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Leadership Development Journey – Roundtable Report

07 September 2016     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Olly Cochrane, Head of HR – Hackney Learning Trust
Michael Doolin, HR Director – Kuehne + Nagel Drinks Logistics
Richard Eastmond, Senior Director, OD & Human Resources – Amnesty International
Anne Garvey, Leadership Development Manager – Jardine Motors Group UK Ltd
Ian Johnston, HR Director – Barclays
Mito Mackin, Innovation and Product Director – NGA HR
Nuno Monteiro, Global Head of Talent Management & Recruitment – Puma Energy
Saqi Sheikh, Group HR Director – Yougov
Sharon Sagoo, Vice President – Financial Times IE Corporate Learning Alliance
Tanya Sipos, HR Director – Pelsis
Craig Smith, Group Talent Development Manager – Babcock International
Lorraine Taylor, Leadership Development Manager – Marks & Spencer
Sharon Taylor, Head of Talent – Home Office
Dan Wilson, Account Director – NGA HR

Statistics for leadership succession planning make for uncomfortable reading, with approximately half of companies, with revenues over 500 million, admitting that they have no formal CEO succession plan. If leadership and succession planning really is in serious crisis, what are the reasons, what are the causes and affects and why are organisations failing to make adequate provision for the inevitable need to replace leaders?

What are the organisational and commercial changes that are influencing and driving the need to make significant changes in the way businesses develop leadership for today and tomorrow?

Ian Johnson: Today’s world is substantially more challenging for businesses. The need to constantly change and transform to remain competitive is probably at a level that’s not been seen before. Regulation globally is at a height that was inconceivable ten years ago, and that can lead to more short term thinking. A sweeping generalisation, but my experience with North American companies is they are considerably better at leadership development and succession planning than British companies and primarily promote from within. The HR function is very influential and highly commercial. This means that people practices tend to land better in the organisation.

Michael Doolin: I wonder whether North American organisations are more performance orientated in their culture than the UK?

Richard Eastmond: I sense that US operations, due to the sheer scale of numbers they employ have HR functions that have a size and ability to be hugely specialised, which is not the case in many organisation in the UK.

Craig Smith: Globalisation is pushing our leaders to look for synergies across our international businesses and spot opportunities to align. Technology for us is a big area that we grapple with, trying to balance the opportunity against the security risks is often a challenge. From a political stand point, the introduction of the apprenticeship levy is forcing us to rethink the way that we develop our leaders are there different ways to achieve the outcomes that we want?

Lorraine Taylor: The retail world is getting smaller and therefore our leaders need to work in an agile way. We need to make sure leaders respect our history and longevity, whilst developing the skills that will enable us to excel in the digital era. We need to remain innovative, balancing our talent pipeline from within and the external market.

Nuno Monteiro: We are present in over 47 countries, many of them are true emerging economies. Even when we bring in experts they face a challenge of cultural differences. But by employing training and empowering locals, we aim to create a more sustainable business in these markets. So in terms of succession planning we’re set up well, but it is not easy to find successors in local markets.

Richard Eastmond: At Amnesty International we have almost eliminated the concept of expats, moved to a single scale and we do not differentiate between local and non-local staff. We all face the issue of how do you bridge the gap between the top leader and the structure underneath them. We try to employ people that could be statesman types whose remit extend from fundraising, to engagement and looking to how they can grow our global movement, but those people don’t grow on trees.

Sharon Taylor: You see our challenges on the news every day. Ongoing rescue operations in the Mediterranean, diaspora moving up through Europe, the camps in Calais. Our ongoing challenges are do we have the right leaders in place who can respond to the impact of global events? We are looking for leaders who have strategic vision, those who can respond rapidly to change and can build services around the user. Plus digital, data, technology, plus behaviours and values are also important in terms of the diversity of talent we employ.

Olly Cochrane: The issues that we are dealing with are actually retaining middle leaders, in order to develop them to become our more senior leaders – for example, head teachers are now more like CEOs, rather than educational leaders, and that is a big jump. The head teacher that fails in one school won’t move on to another. So you have a lot of people who are happy to stay as middle leaders. There’s a huge amount of change and academisation across schools, which will cause problems, and people will move away and we will lose the expertise.

Tanya Sipos: In the past, our company had a strong focus on training and investing in colleagues via obtaining professional qualifications – this was a mechanism to grow talent. Some people became managers due to their length of service with the company and there are disadvantages. Our focus is on finding the right balance between attracting the talent into organisation and building management and leadership capability within.

Mito Mackin: There’s a general flattening of organisations that changes the attributes you need for key leaders and how you build leaders. There is a generation gap where newer generations have different expectations from what leaders should be so how you develop leaders must meet that new vision rather than the backward looking command and control structure.

Dan Wilson: I think the challenge is change and devoting time to analysis around leadership potential. We really have to think about different approaches to future leadership needs.

Ian Johnston: The challenge with culture change is that it takes a very long time. Achieving it requires consistency and that starts at the top of the organisation. Consistency in driving the same messaging, reinforcing and valuing the same things over a long period of time. Most Financial services organisations have been on a journey of culture change, but it may have been difficult to continue on that same journey due to frequent changes at Board and Executive team level in recent years.

Lorraine Taylor: Indeed, culture and change piece requires stability and longevity of the CEO and senior leadership team. And in terms of balance of talent, internal and external, I think it’s knowing when you need that external input and when you should develop from within to make a difference. Being clear on the organisational strategy and culture is essential to the process.

Sharon Sagoo: In my experience, small focus groups can define values and explain what they think the culture of the organisation should be moving forward, but it needs to be executed top down and bottom up. The dual approach can effect true culture change but it does take a good amount of time to execute with impact. And it takes prescience and planning to identify change on the horizon.

Mito Mackin: Calling on my previous experience at IBM, we were looking for people who had more of a risk profile, willing to take calculated risk to drive growth, versus those who are drive more mainstay, mature parts of the business. I think that’s the best way a company can run a portfolio of different businesses and, deliver diversity, in thought and in personality to achieve the larger growth the company needs.

Craig Smith: We have just completed a piece of research looking at the macro and micro environment that our leaders operate in, behaviours, expertise and values that they need to succeed in that environment. This has allowed us to be really clear on what we need from our leaders for the business to succeed.

Tanya Sipos: We chose to develop: Vision, Mission and Values together. Using a “bottom up” approach, colleagues became engaged and they do appreciate participating in the cultural change. However, it takes time to learn to “live” the values – it is not a quick journey. What is helping us is a number of people development frameworks, which motivate colleagues to align their behaviour with the group values.

Lorraine Taylor: Agreed, it must become habitual. We refreshed our focus on values a few years ago; with people getting involved via focus groups to really understand their perspective. This meant that when the values were publicised, there was a lot of belief that this was more than “just another initiative”.

Saqi Sheik: We want to put people in positions where they can learn through experience now and that is a very brave thing to do. Our CEO is a firm believer of promoting a different way of thinking, behaving, and living experience. We’ve got a real diversity of leaders and managers and they’re successful because they are able to relate across the business digitally.

So what are the big differentiations between leaders of the past and those needed for the future?

Mito Mackin: When I started my career, leaders commanded, but now leaders need to listen because the pace of change is so fast, or you risk commanding at the wrong pace or context. I think the whole idea has been turned around now. Today’s leaders need to listen, influence and empower so that everybody is making the right decisions instead of command and control.

Ian Johnston: Agreed, leaders certainly need to be inclusive, they need an external perspective. Do leaders need to be more strategic than they have been in the past? Probably, but being strategic doesn’t have the same long term perspective that it would have ten years ago or twenty years ago. I think leaders have to be analytical thinkers because the world is so complex. So that ability to digest, understand and make sense of constantly changing information and data is a must.

Michael Doolin: Great leaderships today is about clarity. The ability to take complex data in fast moving, changing environments and make it simple, clear and break it down into bite size chunks at all times is huge.

Nuno Monteiro: Leaders for tomorrow need to become facilitators of growth rather than drivers of growth. Often, it is not about transferring just knowledge, but also the courage for teams to feel confident. There used to be a certain secrecy about leadership, but not anymore. The old quote of Francis Bacon ‘knowledge is power’, has different connotations, because everybody has that knowledge.

Richard Eastmond: Most of the people we employ across the world are under 35, and we have all the challenges that have been discussed, but I just think we will adapt and change because that’s is historically what we all have proven we do.

Sharon Taylor: The Home Office is very focussed on being future ready. We are working much closer with communities with our outreach programmes to develop more extensive networks and attract more diverse talent. We are developing our social media strategies and our brand to be more attractive to the people we want to employ. We are also supporting the Government agenda on social mobility.

Craig Smith: We are just piloting a programme, a 12 month on-line, self-directed, journey aimed at developing a greater awareness of self. This is aligned to the success profile and it helps the delegates understand their strengths, behaviours and values. It also explores their; aspirations, emotional, social intelligence and how they make decisions. And it’s all very about their fit within the organisation, their potential.

Can you really identify potential for leadership at the recruitment stage?

Michael Doolin: It’s about sharing some of the competencies that we identify at the early stages, I think most organisations would do that.

Ian Johnston: Organisations by and large have a propensity to adapt or natural selection takes its course. We know the world is dramatically different. I think we probably get a little over excited sometimes, attempting to think too far into the future.

Nuno Monteiro: We recruit with the next one or two roles of that candidate in mind. These roles don’t always have to be going upwards, it doesn’t have to be a potential next CEO. But it can also be a lateral move, a change of environment, change of team or change of project.

Richard Eastmond: You endeavour to recruit for potential but the people that stand out, and perhaps it is a subset of people that have potential, are the people that demonstrate that they will get stuck in and grow their job beyond the standard envelope or the underlying job description. The people that stand out are the people that go the extra mile. They may not even be the leader of tomorrow but they are gold dust.

Tanya Sipos: Change is a big topic on everybody’s agenda and now more often in the recruitment process we try to identify how adaptable people are to change or if they can indeed lead the change.

Mito Mackin: It would be impossible to predict who will be successful in twenty years, but the best way to assure that we are going through the right recruitment process is the burning issue; is it psychometrics, is it data science, or is it having a committee of people evaluating it? For me, it’s a community-based recruitment process that actually leads to a better decision of who could be the candidates to lead change, rather than having just functional excellence.

What role does emotional intelligence play in effective leadership and how must employers build and promote a culture where EI can thrive and succeed?

Ian Johnston: Where you have high degrees of technical expertise, that’s where you mostly see the value of emotional intelligence. I think it is certainly one of the ingredients that stands out in great leaders. My personal view is you can train people who have deep expertise to manage and manage reasonably well, but their ability to truly connect with people will remain a gap. You can train them in engagement techniques, but they will never be naturally inclusive leaders.

How can you identify that quality?

Michael Doolin: I certainly think you can spot it when it’s not there pretty quickly, but I don’t think you can train it.

Olly Cochrane: Agreed you can pick it up in a conversation, it is so apparent and I share the opinion that you cannot train for it.

Craig Smith: Of course, it is important for leaders to be aware of their emotions, you cannot train it, but you can heighten people’s awareness of it. EQ is a core component of talent equation and how we measure potential. You can certainly assess it, that generally comes in the form of an interview or more standard psychometric type of assessments. It is based on their interactions and how they manage those.

Richard Eastmond: We would like to think it is in the DNA, but it isn’t always. I am not sure we totally discriminate, and only hire people who have emotional intelligence because, unfortunately, that would just nullify many of the candidates. So it is something that we struggle with and sometimes, you simply have to manage around it.

Saqi Sheikh: I am just wondering if emotional intelligence will become rarer. Young people are more autonomous and cocooned in their own worlds. Do they get an opportunity to develop the emotional intelligence that perhaps previous generations did?

Mito Mackin: I once had a manager who never listened and in one of our 360 degree surveys we all came back with very extreme ratings that it made us extremely unhappy and unmotivated to work with him. He did change after that; because he was smart enough to know that he needed to listen to the alarm bells. Did he become a natural facilitator of different opinions? No. He became very sensitive to the fact that he needed to pause and take a break and try and understand what was going on and be smarter in his decision-making.

Nuno Monteiro: There’s a certain shift of power going on, it’s no longer the company dictating employees what to think, what to do and how to grow a career, but employees becoming more demanding of what they want.

Ian Johnston: Agreed, we are not flicking a switch here. It’s not that people are either blessed or completely devoid of emotional intelligence, there’s a scale. It is important to train every manager to do the fundamentals of people management well, whether it is performance management, development reviews, one to ones, or how they run team meetings.

Lorraine Taylor: A good leader will be ruthless in terms of achieving business strategy and making the right commercial decisions, but they take their people with them through understanding what they need.

The statistic that half of large businesses don’t have a CEO Succession Plan is stark. Is it symptomatic of a wider problem?

Nuno Monteiro: Succession planning has changed greatly. It is no longer about filling gaps on an organisational chart, it’s about career progression. When conducting exit interviews with employees who have left their organisation, the top reasons for the leavers is rarely the salary. Mostly the answers are: “I didn’t feel taken care of, I didn’t know where my next step was”.

