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30 October 2018     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Aston University


Sonya Alexander, Talent and Organisational Capabilities Director – Sita
Peter Hallard, Group Director of Organisational Development – Biffa
Tania Hector, Head of Talent, Engagement & Learning – Nestle Uk&I
Terry Hodgetts, Director – Aston Business School
Mark Kimpton, Senior HR Business Partner – Cbre
Vanessa Lucas, Senior HR Director – Smith & Nephew
Saqi Sheikh, Group HR Director – Planet
Jeff Uden, Head of Talent – Iceland
Michael Woodhall, Manager, Leadership & Professional Development, EMEA – Ford Motor Company
Swarnasudha Selvaraj, Head – Talent Development, UK & Ireland – TCS UK & Ireland
Sarah Worton, Client Director – Aston Business School
Stephanie Idusogie, HR Business Partner – Interserve Support Services

What is future leadership? Yesterday’s C-Suite was defined by the charismatic, the technically-assured and the long and illustriously tenured. Now a key marker for businesses is to deliver leadership with breadth, depth and above all diversity, from a range of different backgrounds and possessed with, not only skills and capabilities, but mindfulness and compassion. The objective is to find a way to position leadership development as an investment in the future capability of the organisation.

Sonya Alexander: Likewise, we’re experiencing an interesting mix of new ways of working and cultural aspirations alongside existing practices and culture, which is more apparent in an increasingly competitive marketplace. So our focus has been looking at the culture and values that engage people and supports our aspirations and plans, as well as defining the capabilities we need for the future. Technology is causing disruption in every area of business, but it is also an enabler. We want to make it easier both for leaders to identify and nominate leadership talent in the business but also for people to put themselves forward for leadership development and how we  support personal ownership of learning.

Tania Hector: It’s not a problem to be solved, it’s a paradox to be managed. Nestle is going through an enormous amount of change – we have traditional manufacturing and we have a side of our business that needs to be highly-innovative. In practice, this requires prioritisation on the capabilities required to enable our future growth, as well as understanding how we create the fertile ground for readiness. The structures, systems, policies and ways of working must both sustain performance and growth and have the agility to enable individuals to make the most optimal choice in the moment.

Stephanie Indusogie: It is, by nature, fluid in the service business, where people are our product. We are very ambitious, extremely diverse and resilient in terms of people and we have developed different leadership  programmes across all levels, and have implemented and tried to evaluate, though measurement has been difficult. A high percentage of our workforce, at least 80 percent, is front-line and supported by a range of development programmes. We expect them to take the lead in their roles and responsibilities, so training for us is not just the classroom workshop, eLearning intervention, it’s about behaviours and self-responsibility.

Vanessa Lucas: Agreed, agility across roles, functions and locations will support and develop people on the leadership path ahead, and make them adaptable to change. It’s about being able to shift the focus from travelling a narrow career path to a broad and diverse horizon of opportunity.

Saqi Sheikh: Parts of our culture typify the FinTech profile and parts of the organisation are developing fast. Then there’s another part of our business which has a more traditional financial services orientation. Together there’s a lot of chaos, but its dynamic and so we are re-defining our culture, after a significant recent acquisition presented the opportunity to rebrand, re-create our vision and re-set our company values. Being a private equity owned organisation, having vision and values are all very good, but the strategy is quite short-term. Consequently, the previous owners were focused more on the ability to win business, whereas the current owners are tuned into developing diversity in leadership ability, as we actively look for the successful leadership for the ‘next round’.

Peter Hallard: Like a lot of organisations, we see current performance as being the indicator of a leader’s effectiveness and their potential, and we’re not looking at some of the more subtle factors around that. So we find ourselves promoting people that perform very well at one level, only to find out that at the next level they don’t do so well. Our focus now is to educate line managers to understand the broader indicators of potential and how they can be used to assess readiness for the next challenge.

Swarna Selvaraj: With five generations in the workforce, 33 percent women and 125-plus nationalities working from across the globe, for us, the challenge with leadership development is building the leadership pool to represent the diversity across the organisation. We must also enable mobility as our vision is clear across the globe, of becoming “enterprise agile” by 2020, by continuously learning and building appropriate competencies and supporting and optimising diversity above all.

