at Samsung Electronics.

“You need to challenge yourself and your teams to something longer term. You’ve got to do it realistically and for as far as you can see. Normally that’s between two and five years.”

Anita Chandraker, Head of Digital at PA Consulting Group, agrees. She warns: “Beware the lazy thinkers – there are many of them out there. It’s also important to take accountability for tomorrow, because too many people are looking at today. If no one is accountable for innovation, it won’t happen.”

There are very real difficulties for organisations in achieving this, from resetting KPIs to developing a tolerance for failure. “Leaders must put the right framework in place so that individuals and teams can share ideas,” comments Alison Mills, Relationship Manager at Criticaleye. “Setting up cross-functional teams that include a range of individuals with varying skills and experiences could be one way of doing this.”

For Andy there is a simple, yet crucial, point that boards and executive teams need to bear in mind: “The last thing you ever want as a start point is a bunch of clones marching in one single direction going off doing the same things.”

In most cases, a shift in mindset is required. Kevin George, CEO at passenger ferry company Red Funnel Group, reflects on his experiences at British Airways when his team were first tasked with inventing a flat-bed business class seat.

“To come up with a seat that would lie flat and be economically viable just seemed impossible,” he explains. “But it was a question of overcoming that mental barrier and finding a way of doing it.”

When BA created the fully reclining seat in 2001, Kevin said it broke new ground in the airline industry. Now, almost every international airline has adopted them.

From incubation to execution

Those organisations faced with the prospect of having to relearn the art of innovation need a clear understanding of who will be responsible for generating ideas, and who delivers on going to market.

On that point, Anita noted the client challenges highlighted in PA Consulting Group’s ongoing research into innovation. “Certainly the data shows that the biggest challenge companies face is the ability to scale up once they’ve got a good idea,” she said.

There will be serious questions about investment, resource allocation and the risks around how to integrate a new product or service into an organisation.

This is why it’s vital to reflect on the structure, what the levels of accountability and oversight should be, and how this all runs in parallel with ‘business as usual’. David Hollander, CEO at Aqualisa, a UK-based shower manufacturer, comments: “Coming up with new concepts is the easy bit; it’s almost all about execution. That’s where management plays a big part in driving fledgling ideas, presenting visible confidence, allowing time to discuss and evaluate the viability of an idea. Then, it’s about enabling the processes needed to see it through.”

At Aqualisa, David says the company is preparing to launch a new product and different teams are fully involved, working on a collaborative basis: “Our R&D and marketing teams are closely linked. R&D may work to develop a new product in response to a marketing imperative, but equally it can be the other way round. They are led by a Brand and Design Director, who oversees both teams.”

According to Andy, proper thought should be given to creating teams for different stages of the innovation process: “It’s relevant to keep your good thinkers thinking, and have your good doers doing. That, in a consumer market is a more natural segmentation of skills, because you have end users who are continuously demanding, as well as a bunch of competitors agitating your business.

“The innovation team, once they catch their breath post-launch, need to come back to the table two or three months later and start again, using some of the data from how the last project landed.”

That’s the Holy Grail for any business when it comes to innovation – how to keep that cycle going. One great idea and seamless execution won’t guarantee success. Rather, a winning approach lies in the ability to empower those within an organisation to do it time and again.

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

This Community Update includes insights from a recent Discussion Group: How to Create a Successful Innovation Team

Would you like to share your thoughts on innovation teams? If so, please email dawn@criticaleye.com

Interested in finding out more about cross-functional teams? Then don’t miss our Community Update next week on breaking down organisational silos.

How to Strengthen the Leadership Team

Should the leadership team shift every time an organisation encounters change? It’s a question many CEOs and boards grapple with, because it’s certainly not clear cut. One thing we do know is that every business needs a complementary team of individuals to lead it to success.

Of course, the context will differ for each company and will also constantly evolve. Indeed, over half (53%) of respondents to a Criticaleye survey said that they are either going to replace members of the senior leadership team or overhaul it entirely.

Here, a number of executive and non-executive directors reveal four questions to pose when assessing the leadership team:

1) Do you understand what’s needed?

