Who will Lead your Firm?

Leadership Assessment at a top Professional Services Firm

The Challenge

A financial professional services firm operating in the areas of audit, tax, risk, corporate finance and general advisory employed a national managing partner who had been in the role many years, successfully building a growing and progressive business.

Nearing the end of his tenure, the firm was keen to make constitutional governance changes whereby the successor would be elected by the rest of the partnership, serving for a fixed four-year term. He/she would be able to seek re-election for one further term, after which a new leader would be appointed.

These planned changes commenced a necessary dialogue in the business about who might lead it in the future. The chief people officer (herself a partner) was keen to provide the firm with a diverse range of leadership talent over the coming years.

Solution

Wickland Westcott, part of New Street Group was retained to develop a programme to help identify those partners with senior leadership potential, and to provide them with support to further develop their leadership skills. We began by undertaking extensive research to understand the firm’s culture, and determining those specific behaviours essential for leadership success in their specific context. We then blended this data with our own learning from our 40 year heritage of assessing leaders, to create a ‘leadership blueprint’.

The next step was to design a sensitive, insightful and fair assessment process that would be face-valid to partner participants, whilst still providing them with a challenging, informative and enjoyable experience. Crucially, this process had to appeal and be relevant to participants across service lines: tax, audit, advisory etc.

The equity partner candidate pool (numbering approximately 40 people) all stepped forward and engaged with this process, each receiving detailed face-to-face feedback on their strengths and development areas relative to the leadership blueprint. This was then followed by the provision of a menu of learning solutions, including personal coaching and skills-based workshops to appeal to these busy professionals.

Outcome

The programme was deemed a real success. It highlighted a number of partners who had both the potential and the desire to one day lead the firm. Personal development plans are now in place to help them on that journey. The design of the assessment process provided participants with a case study exercise in which they were the boss of a professional service firm. This ‘realistic job preview’ enabled a number of partners, who had previously thought they might like to be national managing partner, to reflect upon their career direction. The process has also served to help partners truly understand themselves and adjust their aspirations accordingly.

In a further vote of confidence in the process, the firm has now asked Wickland Westcott to use a similar approach to assess all future partner appointments, both internal promotions and external hires. In this way it will ensure the best quality hires, reduce expensive mistakes and enhance its employer brand, whilst also providing the chief people officer (and indeed the next national managing partner) with crucial information about its top talent.

For more information on our services please contact Wickland Westcott on 01625 508 100 or email ww@wickland-westcott.com.

Credit Where it’s Due – Tips for Appraising Teams

Credit Where it’s Due – Tips for Appraising Teams

By John Milsom

January is a common time for organisations to schedule annual appraisals into the Talent Calendar. As more work is completed in teams, this means that leaders are faced with the challenge of working out who has been responsible for the achievement of shared objectives (or otherwise). But doing this is not always easy, and raises the question of just how credit should be allocated on tasks requiring collaboration.

New research from Kellogg School of Management points towards systematic flaws in the way this is done and highlights practical takeaways to improve the accuracy of attributing responsibility for performance within teams.

The key finding from this research is that when reviewing the performance of teams there are systematic differences between the type of people who get the credit when things go well, and those who get the blame when things go wrong. Specifically, it seems that the contributions of more experienced and established team members who have developed a reputation over time are over-weighted when teams perform well, and under-weighted when teams underperform.

This means that, to coin a phrase, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with experienced team members being rated positively as a result of team successes, and more junior team members unduly punished for failures. At the same time therefore, less established team members are less likely to have their contributions recognised when they contribute to successful teams, whilst their experienced colleagues escape without being held accountable when expectations are not met.

As well demotivating staff, this effect has the potential to reinforce the status quo (such as established hierarchies or ways of work), stifle talent and innovation, and reduce the potential of teams to develop over time. Senior individuals may not receive the challenge and honest feedback they need to address their own role in failures, while junior or new staff involved in team efforts that do not go to plan will find themselves held disproportionately accountable and their careers stalled as a result. There are implications here for the development of a performance culture, continuous improvement, engagement, talent management as well as developing inclusivity.

