Pressure to Appoint

Pressure to Appoint

By Laura Phelps-Naqvi

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:

      1. 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)?
      2. 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?
      3. 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?
      4. What else do the favoured candidates bring, over and above the specification that might also be valuable to the organisation?
      5. 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.

For a conversation regarding the above please call Laura Phelps-Naqvi (Head of Practice, Leadership Development), on 01625 508100 or email laura@wickland-westcott.email


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Psychological Assessment

Psychological Assessment

By Stuart O’Reilly

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


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Ops Director to MD

Ops Director to MD

By Jerome Bull

Stepping Up from Ops Director to MD

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.


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Allow SID to be Vicious

Allow SID to be Vicious

By Colin Mercer

Imagine getting to be CEO – the freedom to act as you wish. You’ve spent a whole career fighting up the greasy pole, hoping for chance to wear the yellow jersey. The pinnacle, of course, is to command a Plc, fully listed, preferably in the top 250, ideally in the top 100. Now you really are in charge.

Picture it – your first day as the boss. You park in the space reserved for the CEO, normally right next to the exit so mere mortals will know you are in the house and will be ready with their impressive elevator pitch for promotion, should they bump into you. On arrival, you are met by your secretary, taken to your Executive Suite and introduced to your staff. You feel the power coursing through your fingers – at last you have the opportunity to run a business as it should really be run. It is normally around this time that you will be told about your first meeting with the Chairman – essentially this man or woman is your boss, at least that is what the Combined Code of Corporate Governance would suggest. But in practice you know you shouldn’t have too much to worry about – they are not only Chairman of the Board but also of the Nominations Committee, which means they have put their considerable reputation on the line by backing you. They want you to succeed, they need you to succeed.

For a time, you might be right. The performance of a CEO is evaluated essentially by the Chairman in consultation with the non-executive directors. If you are his or her hire, and build a tight, constructive relationship, how awkward can the Chairman really be?

Enter SID (the Senior Independent Director). SID is a historically low-profile individual with the power to tackle the boss’s boss. All Plc Boards have a SID, and one of their primary duties is to evaluate the performance of the Chairman. They are independent in the true sense of the word – they are the means by which the shareholders might raise concerns that are otherwise not being addressed. Most importantly, the SID is the key to tackling any unhealthy relationship between the CEO and Chairman – without doubt the most important relationship in a Plc business.

The problem is, Wickland Westcott does not feel SID has the teeth to do an adequate governance job. Whilst the Combined Code gives SID the authority to provide feedback to the Chairman, it is less clear about the consequences of underperformance and the levers or pressures that SID can apply. In the eventuality of an over-cosy relationship between CEO and Chairman, it would take a SID with huge reserves of courage, and a philosophical attitude towards their future career, to step into that space and challenge the objectivity and probity of the business leadership.

We believe the SID should be given a bigger stick, enabling shareholders to sleep safe at night knowing the CEO and Chairman are being properly governed. In short, allow SID to be a little more vicious, if need be.


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The Probability of Failure

The Probability of Failure

By Stuart O’Reilly

Surprisingly, there is little published information on the likelihood that a manager will ‘fail’ at his/her job. The data that does exist gives estimates from 30-67% likelihood, with the mean at 47% (Hogan, Hogan and Kaiser – Management Derailment). Indeed, Hogan suggests that around ‘two thirds of managers are insufferable and that half will eventually fail.’ An Australian survey at Bond University (Erikson and Shaw) found that one third of respondents viewed their leaders as failures. As one online commentator on these figures concluded: “it is surprising that aeroplanes fly, or that electricity and water gets through to our homes”.

These downbeat prognoses, however, do not really accord with average employee engagement scores of 63% in North America and 57% in Europe (AON Hewitt 2012). Nor do they gel with organisations’ performance reviews, which tend to categorise very small numbers of managers as ‘below expectations’ (although arguably internal performance reviews systematically overestimate managerial capability). So what is really going on, and does it even matter?

Does it Matter?

Does it matter whether we know what proportion of managers can be expected to fail? At Wickland Westcott we believe so, primarily because organisations need to have some benchmark to indicate whether their own failure rates are within the expected levels.