It would be futile to evaluate the leadership before you know what mix of skills you require to execute the strategy.

Robin Murray Brown, Partner at executive search firm Tyzack Partners, comments: “The most frequent strategic error, in my view, is failing to anticipate future leadership needs. All too often, organisations tend to think about what has worked in the past, or to try to correct current weaknesses rather than working out what leadership qualities are required to deliver their strategy.”

According to Howard Kerr, CEO at UK business standards company BSI, the chief executive and the board must look at strategy, structure and people – in that order – to assess what’s needed.

“If you’re not clear what leadership capability you need to support your strategy, you will fail,” he adds, frankly. “The strategy has to be absolutely pinned down and clear. Not just from a design point of view, but also execution. Who do you need to make it happen?”

2) Is the CEO driving it with the right support?

Effectively assessing the senior executive team calls for a number of constituents. It must be led by the chief executive, while the support of the chairman, board and HR director will be critical.

Anne Stevens, Criticaleye Board Mentor and former Vice President for People & Organisation for Rio Tinto Copper, says the most challenging aspect of strengthening the team can be persuading the CEO of its importance. “You have to coach and support them to take an objective look at their team, their attributes and where to develop them. The HR director has a key role to play in making sure the CEO is comfortable with the approach and prepared to take action where required.”

For David Parry-Jones, Vice President and General Manager for Northern Europe at software company VMware, the HRD and chairman should both act as agitators, pushing the issue to the forefront of the CEO’s mind.

He explains: “CEOs can sometimes get wrapped up in quarterly reporting or annual cycles of the business and lose sight of stuff that may help them in two or three years’ time. The chairman’s role is to look over the horizon to see what’s coming.”

The chairman’s role is also fundamental in assessing the CEO. Alison Carnwath, Chairman at Land Securities, says: “A non-exec chairman of a Plc should require that leadership capability assessment and development be brought to the board regularly for discussion, but only the chair will really assess the CEO.”

3) Can the leadership team be developed?

If the path or direction of the business changes, the leadership team must be reviewed; it may then become apparent that there are gaps. The question is whether you change the team, develop them, or apply a combination of the two.

But ambitious leaders need to feel they can progress. “There needs to be more focus on development,” argues Jamie Wilson, Managing Director at Criticaleye. “Just because someone has reached the higher echelons of their career doesn’t mean they should stop learning.”

On that point Kevin Barrett, Operations Director at Howden Joinery Group, notes: “The CEO should demonstrate their own personal skills and outline what’s missing around the table. They should then ask: Do we buy those skills in, or does someone want to put their hand up and develop them?”

It’s down to the CEO to lead by example. “I sit down once a quarter with a coach for half a day and talk about my leadership strengths and weaknesses. I’m very reflective and get a lot of feedback from people,” Howard says. “That makes it harder for people to push back on their own development.”

Unfortunately, some leaders may feel they are beyond that. Anne notes: “I found a clear link to those who were keen to learn about their own strengths and development and strong employee engagement. The more resistant leaders, typically, were the ones who needed the most development.”

Reticence may lead to difficult exit decisions. Chris West, Vice President for Commercial Operations at Asda, comments: “It’s better to address things quickly than hope they will get better over time. Focus on what’s probable versus possible.”

4) Are you over-promising on succession?

Every company should be preparing internal talent for future roles, as well as providing continuous development. However, you should think twice before committing anyone to a specific role too early, such as the CEO role.

“That’s a mistake organisations make, they lock themselves in and feel they can’t go back,” Anne continues. “Inevitably, if the business does take a different direction or adopts a new strategy, you end up having to manage a very difficult conversation and the subsequent fall out.”

According to Kevin, there’s a fine line between leadership development and succession; they need to be in balance. It might be more effective to develop someone, rather than bringing in the next person. “You can get sucked into succession planning, so much so that you do it at the expense of leadership development,” he says.

One suggestion for avoiding this pitfall is to focus on a much broader set of leadership skills, rather than being driven by roles. “If you’re specifically developing someone for an ‘as is’ type of role there is a high chance of failure,” Howard says. “You should be preparing people for the ‘to be’ state.”

