A Board’s Eye View on Brexit

Faces 29 06 16

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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The Great Leadership Taboo

Plenty of CEOs and senior executives scoff at the idea of having anything to gain from leadership development. After all, if you’re running a business or a division of a corporate, you’re evidently accomplished in your role, so why would you need a guiding hand?

It’s an old-fashioned way of thinking and one of the reasons that over half of the Fortune 500 have either burned out or faded away in the past 15 years. As volatility and uncertainty across the business landscape have become the accepted norm, there’s no room for complacency and blind-spots in the top team.

The Human Resources Director is uniquely placed to understand where an individual executive, or the whole ExCo for that matter, may require additional support to help them achieve their goals faster.

With this in mind, Criticaleye polled a selection of HRDs on whether enough is being done to sharpen leadership skills among executives. The results show there is a gulf between how organisations are set up and what HRDs believe is required.

According to the results, 86 per cent identified a lack of leadership capability as a barrier to growth. Thirty-nine per cent said that their existing framework for reinforcing leadership skills is inadequate, while just over half (52 per cent) want to improve what is currently in place.

Matthew Blagg, CEO of Criticaleye, says “the figures clearly suggest that CEOs and leadership teams are not doing enough to ensure they have the right expertise in place for the future”.

Saying the “L” word
So, is there some kind of taboo around the question of leadership development for senior executives, including the CEO?

Orlagh Hunt, Group HR Director for Allied Irish Banks, Corporate Banking, Ireland, comments: “It is difficult to tell people they are not as good as they think they are, and also to get senior executives to focus on development.

“They should see life as a learning journey; no matter what your experience is you should always seek to learn and develop.”

A degree of openness or, to use a popular term at the moment, ‘curiosity’ is not always easy to find. Simon Laffin, Chairman of FlyBe Group, gives the example of trying to persuade a CEO to take on a mentor. “CEOs tend to have large egos…You are totally reliant on the CEO being open to having a mentor or not. I personally would encourage it but some don’t want it,” he says.

Yet our survey identified external mentoring and experiential learning as the most effective tools to support senior executives in performing at the highest level. These were followed by executive coaching, partnering with business schools and external courses.

Elements of a high-performing executive team
Organisations fixed on a hierarchical model are going to struggle in the current environment. An overly directive approach results in poor communication, inflexibility and an organisational culture where information and knowledge are withheld, rather than shared.

Such an environment won’t appeal to the best talent and everything seems to point to successful businesses adopting an agile model. According to the survey, the most important elements of a high-performing executive team include trust, constructive challenge and collaboration – all components of a flat hierarchy.

Another key element identified was a common purpose. Nicky Pattimore, HR Director at Equiniti, comments: “The leadership team has to be aligned with the purpose… we ran workshops with all the senior management team to ensure this. Consistency of messaging is critical and you have to have regular touchpoints with employees across the organisation.”

Difficulties arise when executives pursue their own agendas too aggressively. Indeed, the survey found that a lack of alignment over strategy is the primary reason for senior executives quitting.

Ian Cheshire, Chairman of Debenhams, suggests that the top team must genuinely agree where the future of the business lies. “Alignment comes when people have had the chance to work together and own the strategy. You can’t just hand them a to-do list,” he comments.

The HRD and CEO can create the right degree of openness and collaboration within the executive team, provided they’re willing to make the effort. “There will be moments as a HRD when you are standing alone,” says Orlagh. “All the pressure will be on you to tell the CEO about the issues within the business, largely because the other executives won’t raise it themselves.”

Ultimately, there can’t be any sacred cows or taboos in the executive team, especially when it relates to talent. “Some CEOs don’t find managing individuals within the team and the team dynamics that easy, [whereas other] leaders accept challenge as a natural part of a healthy team dynamic,” adds Orlagh.

“Even if you find it tough, as the HRD, it is important that you are willing and able to challenge. It is important that your relationship with the CEO is such that they know that you are doing it from a desire to enable their success, not from a point of ego.”

What are your thoughts on leadership development? If you have experiences and opinions that you’d like to share, please email marc@criticaleye.com

This article was inspired by Criticaleye’s recent HR Director and CEO Retreats
Find out more about our upcoming Asia Leadership Retreat or read more on Strengthening the Executive Team

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Questioning Digital Transformation

Forget legacy systems, many corporates are holding onto legacy revenue streams – meanwhile agile start-ups are nibbling away at their profits. The development of digital technology waits for no one, so CEOs and their teams need to instigate change.

The average life span of an S&P 500 company will decrease from 60 to less than 15 years by 2020 and, at the current churn rate, 75 per cent will be replaced by 2027. These stats echoed through the room during our recent Digital Retreat, held in association with Accenture Digital, where attendees gathered to discuss what digital means to them.

Capturing what was said at the event, here we highlight four questions that leaders should ask themselves when faced with digital transformation:

What problem are we trying to fix? 

Figure out what you want to do before you roll out new technology.
Arabel Bailey, Managing Director and Digital Lead for the UK & Ireland at Accenture, says you must start with the problem you’re trying to solve. “Traditional organisations are often organised around product lines rather than customer needs.

“Many understand the theory of digital and being more customer centric but don’t know how to execute it.”

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, spoke of his company’s digital journey, which for a business established over 300 years ago has been a difficult undertaking. He believes that it’s all down to strategy and a focus on the customer: “Strategy is three questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How are we going to get there?

“We set up two groups of 10 to 12 people to come up with the answers. One thing to come out of it was that every product we provide is a means to an end, rather than an end itself.”