Practical takeouts from the research for leaders though focus on the need to avoid using experience and reputation as a proxy for responsibility when looking to evaluate the performance of individuals within teams. As they say, “awareness is curative”, and so being conscious of avoiding this trap and thinking more deeply about the role individuals actually played in team results will be crucial. In particular, when we find ourselves giving credit to senior team members or holding less established individuals responsible when targets are missed we should be particularly careful, challenge our own thinking, look for contradictory data and seek a devils advocate to check our thinking.

What are your experiences of working in a team, or attributing credit to individuals to shared objectives?


John Milsom is Client Service Director at Wickland Westcott. He specialises in the Assessment and Development of senior Leaders, and has a particular interest in the performance of Executive Teams. For a confidential conversation on useful tips and solutions call John on 01625 508100 or email jmilsom@wickland-westcott.com.

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How to break down silos

How to break down silos

By John Milsom

Just about every one of the clients I have worked with this year has been grappling with the challenge of breaking down silos in their organisation. Whether the silos are geographic, functional, market based or relate to business units, leaders seem to be struggling to achieve the collaboration they would like to see, or is needed to execute their strategies.

It seems as if while everyone understands the benefits of horizontal teamwork (innovation, engagement, client satisfaction – or within professional services: increased cross selling) the means of achieving this remains a mystery.

Reflecting on the research in this field and our own experiences, it seems that relationships lie at the heart of the challenge. After all, as human beings we all prefer to work with what we know and who we know. Beyond this here are ten practical steps that leaders should look to take to break down silos in their organisations:

  1. Recruit and develop individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets rather than those with narrow specialisms
  2. Recruit and develop individuals with a growth mindset (the desire to learn and be stretched by new challenges)
  3. Recruit and develop people with high EQ
  4. Facilitate cross functional/business moves and experiences
  5. Inspire, equip and reward staff who operate with curiosity (Developing the ability to ask high quality questions across boundaries)
  6. Ensure leaders show an interest in what others are seeing and thinking (e.g. by asking questions, and seeking help from others to solve important problems they are facing)
  7. Create internal networking opportunities and ensure they include room for two-way dialogue
  8. Encourage the practice of looking at problems through the eyes of others
  9. Set up cross silo teams to work on specific issues
  10. Encourage employees to explore and develop their external network into new and distant domains


We welcome your thoughts breaking down silos. Would you add anything to these? If you’d like to share your own experiences, or talk about current challenges please do get in touch. Email John Milsom at Wickland Westcott (jmilsom@wickland-westcott.com) or call him on 01625 508100.

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Operations Director – Packaging

Operations Director – Packaging

Our client, an international packaging manufacturer, had a requirement for an Operations Director to manage its 24/7 plant in Ellesmere Port, producing paper-based packaging, predominantly for a major blue-chip FMCG customer. They had traditionally recruited people from within the sector, but wanted to look at potentially recruiting somebody with the core competencies required, including strong people management skills, running a high volume continuous manufacturing operation, and working to Continuous Improvement principles, but with a background in a different sector.

Wickland Westcott carried out a full executive search campaign which involved identifying locally based Plant and Operations Managers/Directors working for organisations carrying out similar high-volume manufacturing. We contacted over 90 potential candidates and put together a long-list of 8 who were interviewed face-to-face. From these, CVs for 4 short-list candidates were submitted to our client, along with full interview notes and the results of a personality profiling test designed to assess leadership style. After the client’s two stage interview process, which included a site tour and presentation, the first-choice candidate was offered and accepted the role.

The successful candidate had a background in printing, chemical products and, most recently, textiles. Throughout their career, they had focussed on implementing Lean practices and a “right first time” culture, along with delivering high levels of customer satisfaction in high pressure 24/7 manufacturing environments. In addition, they had strong people management and leadership skills, with a track record of bringing about meaningful change to drive performance improvements.

On the back of this assignment, Wickland Westcott were appointed to identify an Engineering Manager for their site in Wigan, a business critical role that our client had been unable to fill for over 6 months.

For more information on our services please contact Wickland Westcott on 01625 508 100 or email ww@wickland-westcott.com.

Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.

Managing Director

Managing Director (Germany-based)

Part of an entrepreneurial and highly acquisitive US Holding Group, this international manufacturing business supplies technical solutions to B2B customers across a range of niche sectors. The company’s success is based on its ability to engage on a deep level with customers with specific requirements, collaborating in the co-creation of applications to meet exacting needs. The business, which has its head office in North America, was seeking a successful General Manager/Managing Director to lead the growth of its interests in Europe from an established location in the South of Germany.