That’s why the whole leadership team – plus another 100 employees – at BSI have been through a leadership challenge programme. It’s based on methodology developed by the CEO, HR and an external facilitator. It studies an individual’s strengths and weaknesses related to three elements: strategic thinking, relationship building and operational execution.

“My philosophy for leadership development is to build, rotate and change,” Howard says. “You’ve got an organisation stuffed full of really smart, ambitious people who want to learn and develop, give them opportunities, don’t let them atrophy.”

 

This article was inspired by Criticaleye’s recent Executive Breakfast Briefing: How to Strengthen the Leadership Team

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

Would you like to share your thoughts on developing leadership teams? If so, please email dawn@criticaleye.com

Don’t miss our Community Update next week on innovation.

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A Bird’s-Eye View on Innovation

Managing risk and allowing innovation to flourish are two sides of the same coin. Today’s board directors must understand the value of both and create an environment that rewards them appropriately.

Sir Howard Davies, Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, explains that while directors clearly should not be relied on for new product ideas, they have a key role in setting the right tone. “The board should be able to create an environment in which innovation is valued, supported and where people feel self-confident enough to take appropriate risks,” he says.

It’s a point shared by Andrew Minton, Managing Director at Criticaleye. He reasons: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that if a business wants to develop an innovative culture, the board has to create an environment within which people can experiment.

“As a result of increased transparency, non-executive directors must be cognisant of their role in setting the right culture and attitudes. If NEDs don’t appear to value innovation and fresh thinking, the rest of the business will follow suit.”

For Rita Clifton, Non-executive Director at ASOS and Nationwide, this goes beyond simply saying the right things. The modern boardroom must have vibrant, curious individuals who symbolise the behavioural standards and values that they expect from the wider organisation.

She says: “When I started sitting on boards 15 years ago, I would hear many chairmen, chief executives and directors talking about how the business needed to be more innovative; that it needed to move faster. I would look around the table and think: ‘Guys, you’re the problem, you don’t look as though you want to be innovative’.

“In my view, the board directors need to symbolise the best of your organisation. The standards and expectations they set are so important; people pick up cues from what the board appears preoccupied with. Regardless of what you say about culture, if your staff know that your main driver is profit you’re going to encourage fearful and short-term behaviour.”

Complaining about compliance

The challenge for boards is to find the time for strategic thinking when the immediate focus needs to be on regulatory compliance, corporate governance and effective risk management.

Sir Howard, who has sat on FTSE 100 boards for over 25 years, has seen a shift in the board’s approach to governance. He believes that time, which would otherwise be spent looking forward and assessing growth opportunities, is being eaten-up by “the pressure to demonstrate a robust control framework”.

What can you do to redress the balance? Sir Howard answers: “You can make better use of the risk committee, which should take a lot of the heavy-lifting off the main board. However, be careful that you don’t create two classes of director, one who is focused on risk and the other who can ignore it”.

“The key thing is that the board isn’t dragged too far into the detail and can afford to pull itself into more strategic thinking. You could also ensure that there are board and off site meetings in which risk and control are banned topics and you focused on innovation.”

For Guy Elliott, Deputy Chairman at SABMiller and Non-executive Director at Royal Dutch Shell, boards need to embed their obligations into strategic discussions.

“Often compliance and risk are segmented as a special discussion on the board. Board members may think they tick that off every six months, and if the audit committee has said that the processes are fine, they feel they’ve done their job,” he says.

“You have to go further than that. What you should be doing with risk, a lot of the time, is integrating it with strategy and futurology. For example, one might think about what’s going to happen to consumer habits; what rate of growth you’ll see in emerging markets compared to a developed one. Integral to that is exploring how you are going to chase an upside risk or mitigate a downside one.”

All-pervasive technology

The nature of innovation in the digital age means that directors require a much deeper understanding of technology. Natarajan Chandrasekaran, CEO and Managing Director of Tata Consultancy Services, says: “All of us, in every industry, are going through a transformation; the biggest [challenge] is that before technology was supporting business, now it’s leading it.

“It’s no longer the case that once the business model is decided, you deliver the technology to support it. Now, it’s absolutely essential that you appreciate the power of technology so that you’re able to define the future of the business.”