Terry Hodgetts: To me, it all comes back to the importance of organisational culture, and diversity is a reflection of that, and so is entrepreneurialism. How do we create the space and the safety to enable people to make mistakes and to learn from them? The killer is when leaders reach the stage where they think they know it all. I’d like to reframe that. I think leaders reach the stage where they think they should know it all, and they don’t want to expose the fact they don’t. One of the big challenges is for leaders to admit that they don’t have the answers and are open to collaboration, that way you create the space for innovation to flourish.


Michael Woodhall: In terms of why leaders don’t show a chink in their armour, I think there is something perhaps in the human psyche about wanting certainty, wanting things to be clear and a significant part of leadership has been to reassure people, often at the expense of misleading them through misrepresentation.

Terry Hodgetts: Indeed, and for generations, all-too often, we have lionised the wrong people – the “great man” theory of leadership – celebrating certain behaviours because they were bold and strong. We now recognise the value of “softer” leadership skills, but it is an entrenched culture that is hard to break down.

Sarah Worton: That is why it is so key to look for potential leadership capability in areas that you wouldn’t generally expect to find it, as early in the career schedule as possible and creating a culture where people can challenge leadership openly. Building the confidence of young leaders is critical to the pipeline. As has been said, key here is building that diverse talent pool organically and inclusively which will lead to real diversity in leadership.

Michael Woodhall: Leadership used to be a lonely and isolated position, but the way the world is changing, there’s no way the senior team can have detailed knowledge of all aspects of the business. No one person can have all the answers. Businesses used to be able to plan five years in advance, that simply would be a pointless exercise. You do need the involvement of the widest possible team, and everyone must have a voice.

Jeff Uden: The challenge now is for potential leaders to better understand what that role really means today and in the future. I’ve seen people promoted to a manager, supervisor or team leader, and they feel as though they have to behave differently, and it’s that lack of authenticity that creates problems.

Stephanie Idusogie: It’s about listening, demonstrating an open-door policy where the front-line teams have unfettered access to the senior leadership team with two-way communication, and have a voice that they know is listened to. Critically, it’s not what we hear; it’s what we do, and a key priority for us is the individual and their understanding of who they are in the organisation. Additionally, qualitative feedback enables us to tap into their relationship with the customer, which is key.


Terry Hodgetts: We can look at, say, 360-degree feedback and employee surveys and that provides some insight. But we need to move beyond the input of the individual and how it links to a business result, and perhaps identify a performance issue that needs to be improved. In the new, flatter workforce framework, with performance and reputation, have to be viewed as a collective input to be really reflective.

Jeff Uden: Indeed, that comes back to the question of, who are the leaders in the business now? We see impact, game changing and, yes, disruption at all levels. It’s a very interesting change and no mean challenge, are people actually leaders or are they brand ambassadors? Is it now about self-leadership? Businesses have got to be very clear about what that definition is.

Sonya Alexander: I have often found that, with best intentions, there can be long lists of competencies, skills and behaviours that describe the expectations of leaders. There can often be great leadership practices happening in pockets across the business and we need to support visibility of these and use them to shape our expectations. There’s the quote by Carol Dweck, which advocates; “developing a culture of learning, not one of genius”, when we look at the impact of innovation and collaboration. It’s about agreeing up front the measures of success, so that the journey and outcome is clear right from the start.


Peter Hallard: There’s a temptation in businesses to focus on the need for a short-term impact, a quick return on the investment that is made. Some elements of development can deliver quickly, but much of leadership development is a much longer-term investment. An investment in a talent programme in one year must deliver business benefits over many years to come.

Vanessa Lucas: Agreed, it’s embedded in the employee branding piece and it needs to be part of the employment lifecycle, and not having the mindset that you invest in people and they leave – if they do, it’s by no means the end of the journey, particularly these days – if they leave feeling that their time has been well spent, they may be a future collaborator and even a returner, rich with even more knowledge from elsewhere.


Sonya Alexander: The conversation has moved on, or it certainly needs to. In the course of developing pipelines and capabilities, we need to accept talent flow and movement. We also have to look at the causes of skill shortages more in the round, and to take the focus away from retention and place it on life-long learning.

Terry Hodgetts: That old cliché; “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers”, is probably less relevant than that people move on when they believe they’ve reached the end of the opportunity to develop – not so much progress – within an organisation. Saying that, a degree of manageable and sustainable churn is, in the bigger picture, a positive.

Sonya Alexander: Yes, that is a key element of agility, and churn is key to staying in touch with emerging skills and knowledge in the sector and marketplace.

Swarna Selvaraj: Definitely! Supporting and promoting role rotations is key to continuous growth, because growth stops when knowledge and capability is in lag. We also have to ensure that there’s transparency in roles that become available in the churn and make sure that there is equality and inclusion, especially in vacant leadership roles. More growth comes from greater transparency, opportunities for people, mobility and then, automatically, the enabler is continuous learning. Back to your question, that definitely creates a bottom line impact and makes sure growth doesn’t stop.

Saqi Sheikh: In defining impact, I look at the leaders that have inspired me and my colleagues and you can basically boil it down to two things; one is energy, and the other is positivity. Plus, it’s about people as human beings, not them as managers or leaders. Our current development programme focuses around five elements to do with personality: Strength, health, adaptability, purpose and relationships. I don’t think many organisations provide much quality training on developing personality, and I think, rather than technical ability, it’s why we sometimes see people who perform really well at one level, but as soon as we push them to the next, they fail.

Sonya Alexander: We’ve worked hard to simplify how we define potential within the organisation, which is very much about enabling other people to shine, developing others, and taking account of the bigger world context, plus a more inclusive leadership style. These are the qualities that we see as elements of potential that supplement great performance as a leader.


Tania Hector: We can use the financial model to our advantage, because it is built on assumptions, and we use a variety of other measures in a business when we have product development or building a new line in a factory, for example. Our challenge, therefore is, to decide which financial measures are fit for purpose, and which additional measures have sufficient data integrity.

Swarna Selvaraj: Leaders and shareholders feel confident about investing in people, provided the risk is managed and there is a lot of focus on how it is being carried out.

Sarah Worton: Indeed, and bottom lines are different, depending who’s asking the question. If it’s the CFO, the bottom line will probably be profit. But it could be about sustainability, it could be about CSR – to coin a well-worn phrase, there is no-one-size-fits-all – there are multiple stakeholders in the development of people and capabilities, all looking at different outcomes and measures of impact.

Tania Hector: Agreed, it’s not one static measure, it’s a dynamic interplay across the organisation. And part of building these measures is to factor in risk management; what is your assumed attrition factor, your assumed failure to implement factor, for example. For us, what has worked is not having the perfect measures, it’s agreeing those measures up front and then having quantitative and qualitive measures as appropriate.

Sonya Alexander: I think that’s incredibly important and key to the success of our leadership development is both the recognition that this is an investment in business success as it is a key driver, but also to gather insights from across business stakeholders to shape the expectations, the key content and the measures for the development. We need to be up front with the purpose of the development, its intended impact and agree business and personal levels of success, particularly focusing on behaviours. This should really help define the intended impact and give us something to reflect on and track.


Jeff Uden: Traditional tends to be in blocks or steps and what organisations need more than anything is a greater level of fluidity.

Sarah Worton: The search for the perfect investment appraisal methodology and the search for a clear strategy are very similarly challenged in today’s complex environment. It’s very difficult to set a long-term strategy or a methodology for anything. You have to build a more fluid way of demonstrating value.


Terry Hodgetts: Google “ROI of leadership development”, and a myriad of articles appear that are mostly built around the Kirkpatrick model, which has been around for years. Today, we have discussed culture, agility and behaviours and these are the key elements we are considering in future leadership development. How do we evidence this behavioural change? If we want our organisations to be more agile, that means we have to display agile behaviour. If we want to see an impact of those behaviours in the organisation, we need to  know, what are those behaviours, where are we going to see them and how do we know that they’re being displayed? Also, how do we know thatbehaviours may not be consistently appropriate at all times? And in terms of what it mean to the business – how can we make that connection in a way that is consistent enough to evidence or report that it’s reassuring us that we’re inputting the right things to obtain the right outputs?

Michael Woodhall: Coincidentally, we’re defining what behaviours, as well as skills, will be required in the future, and I think everybody is comfortable talking about agile or working in conflict and ambiguous environments. When you actually break that down into what would that looks like behaviourally, it’s not quite so straightforward. To bring about the culture of change for an organisation that’s been around for 100 years takes time, and there are definitely elements of history which are important and we want to retain. We have a new programme, and there’s a clear definition of where we’re heading, but rather than having a very prescriptive roll out, it is very much being led by team leaders, supervisors and people on the ground.

Jeff Uden: We have to deliver stability and pace for our population of 24,000 employees within our 900-odd stores. So, do I think that things will start to move on? Yes, I absolutely do, but it’s got to be around that mindset change. How do you ensure that you have that level of longevity in that message that you’re actually delivering, whether or not that be a culture change, whether or not it is a behavioural change that’s required?

Sonya Alexander: We all know that change and evolution is part of business life, but how do we create stability and sustainability, or as much as is possible? When reviewing our culture, we took an inclusive approach to defining cultural values and behaviours. It was about what would still be relevant, even when the business continued to change. But we know cultural change can take years to embed.

Tania Hector: It does, and so it’s very important to have the behaviours right at the outset and people buy into the concept that behaviours can be changed – if people don’t believe that, then you’re not going to bring about the change that you want.

Saqi Sheikh: In defining behaviours, you also have to educate people on how to use these behaviours, as they are not static. There is the ability to flex up and down and adapt those behaviours differently in different situations, and it’s okay to do that. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, because otherwise we might as well be robots.

Mark Kimpton: My leadership team and I have been conscious of over-defining those critical behaviours that we’re trying to drive. We’ve developed and fostered a behavioural framework they’re necessarily always appropriate, because these  that supports our businesses strategy, but provides our teams and professionals the freedom to express themselves in their unique and personal ways. This has driven agility and employee empowerment simultaneously.

Jeff Uden: One of the big challenges that we have around behavioural change is, where does the line manager’s responsibility sit? We need to equip our line managers to understand how they transfer that learning back into the workplace in their role.

Sarah Worton: When we talk about evidencing behavioural change, it’s about the impact that change has on the wider group. The purest way of doing that is critical incidents. We can’t do that every day, but we can at least create forums for people to say what they have experienced, and that becomes anecdotal evidence that is just as valuable as quantitative.

Vanessa Lucas: It’s not always possible to put something into a tangible, measurable format when it’s people, and it’s not always easy to predict people and their unique circumstances. I think it’s about engagement, it’s about the employees stories.


Tania Hector: The 360s and other psychometric measures are really effective if they are part of your agreed measures and if they’re targeted at the right group with the right evaluations. One of the fundamental principles of that model is assumptions. If we make an assumption that people know what good leadership looks like using an agreed behavioural framework, then the more you can ask people whether this is effective leadership in the moment, the better the quality of the data.

Terry Hodgetts: I’m going to disagree slightly – the danger with 360s is when it becomes death by survey. We can perhaps take a leaf out of the marketing book and, rather than run 360 surveys, do a little sampling, hit ten percent of the population every three months and just keep ticking it over, because then we end up with a diagnostic measure that, over time, flags important information up.

Stephanie Indusogie: I agree, when it comes to measurement and how effective 360s are, organisations should not fully rely on outcomes, and also 360 is not a tick box exercise and shouldn’t be the only tool in the box. It can be utilised, but more education needs to happen about how to manage the long-term return. Employee surveys, I would say, are effective to a degree, but only to the point where the organisation delivers what has been provided as the result, and not just delivered but communicated too.

Saqi Sheikh: I was group HRD for YouGov and we did one employee survey, which was a quantbased exercise. Horrendous – too much data, too much analysis – it took us six months to get through what people were saying and what patterns we were seeing. I don’t know what benefit we saw from that, but from the focus groups, we saw a lot of benefit.

Stephanie Indusogie: One of our values is, ‘everyone has a voice’, and it’s not just about listening to what the employees had to say, it is how we act upon it, communicate it and how we maintain that momentum before the next feedback is received.

Saqi Sheikh: Just to add to that point and coming back to ‘leadership’. This demonstrates leadership. It takes guts to sit down in front of employees and ask questions and hold a debate, rather than hide behind a digital or paper questionnaire. And then to go back and say, “you said, and we did” is also a very powerful demonstration of good leadership.

Tania Hector: Has anyone ever been surprised by the results of their climate survey?