The brief was to search the local market in Germany for successful leaders with experience gained growing manufacturing businesses supplying similar technical products. The emphasis of the role was on implementing a clear commercial strategy, identifying new growth markets, whilst developing the delivery capability of the existing team. Therefore, ideal candidates would bring strong commercial credentials complemented by the ability to develop people and processes and to oversee the adoption of more efficient ways of working.

The search focused on similar sized manufacturing companies supplying technically differentiated B2B products where success required a strategic approach to business development. The process delivered a shortlist of five candidates, each of whom had the opportunity to meet the company CEO, local leadership team and a senior member of the Holding Group. A final candidate was taken through a battery of psychometrics and a full executive assessment prior to his successful appointment. He had worked locally and internationally at MD level with manufacturers of speciality chemicals, rubber compounds and customised stainless-steel containers.

Post the conclusion of the assignment, the client offered the following comment:

“Wickland Westcott was instrumental in helping us manage a long and complex recruiting process for a multi-national, key leadership position. They were able to provide us diverse, highly-qualified candidates with great depth and breadth that are game changers in their respective fields. Without our Leadership Consultant Jerome Bull, it would have been a very difficult process!”

 

For more information on our services please contact Wickland Westcott on 01625 508 100 or email ww@wickland-westcott.com.


Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.

Chief Operating Officer

Chief Operating Officer

Established over 100 years ago, this world-leading institution is widely recognised for the scientific, technical and advisory services it provides to the global food and drink sector. A member-based organisation, it counts many household names amongst its customers, and collaborates closely with high profile brand owners across the manufacturing and grocery retail sectors. The company was seeking a new COO to help drive change and modernisation in pursuit of growth as part of the senior leadership team.

The role of COO, which sits on the Executive Committee, has responsibility for a team of approximately 300 highly qualified technicians operating across different service lines and technical specialisms. The emphasis of the role was on promoting a greater level of collaboration and integration between sub-teams, leading to the promotion and delivery of a more cohesive customer proposition. Therefore, the role required significant but sensitive leadership and change management skills, ensuring respect for the history and tradition of the business whilst embracing the future.

The assignment involved the identification of senior technical/R&D General Managers with significant leadership experience gained with a recognised food manufacturer and/or retailer. In addition to exemplary qualifications and technical credentials, the search focused on candidates with experience gained delivering meaningful change across a workforce of scale. Leadership style was also particularly important given the history and prevailing culture of the business.

The shortlist, which included relevant and highly qualified candidates from B2B and B2C food manufacturing environments, met with the CEO and leadership team, completing personality psychometrics and a presentation as part of the process. Ultimately, the assignment resulted in the appointment of an individual with outstanding pedigree, blue-chip experience and a strong profile in the sector. He also brought the potential and headroom to step up to CEO in the fulness of time, satisfying an important succession planning consideration.

For more information on our services please contact Wickland Westcott on 01625 508 100 or email ww@wickland-westcott.com.

Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.

Operations Director (Field-based Workforce)

Operations Director (Field-based Workforce)

Our client is a major transportation services and judicial enforcement business that works on behalf of local authorities, central government and the private sector, including collecting fines. They have grown significantly over the last few years, both organically and via acquisition, and they have c.4000 field agents, based throughout the UK. Their rapid growth resulted in the creation of a new position of Group Operations Director, reporting into the COO and with responsibility for developing and implementing the operations strategy to ensure the effective management of the field team, focussed on ensuring that end customers received the highest possible level of service in what is a politically sensitive market whilst bearing in mind cost and budget issues.

Finding candidates with experience of managing similar sized, nationally based teams was not an easy task, particularly given the perception of the industry that our client operates in. After an initial market mapping exercise, we contacted some 80 potential candidates, assessing their experience in managing, communicating with and motivating a large field-based team, along with their track record of working under pressure and to tight deadlines, managing major change programs and using technology to maximise efficiency and reduce costs. A strong ethical focus and values-driven approach was also needed given the scrutiny that organisations in this market are subjected to from both the public and the media.

We interviewed and psychometrically assessed twelve potential candidates and put together a short-list of four, all of whom were interviewed by the HR Director and COO. Two of these were then met by the CEO of the organisation, who was happy that either could carry out the role effectively and add real value to the organisation. As such, the COO offered his preferred candidate, who accepted the offer and who has already made a positive impact on the operation.