This sentiment is echoed by Stine Bosse, Member of the Supervisory Board of Allianz and Chairman of BankNordik. “I would argue that you can’t talk about anything in the future without considering technology. Last year, it took up about 30 per cent of board time. That included educating the board – we have to go into the machine room and understand the technology, then we can think about its impact strategically,” she comments.

“At Allianz, we have just had a full day looking at where disruption is likely to come from – a full day for the board is a lot of time. We were thinking about driverless cars and the implications for insurance.”

Even with this level of education, Stine believes that the composition of the board room will change. “The average age will fall because boards will need to have age diversity. Intuitive knowledge of technology [needs to] enter the board room. Of course, [everyone] has to be able to satisfy the regulators’ requirements, but let’s not be too frightened about that; you can educate yourself to that end.”

Ultimately, it’s a case of developing a board that has the confidence to invest in change and encourage the business to move forward. Guy says: “We have to have more discussion about technology and disruption in the boardroom. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a CIO needs to sit on the board, but they need to be there, talking the language of the board. It is important that what they say actually means something to everyone around the table. It’s difficult to make that linguistic transformation, but it can be done.”

Of course, the other side is that to ignore market disruption is a dereliction of duty. Rita notes: “Risk management can be seen as putting a brake on proceedings and trying to stop things from happening. With the speed at which most markets change these days, a key risk is not to innovate. If we’re not careful, the board will be seen as trying to stop things from happening.”

These comments were made during a panel discussion at Tata Consultancy Services’ European Summit in Berlin.

By Joshua Tearney, Account Manager, Advisory Practice

Do you have a story about innovation? Please share your perspectives by emailing: dawn@criticaleye.com

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update on how to change your leadership style.

Can a Chairman Mentor the CEO?

A chairman should be able to provide support and guidance to a CEO when necessary. That said, a big question mark hangs over how open the two can be about business challenges given that the chairman’s ultimate responsibility lies with shareholders.

It’s a notoriously complex relationship, so Criticaleye spoke to a range of executive and non-executive directors about the ability of a chairman to mentor a CEO. They came up with four key points to bear in mind:

1) CEOs Don’t Do Vulnerable 

Understandably, a CEO may think twice before admitting to a chairman they’re struggling to resolve an issue in the business and need help.

Sir Ian Gibson, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman of Norbrook, a global provider of veterinary pharmaceuticals, explains: “Often, people don’t want to show weakness to those they work with and therefore it’s the natural reaction of the CEO to question what signals they would send by raising a certain point.”

For mentoring in its truest sense to be effective, there has to be openness. While that’s not impossible between a CEO and chairman, it will take time to establish the necessary level of trust.

2) The Chairman Does the Hiring and Firing 

The chairman is expected to find a new leader if company performance levels are below par. Naturally, the CEO knows this and it’s a defining element of their relationship.

Tom Beedham, Director of Programme Management at Criticaleye, says: “True and effective mentoring can only be delivered by someone who has been at the coalface of leadership and understands the real life, day-to-day challenges faced by executives.

“A chairman may have this experience but they cannot truly be an independent mentor to the CEO as their ultimate role is to hire and fire them; their primary responsibility is to ensure the obligations to investors and stakeholders are both understood and met.”

Ian Harley, Board Mentor at Criticaleye and former Deputy Chairman and Senior Independent Director at British Energy, comments: “By and large the chair can’t be the CEO’s mentor – especially if they selected the CEO.

“It’s tricky to be seen coaching and helping someone you have picked because you believe they have what is required for the job.”

Cheryl Black, Non-executive Director at insurance agency Unum, notes: “The chairman has a role to help the chief executive succeed but they are not a sponsor. It’s very clear that the chairman is there to help the business succeed first.”

3) A Powerful Combination 

Of course, as trust builds between both parties, it should encourage greater openness. Anthony Fletcher, CEO of snack company Graze, says: “To not have the chair mentor or coach the CEO in some way would seem like you’re missing a trick to me,” he says.

“They understand the perspective of everyone around the board table; some of those perspectives may have been given in private – they don’t have to be betrayed – but that information will help [the CEO] do their job well.”

