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…
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.
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 email@example.com
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial Strategic Director
Our client, a leading newsbrand, retained us to appoint an Editorial Strategic Director. This new position would aim to bridge the gap between editorial and commercial whilst introducing the required digital capability to help drive the organisation’s digital and customer centric transformation. Given the limited talent pool within the vicinity of the organisation’s HQ, it was highly likely that a relocation would be required.
Our research team meticulously mapped the media sector across Europe to identify the very best digital content candidates, who possessed strong leadership credentials. It was important to identify individuals who had an intricate understanding of how editorial operations work, but who also possessed the ability to create the digital content strategy and infrastructure to help deliver the company’s ambitious growth plans. Drawing on our deep expertise and network in media, we were able to build a compelling shortlist of engaged and diverse candidates who were receptive to relocation.
Our positioning of the opportunity was crucial in our ability to heighten initial interest and create excitement. Moreover, the need to rigorously assess and understand the individual’s key drivers and genuine desire to relocate for the right opportunity was a vital part in delivering this very successful assignment.
Our client selected their ideal candidate and Wickland Westcott managed the complex offer process, providing support and counsel to the candidate throughout the move, and ultimately securing the services of an outstanding individual.
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.
Digital Manufacturing – stripped back and made simple
By Keith Butler
The media love to promote Industry 4.0 or I4.0 or even I4 as the next “silver bullet” solution for manufacturing companies; and often in doing so create an unhealthy expectation which has the effect of alienating exactly those organisations that should be excited about such things. At a recent industry dinner event hosted by Wickland Westcott and Barclays the collective 32 leaders representing the sector expressed their dislike of the term I4.0, preferring the more accurate descriptor of “Digital Manufacturing”.
Brian Holliday, MD of Siemens Digital Industries, explained that as more automated tools and computer systems have become used in manufacturing plants it has become necessary to model, simulate, and analyse all of the machines, tooling, and input materials in order to optimize the manufacturing process. Overall, digital manufacturing can be seen sharing the same goals as computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), flexible manufacturing, lean manufacturing, and design for manufacturability (DFM). The main difference is that digital manufacturing was evolved for use in the computerized world. That said, this is not just something for large scale operations to consider.
On the evening many examples were shared of how digital manufacturing can add cash returns to small and large companies alike, one being a small “metal bashing” company on the Wirral. With £5m sales and employing 50 staff, the company improved their operating efficiency from 30% to 70% by tapping into government backed initiatives, like Made Smarter that offer funding and insight. On this occasion they largely provided knowledge and were able to advise the company on how they could improve machine utilisation, with little / no investment, and benefit from government subsidies to encourage the adoption of digital manufacturing, resulting in the delivery of £500k of cash profit.
Interestingly, the conversation on the night also acknowledged that key to success when adopting digital manufacturing is agile learning and agile working along with cultural change and is the subject of another of this month’s pieces. (Lack of Trust and Leadership – the Biggest Barrier to Flexible Working).
The event was held at the 1830 station warehouse, part of the Science and Industry museum in Manchester and home to the worlds’ first inter-city passenger railway. Back in 1830 representatives from other cities visited and then copied this approach and a new era dawned. Seeing something working in practice helps to crystalize the potential, therefore, following on from this event we are arranging a digital factory tour for clients to help further their understanding.
If you are interested in understanding more about digital manufacturing or joining the tour please contact Keith Butler on 01625 508100 or email him at email@example.com.
Lack of Trust and Leadership – the Biggest Barrier to Flexible Working
By Liz Lawson
Flexible working is becoming the norm, with the rise of globalisation, enabled by advances in technology, it now means that people can work pretty much anywhere. This has a big appeal for employees wanting the flexibility and freedom to work when and where they choose so that they can more easily juggle work and personal commitments. It also offers benefits to employers which include greater talent attraction and retention, access to expanded talent pools, increased productivity and performance, and reduced estate costs. In addition to the well documented benefits of flexible working the competition for talent means it is evidently a growing trend that more and more organisations are feeling pressure to adopt. Yet according to research by the CIPD in January 2019, a significant proportion of the workforce are not being given the option to work flexibly.
Therefore, do all employers really believe the reported benefits? The truth is that many don’t. Many organisations report operational pressures, industry sector and the nature of their work as barriers to adopting flexible working. Add to this that many managers simply want their workforce where they can see them and able to get hold of them when they want. However, the trend towards virtual teams and remote working presents ever increasing challenges to such managers, especially when under pressure themselves to deliver against stretching targets. Given the competitive imperative, organisations should challenge such paradigms and seek to evolve rather than risk becoming obsolete. Whilst we acknowledge that there are some sectors and job roles that are less suited to flexible working e.g. manufacturing or health service workers, there are a growing number of sectors where more flexible approaches are working effectively. Indeed, our experience tells us it is not sector being the largest blocker it is often more about a lack of trust and the need to equip leaders with the appropriate skills to manage such teams.
