AVOIDING THE HANGOVER OF HYPE

Fresh starts are always great – reviewing what didn’t work well, clearing the decks and getting set for the year. But if last night’s new year’s celebrations are anything to go by, the start-up space needs a good clean-up from hype.

Over a glass of bubbly, someone (who we’ll call Joe) was chatting to my husband about a hot investment opportunity. They then walked over to where I was sitting.  Referring to me, Joe asked ‘is this one yours?’. Not a great way to curry favour I have to say. But putting that aside, he pushed forward telling me how there’s a great opportunity using blockchain technology in electricity. So, I asked how it works. His reply? “I’m not sure but it’s the same technology behind bitcoin and a lot of people have made money out of bitcoin. Also, Branson, Gates and Bezos have invested $1billion in it.”

Brilliant! Yes, please take a lot of our money to invest in something you have zero clue about.

It sheds some light as to why CB Insights’ research uncovered that 70% of upstart tech companies fail — usually around 20 months after their first raise (and averaging c. $1.3M invested).

A big injection of discernment, diligence and better decision-making is clearly long overdue.

DISCERNMENT

Pitches are great but it’s how people answer questions that matters. It is probably a good idea to not put your money where the promoter can’t explain it and uses other people’s names to justify you joining the bandwagon.

DILIGENCE

Is it true? The pandemic of fake news shows how people love to share information without fact-checking. So, have Branson, Gates and Bezos invested $1billion in blockchain for energy? No – they are part of a $1 billion fund (Breakthrough Energy Ventures) investing in clean energy technologies, not specifically blockchain technology in energy.

DECISION-MAKING

There are many potential winners out there – but there are also a great number of potential losers. The furore of hype is often hard to resist and, like any virus, a vaccination is needed. In this case a great tool is a checklist to high-light the criteria that matter to you. Taking a leaf out of one of the greatest investors of all time – Warren Buffet – one of the criteria should be ‘do I understand it’. If you don’t, seek out more information. If it still makes no sense, it might be worth staying away.

On that note, I wish you all a peaceful and prosperous 2018. May you keep your wits about you whilst others are losing theirs, and let’s make sure we’re funding innovators worth backing.

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TOXIC TEAMS

Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging.

A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working. The speed and rate of change was further amplified with additional acquisitions that needed to be merged with the business. The core team was under increasing amounts of pressure to provide stopgap solutions whilst other parts of the business were integrated. This had a snowball effect on morale, diminished team spirit, lack of personal performance, all ultimately impacting on results.

 

Conducted individual and group coaching sessions encompassing a number of areas including:

  • Identification of core drivers, strengths, aspirations and areas they wanted to develop
  • Personal reflection on events and interactions – perception, reaction and subsequent influence on relationships with their colleagues
  • Awareness and adjustment of personal behaviour and communication to improve relationships with colleagues
  • Exploration and development of ways to tackle rifts with colleagues (e.g. identifies areas in which they could be each other’s mentors and role models, playing off each other’s strengths)
  • Realignment of roles with functions playing to strengths and areas of competence as opposed to titles due to length of service

The work resulted in:

  • A team consisting of committed, competent and collaborative individuals operating in a more positive environment, with less friction and positive results.
  • A more collegiate and collaborative work environment, with improved communication, transparency and higher levels of trust
  • Realising they were not in the right role or company, some team members resigned – some went on to become founders of their own startup

 

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

HIDDEN STRENGTHS

  As part of a team transformation process, we worked with a number of people of various backgrounds and ages. This case is about a millennial. Perceived as difficult to manage, interactions were causing friction and frustration. We set about to see if we could fix...

STRATEGY & EXECUTION

  A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa with a triple-bottom line. We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate. Wanting to ensure he could translate...

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

A global financial institution was in trouble. Bankrupty was inevitable. Wanting to get ahead of it, a member of the regional team approached us to explore options. We profiled every team member, identifying their skills, aspirations and team fit We explored their...

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong corporate governance rules immediate dismissal seemed to be the natural decision. However, this was out of character and not the norm from one of their best and longest standing employees.

Understanding the local customs revealed something else and was the key to resolution.

Traditionally, the village elders were responsible for members of the community, helping where and when needed. Time and technology may have moved on, but customs and traditions tend to remain. The company had built a great deal of trust in the region and within the community. What no-one realised was the level of trust in effect made this individual a modern day ‘elder’ and hence, when asked for help, it was his duty to do so. Their success brought unintended consequences and potentially nasty repercussions for the person.