A similar point is made by Richard Laing, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman of 3i Infrastructure:  “The chair can help the CEO deal with the many complex issues he or she will face, especially around the human aspects, such as the CEO’s colleagues, career progression, the way they are handling the job and so on.”

As Sir Ian puts it, “it’s about relationships”. He explains: “Process tracks what is happening, whereas relationships define whether it happens easily, seamlessly, or if there is a standoff. If it becomes fraught it will take longer to execute the strategy and that just isn’t helpful.”

4) An Independent View

It is all too easy for a CEO to find themselves isolated, especially if they are in the role for the first time. “Being a CEO is an extremely lonely life, you’re always having to keep things to yourself, you’re always guarding your views; whether you like it or not, you need to continually evaluate your people and whether they are working as a team,” Sir Ian comments.

“Eighty per cent of that you can and should share with your chairman, but there will be things that mean you’ll want to talk in a way that you can’t do with somebody in the business. If the conversation involves you questioning your own judgement as a CEO, you don’t want to share that with your chairman.”

That’s when speaking with someone who is genuinely objective and independent can be invaluable. “Early on in my career, when I stopped being a CEO and became a NED and chairman, I was relatively unimpressed by the idea of CEOs needing external mentorship,” recalls Sir Ian. “That’s touching 20 years for me now, and over that time I’ve become more convinced that it is of benefit.”

Do you think the chairman can mentor the CEO? Please do send your thoughts to: dawn@criticaleye.com  

Don’t miss next week’s Community Update in which business leaders will discuss the role of the CFO. 

How to Support a First Time CEO

Stepping into the CEO role for the first time is a daunting task. You’ll face immense pressure to tackle widespread responsibility at a relentless pace. No CEO can do it alone and a first-timer in particular will need support in making that transition.

“The top job requires so many skills and leadership capabilities that just acquiring them − let alone using them − can seem overwhelming. Once you’re in the role, don’t expect that you can do everything yourself; a strong leadership team should be there to support you and give you time to reflect and decompress,” says Matthew Blagg, CEO of Criticaleye.

We ask leaders for their experience of being, or supporting, a first time CEO. Here’s what they had to say…

Get the Support of the Board

Ron Marsh, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman at Polypipe

For a first time CEO probably the biggest challenge is having the confidence to drive through change in an organisation that they’re not entirely familiar with.

The chairman is there to support them in that, but also to challenge them and respond to their individual needs. He should be supportive without taking responsibility away from the chief executive. It’s more difficult for a NED to directly support the CEO as they don’t have routine interaction with them, but they should provide the sounding board for the chair and CEO to reach a solid conclusion that they can then back.

One of the things a chairman should look for in a new CEO is whether they are overworked – the hours they put in and the sheer effort needed for the job is immense; it can be too much for some.

The main concern is whether the chief executive is feeling lonely and isolated. That often happens when significant changes occur within the top team and at that point the chair should provide a little more help.

Look for Strategic Insight

Catriona Marshall, CEO at Hobbycraft

I joined Hobbycraft in 2011 as a first time CEO. I was heading into a major change programme in a very competitive market with high expectations from my private equity owners. I knew I would need the support of a good board.

The chairman’s role is very important – they maintain a healthy relationship with investors and the board. They should be supportive but also independent. You want them to point out the pitfalls and give you honest advice but also help you on how to get to where you want to be.

From a functional perspective, the CFO should be able to take on things like IT, the supply chain and property but I love to have a buddy on the strategy; someone who can understand the implications of a strategic question.

Getting a CFO who is technically good and commercially savvy is hard, but getting one who can also build a team is the real trick.

Find a Top CFO 

Ian Harley, Criticaleye Board Mentor and former Finance Director and Group CEO at Abbey National

The relationship between a CEO and CFO is the most important in any corporate entity because of the level of contact between them.

They should be complementary – with different strengths and talents – but it’s also very important that they are in locked step; they must move together on the big issues.

I spent five years as CFO to a very charismatic CEO, an ideas factory who sometimes spoke before he thought. When doing investor roadshows with him I’d need to catch those loose balls. My role was to be pragmatic. I also focused on the numbers because he wasn’t technical in terms of accounting.

