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.

Follow Criticaleye on LinkedIn

Advertisements

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

3 Ways to Engage Your Employees

Comm update Faces - 24 september

In many respects, discussing employee engagement can be to state the blindingly obvious. After all, CEOs shouldn’t really have to be told that they need to talk to their staff and be able to listen. Perhaps this continues to be such a hot topic because too many leaders allowed themselves to become estranged from their employees and now it’s a case of getting back to basics.

That means interacting with people and getting everyone to believe in the business. After all, a fully engaged and motivated workforce will be a powerful agent for any organisation seeking to change, grow and deliver success. Criticaleye finds out how leaders from a range of organisations are making it happen.

1. Test the Water

The first step is to ask employees for feedback. Most organisations still find the annual employee engagement survey an important barometer here.

Maria da Cunha, Director of People, Legal and Government Affairs at British Airways, says: “While you shouldn’t get too hung up on measurement, I do think it’s useful to have some way of checking how you’re doing. In a large organisation like ours, which has many sub cultures, it’s quite important to get some sense of whether you can prove you are going in the right direction.”

Just keep it simple and understand what you want to try and achieve. Tea Colaianni, Global HR Director at Merlin Entertainments Group, comments: “In our employee engagement survey we ask just one key question: ‘Why do you enjoy working here?’… while it turns out that 95 per cent of our employees enjoy working for Merlin, we try to spend a lot of time working out why there are 5 per cent who aren’t engaged, and the goal is to try and turn them around and make them ambassadors for the brand.”

2. Be Visible

Obviously, CEOs need to get out and talk to staff. “I do a lot of floor walking,” says Martin Balaam, CEO at IT services concern Jigsaw24. “It’s important to be out there and visible, not just having forums and presentations… but to make sure you take time out to chat and reflect on things with your staff. You can often tell what the mood of the office is just by walking through it.”

It’s harder to get around when you’ve a globally dispersed workforce, but there’s still no substitute for face time. Jane Griffiths, Company Group Chairman for EMEA at Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of global healthcare organisation Johnson & Johnson, comments: “Two weeks ago I was in Russia and Poland; next month I will travel with my leadership team to Istanbul… it’s important to go and listen to what the situation is like in different markets and meet with people in different offices face to face. You’re trying to dig deeper into the organisation all the time to see who’s there and who needs more input into their development.”

The other key thing is for middle managers to be engaged and behaving like ambassadors of the decisions made at board level. Colin Hatfield, Senior Partner and Founder of Visible Leaders, a consultancy that specialises in leadership communication, says: “There’s often this great intent at the top of the organisation but it falls down in that layer below, at the local leadership level. Frankly, that is where engagement really happens because the point of this is to get teams engaged…

“If those leading teams within an organisation are not engaging people, then it’s not going to happen. So the emphasis needs to be on helping that layer of leadership do the right things to drive engagement forward.”

It’s a point taken up by Paul Isaac, who until recently led HR for the industrial business of DHL Supply Chain in the UK: “[Engagement] is about the visibility of more senior managers, actually visiting sites, talking to individuals, getting to understand first-hand how those individuals are engaged with the business and the site where they operate.”

3. Walk the Talk

To get any sort of lasting engagement, employees will want to see that you’re serious about taking their views on board. That means being honest, says Ella Bennett, Human Resources Director for the UK and Ireland division of global IT systems and services provider Fujitsu: “It won’t all be good news and openly recognising that helps build leadership credibility. We use…online discussions where people can raise issues in real-time, suggest solutions and get immediate responses from senior players in the business… We make sure the executive team is always accessible.”

Maria comments: “Feedback can get lost in the corporate machine, so people might feel nobody’s listening or that they aren’t contributing, when actually they may be making a very important contribution. So having a feedback loop with clear, two-way communication is the most important thing that can be done and often one of the hardest to get right in a large organisation.”

Such was the case for Nick Allen, former VP of Strategy and Portfolio at oil and gas giant Shell, who was tasked with the challenge of understanding how the organisation could better retain female middle managers. “It required listening to why they were leaving and being willing to take on board the things you may not have thought about, or that may be more difficult to execute than you would like,” he recalls. “I ran virtual focus groups using… video conferencing with six female managers and it was genuine dialogue, so I ended up getting them to chair and facilitate the discussions… [because] you really want to get to the point where the solutions come from them.”