Michael Woodhall: I have seen good quantitative benchmark surveys be a lever for change, especially when coupled with qualitative data. I think we might be at a tipping point, in terms of the technology, so I absolutely recognise the issue of a lot of data and not knowing what to do with it. But the ability now with AI to link disparate things and other metrics in the business, you do start to see potential and some interesting relationships.

Terry Hodgetts: New data is likely to be helpful if it identifies areas of dysfunction. The challenge could be, how to use that data in a way that is both safe and effective within context. For those of you who are using 360s, the evidence very strongly suggests that an individual psychometric correlates 80 percent to 85 percent. So, in a development programme, a lot of time, you can get away with a straight psychometric and it will provide most of what you need.

Peter Hallard: I’d agree, but there’s a stark difference in the validity that’s perceived by the recipients. It’s possible for somebody to say that the psychometric tool is “wrong”, that they were “forced to make odd options”. But when they receive the verbatims back, at the back of the 360, from their peer group, that always has an impact.

Jeff Uden: We do have to be careful about the mindset of the individuals who are actually completing those surveys in the first place. It has to be right and honest for the sake of making the organisation and individual concerned better.

Peter Hallard: There’s a universal truth about all of these tools, they will always be inaccurate to some extent. But it’s not the tool, it’s not the data, it’s the subsequent conversations, and if you don’t invest enough energy in those conversations, then you’re not going to extract any value out of your investment.


Terry Hodgetts: I do think there are certain predictors that will show signs of the leadership culture and climate, in terms of the way the organisation is going – whether that be through a sampling methodology or an annual staff survey – that might give you some pointers, or data from customer feedback. Often, sampling is the best way to tell you what’s happening in the business.

Swarna Selvaraj: Connectivity is key so the leadership review management is linked to the learning management system and the performance management is linked to the learning management system. Analytics is more and more about not just concluding through one system or one survey, but how we are able to correlate.

Tania Hector: There is some very good predictive analytics on when people will leave the organisation. Could you use that model in the leadership development context? Can you imagine predictive analytics that tells you the right moment to utilise a development programme, that you’ve got that fertile ground?

Sonya Alexander: People are increasingly working remotely and measuring impact and growth through a self-assessment journey, based on personal choices, can be very insightful.

Jeff Uden: Particularly in the world of analytics, as the world moves towards automation, and AI, the more distant the human touch. We need to maintain and build human relationships, but don’t lose people-to-people contact.

Sarah Worton: You can have too much data! Human interaction is so important, as are ethics. It turns full circle to the capability of leaders, to handle the data, and the line manager being responsible for feeding back. There are interventions that need to happen at every point and none can happen in isolation. It’s a big challenge.

Swarna Selvaraj: AI is fantastic technology. We’ve been able to analyse, through AI analytics, how HR utilises this data effectively for a one on one conversation and derive results for the individual and the organisation together.

Sonya Alexander: Learning can be enhanced when supported through social interaction, and important really for behavioural development. Digital learning can be very impactful, particularly when decision-based, but there is still a place for being present and being together to support behavioural and mindset shifts.

Michael Woodhall: I sense it is shifting. In Europe we still place a high value on behavioural learning in a social context. In other parts of the world, certainly in Asia Pacific, our graduates very eager to learn digitally in bite-sized ways. For, say, self-awareness, that’s difficult online, but there are some programmes which blend delivery well.

Stephanie Idusogie: People’s interaction with IT should be continuous as part of their learning, and you see the benefit when conversations take place about the learning. Whilst it’s an individual development, it’s also about how you start to demonstrate those behaviours with your teams.


Sarah Worton: In the current climate, it’s important to recognise the sustainability and corporate social responsibility aspects of measuring impact. Most companies impact on the environment, and so the triple bottom line should not only measure people and profit, but planet too. There is more than one way to create value. So how do you measure that? Is it a reduction of waste, a reduction of the use of plastic?

Sonya Alexander: The triple bottom line is increasingly important as a way of measuring leadership development – our credentials on the environmental and social sustainability – is a strong attraction in attracting new talent? We should align CSR activities with leadership development

Sarah Worton: Customer behaviour is not driven by business profits. Particularly now, if you want to engage your customers, then you have to align with what’s important to the wider society.

Jeff Uden: This is about defining purpose, the culture of the business and going back to the topic of today, that begins and ends with leadership and how our future leaders learn and developed.

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