To remain competitive, there may be no choice but to embrace flexible working. Therefore, for businesses and employees to truly realise the benefits that it can bring, and be leaders in their field, it requires fundamental culture change, starting at the top. In our experience the following components are key to successfully building a flexible and remote working culture:
- Root it in the strategy: Identify and communicate the ‘why’ i.e. the business drivers for adopting a flexible way of working. This could be to support growth without increased establishment costs, to better meet the changing needs of customers and employees or to expand the talent pool outside of office locations, for instance.
- Senior leadership sponsorship: Like with any culture change, proactive support for remote/flexible working and role modelling of the right behaviours from the most senior people within the organisation is vital to engaging the wider organisation. There is no point in senior leaders saying that they are onboard and then placing demands on employees which make it impossible for them to work flexibly.
- Leadership training: Managing virtual and flexible working teams will require a bigger shift in attitude, skills and behaviours for some leaders more than others. Fundamentally a trust-based leadership approach needs to be adopted with clarity on objectives and deliverables yet greater emphasis on outcomes rather than when and where work is completed. Providing greater autonomy to teams and enabling them to self-manage, engage and stay connected is another important shift. This includes being sensitive to cultural differences within a team and being the mediator in balancing corporate and local needs.
- Self-managed teams: Empowering teams to take greater ownership for their collective learning and delivery of outcomes is essential when working remotely. Encouraging collective rather than single responsibility combats issues with supervising trainees when work patterns don’t match. It also enables leaders themselves to work the hours they want to work, helping organisations to retain and access all good leaders rather than just those willing to work 24/7.
- Embrace technology: Choosing the right technology and training on how to use this is critical to enable virtual teams to interact in a different way, without people feeling isolated or disconnected to their colleagues. Instant messaging and video conferencing platforms, such as WhatsApp and Skype, are growing rapidly in popularity due to this new way of working.
Like many aspects of business change there is no silver bullet and each business should start with what they are trying to achieve and why. There is no point treating this as a “tick box” exercise, to appease one or two key individuals or to try and give the impression of a business which is forward thinking, when the underlying culture does not support it. In the world of social media and connected networks the illusion will be short lived. That said, with a clear purpose and rationale, it is possible to make small changes to start along the path towards a longer term goal – since demonstrating an aspiration to become more flexible and to embrace the benefits associated with flexible working will send positive signals across your organisation and into the market place.
Wickland Westcott provides support to organisations grappling with the challenges of leading virtual and flexible teams. Whether it is simply advice you are looking for or leadership training and development, please contact Liz Lawson for more information on 07970 377481 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Secret to Building Individual and Organisational Capability
By John Milsom
A few years ago Wickland Westcott was asked to pitch for some work to support the identification and development of High Potential leaders within a large FMCG multinational. The brief for the tender process included a request for our perspective on the latest thinking relating to the identification and development of future talent. This prompted us to summarise our thinking in the model below. We have subsequently embedded this approach within a wide range of assignments and believe it offers something to everyone looking to develop themselves, those around them, or whole organisations.
The model itself originated from our own experiences combined with a surge in publications relating to talent management and the development of expertise. The literature suggested a convergence of thinking within Management Science, Psychology and Neuroscience which tallies with our own reflections that the development of high performers, high potentials and even those seen with ‘innate talent’ lies in the experience that these people gain through practice rather than through gifts that they are genuinely born with.
Certain attributes such as drive and intellectual ability are clearly useful in supporting learning. Coaching also accelerates the process of learning from experience. However, ultimately the most notable characteristic of those who excel within any field is that they all have extensive exposure to high quality developmental experiences at an early stage in their lives or careers. In other words they do a lot of the right kind of practice in order to establish a base of knowledge and skill that can be drawn upon and applied when needed.
Further analysis of the research literature revealed five clear factors that characterise the ‘right kind of practice’. These are:
- Exposure to excellence – visibility of role models who inspire and demonstrate what success looks like and show that it is possible
- Isolation of key components – working on specific subskills in isolation before integrating them into a whole performance
- Repetition – repeated exposure to groove ways of thinking and ensure perspectives become embedded
- Continual stretch – being continually exposed to tasks that are challenging but achievable, with the high bar continually being raised
- Reflection, introspection and assimilation – Support in continually reviewing experiences in order to separate key learning
We have used these insights within assignments in a variety of ways. For example, when looking to assess leaders within Search and Leadership Assessment programmes we look to profile the experience base that candidates are able to draw on as well are their current capability or track record. The key thing here is to differentiate between (as my ice hockey coach once described) those with a genuine ten years’ experience and those with one years’ experience ten times. It can also be useful to understand the points of inflection within an individual’s career where lessons started to sink in or when individuals were exposed to new experiences to learn from.
From a developmental perspective, we seek to include practice and repetition into leadership programmes through the use of Self-learning Development Centres and tailored Business Simulation Exercises. The more opportunities for practice we can build in the better, and the deeper the level of processing we can achieve the more powerful we know the learning will be. These approaches provide the opportunity for key skills and perspectives to be stretched within a controlled and supportive environment. Within Executive Coaching our coaches also consistently work towards supporting their clients to learn from the experiences and opportunities they have around them, maximising the value they get from their work.