More problematic, however, is what we actually mean by failure. A very broad definition might be ‘a level of performance deemed unsatisfactory to the organisation’. The underlying reasons for this underperformance, however, can be many and varied. In some cases, individuals fail because their role is not well defined or is actually unrealistic. In other cases, they fail because they do not have the skills and competencies to carry out the task they are assigned.

Much of the literature on management derailers identifies the inability to manage relationships as the key reason why people fail. Sometimes, bosses also prevent people from being successful. Individuals exit organisations for all these reasons and often their departure is cloaked in a compromise agreement. Based on over 35 years of consulting work, we believe that there is a consistent ‘bleed’ of senior managers from medium and large organisations. We also know that many organisations tolerate underperformance, when the problem is not quite acute enough for them to take action.

So what is our estimate?

Wickland Westcott estimates that the rate of senior management failure is approximately 15%. This figure applies to well-managed and competent organisations that have selected and developed their people reasonably effectively. In short, such organisations should expect 15% of their senior recruits to ‘not work out’.

Critically, this group will include a number of individuals who are in fact capable managers. Indeed, based on our own internal survey of Wickland Westcott consultants, we believe that where a senior manager has undertaken at least five different senior roles in their career to date, it is 80% likely that they will have ‘failed’ in at least one of these roles.

Based on the above figures, when recruiters say: “everyone is allowed at least one blip in their career”, they are probably right.

What are the lessons?

For the organisation: if the senior management failure rate is significantly above 15%, or indeed if the organisation feels its pool of talent is less capable, then some review of the sourcing and appointment process is likely to be warranted.

However, given that the 15% failure rate is driven by factors not always entirely to do with the individual, such as poorly defined roles or strategy, then tightening up on goal and role clarification, enhancing induction processes, and ensuring early and regular (two-way) performance conversations can make a big difference. The more progressive, enlightened organisations realise that in many cases perfectly competent people can end up in roles to which they are simply not suited. Spotting such mis-alignment early, and taking swift action, is surely an indicator of an effective talent/HR function.

If an organisation’s senior management failure rate is substantially below the 15% figure, then presumably there is cause for celebration? Not necessarily. The organisation can only really feel satisfied if, hand on heart, it believes it has proactive and confident performance management processes, and is therefore not masking a pool of underperformers who are not quite poor enough to attract attention.

As individuals, what can we learn? As we live longer and our career paths lengthen, we should perhaps acknowledge the high probability that one of our roles may not go well. If you find yourself in this situation, recognising and addressing the disconnect, rather than hoping it will somehow resolve itself, appears to be the best strategy. There is a strong need for each of us to avoid complacency – we should look for feedback wherever we are in our careers. Remember – “it could be you!” Indeed, it probably will be.


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How Ready is your Organisation for Gen Y?

How Ready is your Organisation for Gen Y?

By Dan Brieger

Gen Y, also known as Millenials, (born 1980 – 2000) are a huge part of the present workforce and are the next wave of senior leaders. Many have already assumed entry-level managerial roles and the most talented of these are advancing into bigger and more complex leadership positions. So, what are the key themes of this generation, and generally speaking how can you prepare your organisation to make best use of their talents?

The Characteristics of Gen Y

Gen Ys are characterised by having more liberal social and cultural attitudes and by being more civic and community oriented. Despite being hit hard by the 2008 financial crises they still have high expectations for advancement, salary and for a coaching relationship with their manager. Moving forwards organisations will need to adapt to accommodate and make the best use of Gen Y’s talents, for example, by providing more feedback, responsibility, and involvement in decision making at an earlier stage in people’s careers. Hackman and Oldham (1975) identified some key job characteristics that are essential to employee motivation. Research indicates these still matter to Gen Y, with a couple of additions:

  • Highly motivated by technology and like to stay connected
  • Value flexibility and seek variety
  • Want to feel a sense of identity and purpose
  • Value honesty, transparency and are ethically driven
  • Hold feedback and structured guidance in high regard

Is your Organisation Gen Y ready?

The role models here are Google, Virgin, Apple and Facebook – companies that excite this generation because of their brand, values, use of technology and the positive impact they have on society. Clearly not every organisation can be like this. However there are still some simple steps to making any organisation more attractive and rewarding to Gen Y.