***

What engagement really boils down to is good old-fashioned communication. That means listening to employees, acknowledging their views and making them feel that they’re opinions count for something.

The mistake is to think that employee engagement can be created in bitesize programmes or one-off team building initiatives. As Colin says, “Organisations with a truly engaged workforce simply see it as part of everyone’s day job.”

I hope to see you soon.

Matthew

https://twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

The Great Customer Obsession

The power of the customer is growing and the businesses that can’t provide top quality service across multiple channels are being cruelly exposed. In this complex environment, world-class competitive advantage belongs to the alchemist CEOs who make the customer the focal point of the whole organisation.

Steve Pateman, Head of UK Banking at Santander, says: “You have to be focused on delivering an exceptional level of service to your customers, in every product and interaction. You cannot afford to be slack, because as soon as you are, two things happen: one, your customers move, because there are so many options, and two, your shortcomings become widely publicised.”

This is posing a number of questions for companies. Bridget van Kralingen, IBM’s Senior Vice President, Global Business Services at IBM says: “CEOs are reporting that technology is changing, from back office transactional support to really enabling connectivity with customers and clients… [However,] it has put a lot more power in the hands of the consumer. If you look at social media, there is no such thing as the corporate veil anymore.”

It goes way beyond the old mantra of ‘listening to your customers’. Chris Merry, CEO of accountancy firm RSM Tenon, explains: “The voice of the client is important to everyone. You need to filter feedback through the business to provide your people with the material to help them communicate effectively.”

Get connected

For many organisations, the issue is that, as they’ve grown and technology has evolved, various silos have emerged which frustrate customers and inhibit decision-making. In fact, recent research from IBM suggests that although a large number of UK and Ireland CEOs (63 per cent) agree that customer relations is a key opportunity for sustained success, three-quarters of them feel they need better information to make that happen.

It’s about those at the top being able to drive strategy by making informed decisions. Stephen Leonard, IBM’s UK and Ireland CEO, comments: “Around 40 per cent of CEOs are saying they don’t have access to the right amount of data they need to make decisions, let alone the decisions that other people in their organisation need to make… [Success is about] arming people with the facts.”

After all, data has to be acted on for it to be effective. Jim Waller, Group Commercial Director at Carphone Warehouse, says: “The issue is just making sense of it…  It comes in from lots of different sources and is a complete scattergun… What’s important is being able to interpret that data, and its implications.”

Bridget says: “In terms of how you lead an organisation, one of the key differences between overperformers and underperformers is how much data is embraced – the drive to access it, analyse it and act on it… There is so much out there about your customer that is unstructured and needs context and analysis, and now there is the means to do that in real time.”

When you have the data, allied to the perennial ability to get out there and find out what’s happening on the ‘front line’, you have a winning combination. Henri Winand, Chief Executive of clean power technology company Intelligent Energy, says: “If you are a CEO who never talks to your customers, then you won’t have the insights, and can’t organise your business in the way you need to. Without insights, it’s difficult to do good business.”

Steve certainly likes to take a hands-on approach, as can be seen by the way customer feedback is handled at Santander. He says: “Complaints are the best perspective on your business… I read all of those that reach executive level and will personally send them to the relevant business head to find out what will be done…

“Originally, annoyed staff asked why I was interfering when the complaints team were designed to deal with these things, but it has actually started to change the way people engage with complaints… Now we are starting to get a sense of ownership… they look at them, understand what went wrong, and they make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Keeping pace with customer expectations must be a strategic priority. As we’ve seen, from Kodak to Woolworths, even the largest, time-honoured of companies can become a casualty if it is unable to understand change and adapt accordingly, whether that’s because of new products, technology or levels of service.

Stephen explains: “A lot of companies are struggling and failing; it’s not that they don’t see what needs to get done, they just don’t get it done… Think about the UK high street – in recent years it has been essential that high street stores sub-optimise their business model to get to market fast enough… [but] they can’t.”

The successful CEO will be the one who thrives in such a connected, fast-moving world.

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

I hope to see you soon

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk