Adam is a Search Consultant in our London office and is responsible for our Marketing and Digital Practice.
Prior to joining Wickland Westcott, Adam worked for Fortune Hill as Director of the Media and Entertainment Practice where he led Board level and senior management searches in Marketing, Digital and Commercial functions.
Adam’s early career was spent working for Arsenal FC, where he held senior Commercial and Marketing roles. He then joined Michael Page where he led a team that specialised in Marketing services and the media sector.
Adam specialises in Marketing, Digital and Commercial searches for a broad range of clients across consumer, media and online sectors. He has worked extensively with global FTSE organisations, AIM listed and VC and PE backed growth companies, identifying leadership to fill senior management positions across the UK and Europe.
He graduated with a First Class MBA in Football Industries from Liverpool University.
Chief Executive Officer: "“Wickland Westcott has been instrumental in the identification and development of our leadership talent. They have been a key contributor to the renewal of The Co-op, providing insight and expertise to me and my team."
Senior Leadership Development Consultant: "I would highly recommend working with the team at Wickland Westcott on your talent or leadership development solutions – they are easy to do business with, yet meticulous in designing quality products/ services that match specifically with what we’re trying to achieve as an organisation. Our leaders have enhanced their leadership skills as a direct result of Wickland Westcott’s insightful and challenging coaching – thank you."
HR Senior Controller: "The programme has been excellent. The Wickland Westcott team worked really hard to understand our business and the strategic drivers behind this initiative. This collaborative approach resulted in a bespoke programme which combined the benefits of an external provider with a real ‘Nissan feel’. It’s been really well received by both employees and management. The professionalism and commitment of the consultants was second to none.".
Learning Agility can be defined as extent to which an individual is equipped to learn from their experience and apply these insights to new situations. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, the importance of learning is paramount. Learning agility can also accelerate the diversity and inclusion agenda, as the more progressive organisations define their people requirements in terms of skills, and not just experiences, thereby increasing fairness and opening up untapped pools of talent.
At leadership consultancy Wickland Westcott we have studied research in this field, and combined with our own experience of working with leaders, identify six underpinning factors.
Cognitive Ability to make links and integrate new information, work deftly with complex ideas, entertain step-change and discontinuity, and handle ambiguity. Memory is a key component of this factor.
Learning Motivation relates to aspects of personality, in particular one of the big five dimensions – Openness to Experience. Learning Motivation is associated with high levels of curiosity, an intrinsic interest in learning, and an enduring thirst for gaining new experiences.
Emotional Intelligence. All four of the Goleman’s EI elements are important, in order to provide the emotional stability required for individuals to seek honest feedback and process it effectively.
The three core drivers described above are generally stable elements that can be tough to develop. However with focussed effort, changes are possible and indeed likely over an individual’s lifetime. The following three Accelerants are much more susceptible to change (in our view) – more easily developable within the shorter term.
Learning Capability refers to an individual’s proficiency in skills related to learning, including being able to spot valuable learning opportunities, planning learning-related activities, and building in time for preparation, personal reflection and knowledge consolidation.
Domain Experience refers to the experience the individual has accumulated. It is domain specific, rather than generic. This is a particularly interesting factor from an assessment perspective, because whilst experiencing something does tend to make it easier to learn about, there is no guarantee such learning actually accrues. This introduces the risk that ‘years of experience’ is erroneously treated by recruiters as a proxy for accumulated learning, damaging the fairness of the process and closing-off less domain-experienced but equally capable candidates.
Domain Aspiration relates to the person’s level of interest in learning within that specific field of expertise. Essentially, is the person interested in immersing her/himself in that discipline? It could be driven by a particular passion (eg. for a type of music, sport, or particular subject) or by a belief that developing oneself would be helpful (eg. in earning a promotion or achieving a long-term career goal). Without this absorption, the learning is unlikely to be sufficiently deep-rooted.
The identification of these six learning agility factors helps inform our assignments in finding and developing leaders. At Wickland Westcott we are learning all the time however, so if you have alternative views or would like to discuss any aspect of leadership, please contact John Milsom (Director) on 01625 508100 (email@example.com).
Identifying and developing individuals with the potential to lead is crucial to success in any organisation. Growing future leaders has however proved an enduring challenge. This article draws together emerging themes within the area, and explains how to implement a successful high-potential programme.
Most organisations use Leadership Frameworks within their Talent Management processes. Such frameworks often span several different organisational levels, and this breadth can limit their effectiveness. Attempting to use the full framework to evaluate whether an individual will make a good leader can therefore be too broad-brush and inaccurate. What is required is a more refined framework – measuring only those characteristics that truly predict. Fortunately, when it comes to leadership capability, research shows there is a small set of powerful indicators.
The Characteristics of Potential
Five clusters consistently emerge as most important:
Interpersonal Effectiveness – Essentially this dimension is underpinned by an individual’s emotional intelligence. It relates to their self-awareness, their ability to manage their impact upon others, as well as emotional resilience, integrity and honesty. Strength here provides the foundations for building powerful relationships, as well as leading, motivating and inspiring others.
Change Orientation – An individual’s comfort within fluid and changeable situations, their appetite for seeking out new ideas and their willingness to change their own behaviour as a result of feedback. Essentially, this is about openness to learning from stretching experiences. This quality provides the foundation for key leadership competencies such as flexibility and transformational leadership.
Reasoning Ability – The ability to process complex information accurately, and to quickly form a holistic picture, simplifying and making sense of abstract data.
Drive – The passion and motivation to lead personal and organisational success. This dimension encompasses an individual’s willingness to expose him/herself to risk of failure and to make personal sacrifices in order to be successful. It correlates with energy, and tenacity.
Functional and Technical Knowledge – having a sound technical specialism that is strategically imperative to the organisation is a good predictor of potential in certain sectors, industries, organisations, functions and roles.
Evaluating future leaders against the above Characteristics of Potential is a good place to start. Sound psychometric tools combined with robust interviewing techniques provide the most effective way of tapping these five factors. Ability tests and personality questionnaires can be used in conjunction with structured interviews, and these are often included within assessment centres or 1:1 Executive assessments. Other tools such as observed business simulations and in-depth behavioural interviews can provide an unrivalled opportunity to test participants in a variety of situations under controlled conditions. Good exercises will include opportunities to reliably benchmark candidates. Structured scoring processes backed up by well-trained expert observers add rigour and fairness to the process. Whatever the precise process used, the key is to establish not only the person’s profile of strengths and development areas, but also the reasons why they have developed in this way. This enables us to predict how they will respond to learning opportunities in the future.
Just measuring the above five factors however, whilst absolutely essential, is totally insufficient. A robust measure of potential also needs to take into account the person’s current performance, and also their work experience to date, as the latter serves to amplify (or constrain) the realisation of potential.
Current performance data can be gained by looking at existing appraisal forms, results against KPIs, and manager feedback. Sometimes, however, it can be more difficult than one might imagine to obtain fair, objective current performance data, so other tools can be deployed including the assessment centres or 1:1 Executive assessments described above. 360 degree questionnaires can also play a useful role in capturing insights from colleagues and direct reports.
The person’s work experience to date, and the sets of experience they need in the future to realise their potential, is an area too often neglected. What type and scale of leadership situations has this individual experienced, and how did he/she respond to them? An appreciation of their career journey, and the events and situations they have been exposed to, is crucial in understanding the context in which their behaviour has developed. This can be measured by asking them to produce a detailed CV or to complete a work-history pro-forma. They can be encouraged to highlight particularly challenging or developmental situations they have faced. Then back this up with an interview process, where the assessor probes what the individual has seen, what development they have received and what knowledge and skills they have picked up from these experiences.
If you are thinking of introducing a project to identify and develop leadership potential, these points should help:
How much do the key stakeholders in your organisation recognise this as a critical business imperative? If there is little shared understanding of its importance, build the business case by linking this initiative to the core business strategy and goals. Case studies of organisations that do this well can help build support.
Select a reliable partner to work with you in measuring your people’s potential. This partner must not only reach accurate judgements, but must do so in a sensitive, constructive and inclusive way, so that your most valuable employees are energised by the process – excited about developing themselves into tomorrow’s leaders. We at Wickland Westcott excel in this type of work.
Think carefully about whether you will make public (within the organisation) those people who are high potentials and (therefore, inevitably) those people who are not. This area needs careful handling and again a competent assessment /development partner will be able to guide you in handling this issue.
Ensure you have budget to support the development and growth of those identified with potential. Dependent on your timeframes, you may find you have to fast-track those where there is a critical business need.
Ensure that, as far as is possible, the development solutions you provide to your high-potentials are on-the-job real-time projects that expose them to current, critical business issues. Remember, the right experience helps convert potential into reality.
From the outset, measure the results. Monitor the high-potentials as they progress through the business and seek to evaluate the return on the money invested in them.
Over the last couple of days I’ve sat in different boardrooms with two separate clients: the first, a national retailer and the second, an internationally focused University. Both organisations face significant challenges in an increasingly competitive market where the customer is cost savvy and expects more for their buck. Both organisations are delivering significant transformational change agendas in public view. Any senior appointments they make are liable to media scrutiny.
Our role is to support these clients in assessing for business critical appointments, including external hires, promotions and succession planning. With such appointments, clients usually want the right candidate, right now, who can hit the ground running. So almost always there is a pressure to appoint.