Another key finding was that customers want speed and convenience. “We realised mobile was the way to go. We built a mobile app and launched it in July 2012,” Ashok explained. “Ninety-two per cent of all payments are now done on mobile, it’s an incredible force.”

Do we know what’s happening in other companies and sectors? 

It’s important to have antenna pointed to the outside world. This is particularly the case when agile start-ups are springing up all around you.

Narry Singh, Managing Director and Head of Digital Strategy for EALA at Accenture, who spent 20 years living and working in Silicon Valley before relocating to London in 2014, likened these start-ups to a thousand mice nibbling away at the profits of those too slow to brush them off.

Using a home improvement retailer as an example, he listed over 15 platforms − such as Pinterest, TaskRabbit and Houzz – that could disrupt its industry.

“The biggest risk to incumbents from start-ups is their speed, talent, capital and fresh brands,” Narry said. “Look at funding sources like Angelslist.com and see where the ‘smart’ money is going.”

As fintech companies rise seemingly from nothing, established businesses must place more focus on price and margin. Speaking about Barclays, Ashok explained: “For every £1 of revenue my expenses are 51p. For companies that are digitised it’s around 22p. There is a sense of urgency to move from 51p to 22p, it’s in our interest to drop prices before we are forced to.”

From 2013 to 2015, Barclays made a cost base saving of £600 million. However, Ashok said there’s still much more to do.

Are we prepared for new ways of working? 

Adapting to the challenges and opportunities new technology brings often requires major organisational change.

Bal Samra Commercial Director at the BBC and Managing Director of BBC Television, relayed his experience of leading projects such as BBC Online, the iPlayer and BBC Store. He advised leaders to challenge the traditional boundaries and skills within the organisation.

“We have combined roles at BBC Three – we’ve developed new ones by mixing up social media and content,” he said. “We set up an academy to reskill the organisation and also launched an apprentice scheme that allows us to tap into a completely new pool of people.”

Bal also endorsed the creation of incubated teams whose sole purpose is innovating with new technology. “Separate teams work for big change,” he said. “It can be hard to identify measures of success at the beginning. Support them and let people get on with it, but have a gated approach. If nothing happens in six months’ time, it needs to be looked at.”

How do we get everyone within the organisation to work together? 

Legacy systems and getting buy-in from the board were cited as two of the main obstacles. Andrew Minton, Managing Director at Criticaleye, said: “Digital transformation is a tough job for traditional organisations with long-established operating models and legacy technology infrastructures. Every organisation will be at a different stage when it comes to digital maturity, but it’s a task leaders can’t ignore.”

Whether it’s being spurred on by the chief digital officer, chief technology officer or the chief exec, they need to translate it into something the board can understand.

For Arabel, examples can bring ideas to life: “Build a prototype, get customer feedback and present it to the board. Do things in a small way and then think about how to scale it, rather than thinking about full blown digital transformation all at once.”

Yet it’s critical to stress the sense of urgency for change. “Forget legacy systems, we have legacy revenue streams and they are declining. We need to have the courage to say: ‘Let’s move ahead’,” Ashok explained. “I have to go to the board and say: ‘Let’s get rid of those legacy revenue streams.’ If I don’t, the business will disappear before our eyes.”

It’s not just about the board and leadership team, colleagues across the business need to be aligned. Ashok demonstrated the importance of this by revealing that when Barclays’ mobile app was first launched it didn’t get the pickup they’d anticipated – staff weren’t telling customers about it.

“We needed to get colleagues excited about it,” he said. “But how could we get them excited about it if they didn’t have wi-fi in branches? So, we put wi-fi and 10,000 iPads into branches. The board asked how this would make money; it wouldn’t but it was something we had to do.”

Getting the organisational mindset to shift is a difficult task, but it has to be done. Ashok concluded: “It’s always a heavier challenge at the beginning. It’s about saying: ‘Trust me’.

“Now, it’s about saying: ‘Look what we’ve done,’ and to continue beating that drum.”
By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

What are your thoughts on digital transformation? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at dawn@criticaleye.com 

Read more from Bal Samra on leading breakthrough innovation

Find out more about our upcoming CEO Retreat, in association with Accenture Strategy.


4 Lessons on Innovation

What some call innovation, others say is simply staying close to their customers, but surely there’s more to it than that? Here, we highlight four key learnings on how to nurture innovation in order to keep your organisation fresh and relevant.

During the recent Criticaleye Global Conference Call, Creating Innovation Teams, we heard from two speakers, Andrew Miller former CEO of Guardian Media Group (GMG) and Non-executive Director at The Automobile Association (The AA) and Anita Chandraker, Head of Digital at PA Consulting Group.

Here, we highlight four key themes to emerge from the event:

Start with Your Core Offering

According to Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye: “It’s not about what you do, it’s about why you’re doing it. As a leader you need to understand your organisation’s purpose, that’s your starting point.”

This is something Andrew, who is also former CFO of Auto Trader, has found to be true. “I’ve been lucky to have organisations that know what they are at the heart,” he said. “Some forget the real thing they should be innovating is what they are at the core.”

At the Guardian the mission was to envisage how its readers wanted to consume news now, as well as in the future, whereas at Auto Trader the focus was on moving its marketplace for people to buy and sell cars online.

When Andrew joined Auto Trader in 2002, the business had around £18 million profit, 24 magazines and no digital presence. Now all of its content is solely online and it’s valued at over £3 billion.

“You should celebrate the heritage of the business but accept that ‘celebrate’ doesn’t mean ‘protect’. You’ve got to know what you are to get that excitement back in the organisation and then innovate around it,” Andrew added.