How to Build a Gen Y Friendly Talent Strategy

There are some key considerations that will allow Gen Y to adapt to your workplace more quickly and propel themselves towards leadership positions. From our experience, there are six things organisations need to consider:

1. Emphasise feedback and development

Feedback is prized by Gen Y. This generation more than any other likes to know how they have performed and to be given this information quickly. Providing authentic, constructive and developmental feedback is therefore key to building motivation and engagement.

2. Pick up the pace

This is a generation that has been shaped by instant feedback, be it from the internet, X Factor or one form of social media or another. This means that the idea of annual appraisals is outdated, and simply too slow to be interesting. Recruitment processes also need to be exciting and to show an appreciation that candidates have a choice. Leave Gen Y candidates hanging at your peril.

3. Provide active career development

The popular mantra of employees needing to take responsibility for their own development is also under challenge. The Gen Y population expect to be served in exchange for their energies and loyalty. Whilst comfortable operating in less structured environments it is critical that individuals feel that their future is being considered. Line managers therefore need to be prepared to dedicate regular time to discussing this and Talent Review processes need to be felt rather than hidden away.

4. Invest in personal 121 development initiatives

Development is extremely important to Gen Y and a simple solution is for them to seek mentorship from Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), with whom they actually share some characteristics. In fact studies indicate that Gen Y are more likely to look to Boomers for professional advice and guidance than Gen X (born 1964 – 1980). More often than not Gen Y are actually the children of Boomers and have been famously treasured and protected by their parents. This may explain why there are similarities that skip over Gen X.

Tom Banham, Head of Academy Talent Acquisition at Nestle UK & Ireland commented that “New Gen Y employees who enter our academy get a mentor to support them, usually a senior person in the organisation. However, now we’re going one step further and are trialling a dedicated manager who will provide support, be a coach, counsellor, whatever people need. Someone who is neutral and can be a confidante in situations when perhaps the senior people can’t be.”

5. Build flexibility into the work environment

Additionally, Boomers and Gen Y both share the value of ‘making a positive impact’ and value flexibility in their working arrangements, allowing them to have a better work-life balance. A recent study showed that 70% care about flexible working hours, whereas only 46% care about base salary. Developing a flexible reward strategy and implementing solid CSR initiatives are clearly things that will motivate Millenials and will make an organisation more attractive as an employer.

6. Communicate transparently and honestly

Finally, honesty and transparency form a large part of a Gen Y’s thought processes, as social media is able to expose the flaws and failings of corporations and their leaders. Talent acquisition and development programmes need to reflect this. Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the AGR commented: “Gen Y respond well to openness, so organisations shouldn’t be afraid of honest conversations over non-traditional platforms.” So clarity in terms of roles, development plans, expectations and goals is critical to them – or they will hop on their smartphones and find out the truth.

In summary, the generation gap is an important discussion point at the moment and the progression of Gen Y into more senior leadership roles needs consideration. However, the challenges are not insurmountable to organisations that take a proactive approach to Talent Management. Initiatives, as above, executed in the right way can help retain and nurture key talent, and gain an edge in the re-emergence of the war for talent. In theory, Gen Y leaders should be well equipped to lead Gen Y employees. Time will tell.

If you would like more information on how to ensure your organisation is optimised to attract, develop and retain the best emerging Gen Y leaders then contact us on 0203 940 6446.


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Setting NEDs up for Success

Setting NEDs up for Success

By Colin Mercer

As boards evolve to reflect the rapidly changing environments they operate within, the focus has shifted to appointing Non-Executives with specific functional skills, rather than those with relevant sector experience. The rationale here is understandable: in an increasingly challenging funding climate, organisations are keen to supplement their boards with value-adding functional expertise to help them move forward.

However, are these new skills-based board members always able to deliver the changes they have been brought in to facilitate? Before even reaching the appointment stage, there is often scepticism from candidates as to whether organisations which have traditionally been slow to change will actually appoint someone without sector knowledge. And even if they do, will they allow the new recruit to make a difference?

Follow-up conversations with recently appointed non-sector NEDs are often interesting and insightful. Whilst some settle in quickly and are able to add value from the outset, other roles do not meet candidate expectations. Where frustrations exist they are usually triggered by one primary factor – the recruit has not been allowed to utilise their skills and experience to help initiate change.

If you plan to recruit an NED, our experience suggests the following to be worthwhile considerations both pre and post-appointment:

  • Establish absolute clarity concerning the change you are seeking to engineer, and the role the board (and the new NED) will play in delivering it.
  • Explicit acknowledgement from the board that new recruits, especially those from outside the sector, are likely to do things differently. This is to be welcomed, as presumably it is the reason the organisation has gone outside the sector.
  • New people bring different strategic perspectives and new ways of working – feathers are often ruffled. Regular two-way feedback reviews are essential. These provide insight, guidance and reassurance to all parties.
  • What expertise does the board have in change management? There is a growing body of literature, lots of highly practical tips and techniques on transformation, that can easily be accessed on the internet. If you want a fuller discussion, speak to us at Wickland Westcott.
  • Courage, and the ability of the board to ‘hold their nerve’, will almost certainly be required. Anticipate this, prepare for it as a team, and think about how and what you will communicate during the more challenging periods in the change cycle.
  • New NED candidates (especially first-timers) can be so focussed on securing the role, that they join without fully understanding the organisation’s expectations. This is where a good search consultant earns his/her corn. Our role, in conjunction with the Chair, is to ensure that the candidate has considered every aspect of the opportunity, and is confident they can genuinely deliver what is required of them.
  • A thorough induction process is essential in order to help deliver the change agenda. The induction allows candidates to understand the organisation’s recent history, the current challenges, and the desired future direction.
  • Whilst the current emphasis is on skills-based appointments, it is essential not to lose sight of the cultural and values fit. This is crucial to ensure the new Non-Executive has the required impact and can appropriately influence stakeholders. Whilst organisations must change, board members (new and existing) cannot lose sight of the core organisational values. Jim Collins (Good to Great) articulates this dilemma well, stressing the need to both ‘stimulate progress’ and ‘preserve the core’.

Currently, there is a healthy candidate appetite to join the boards of public sector and not for profit organisations. The best candidates want to help deliver positive change, and in the current funding climate, it is crucial that their enthusiasm and skills are harnessed and effectively deployed. Preparing well, and following the above steps, maximise the likelihood of this happening.


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CFO to CEO – What does Big Data tell us?

CFO to CEO – What does Big Data tell us?

By Darren Woods

Much has been written about the changing role of the CFO. Over the course of many assignments, and through daily dialogue with CFOs across all sectors, it is clear the job continues to evolve. The skills required to succeed today are wide ranging, and some incumbents feel they are catapulted into the role with little time to obtain the management and commercial skills needed. Certainly they can learn on the job, but obviously there are risks inherent in this approach.

The CFO role typically involves maintaining financial control, and protecting the integrity of the company, whilst ensuring that systems, procedures and personnel are aligned to the changing needs of the business and the environment it serves. Over recent years the key criteria for success as a CFO is the interplay between the CFO and CEO and the link into the Non Exec Board. This ability to come together to address the key issues on development strategy, investor relationships and stakeholder management has led to the assumption that the CFO is seen as the CEO designate. At Wickland Westcott (WW) we maintain a proprietary database detailing (anonymously) the background and competencies of all the Executives we engage with. This data suggests that, on average, the CFO’s strongest skills are usually in analysis and decision-making, and also commercial appreciation.

Do enough organisations take steps to help the CFO develop these skills, either upon appointment or ideally before-hand? Are there circumstances where the Executive him/herself is uncomfortable asking for training or coaching, as this can perhaps be seen as a reason to overlook them for future progression? In reality, how many Chairs or HR Directors can point to current, fquote1it-for-purpose development plans for their Senior Executives? The answers to these questions suggest that, in my experience, UK plc still tends to favour an ‘appoint and leave them to it’ model.

Turning to CEO succession, it appears that a finance grounding is the favoured CEO career-platform in the UK, with research suggesting approximately half of the FTSE 100 CEOs has such a background (Robert Half study, 2015). The biggest competency development areas for CFOs making this transition are likely to be in the areas of communication and people leadership, according to our database.

But what is the picture in the US? We are often told they prefer to look to the business development functions for their CEOs. Empirical evidence, however, suggests that whilst a fair number (~20%) of Fortune 500 CEOs do have a sales and marketing background, the largest proportion (~30%) spent their early years in finance (Heidrick and Struggles study, 2011).