In summary – the secret to building capability lies in providing the exposure needed for knowledge to be acquired and skills to be practiced in the right way. The same applies to both individual leaders, teams and organisations. The challenge therefore lies in stretching ourselves and those around us with valuable experiences that provide opportunities for high quality practice whilst ensuring the support is available to learn from these experiences.
For more thoughts on the assessment and development of leaders please connect or follow me. Likewise if you’d like to discuss these areas please get in touch. You can find further insight related to leadership from my colleagues here or by following us on LinkedIn.
Deputy Director of MIS and Planning
Our client is a northern-based City-Region FE College who was seeking to strengthen its MIS and Planning function with two strategic investment posts.
We used our extensive experience to search and find a Deputy Director of MIS and Planning and a specialist Data Analyst. Our search work took as beyond the traditional FE sector organisations, producing strong candidate fields from education, regulated industries, local government and utilities. The Credo personality profiling assessment, available from Tests Direct, was used to assess shortlisted candidates for the Deputy Director position and this provided valuable insight into the candidate selection process. We worked with the Client to tailor the selection process so that it could explore in more detail the strengths and development opportunities of candidates in addition to their professional behaviours. All candidates received constructive feedback from the selection process, which included a debrief on their personality profiling. This increased their self-awareness and supported their personal development as they continued to take their next career steps.
Throughout the recruitment, selection and on-boarding process, our consultants remained in regular contact with both client and candidates. They ensured that positive profiling of the Client’s brand was maintained throughout the recruitment process and that transition support was available to the appointees.
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.
Straight From the Horse’s Mouth! – What It Takes To Be An Effective NED
By Keith Butler
As part of a piece of work for one of our key clients, Wickland Westcott has been putting together a training programme to help experienced Managers step up into Non-Executive Director roles. As part of this, to help identify the skills and experience needed, we interviewed 12 people who had secured NED positions, many of them having undertaken several such roles. The key points gleaned from these interviews are as below:
1) How Do You Get a NED Role?
By a significant margin, the main way that NED roles were secured was via the individual’s network. Other ways of securing a NED role included being asked directly by a client, responding to an advert and being approached by a recruiter. However, networking accounted for over 80% of NED roles obtained!
What is also interesting here is that well over a third of the roles came not from the individual’s direct network but from connections of connections. As such, it is important to let as many people as possible know that you are potentially interested in NED roles so that they can recommend / refer you to their contacts as and when appropriate.
2) What makes a successful NED?
We asked the NEDs not only about what experiences and competencies they had that helped them be successful but also what they would look for when taking on a NED. The main factors quoted were:
- Strong communication and stakeholder management skills.
- The ability to robustly challenge the Board, including matters that you are not necessarily a subject expert on.
- Do your homework! Research the organisation, the sector it operates in, what competitors are doing, the external marketplace and relevant Government legislation.
- Know what you can offer the Board that will be of value and will supplement the skills and experience possessed by current Board members.
- Hard work, commitment and good organisational skills. As one of the NEDs said: “You cannot play at it!”
- An understanding of your own area of specialisation, but being able to also look wider, strategically and holistically.
- The ability to take a step back from operational matters and focus on the longer term.
3) Some words of advice
Finally, we asked the NEDs for any other advice they could offer prospective NEDs, either to help them secure a NED role or whilst in post. Some of the most useful is as below:
- It can be a good idea to apply for roles in smaller organisations first e.g. Trustee of a Charity, community venture or a school. Alternatively look to join as a non-exec on a committee rather than on a full board.
- Network, network, network!!
- Think about what skills and experience you have that others might not and look for organisations where this experience might be useful. For example, if you have managed a merger, look for organisations going through a similar process.
- In a similar vein, do some research on the current Board members of an organisation you would like to be a NED for and try to determine where you could add something a bit different. Boards are most effective with a cross-section of skills and experience and the better Boards will look to increase their spectrum of experience.
- Pro-actively market yourself, for example via LinkedIn and other social/business media routes.
- Shadow a Board Member or existing NED to get a better idea as to what they do and how they do it.
- Always maintain independence of thought.
- Get the balance right between challenge and collaboration.
- Accept and be comfortable in the fact that you will not understand everything in detail – that is not your role!
Is it for you?
Overall, the vast majority of the NEDs had really enjoyed the experience and felt that it had been beneficial to all parties. The organisations they had worked for as a NED benefitted from their experience and the different perspective they could bring to the table; the NEDs themselves benefitted from seeing how other organisations work and how they address the challenges they face; and – if they had a permanent job as well – they were able to bring back their NED learning experiences to help develop strategy and “see things differently”. However, as well as these benefits, the NEDs we spoke to also wanted to point out that being a NED is hard work and is not for everybody, so it is important to go into it well prepared and with your eyes open.
If you are interested in hearing more about what is involved in being a NED or you are considering applying to NED roles, then please contact us at email@example.com or contact Keith Butler on 01625 508100.