Anita from PA Consulting Group, noted: “Innovation has to be linked to the core of the business, its objectives and challenges, and what customers or clients want. If an organisation is under threat from disruption then the imperative should be to solve that.”

It’s About Leadership, Not Technology

“A lot of people overthink what has to get done, but actually the fundamentals of innovation and change are what most people would refer to as common sense. It’s not really about technology, it’s about leadership,” Andrew said.

“It’s getting the leadership team, the board and your employees to accept that there is a need for change. Unless there is a real desire to change then there’s no point investing time and money.”

It has to start with the CEO and the board, and then the CEO has to get the exec team behind it. “You have to be quite brutal and accept that some people won’t make that journey and proactively manage that,” Andrew commented.

Charlie added: “Scale is no longer a differentiator for businesses, it’s all about speed and leaders need to work out how to drive that in their organisations. They need to provide a framework that supports that.”

Find Out What ‘Agile’ Means to Your Company

Businesses must learn how to exhibit speed and build momentum. “It’s about iterating fast,” Andrew said. “It’s about seeing ideas that work and trying things. The speed at which I see tech companies iterate is phenomenal. Look at Snapchat, which is the fastest growing media distribution brand.”

Change won’t happen overnight, especially in large organisations, but big businesses need to trial new ways of working. Anita noted: “There has been a lot of talk about agile from a software development perspective; now that conversation has moved on to how you make large organisations more agile, how to break down siloes to make an organisation simpler and faster so it delivers results.”

Matt Barry, Chief Operating Officer for Mass Hosting at web company Host Europe Group (HEG), has worked both in organisations in which innovation is kept separate from the core business, as well as one with a more collaborative cross-functional approach.

Prior to joining HEG, he spent four years at a Fortune 50 cable TV company as Product Manager in its newly formed Converged Products division, tasked with rebuilding the experience from the ground up.

“They realised they needed to get something going quickly without the normal politics you get in a big organisation,” he explained. “So, they set up a completely separate team, got new blood in – web people rather than TV – and put us in a new office.”

At his current organisation Matt has implemented a group-wide way of working that uses agile development practices whereby a number of small teams take ownership of a particular project, which is typical of software development companies.

Andrew also had two different experiences at Auto Trader and GMG. “At Auto Trader we set up new business… that essentially cannibalised the old,” he explained.

“At the guardian it was about the disruption of content in the new world therefore we couldn’t isolate the new from the old, it had to be much more intertwined – that was much more complex.”

Don’t Get Hung Up on ROI

New propositions will call for different metrics and measures, rather than return on investment alone.

Anita noted: “If you’re encouraging the organisation to come up with ideas, you’re not going to be looking at financial return over a short period. You might be looking at the potential for an idea to disrupt a market, or the opportunity for growing market share. That can be a big challenge for large companies.”

Small wins in terms of revenue can be huge in terms of customer engagement; it’s about changing the mindset.

Andrew, a former CFO with a financial background, agrees that ROI can be stifling: “At Auto Trader the targets were the number of dealers that we had on our CMS system, then the number of people on the website, followed by revenue. If we had set ROI parameters, we would probably have shut down in 15 months. At the Guardian, the most important measure was the engagement of users.”

You do, however, need limits on investment and this can often come down to ownership structure. Matt explained: “Realistically, it depends on which stage the company is in to answer the question about metrics. A PE-backed company in late stage investment will argue that it’s all about ROI — and that’s true if you are preparing for sale.

“However, early-stage investment companies or one that is well-funded and seeking market share, or one that holds a leader position and wishes to maintain it, will be more flexible.”

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

What are your thoughts on innovation? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at dawn@criticaleye.com

Want to know more about agile project management? Read our article Agile by Design

Find out more about our upcoming Global Conference Call, Sector Watch – Building Partnerships in Financial Services


5 Traits of a Bad Leader

Often, it’s the simplest behaviours that can embitter and drive away employees from an organisation. Criticaleye spoke to range of executive and non-executive directors to reveal the most insufferable leadership traits they’ve encountered and their advice to overcome them.

“Leadership is changing and it’s being driven by many factors, such as increased transparency and new technology,” says Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye. “You have to look at everything you’re doing and assume that what you did before is no longer relevant. Leadership is no longer about what you do, but why, otherwise it has no purpose.”

At our recent HR Director Retreat we surveyed attendees, 96 per cent of which agreed that the requirements for leadership are changing, while 86 per cent believe that a lack of leadership capability could be a potential barrier to company growth.

“It’s extremely important for leaders to learn from one another because you are required to adjust and adapt; you can’t do it all at once. By observing others and hearing about their experiences you will uncover best practice at speed,”Charlie adds.

Now over to those leaders for their behavioural bugbears and how to avoid them:

1. Being too Controlling

Bill Caplan, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman of Weldex International and CSH Surrey, says it’s vital to let go of the reigns.

“If you’re a micro-managing leader and have very tight controls over people they will not grow or develop. Good leaders allow people to stretch themselves, make decisions and a series of mistakes that they can learn from. They should encourage an environment of learning and examination.

The better leaders I’ve worked for have given me that space to make decisions, supporting my business case proposals and succession plans for key members of my team. Those have been my best opportunities to develop as a leader.

The same applies in my current role as Chairman; if I’m making too many day-to-day decisions I’m either an ineffective Chairman or I have the wrong CEO. I liken it to the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor doesn’t play an instrument, yet wants the best and most collaborative musicians. It’s up to the conductor to draw out – through a leader-follower relationship – the best possible music from them.”

2. Thinking You Have All the Answers

Romana Abdin, CEO at Simplyhealth, reflects why leaders should learn from their mistakes.

“It’s so easy to think that you have the answers and to stop listening and learning, which is actually what you need to do most as a leader.

We’ve spoken to thousands of customers and corporate clients, practitioners and staff to help shape our future and strategy. Now continual listening is just something we do as the norm. We have a panel of 2,000 customers who we talk and listen to on a monthly basis.

As a leader if you’re not capable of being coached and coaching, or of learning with your teams, then how can you be successful?

For me, part of learning is sharing where I fell over, mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve learnt from them. Many organisations do a ‘lessons learnt’ assessment after a big project but how many of us actually share those across the organisation?

We fool ourselves as leaders if we think people don’t see everything. Our people see our strengths and weaknesses, they know what we’re about – there’s no point trying to kid them.”

3. Tunnel Vision

Michelle Scrimgeour, Chief Risk Officer at M&G Investments, explains why it’s good to look at every angle.

“Good judgement is a really important leadership trait; you need to able to balance what you’re hearing and seeing, and then make a call.

As a leader you need to be able to filter out what’s important and sometimes make decisions without all of the facts – some of it is gut feel.

The need for wise assessment and decision making can play out in many ways, particularly in a market crisis when tough decisions are required. I have seen poor decisions being made because they were the easy choices; leaders sometimes need to be brave enough to back a strategy for the long term.

It’s important to ensure that you’re really staying in touch with the organisation and judge the quality of the information you’re receiving – some of it will be biased. At the end of the day, good leaders listen well, but it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be swayed by opinion.”

4. Shying Away from Tough Calls

John Allbrook, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman at Franchise Finance and Cellesce, tells us why leaders must be confident decision makers.

“Leaders are there to make decisions. They don’t always get it right but it’s easier to deal with those who make decisions with confidence based on the available information.

In a previous role, the CEO before me was perceived to be weak and indecisive on the tough calls and was losing the confidence of his leadership team, the shareholders and the employees. Those calls related to cutting back the cost base of the company and had major implications on headcount. The uncertainty created an unproductive working environment.

Leaders need to be confident but also self-aware. It’s about striking the right balance and not second guessing yourself. It’s important to remain true to yourself.

I’ve worked for lots of leaders with many different styles and I think you naturally gravitate towards people who you believe are doing it the right way; who are genuine.”

5. Trying to be Something You’re Not

Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye, discusses the value of being authentic.

“Leadership is hard work. While you’ll find many words of wisdom, tools, techniques and practical applications that focus on improving leadership skills, all are empty if not implemented with both substance and passion.

To determine whether you are truly ‘fit for purpose’ – transparent, energised and confident – your leadership style must be consistent with who you are. This means being authentic and honest.

You should constantly challenge what success looks like, and know the difference between managing by influence and managing by authority. Don’t build more followers, build more leaders and ensure the success of those around you.

As Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you seek.’ You should understand what it is that you are passionate about. After all, when you look at your organisation, you are really looking at a reflection of yourself.”

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

What are your thoughts on leadership? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Mary-Anne at maryanne@criticaleye.com

Read our coverage of Day One and Day Two of the HR Director Retreat


Strengthening the Executive Team

The HR Director mustn’t shy away from assessing the capabilities of the top team. They should hold candid conversations with the CEO about skills, succession and whether senior executives are genuinely aligned, or if they are just a loose collection of individuals with competing agendas.

At Criticaleye’s recent Human Resources Director Retreat, the focus was on how to strengthen the capability and cohesiveness of the leadership team. After all, unless senior executives are working together, how else are they going to create an organisation that’s customer-focused, agile and driven by a clear sense of purpose?

Here are some highlights from Day One of the Retreat:

Don’t Get Comfortable

The steady build-up of silos, bureaucracy and legacy-thinking will inevitably result in a business slowing down and becoming estranged from the customer.

Andy Griffiths, Advisor and former President for UK & Ireland at Samsung Electronics, was unequivocal about the need for businesses to quickly adapt to changing markets.

He explained: “We tried to bring Samsung together as one big organisation, but how do you do that when you’ve got nine big silos? We decided to talk about the externalisation of the business as it’s a common mistake for companies to be too inward-looking.

“This entailed talking to the end users and distribution partners to get their perspective. The danger, when it comes to assessing performance, is to just keep looking at the numbers again and again.”

People must have the space to understand the context they’re working in, Andy noted. “The atmosphere, in some ways, has to be one of organised chaos so people don’t get comfortable – complacency is a killer. Each year, you need to tear up the previous business plan and start again,” he added.

Matthew Blagg, CEO of Criticaleye, agreed: “It’s increasingly important for leaders to not be insular. If they’re going to successfully navigate a fast-moving and complex business environment, they must have external reference points in order to draw on a diverse ecosystem of skills, expertise and experience.

“It’s this that will shape the talent agenda of the future and it is why, as a leader, you need to accept that you don’t have all the answers.”

Devise a New Purpose

The notion of organisational purpose is increasingly on the radar of employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Stephen Pain, Vice President of Sustainable Business and Communications at Unilever, commented that it stems, in part, from a loss of trust in big business. Now, there is greater pressure on organisations to be more inclusive and to act with transparency.

“People are much more aware of sustainability as an issue and this is also amplified through social media,” he commented.

It’s up to the senior leadership team to respond to these expectations and not just focus on business as usual. Steven Cooper, CEO, of Personal Banking at Barclays, noted that “creating a sense of purpose galvanises people and enables them to overcome a shock to the organisation”.

At Equiniti, there has been a concerted effort to create a new story for the business as it’s grown. Nicky Pattimore, HR Director at the payments provider, described two attempts at establishing such a narrative: “We devised a new purpose for the organisation to bring the different elements together. HR focused on internal engagement, and marketing concentrated on communicating to external stakeholders; it was quite a powerful message in terms of being a more solutions-based business.”

However, Nicky explained that the leadership at the time didn’t give the support that was required. “In 2014 the business underwent refinancing,” she continued. “After that, the leadership team were reviewed and this resulted in about 70 per cent of the top 40 leadership roles being changed. That was a catalyst for transformation.

“The new team that came in was aligned and we created a clear purpose that was supported by the business’ strategy.”

Don’t Just Pay Lip Service to Succession

Current frameworks for top-level succession planning tend to be inadequate at best, especially when it comes to the chief executive role.

Simon Laffin, Chairman of airline parent company Flybe Group, said: “Succession planning for the CEO is difficult. For one, corporate governance puts pressure on boards to look externally, at least to benchmark. I have seen as many issues through external candidates being appointed as I have internal ones promoted.”

According to Matthew, boards often assume that the answer to CEO succession lies externally, rather than internally: “There tends to be a view that the external person is bright and shiny and will solve all of the problems within an organisation.”

It remains a difficult area for HRDs and boards. In many instances, an organisation’s appetite for succession planning at the top level depends on the CEO’s attitude and openness to discussions about tenure.

“Most organisations pay lip service to succession,” Matthew warned. “From the point of view of the board, they need to be strong in dealing with succession – sooner or later it will be an issue they have to confront.”

Put the Business First

If a HRD is to behave as a true business partner to the CEO and other senior executives, they need to speak the language of the board.

Simon urged HRDs “to put the business first” when talking with executive and non-executive directors. “If you’re describing people development, that means describing it in the context of the business need,” he explained.

He added that it was important for HRDs to bear in mind that boards, out of necessity, tended to be task-oriented. “There is a lot of time pressure at a board meeting and it’s not often a place for much emotional intelligence,” he said. “I would suggest a HRD tries to talk to directors in advance, particularly the remco chair who is often, in effect, the non-executive HRD.

“Also speak to people afterwards and get feedback, not so much on how they thought you did in a board presentation but how they think you should move forwards.”

At the same time, HRDs shouldn’t be overly deferential. “One of the problems is that CEOs don’t always recognise the importance of the HRD,” said Matthew. “Allied to that, I’m not sure HRDs always understand the power they have, or that they’re unwilling to wield it. After all, it’s easy to forget that they have the ability to fire the CEO.”

Next week, we’ll be covering Day Two of the Retreat, which explored how HRDs and senior executives are preparing for the workforce of the future.

Read more on trust and alignment in the top team here.

Or, read about creating passion and purpose here.

Trust in the Top Team

A business can move so much faster when leaders trust one another and are able to work together towards a common goal. Conversely, when senior executives behave as a disparate collection of individuals, the consequences affect not only the CEO, but the entire business.

As Hera Siu, Managing Director for Greater China at Pearson, says: “You want people to be able to debate and agree to disagree on certain topics, but once they leave the room they [must] present a unified front to the rest of the organisation.

“They should be open to ideas and constantly challenge themselves, so they’re asking: ‘Is there another way to do it?’ If the team is to be effective it will be a living thing and [will] evolve. The loudest member will learn to listen more, while the quiet ones will speak up because trust has been built.”

If senior executives start to prioritise their own agendas and forget what’s best for the business, that all-important alignment can be lost. Matthew Blagg, CEO at Criticaleye, says: “When trust isn’t there, the senior executive team won’t be able to execute their objectives, and that can happen for many reasons, such as when the CEO isn’t capable. Similarly, problems occur when the competencies of one or more individuals are not right, and especially when politics form.”

True north

It’s up to the CEO to articulate the direction of the business and then decide whether the current crop of senior executives have the talent and desire to get there.

Leslie Van de Walle, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Chairman of SIG and Robert Walters, says: “Cracks appear when the business is not performing in-line with the common purpose; some people start doubting the vision or personal agendas creep in.”

This needs to be dealt with swiftly. “If a person has been given a fair chance to realign but they haven’t changed, that person needs to be dismissed or replaced,” adds Leslie. “If you don’t make that decision quickly it taints the rest of the team, or they become disturbed because you’ve not reacted to it.”

Of course, getting the chemistry of the top team right is one of the biggest leadership challenges a CEO will face. Neil Matthewman, has appointed six new senior executives since becoming CEO of Community Integrated Care (CIC) Group four-and-a-half-years ago. He has introduced ‘away days’ and offsite sessions so that executives can discuss strategy and overall performance. Recently, he brought the executives together to run through team development.

“We started to explore behaviours. Getting to know each other is important and we’ve invested more in team-based activities in order to maximise the potential around the table,” he says.

It takes work to ensure that communication doesn’t solely occur in weekly meetings when the focus is on short-term priorities. Gary Kildare, Chief HR Officer at IBM Europe, comments: “There are still many organisations that have appraisal systems and management by objectives; that’s great but it needs to go way beyond that for senior leaders.”

Gary argues that there must be an emotional connection that allows them to feel part of the team: “You may start off a little bit mechanically to ensure that regular discussions and meetings are taking place. Often a bit of forcing needs to happen by the CEO and other senior leaders in the team, but through these sessions you should be building trust, which allows more ideas and information to flow openly.”

It comes back to alignment, clarity of purpose and openness, which enable senior teams to navigate challenges, whether that’s a turnaround, disposal, acquisition or moving into new markets. “There has to be something that pulls them together and not just business as usual,” Gary comments.

If a business is to achieve sustainable success, both the CEO and board have to recognise why it’s important to reassess and appraise the qualities and chemistry of the top team. Matthew at Criticaleye comments: “More conversations need to be had about how long someone will be on the journey for.

“Skills are interchangeable within great teams so if someone leaves − including the CEO − the results are not impacted. It’s a matter of having a succession process.”

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

What are your thoughts on forming trust in the top team? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at: dawn@criticaleye.com

Read more on succession here.

Or, see what Hera Siu from Pearson said about Building a Winning Team in China



When Business Gets Personal

At its best, employee engagement unlocks the discretionary effort staff are only willing to give once they’ve fully committed to a company and believe in its purpose. Getting this right can make the difference between a distinctly average workforce and one that performs to a higher level.

NATS’ team of highly specialised air traffic controllers are inherently incentivised by the duty of care they owe to the travelling public. However, Simon Warr, Communications Director at the aircraft navigation company, is aware that additional forward thrust will be required to reach the organisation’s desired destination.

“The business transformation we’re going through is based on changing the technology that underpins what they − air traffic controllers − do,” Simon explains. “That means the way air traffic control is done starts to look a little different.

“Engagement is critical to bringing through the changes we need. We need to get employees to understand what it is we want to change, why we want to change it and get their buy-in.”

NATS is early on in the process but Simon knows the engagement drive must focus on a strong sense of purpose. “It’s about finding the beating heart of NATS – what people are really here to do – and to connect with that.”

Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director of Criticaleye, agrees that “the best way to get staff engaged is by clearly communicating the company’s mission and the journey it’s planned to get there. Relating the story in a personal way will lead to commitment on a personal level”.

The trinity of high-performance

The three Ps of employee engagement are passion, productivity and purpose. Unless there is clarity about how these are articulated across the workforce, it will be hard for individuals to relate to a business and its strategy.

Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company, is very clear on its way forward. Its vision – packaged as the Sustainable Living Plan – has what Stephen Pain, Vice President of Sustainable Business and Communications, calls three ‘audacious’ goals: To improve the health and wellbeing of a billion people, improve the livelihoods of millions of people it does business with and halve its environmental impact.

“For us, engagement focuses on a very clear vision of the future. We want to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint and increase our positive social impact – that vision is consistent throughout the business,” Stephen says.

“The ability of employees to engage with the organisation beyond the fact that they do the job, is very important. That’s focused on having a keen sense of purpose and an understanding of the relationship between what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for.”

Feedback matters

Customer satisfaction can be a revealing indicator of how much discretionary effort you’ve unlocked. “One of the things we do from an HR perspective is look at joining employee engagement and staff turnover with customer satisfaction,” explains Tea Colaianni, Group HR Director at Merlin Entertainments Group (which owns brands including Legoland, Sealife and Thorpe Park).

“We looked at the attractions with low engagement scores and found they tended to have high staff turnover and lower customer satisfaction. We monitored those attractions to see if there was a correlation between those key metrics. Usually there is.”

Tea has identified a way to make staff feel valued while also measuring their engagement against customer satisfaction. The company has asked its most loyal customers (annual pass holders) to give stars to employees who have gone above and beyond in terms of service. They can either print off a star and hand it to a member of staff, or take their name and give them one online at a later time.

“It recognises staff for having made a customer’s day and given them a great experience,” adds Tea.

Ownership unlocks effort

While the challenge and context for Mark Scanlon, Group CEO of employee benefits services company Personal Group, was somewhat different, he also draws a link between engagement and good customer service.

He motivated staff by providing them with a clearer sense of ownership. He describes the problem of having “a complaints department that was creating complaints”. In a move to address this, he ensured frontline staff received better training and then, greater autonomy. As a result, complaints dropped by 66 per cent, he says.

“Our biggest measure of engagement is being able to get discretionary effort – that willingness to go the extra mile. I believe, and the company believes, that there is a connection between productivity and engagement, and if you get your engagement right you can improve the performance of the business,” explains Mark.

For him, it’s no coincidence that employee and business performance have improved. “Our share price moved from £2.63 when I joined in late 2011 to £6.20 when we closed last year, with no dilution for the shareholders,” he says.

The trick is taking an approach that is both personal to your staff as well as the company’s goals and values. Anne Stevens, Criticaleye Board Mentor, Board Trustee for charity Over The Wall and Former Vice President of People and Organisation at Rio Tinto, points to the quality of an organisation’s leadership team as the differentiator in how much effort and commitment employees are prepared to give.

“It’s about leaders that are inclusive, good at nurturing talent and building teams in a balanced and diverse way,” she says. “I always bring it back to the environment you create, the way your workforce feel valued and included and how you lead them in a collaborative fashion.”

This article was inspired by Criticaleye’s recent event, Power to the People: Driving Productivity Through Employee Engagement, hosted by Personal Group.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate


Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Mary-Anne at: maryanne@criticaleye.com

Getting NEDs Up-to-Speed

“As a new non-executive director there are so many things that you need to be involved with from day one; you need to hit the ground running. You should make sure you get up-to-speed as quickly as you can,” says Geraint Anderson, Non-executive Director at Premier Farnell.

“You’re not expected to know everything but you have to contribute. Every company has a different rhythm, pulse and way of communicating. You need to understand that to add value. Each chairman will run things differently as well.”

According to the UK Governance Code, the chair of listed companies should ensure that all directors receive an induction that is ‘full, formal and tailored’ when joining a board. Beyond that, there is a lack of practical advice on how to achieve this and room for interpretation.

Criticaleye spoke to non-executive directors and advisors in order to answer some of the questions about the NED induction process and reveal others’ experiences.

1) Why is it important to get the induction process right? 

Geraint Anderson, who is also a NED at manufacturing company Fenner, joined the board of electronic products and repair services Premier Farnell in November last year and is currently going through an induction process, which he says has been comprehensive.

“The induction process is very important. Going into that first board meeting with some sort of visibility of the business apart from what you can read, getting out and meeting as many of the team as possible, is hugely important – it gives you a much better perspective,” he explains.

“At the first board meeting I felt a lot more comfortable knowing a lot about the business, rather than just reading board papers – it helps to build context and enables you to contribute more.”

2) Which key colleagues should you build relationships with?  

In order to create the right boardroom dynamic, it’s vital to build relationships in those first few months. Julia Fearn, Director at executive search firm Warren Partners, says: “A NED will want to make an impact quickly, but they need to establish key relationships and earn respect before they jump in with both feet.”

Alison Carnwath, Chairman at FTSE 100 commercial property company Land Securities, notes some of the key relationships that need to be developed and the information that should be shared: “The company secretary should kick off proceedings by providing the legal framework. HR should provide the organisational and talent outline and, for those members of the remuneration committee, how these schemes work.

“The CFO should provide management accounts, medium-term plans and, for audit committee members, the key issues relating to the annual reporting cycles.”

A NED’s relationship with the chairman and CEO is fundamental. Looking at the role of each, Alison comments: “The chairman should provide details of succession plans for board members and executives, go through board effectiveness reviews and shareholder feedback, as well as critical strategic matters. They should also explain the workings of the board and set a warm, friendly, open tone.

“Then the chief executive should spend time answering questions and outline how they expect NEDs to contribute, both in and out of the boardroom.”

Geraint adds that it’s also important to approach to a variety of individuals: “Don’t just speak to the CEO, CFO and fellow board members. Spend time in the field talking to a wider group of executives.

“I enjoyed getting a different feel for the business from various individuals and now I understand how they can be of more benefit to board meetings. It was great to show you are a real person, with real experience and spend meaningful time with them.”

Tom Beedham, Director of Programme Management at Criticaleye, comments: “While it should be controlled by the chairman, all the other key non-execs and executives should be involved and take part.

“If you’re going to be an effective non-executive director you need to have a deep understanding of the business and the personalities within it, so you can ask the best questions, provide the best input and be trusted as a valued member of the team.”

3) How long should it last?

The larger and more complex the company, the more detailed and longer the induction will be. Tom notes:  “If the company is spread wide geographically, I would recommend that non-execs visit the key regions; that might take time and effort. The NED will have to get up-to-speed quickly, particularly if the company is heavily regulated, such as in financial services and the NED doesn’t come from that sector.”

Geraint says: “It could take six months or 12 months but I don’t think you should put a firm time on it. It will take a while to go through that process and no one should say that after a handful of meetings you’re fully inducted.

“My induction process is still ongoing at Premier Farnell. It will take a few more months – I have more people to meet and need to build a better picture. The first wave was helpful but I expect more to come over time.”

Alison echoes this point: “Businesses do this in different ways – some have sessions that are not board agenda items, such as training after meetings. The process should be relatively formal and the chairman should keep an eye on how it is going by checking in with the NED.”

4) What is the NED’s responsibility during the induction process? 

It’s as much up to the NED to help steer the induction process as it is the organisation to deliver it, according to Julia.

“NEDs should ensure that an appropriate induction programme is in place and need to be clear on what a good process looks like. They should build an external network in order to benchmark their induction against other organisations,” she comments.

Geraint adds: “It’s the NED’s responsibility to let the chairman know if there is anything they are uncomfortable with. If there are areas you want to see or people you want to meet, you need to make that happen.”

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at: dawn@criticaleye.com

Paul Brennan, Chairman of cloud management software solution company OnApp, will share insights about his career at Criticaleye’s next Aspiring NED Dinner


Give Something Back

While charitable donations are helpful, there’s much more businesses and leaders can do to make a difference to society. Often, an approach beyond financial giving is more effective and, when it’s well-considered, it can unite colleagues and enforce a company’s brand values.

Corporates regularly face pressure to be socially responsible yet can also be criticised when trying to do the right thing; even charitable donations shouldn’t be given without thinking it through.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced last year that they would donate 99 per cent of their shares – valued at approximately $45 billion (£30 billion) – to “make the world better.” Yet, because they are looking to establish the philanthropic project as a limited liability company rather than a charitable foundation, many have suggested the initiative is a tax avoidance scheme.

The social network founder is not alone. In September 2014, the leaders of US rifle manufacturer Henry Repeating Arms were criticised for donating proceeds from the sale of custom rifles to a four-year-old battling primary pulmonary hypertension.

Criticaleye finds out how leaders can ensure they get it right when it comes to giving something back:

Align it With Your Strategy 

Don’t just give for the sake of giving – determine your objective and why it fits with your business.

In 2011 Rob Woodward, CEO at Scottish media company STV, set up the STV Children’s Appeal in conjunction with Sir Tom Hunter and The Hunter Foundation. It raises funds for Scotland’s poverty-stricken children.

“There is a horrendous child poverty issue in Scotland that wasn’t particularly publicised. We wanted to tell stories about it, raise awareness and money,” Rob says.

“As Scotland’s largest commercial media company, part of our strategy is to keep close to communities; be local and accessible. So the work that we’re doing through the STV Appeal sits very comfortably in the minds of our consumers.”

The appeal raises money for existing charities or action groups that are shown to make a difference to child poverty; funding is largely used to grow services or duplicate them. So far it has raised £11.1 million, helping just under 60,000 children.

“Our key priority is to demonstrate hope through the success of the projects that we fund,” says Rob.

This year, Criticaleye begun working with The Girls’ Network, a charity that matches girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with inspirational female mentors. Jamie Wilson, Managing Director at Criticaleye, says: “The idea was put forward by one of our younger members of staff, who is now leading the initiative, which in itself has fostered a powerful buy-in across the team.

“Through working with an organisation like The Girls’ Network, we are able to positively impact the future of business by empowering young people to confidently shape their futures. At the same time, it connects our team with the value of mentoring, which is such an important component of our service offering.”

Leaders, Set an Example 

Each year since the STV appeal was launched, Rob has embarked on a personal challenge. In 2015, he did an abseil, kayak and 50-mile cycle in three consecutive days.

“The only way I know to spread the word to all our staff is by doing it myself. I want to do it and set a particular tone – I think this is why we’ve had such overwhelming support from all our staff.”

Martin Hess, Vice President of Enterprise Services Sales for the UK & Ireland at Hewlett-Packard, takes the same hands-on approach. Last year, he and 15 other HP employees travelled to a poverty-stricken township in Cape Town, South Africa, to help build 12 classrooms, two toilet blocks and two playgrounds with the charity Mellon Educate.

“It started as a discussion in the canteen one day between a couple of us,” Martin says. “HP gave us the time off work and supported it by sponsoring us £150 each. We also ran a number of fundraising events throughout the year. It reflected well on HP but we were there as individuals.”

Cisco Systems has been involved with Comic Relief for over 15 years, and around seven years ago Phil Smith, CEO for the UK and Ireland, signed up for a triathlon to raise money. It was then he recognised that his personal involvement was spurring others to set their own challenges. “People were starting to use me as a reason, saying: ‘If the boss can do it, I can.’

So in 2012, Phil founded LeaderBoard, a cross-industry team of over 30 UK CEOs who have since raised thousands of pounds for Comic Relief by competing in triathlons, with another coming up this year.

Get Your Staff on Board 

Charitable work can bring colleagues together, improve relationships and enable staff to feel proud of their achievements.

Martin says that hierarchies went out the window during their South Africa trip: “There were all different levels of people; there were account managers, vice presidents, technical people… when you’re laying breeze blocks or mixing cement, hierarchy is ignored, everybody mucks in together.”

Coming together in this way can really improve staff pride and enjoyment. In Cisco’s last employee engagement survey, 100 per cent of staff said they felt proud to work there, says Phil. “Charity is all part of that. If you just do the day job it’s hard to get that kind of engagement,” he explains.

“When you ask people what they’ve enjoyed the most over the last few years they tend to refer to the things we’ve done on Red Nose Day and for Sports Relief.”

Rob agrees, noting that the STV Appeal has built staff moral and teamwork. “Virtually every member of staff has backed the appeal, whether it’s organising cake bakes, running marathons or climbing mountains. It’s acted as a fantastic catalyst to bring our teams together.”

At Warren Partners, leaders and staff are encouraged to take part in a number of activities, including helping local and national causes through the UK Community Foundations, volunteering days and pro-bono trustee recruitment for charities. Also, since 2008, leaders, staff and friends of the executive search firm have undertaken a biennial sponsored charity bike ride abroad.

“As individuals we learn lots and it fits with our company values,” says Executive Chairman Joëlle Warren. “In helping others, we often benefit the most. It’s hugely meaningful to the team, it really brings you together.”

Make a Real Difference  

While charities find money incredibly useful, longer-lasting initiatives and partnerships can be priceless.

Jane Furniss, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Deputy Chair at homelessness charity Crisis, says: “One off donations are great for specific projects but most charities need a reliable income to meet regular outgoings. Corporate charity of the year events are important and I wouldn’t diminish the value, it’s nice whether you’re getting £5,000 or £500 and there is a strong feeling that the organisation has chosen you, yet a more sustained relationship is of much greater value.”

Joëlle takes pride in the longevity of the relationships they have built with various not-for-profit organisations. “We’ve always believed that the business exists in a system and that we are part of a broader community. I think doing these things helps us to appreciate that in a new way,” she says.

For Martin, it’s all about individuals getting involved: “It’s great when big companies really help charities, but there’s a difference between donating and individuals going right to the coalface in a really poor, destitute environment like we did.”

On a personal level Martin says the experience left him feeling enriched, adding that “most of us spend our lives in a bubble where the only thing that matters is the company and how it’s doing”.

In light of this, Martin is trying to get HP staff more involved in The Prince’s Trust. “HP is a big contributor and I’m the HP representative of the technology leadership group. I’m trying to get more of us to act as direct coaches and mentors to the children that the organisation helps.”

Active involvement is often more powerful than just giving cash. At STV there is an open invitation for staff to visit one of the many projects funded through the appeal. Rob comments: “It’s very humbling when you go to look at some of the projects we have funded; then you realise the enormity of the problem that we are trying to tackle. It brings home the impact we are having.”

By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at: dawn@criticaleye.com
Find out more about the featured charities here:

STV Appeal

The Girls’ Network

UK Community Foundations

Mellon Educate / Martin’s JustGiving Page

LeaderBoard / Comic Relief


You can also contact each of the contributors through Criticaleye.