Sharon Taylor: We are building on that, so that it’s not just the role people have today, it’s what roles do we think we might need in maybe one, two and three years’ time’? Fundamentally, that is what a talent pipeline is all about.

And an increasing challenge is the short tenure.

Ian Johnston: I actually don’t think that having long tenure in your organisation necessarily leads to great succession planning. The two are intertwined, one is not an outcome of the other, they are both outcomes of each other. If you provide great development opportunities for your people they tend to stay longer, so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lorraine Taylor: Our succession pipeline looks at a number of factors. We move people into key projects or roles to help them develop where appropriate. We review our succession pipeline regularly to identify those internally with the ability to learn and develop into those key roles. It’s about giving people access to new experiences, relationships and networks which helps them understand their talents and decide their career progression.

Craig Smith: You can look at succession plans and see the number of successors is pretty low, and as soon as you move one person, your plan can fall to pieces.

Ian Johnston: There are two sides to every coin. It does come down to trying to strike the right balance between internal promotion versus external hiring.

Is there a change of ambition in terms of leadership as well? Does rising to the very top of the business have the same sort of appeal?

Dan Wilson: Momentum is definitely important, but not necessarily upwards. People want variety in their careers, to be challenged and stretched, to progress, but the flatter hierarchical structure is definitely playing to that trend.

Mito Mackin: Indeed, there is an erosion of the traditional career ladder, and the best talent do have different ambitions and expectations. The traditional idea of attaining top leadership is sacrificing work life balance, so there is a definite sea change there. In terms of succession, if you think about it in its original sense, these two issues become a challenge, so we have to adopt new strategies.

Lorraine Taylor: There are very few organisations that haven’t gone through change and there’s a lot less people referring to “how it used to be” in our business which seems to suggest change sets its own agenda and people get used to it.

Richard Eastmond: If you take a deep breath and trust it then it really works. I think slowly but surely we are getting used to the changes coming in, flexible and remote working, and collaboration and teamwork really aren’t impacted. We regularly video conference with dozens of people all round the world in different time zones and there is a feeling that these opportunities really do matter.

I suppose the difficulty is for everybody is that you rarely get an opportunity to start afresh with a completely new leadership team. How do you achieve cohesion and compatibility when building leadership teams?

Saqi Sheikh: Leadership teams need to click, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be the same and think the same, that’s more clique. You don’t haveto even agree with everything, but it has to be a relationship without friction. It really does boil down to diversity.

Michael Doolin: Trust is key as is shared recognition and direction of purpose, aligned to the common vision and direction and recognising everybody’s ability to achieve.

Tanya Sipos: And a fundamental element is cohesion and communication. They need to be able to inform each other well and communicate consistently across the different levels of organisation.

Sharon Taylor: On occasions, I have seen too much groupthink, where everyone is too aligned to a particular vision, mission or values. Nobody feels or has the capability to constructively challenge that groupthink. It can become quite negative.

Saqi Sheikh: Trust is the glue that binds leadership teams. I have experienced OK leadership teams where the trust is strong and the performance and consistency has been remarkable because of that trust, as opposed to technical capacity.

Richard Eastmond: All of these elements and more are vital but having a burning platform in a crisis to bring people together is the perfect storm to forge a great team.

And we have all seen where like-minded clone leadership teams have ended up being self-serving, corrosive and negative, which has brought the importance of diversity right to the top of the agenda.

Nuno Monteiro: I think it depends how you define diversity. Diversity is good when it comes to skillset, when it comes to ideas etc. but there are also areas where teams need to agree, a certain core that everybody believes in. If this core of values and beliefs is not shared then work can become very disruptive.

Craig Smith: I think where diversity really comes in is more around diversity of thought. Some people are more conceptual, some more social, some analytical and I think the diversity comes in the way that people think in those different ways.

Mito Mackin: The crisis situation is a good way to see if a leadership team succeeds or fails, and I have seen crisis situations that have plummeted leadership teams that we thought were strong. It’s a bit like a married couple that seem happy, but hit the rocks and fall apart. Often you can only tell in a crisis.

Ian Johnston: When I reflect back, I don’t recall a single senior executive team that I worked with that I would regard as a high performing team. I certainly find that the more senior the team the less likely it is that they will collaborate and operate as a true team. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have an agreed vision, hopefully a sense of purpose and certainly a common set of objectives that you work to. A non-cohesive leadership team can still run a business.

Michael Doolin: I think there is a gap between those that are coherent and those that aren’t. The question is usually; ‘what else could we have achieved, had we all been on the same page’?

Richard Eastmond: I have worked in a high performing team, two people left and you’re left with a succession planning challenge: how to get those people all in the same head space and back to that perfect place. It’s more than just therecruitment process, it’s the induction process and the need for that group to go back a couple of steps and go through some processes, it’s a considerable challenge.

What considerations must be made in setting Leadership Development Programmes that are practical, effective and sustainable?

Mito Mackin: It’s best to have a mix of real-time, on-the-job training, as well as a theoretical academic context, to help direct people to improve and develop. That has to be at a very personal level, and it’s got to have both on-the-job, practical implications as well of some of the theoretical academic underpinnings that allows them to succeed in that new role.

Sharon Taylor: Having worked in a number of organisations my observations are that development programmes have a specific lifespan and are rarely sustained after about 18 months.

Michael Doolin: Maybe that’s the point. The consideration should be that this has a lifespan; it has a value period after which it needs to be renewed or refreshed.

Richard Eastmond: The beauty of working in the NGO sector I have discovered is the huge amount of collaboration we have across organisations, because we are not competing. So an element of sustainability is actually, have you got enough people to put through any particular leadership programme after more than a couple of years? Our response to the issue of sustainability is we run a leadership programme for the top leaders with; Oxfam, Actionaid and Greenpeace. We get the value of all the collaboration between participating organisations that flows from it.

Dr Anthony Hesketh the Lancashire University Business School said “HR Leadership comes down to making sure people are aligned with the strategy business model and value creation of the business, which requires strategic, financial and leadership skills but is HR equipped”?’ is HR is up to the job?

Ian Johnston: I can’t think of a HR team or an organisation that I have worked in that doesn’t have this as a core skillset. Whether or not that lives and breathes and is successful in an organisation is a different question. There are other skillsets that we need to continue to work on and build in HR. What makes a difference is our ability to influence the business, operationalise it, embed it and make it successful and meaningful in terms of business outcomes.

Nuno Monteiro: My observation over the past couple of years is, in many emerging markets, HR is a rather unpopular field of work. In more established and traditional markets, the value of HR is better understood. Its easier to find people who are interested in a career in HR.

Saqi Sheikh: In my experience the best HR practitioners I have come across are the ones that have the widest experience, rather than just coming through the ranks of one organisation. Breadth of experience is clearly a differentiator.

Olly Cochrane: Agreed, and believe it or not, too many HR practitioners don’t get involved with strategy, and that has got to change.

Tanya Sipos: I think that is true, I have been in HR for 18 months and my previous background is in organisational and cultural change, business integration and business transformation, has really paid off in terms of general business awareness and experience.

Lorraine Taylor: Unquestionably, the best HR teams are the ones who understand the commercials, and I think the HR world is changing rapidly – many functions are now called talent functions, are led by people who have worked in Internal Communications or other areas and therefore bring a different set of skills and experience sets.

Tanya Sipos: It is the connection and the balance that matters because if you have got a very strong team of more focussed, traditional HR and if you have some sort of strategic approach to HR – creative and innovative – it works.

Nuno Monteiro: I think this is a great example for a sort of reverse self-fulfilling prophecy. When HR teams are too narrow in their thinking, and focus too much on pushing certain HR policies through, they might lose the eye for the business. We must start defining leadership more broadly – leaders don’t always have to be outspoken, extroverted, and charismatic. Modern leaders can also be strong, introverted leaders and people who don’t look like the stereotypical leader profile. When we open up that facet of giving more different styles of leadership a chance and giving more different styles of people management a chance then I think we are on the right track.

Richard Eastmond: And having the right value set in the leadership team is critical. And you are much less likely to get outcomes like BHS.

Saqi Sheikh: With the change too of the collaborative workforce, the notion that leaders are paid astronomic remuneration and reward is totally out of kilter with the modern workforce. With shared responsibility must come shared and inclusive reward and recognition.

Sharon Sagoo: When the organisation is progressively going towards their corporate objective, when the people inside the organisation are happy to work there and from a client perspective, when they are happy to do business with the organisation again, I think that leaders are then doing something right.

Ian Johnston: Agreed, values are the bedrock of leadership – capabilities should be the differentiator but the values are table stakes. I have seen the effect of the values not being lived in other companies where certain executives had a very detrimental effect an organisation. They are the absolute foundation stone of great leadership.

Michael Doolin: I would make a plea for us all to remember emotional intelligence, something that’s understated and undervalued. I think humility, as well, is underestimated as a core quality of great leadership.

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