When I was promoted to CEO I was lucky to be able to pick my own CFO. It was someone I knew from inside the organisation and had worked with for years. If you inherit an incumbent that’s potentially quite tricky – especially if they were a candidate for the top job, which is almost always the case.

Any CEO will have disagreements with the CFO but you must try to have them in private because stakeholders in the business will see the chinks between you and will worry about it, if not try to exploit it.

Create a Team with Complementary Skills 
Greg Morgan, Director at executive search firm Warren Partners

The energy and dynamism of the first time CEO can be a huge asset to any business, especially when well-supported and given the autonomy they crave.

When preparing for a first time CEO role the candidate should be open and honest about their relative blind spots – everyone has them. These could range from having a limited experience of operations, not having done M&A or being a novice in engaging with shareholders or the City. Individuals should involve themselves in situations that enable them to mitigate some of those blind spots.

Businesses that are committed to developing their people will encourage their ‘brightest and best’ to operate outside of their comfort zones and to seize every opportunity to broaden their skillset.

As a first time CEO, it’s no less important to flag where you’re going to need support – the business will not be expecting you to be the finished article; they will respect your honesty and candour and it will get them thinking about the make-up of the team you will need around you.

Potential implications for the business range from hiring or retaining a ‘heavyweight’ CFO to support the new CEO, or asking the chair to remain in the post a while longer.

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A Board’s Eye View on Brexit

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Last week, the UK’s referendum delivered a historic vote to leave the European Union. Since then, political uncertainty and market fluctuations have ensued. As the dust began to settle, Criticaleye spoke to a number of executive and non-executive directors to get their views on the recent turn of events.

“Many business leaders were surprised by the decision 51.9 per cent of the UK population took to leave the European Union. Even those that penned intricate contingency plans will now be in a period of uncertainty. What’s needed now is strong leadership and a calm, considered, long-term approach,” says Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye.

While predictions are difficult to make, it’s important to assess the situation. As such, we spoke to a number of executives, non-executive directors and advisors to get their thoughts on the forthcoming Brexit.

Steven Cooper, CEO for Personal Banking at Barclays

There is a lot of speculation about the impact of the vote on our industry. Our job is to be there for our customers and ensure our colleagues feel calmly supported – that’s exactly what we’re doing.

The business did contingency planning for either outcome and thank goodness we did because I don’t think many imagined it would come out the way it did. That planning has enabled us to respond without panic and provide reassurance to customers and colleagues.

This is a time for rational decision-making, calmness and focusing on the fundamentals of your business, not getting distracted by short-term volatility. We don’t yet know what leaving Europe actually means and it could be quite a long process.

We’re tracking things like call volumes on the hour. We’ve seen record levels of stock trading but there’s been no additional activity in branches or call centres – people aren’t calling up more or asking for more cash. We were prepared for that but it hasn’t happened.

It’s likely that the UK will go into a modest economic downturn for a reasonably short period of time. Have one eye on it but don’t be distracted from the day-to-day running of the business.

I think there will be some opportunities from this; for example some people are taking the current market positon as a buying opportunity.

Jane Furniss, Criticaleye Board Mentor, Senior Independent Director at the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Non-executive Director at the National Crime Agency

I’m not surprised at the decision, I think the Remain campaign lacked conviction and inspiration, UK governments have been constantly critical of the EU so naturally citizens have grown to believe it’s not a club we should stay in. I’m very sad about the vote as I think the ‘EU project’ has broadly been a force for good.

In terms of the organisations I am involved in, leaving the EU could have a dramatic impact on the freedom of lawyers and law firms to operate across Europe. It could also make cross-Europe co-operation between law enforcement organisations harder.

On the other hand, if we come out of the single market it might be easier to control the movement of criminals into the UK, and reduce the numbers of homeless or jobless people who come from poorer EU countries.

Whatever happens next will take time and the period of uncertainty in the short term could damage public confidence. No one actually knows from experience how to exit the EU, or even what it means.