In both countries, it appears that going straight from CFO to CEO is a relatively rare move (5% to 10%) – rather the step up from a significant operational role is considerably more common. All these permutations have implications for the likely development needs of the new incumbent – those transitioning in from Sales often need to grow their skills in managing change, whilst those moving to CEO from Operations may need to deepen their strategic understanding (WW database, 2016). quote2 Of course, these are general themes and every case will be different, but the message is clear – there are identifiable differences between the skills required at CEO compared to those demanded in many of the classic feeder roles.

This gets back to my original question, which organisations are bold enough to work closely with their Executive and Non-Executive colleagues to define the true succession plan, and undertake a process to allow development needs to be highlighted for the greater good? These are the organisations most likely to build sustainable success.

The Executive Search industry is increasingly alive to the value of offering coaching, assessment and development services alongside their traditional talent-finding capabilities. Wickland Westcott has been providing a fully integrated leadership service for nearly 40 years. In-house occupational psychologists work alongside market-focussed Search professionals to deliver exceptional client service and satisfaction. With extensive experience at ‘C Suite’ level, and half of our top 20 client list featuring in the FTSE 250/NYSE, Wickland Westcott has a clear picture of what makes for leadership success.


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Content: Absolutely Essential, and Totally Insufficient

Content: Absolutely Essential, and Totally Insufficient

By Adam Hillier

There is a clear and growing market demand for candidates with social media understanding and expertise. Knowing how to target customers with relevant and valuable content that helps shape and change behaviours is crucial for businesses searching for ways to gain competitive advantage and appeal to today’s increasingly discerning customers. According to Richard Williams, former Head of Media, UK & Ireland at Yahoo! the best providers establish editorial credibility and ensure content is editorially owned. It is also important to identify the boundaries between marketing and content – consumers must be able to clearly recognise a commercial arrangement versus pure journalistic comment.

One of the features of the social media environment is that much of the content cannot be premeditated and pre-approved. Many of the checks and balances in place in more traditional media are therefore absent. Or at least they need to be, if the content is to be fresh and edgy.

For recruiting organisations, this means that the skills required are more rounded than simply thinking-up something clever to say – the ability to write in a compelling way, good vocabulary and grammar, and an understanding of the prevailing zeitgeist are all valuable. In short, good journalistic skills add considerable value.

Juliette Otterburn-Hall, Global Chief Content Officer at Beamly, suggests that clients too often lack clarity regarding the job specification. This may be because of difficulties imagining a role that doesn’t widely exist currently, and doesn’t naturally fit into a distinct discipline. Most traditional marketing teams are separated from those creating content, whilst editorial teams tend not to be commercial enough for content marketeers. And yet companies demand measurable results. Convergence therefore is not just happening in technology, but in the very disciplines required to deploy it effectively! Content, channels, analytics, return on investment – organisations now expect these skills need to be integrated. A marketing professional who can cover all these bases will be in great demand.

So what does this mean for organisations wishing to recruit these rare skills?

  • Take the time to think through exactly what outputs you want from the role
  • Ensure clear line-of-sight between role deliverables, and expectations concerning enhanced customer interaction, engagement and ultimately revenues
  • Be clear how the role fits into the marketing strategy, and the overall business strategy
  • Once you’ve created the role specification, share it with a few internal stakeholders to check understanding
  • Retain a Search partner (such as Wickland Westcott) who clearly understands the contemporary social media and marketing landscapes
  • Deploy a selection process that probes candidates on relevant expertise and experiences. Ask for lots of examples – work in this domain is likely to be publicly viewable
  • As well as the requisite technical skills, ensure the candidate will fit the culture of your team and business. Personality questionnaires such as Credo can be very useful here
  • Give the new recruit plenty of on-boarding support – set them up for success

The Executive Search industry is increasingly alive to the value of offering coaching, assessment and development services alongside their traditional talent-finding capabilities. Wickland Westcott has been providing a fully integrated leadership service for nearly 40 years. In-house occupational psychologists work alongside market-focussed Search professionals to deliver exceptional client service and satisfaction. With extensive experience at ‘C Suite’ level, and half of our top 20 client list featuring in the FTSE 250/NYSE, Wickland Westcott has a clear picture of what makes for leadership success.

For more information, or a confidential discussion on the points raised, please contact Adam Hillier our Lead for the Marketing & Digital Practice at Wickland Westcott on 0203 940 6446 or email at adam.hillier@wickland-westcott.email


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