When the perfect candidate is available and raring to go, it is a great day. But this is unusual. More often, the client is faced with a range of candidates who each have strengths and development areas in relation to the role specification. We have observed common problems that can surface at this stage:
A drift from criterion-based assessment (fit vs the specification) towards norm-based assessment (‘the best of the bunch’).
Potential dissonance arising between those who favour the long-term view (‘let’s wait until we find the perfect candidate’) and those looking for immediate resolution (‘we’ve been out to the market – this is what’s available’). In our experience, those colleagues who are covering for the vacancy/feeling the pain are almost always in this latter camp.
In these situations we have found it helpful to ask a series of questions:
Although not currently a perfect role-fit, do we believe that the favoured candidates will fit effectively into the team (and the culture of the organisation if coming from outside)?
Can we think creatively to mitigate the gaps that these candidates currently have? For example, which skills are most developable and how/when could this development take place?
How aware are the favoured candidates of the gaps between their profile and the role specification? If they did recognise these gaps, how committed would they be to closing them?
What else do the favoured candidates bring, over and above the specification that might also be valuable to the organisation?
Is there a way to re-organise the team to accommodate a favoured candidate with a few skills gaps?
Ultimately, talent can be scarce, and the recruiting organisation has a tough decision to make. Wickland Westcott, when assessing candidates, is well aware of this and it can therefore be tempting for the Consultant to soften the assessment report. But we will never do this.
However, we are always open to conversations that look beyond the exact here-and-now fit, and seek to determine ‘how’ a candidate could be supported to be successful in a role. In our experience, signs of such flexibility include values-alignment and cultural fit (hence Question 1 above), as well as the candidate’s ability to learn and an openness to change (Question 3). Courage is also a good indicator.
Increasingly then, we ask clients to be more flexible and accommodating when bringing in senior hires. If none of the jigsaw-pieces on the shortlist fit the current picture perfectly, how can the picture itself be changed to accommodate one or more of the pieces? This is talent management in its broadest sense, and the organisations that do this are likely to secure the best people in the market.
Executive assessment is changing, and here we outline the latest trends. The traditional one-to-one assessment model deploys a number of questionnaires and aptitude tests to build a deep understanding of the individual. There are usually two participants in the process, the person being assessed and the assessor, who is often, but not always, a psychologist. Broad-based personality questionnaires such as the Occupational Personality Questionnaire or the16PF are often used, and these may be supplemented by measures such as Myers-Briggs, Firo B and Belbin’s Team Type questionnaire. Verbal and Numerical reasoning aptitude tests are also common.
The results from these psychometrics are usually discussed with the participant, and are sometimes incorporated into an extensive interview where the individual is questioned about their life experiences from schooling through to the present day. Across all these tools, the assessor is looking for common themes and recurring patterns of behaviour in the individual’s life. Based on these insights, a report is produced, summarising the person’s performance on each instrument, and their likely strengths and development areas.
This model is thorough, well-established, and provides valuable data that would not otherwise be available. However, leading-edge executive assessment is evolving in six key ways:
New tools: New psychometric instruments become available each year. Some of these are poor, making grand claims that are not substantiated by validity data. However, a number of sound, interesting new tools have emerged that add real value, for example in the areas of creativity and management judgement. Another trend is the increased use of business case-study exercises. Properly designed, face-valid exercises provide vital ‘sample’ data to enhance the ‘sign’ data obtained from psychometrics.
Benchmarking: Assessor credibility and experience is always important to the client – it enables them to trust the outputs of the process. Client confidence is further re-enforced by the use of relevant, current benchmarking data, enabling participants to be rated against meaningful comparison groups. Good assessment firms build and utilise such benchmark databases, enabling them to capture and quantify their combined experiences for the client’s benefit.
Integrated, tailored reports: Bland assessment reports that simply detail how a candidate has performed in each test are quick to produce, but offer limited value to the client. The best reports integrate data from across all the instruments, and are tailored to the particular skills, competencies and business context that the client is most interested in. They make confident, authoritative and accurate statements enabling the reader to reach clear conclusions. The more progressive assessment firms are willing to make clear recommendations.
Group Analysis: Once a client has assessed several of their executives, it is fascinating to analyse the data across the group of respondents. This can show, for example, that a particular team has clear strengths or gaps, or even that a whole tier of managers is more task than people-focused. Such information is invaluable in planning development activities, in cultural change initiatives, or for example in helping PE firms build a comprehensive picture of the management team.
Strategy and Context Led: Assessment activity must dovetail with the client organisation’s business strategy, current organisational challenges and, where one exists, Talent Management strategy. This ensures the work is aligned and consistent with the organisation’s direction of travel and key deliverables. And critically, the understanding of individuals’ capability needs to sit in context. There are a limited number of stars around, but there are plenty of people who can perform excellently in certain roles/contexts. Too much assessment just looks at generic capabilities, rather than providing a granular understanding of how the person will perform within specific work environments.
Driving personal development: Assessment processes are increasingly used to trigger and drive self-development. Underpinning this approach is the recognition that self-awareness is a vital component in leadership development. In true development assessment the individual is not being assessed for a job or a promotion, rather the focus is upon establishing development needs, and building a development plan. In this application, the outcomes are self-insight, leading to personally led self-development.
Wickland Westcott has a high level of expertise and credibility in one-to-one assessments, both in the context of placing individuals in particular roles and in helping people to develop and grow. We can also provide an interesting blend of insights by pairing psychologists with Search Consultants to produce a report combining behavioural analysis with an understanding of how the individual’s experience stacks up in the marketplace.
Many Operations Directors have aspirations to become the MD or CEO, to run their own P&L. However, operations/manufacturing leaders are often overlooked for general management roles in favour of their counterparts in sales and marketing or finance, who may be seen as more commercial. What are the challenges in progressing from operations into general management? What skills and characteristics are critical for success?
Usually, the primary role of the Operations Director is to improve the internal performance of their site(s), reduce the footprint (where appropriate), and generate significant cost reduction programmes, thereby contributing to the company’s competitiveness and profitability. The majority of senior operations professionals tend to be qualified in engineering or manufacturing disciplines, and are often considered to be logical thinkers who align people and process to solve problems and deliver improvements. This makes them well suited to the structured environments in which most tend to operate.
Embrace the uncertainty
As a key member of the senior leadership team however, the Operations Director is also exposed to a broader range of business issues, and he/she may have the opportunity to challenge the wider organisation when it comes to planning or even product design. The best people take advantage of this, inputting strategically and adding value outside their functional expertise. The higher performers quickly learn that the marketplace is not as logical and systems-driven as the typical factory environment. So the first key requirement in the step up to MD/CEO is the willingness to embrace, perhaps even learn to enjoy, the ambiguity and volatility of the commercial world.
Understand the market
When seeking promotion to MD/CEO, Operations Directors often encounter challenges associated with their commercial experience, and potentially their limited understanding of the market they supply. Lack of proven track record in the critical areas of sales and marketing can also lead to credibility issues with the rest of the senior team. Those that successfully make the transition demonstrate good business knowledge, a clear understanding of the challenges facing the company and, above all, confidence in their ability. In parallel, they ‘fast track’ their familiarity with the trends and dynamics associated with their marketplace, capitalising on the expertise of colleagues and spending time with customers. They fundamentally grasp that, whilst producing good quality product is absolutely essential, it is also totally insufficient – they demonstrate an appreciation of the ‘sell-side’ of the business process.
From management to leadership
Leadership is a key requirement when running an entire business, including the ability to generate buy-in to a clear vision, and to develop and execute a coherent strategy. Operations Directors have an advantage here, because usually they will already have demonstrated people-management skills, often being responsible for managing the bulk of the headcount. So the aspiring senior operations professional needs to demonstrate that they know the difference between management (maintenance, standards, doing it right) and leadership (change, inspiration, doing the right thing). Perceptiveness is also important; the best leaders can read people and understand how to adapt their style according to the needs of different individuals and situations. More broadly, successful leaders are sensitive to emerging situations, they anticipate problems and are prepared to act accordingly, so a bit of courage does not go amiss.
Tough but warm
The management literature increasingly highlights emotional resilience as a key requirement in any senior role, especially the top job. The MD/CEO must recognise that, as the figure-head of the business, they are likely to experience a level of pressure, scrutiny and usually criticism. This can make for a lonely experience and success is dependent on the ability to demonstrate fortitude and tenacity, and by building a good support network. The best leaders are able to project passion and enthusiasm for their business during both the highs and lows, retaining a focus on the company’s short term objectives and long-term strategic goals.
Follow the money
Finally, in addition to developing their commercial acumen and market knowledge, many aspiring MD/CEOs need to improve their mastery of the numbers. The ability to understand a balance sheet is a key requirement here, as is the know-how to use management information to make sound commercial judgements. This is not about learning to become a management accountant, or about maintaining an in-depth, granular understanding of every number. Rather, it is about developing a comfort and confidence to understand, utilise and monitor the most crucial metrics. The FD needs to know that the MD/CEO is alive to cost, revenue and profit, and understands the levers that affect them.
Ultimately of course, the path from Operations Director to MD/CEO will vary according to individual experience, capabilities and interests. For an informal discussion about the best way to make the step up and/or to identify individuals capable of making the grade, please contact Jerome Bull on 01625 508100.