For more information on our services please contact Wickland Westcott on 01625 508 100 or email ww@wickland-westcott.com.

Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.

Rainmaker vs CEO

Rainmaker vs CEO

By Colin Mercer

The stay or go dilemma 

Star performers sometimes have doubts about staying with their firm. CEOs worry about holding on to their big names. What causes these doubts? Sometimes it’s down to a personality clash. But more often it is due to a difference in perspective – there are two sides to every story. We’re used to advising on situations like this one. See if anything sounds familiar to you…

Rainmaker

I am one of the biggest billers in our firm. I generate nearly 20% of our annual revenue. Every day I take on daunting, complex, high-profile assignments in order to help our firm succeed.

I often lie in bed at night genuinely fearful of what I have to do the following day. There is nothing lonelier than that moment when you step into the fray.

I work longer hours than most of my colleagues. I spend more nights away from home and I take more personal risk – putting myself in harm’s way. And I see less of my children. My spouse asks: “Does everyone work as hard as you? Why is it always our weekends that suffer?

I am very well paid – I earn more than I or my parents ever imagined. But in terms of sheer fairness, I should probably be paid more. Much of my fee income is spent paying the salaries of staff in our support functions.

Other professionals in the firm often want access to my contacts, and I am usually happy to oblige. But why are they not able to build their own contact base?

I love our firm, but should I stay here? I feel it is too slow, insufficiently client focused, and a little bloated. Mediocrity is commonplace, and we have lots of back-office resource not focused on sales or delivery.

My boss is competent. She understands the professional life and undoubtedly has credibility having won her spurs out in the market, where it matters. But as CEO she tolerates under-performance and has lost some of her commercial edge.

Is this the right place for me, or should I move somewhere where the ambition matches my own? I do love this firm though, and especially the people in it. Maybe I just need to stop moaning.

CEO

Maya is a star performer. Brave, tireless, commercial, and sharp as a tack. She built a book of business, and then a whole department, based upon her ceaseless effort, industry and entrepreneurialism.

She drives a significant portion of our revenue. More than that, her business area is strategically important – a growth market that our firm should be known for. She is not the only show in town – we have a few other big-hitters. But we do need her.

She is quite a character. Quick-witted and straight-talking, sometimes intolerant of those around her. She burns though admin support like no tomorrow. She inspires enormous admiration across the firm but is not a great manager. Perhaps because she is so self-sufficient she assumes her people need little support, or even time with her.

We have made repeated attempts to keep her engaged. I asked her to join my executive team and this worked for a while, but she found it frustrating. She is not always respectful of colleagues. She does not really role-model our values. I have to manage my own behaviour to ensure Maya’s views carry due weight, but not too much. I can’t be seen to be beholden to the big-billers.

She believes she should be paid more. She does drive enormous value. But whilst her clients undoubtedly value her, they also value our brand and the broader infrastructure that sits behind her.

Maya (and other partners) have been vocal about the relative weakness of our brand, the lack of talent coming through, and our ‘appalling’ systems. We therefore invested significantly (but carefully) in our marketing, HR and IT functions – the very people she sometimes describes as ‘overheads’.

Maybe I am being unfairly critical of her. I like her a lot. She is wonderful company, an incredible talent, and a real asset for the firm. But I can feel we are reaching a cross-road. How do we keep her in the firm, whilst satisfying her and also remaining true to our values?

Do you think Maya should stay? Should the CEO flex to accommodate her, or hold the line? Should they meet half-way to provide what they both want?

Dilemmas like this are commonplace in professional service firms. For a confidential conversation on useful tips and solutions call Colin Mercer on 01625 508100 or email cmercer@wickland-westcott.com

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Grant Thornton

Leadership Support Programme

Malcolm Gomersall, COO: “Wickland Westcott has provided excellent leadership advisory support this year. They are a top class consultancy partner.”


Blinkers Off – The Case for Recruiting from Outside your Sector

Blinkers Off – The Case for Recruiting from Outside your Sector

By Jerome Bull

For many employers, recruiting from within their industry is preferable to appointing a candidate from outside the sector. They believe that this specific knowledge is a prerequisite for success, and that candidates without this insight present an unnecessary risk.