The referendum is a democratic imperative, not a legal one. In theory the Government could ignore it. If I were still a civil servant, I would advise the Prime Minister to take their time negotiating positive arrangements for our withdrawal, and then get Parliament’s and the country’s agreement before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Bill Payne, Criticaleye Board Mentor, Chairman of Primedoc and Non-executive Director at Tekcapital 

I feel some shock [at the referendum outcome] but nobody really knows where this will go.

There are many questions. Will the UK remain in the single market? Will Scotland want independence from the UK and to remain in the EU? Or will the exit negotiations be so horrible that the UK Parliament votes to reject them, triggering a General Election and perhaps a new referendum? Anyone got a crystal ball?

My fear is that investment from Asia will significantly reduce. Asian companies have always seen the UK as a good place to do business, in particular as it gave full access to Europe.

The organisations I’m involved with haven’t made extensive plans. There are no real guidelines or ideas of what the future will look like. So, all you can really do is hunker down and be cautious while carrying on.

In terms of advice to others, I would say prepare scenarios for a number of business cases… full access to EU market, significant trade tariffs, or look to alternative markets. Finally, it is what it is and life goes on.

Simon Warr, Communications Director at National Air Traffic Services (NATS)

Personally, [I feel] disappointed and worried about what Brexit will mean for the country in the years ahead.

The relevant teams [at NATs] examined the voting scenarios and ramifications as far as they could. This was discussed at both executive and board level and where appropriate, contingency plans were put in place.

There will be little immediate effect on the business, apart from any potential impact the economic shock waves will have on air traffic volumes, although these are largely covered through risk sharing mechanisms in our licence.

The longer term will depend entirely on the future relationship the UK forms with the EU and, in particular, whether the UK continues to adhere to the requirements of the EU’s Single European Sky legislation [EU legislation to improve air traffic] as this determines much of what we do.

It will be some time before we can complete a proper assessment. In the meantime, we will maintain dialogue with our customers, regulator and the Government on the options for the future of air traffic control outside the EU.

Leslie Van de Walle, Criticaleye Board Mentor, and Chairman of SIG and Robert Walters

In the short term the impact is uncertainty; people will stop investing and growth will slow down, especially in the UK but also in Europe.

I think the next Q4 and next year’s Q1 will be difficult for UK companies. For international businesses, I think those that have used the UK as their European headquarters will rethink whether or not they want to stay in the UK. For example, Chinese organisations saw London as one of the best places to invest because they wanted to be within the EU. Now they will decide between France, Germany and other places.

Businesses looked at the impact of leaving the EU and had contingency plans, but they were for an orderly world. People are now realising that Brexit has created a political and an economic crisis. Nobody expected David Cameron to step down so quickly; there are lots of decisions that will be postponed until there is a new Prime Minister in place.

At SIG we signed a refinancing contract that was cleared just before the referendum results. [I suspect in future] there will be a problem of liquidity, which at some point might impact on borrowing and the ability to refinance.

There is a lot of noise but people should just continue to run their business and focus on what they can control.

Sally Shorthose, Partner at international law firm Bird & Bird

I don’t think businesses are completely prepared for this eventuality. Even for the leaders of the Remain and Leave campaigns, it was not the result they expected. Of course, the implications could be very far-reaching.

Clients have been asking if they should make allowances and changes to prepare for Brexit. Actually, we’re having to think quite carefully when drafting agreements about a number of things – for example, references to directives and regulations [as] they are likely to fall away in the next few years. Care will also need to be taken in defining the ‘territory’ and with choice of law and dispute resolution clauses to ensure that these survive Brexit, and are even flexible enough to include a broken up UK.

In due course, I would suggest a review of IP portfolios to see if any action needs to be taken – but we need to see what is proposed regarding European Union Trademarks (EUTMs), Community Registered Designs and of course the future of the Unified Patent Court (UPC).

We’ve had a dedicated Brexit [team internally] here at Bird & Bird for about six months; I think it’s very useful [for businesses to] have key people who keep abreast of what’s happening. It’s likely things will change quickly and decisions need to be made. Those people could have a job for much longer than first anticipated.

 

Do you have a view on Brexit that you would like to share? If so, please email dawn@criticaleye.com

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