In Wickland Westcott’s Industrial Practice however, our experience is that certain Managing Directors, General Managers and senior operations executives are able to successfully switch sectors, and that these individuals often bring a fresh perspective along with the ability to add value beyond the application of existing industry knowledge.

Those able to make the transition, however, do come with a specific set of skills and characteristics, and Wickland Westcott has recently completed a research project to identify them:

An aptitude for learning – In order to successfully switch sectors, individuals need to quickly familiarise themselves with new products, processes and industry terminology. This learning may also extend to specific regulatory and marketplace requirements.  The ability to make sense of a new environment at both a conceptual and operational level is, therefore, critical to establishing credibility and making an early impact.  According to Duncan Martin who has worked at senior level in fmcg, waste management, nuclear energy and multi-sector private equity-backed manufacturing environments: “this requires a logical mind and the ability to acquire and assimilate new information“. It is not about becoming an expert in everything, but rather having the ability to grasp the fundamentals by simplifying complexity.

A developed understanding of manufacturing systems technology – Participants in our research consistently reported that, in order to shift from one industry to another, it is essential to have a reliable operating framework to work from, and to understand the key principles of manufacturing.

Stephen Forbes, MD Explore Manufacturing (part of the Laing O’Rourke Group) explains the need for: “a set of appropriate KPIs, typically including safety, productivity, cost, quality and customer service, via which you manage performance.  When moving industry you need the ability to interpret KPIs and to adapt them to the environment that you are working in“.

High levels of performance are also underlined through the adaptation and application of continuous improvement tools and techniques. Keith Broadbent, an Operations Director who has worked in the automotive, telecoms, luxury yacht and electronics sectors, commented: “You need to break down the principles of manufacturing – structures, KPIs and good people; the building blocks are common. The overall manufacturing process is essentially made up of a linear sequence of activities which can be measured, manipulated and improved“.

Leadership capability – Success in any senior role is largely dependent on the ability to gain the support and commitment of the team. This requirement is intensified when moving into a new sector where a lack of market knowledge, and the absence of an installed base of contacts, has the potential to undermine credibility in the short term. The key to gaining respect in the first instance is a willingness to show humility, demonstrate interest in other people and to listen and learn. Credibility is also likely to be achieved by correctly identifying and addressing the priority issues.

Beyond this, the attainment of results is based on an ability to get the best out of other people. This is characterised by a visionary outlook and the capacity to align others behind a common set of goals. Specific attributes contributing to success in this area include an open and participative approach, enough courage to make and act on tough decisions and a willingness to manage performance, both good and bad. Communication is also vital here.

Business skills – The ability of senior managers to anchor their efforts back to the goals and objectives of the broader business is obviously key. Tom Carpenter, a CEO who has worked in the electronics, pharma and cable manufacturing sectors, comments: “you will not survive without good business skills; commercial acumen is therefore a prerequisite“.

Tenacity – Many participants in our research identified determination and tenacity as crucial to achieving success. There is much talk in modern management literature about the need for innovation – at Wickland Westcott we believe that perseverance and discipline are at least as important. More than this, success is about having a well thought-through plan and being prepared to work to it.

Contributors in this area commented on the importance of:

  • “Remaining focused in your efforts…identifying the priorities and using your metrics to guide you”
  • “Having a clear plan to work to”
  • “Being able to cope with setbacks”
  • “Having a level of determination that enables you to deal with opposition and adversity”

Adaptability – Individuals that fail to make the leap from one sector to another were consistently reported as being too rigid or inflexible in the way they applied their tools and techniques. Typically, they were too prescriptive and kept trying to do what they have always done, rigidly implementing what had worked for them in the past. Julian Allen, a senior executive in the fmcg and building products sectors observed: “you cannot afford to be too slavish to one particular style.”

In short, the above capabilities can go a long way towards mitigating the risks of appointing an unsuitable candidate from outside (or indeed inside) of the sector. Organisations should be encouraged to remove sector-specific blinkers and bring in fresh, paradigm-shifting executives, as long as the candidate they are looking for has the above skills.

Building on this research, Wickland Westcott has developed an assessment toolkit to support recruiting companies in their decision making in this area. To find out more contact Jerome Bull on 01625 508100 or email him at jbull@wickland-westcott.com.

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