The company needed to navigate its commitment to building local economies whilst ensuring adherence to strict governance practices.

  • Investigated if anyone else was being asked to provide assistance to members of the community
  • Identified key reasons employees were being asked for support
  • Created a formal pot with guidelines on how it was to be used
  • Alerted the product development team to see if more sustainable solutions could be found
  • Addressed how local talent was being identified and integrated into the company
  • Created ways to promote cultural understanding bridging the gap and sensitivity between local traditions and corporate culture

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

HIDDEN STRENGTHS

  As part of a team transformation process, we worked with a number of people of various backgrounds and ages. This case is about a millennial. Perceived as difficult to manage, interactions were causing friction and frustration. We set about to see if we could fix...

STRATEGY & EXECUTION

  A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa with a triple-bottom line. We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate. Wanting to ensure he could translate...

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

A global financial institution was in trouble. Bankrupty was inevitable. Wanting to get ahead of it, a member of the regional team approached us to explore options. We profiled every team member, identifying their skills, aspirations and team fit We explored their...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this way, keeping in mind the long term consequences of the wrong people.

In this case, a well regarded source referred someone as a potential candidate. On paper, he seemed to have the right credentials, well equipped to tackle the challenge our client faced. He even had one of our client’s Senior Executives as a reference.

Our methodology has our in-depth profiling process at its core, so we set out to delve deeper. The candidate’s track record seemed to be ideal. His knowledge and experience ideal for the role. But there was something that wasn’t right. It is hard to discard a candidate when there is no hard evidence and for us, it was a puzzle to be solved. Where we being too harsh? Could the client shed any further light?

Transparent in all our dealings, we discussed the matter with our client. He did some of his own checking.

The examples the potential candidate had shared were true. But the work he was taking credit for was in fact carried out by someone else – a person already working with our client.  The client verified our analysis – this person was an imposter.

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

HIDDEN STRENGTHS

  As part of a team transformation process, we worked with a number of people of various backgrounds and ages. This case is about a millennial. Perceived as difficult to manage, interactions were causing friction and frustration. We set about to see if we could fix...

STRATEGY & EXECUTION

  A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa with a triple-bottom line. We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate. Wanting to ensure he could translate...

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

A global financial institution was in trouble. Bankrupty was inevitable. Wanting to get ahead of it, a member of the regional team approached us to explore options. We profiled every team member, identifying their skills, aspirations and team fit We explored their...

HIDDEN STRENGTHS

As part of a team transformation process, we worked with a number of people of various backgrounds and ages. This case is about a millennial.

Perceived as difficult to manage, interactions were causing friction and frustration. We set about to see if we could fix it. What we discovered was an inspiring story and a great example of hidden strength and talent.

Here’s the story of Mr X.

Mr X has a condition that as a young boy, stopped him from attending school. Left to study on his own and at his own pace, Mr X passed all his exams ahead of his peers.

When he faced a challenge, got stuck or his will began to waiver, it was gentle words of encouragement from his mother that strengthened his resolve. He didn’t have to be cajoled into studying. He never had to be badgered by anyone or be told what he needed to do. He had the drive, determination and discipline to go it on his own.

However, not wanting to be perceived as weak and somewhat ashamed of his condition, he never shared this with anyone, let alone his bosses or colleagues at work. By feeling safe enough to open up, we were in a position to help him reflect and realise how his condition had shaped him – his outlook, decisions and actions. For instance, he realised:

  • He has an innate hunger to learn and is committed to improve himself
  • His ability to overcome his illness was driving his inability to tolerate excuses from others
  • Not having had teachers or adults tell him what to do was making him impervious to instructions from ‘bosses’

He became aware of how something he was embarrassed about, could be his greatest strengths – if channelled in the right way. With a refreshed view and understanding of himself, he felt confident to share more about himself and worked on stopping the cycle of frustration with himself and others.

Become aware of your inner story, it could be your greatest strength.

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

HIDDEN STRENGTHS

  As part of a team transformation process, we worked with a number of people of various backgrounds and ages. This case is about a millennial. Perceived as difficult to manage, interactions were causing friction and frustration. We set about to see if we could fix...

STRATEGY & EXECUTION

  A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa with a triple-bottom line. We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate. Wanting to ensure he could translate...

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

A global financial institution was in trouble. Bankrupty was inevitable. Wanting to get ahead of it, a member of the regional team approached us to explore options. We profiled every team member, identifying their skills, aspirations and team fit We explored their...

STRATEGY & EXECUTION

A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa with a triple-bottom line.

We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate.

Wanting to ensure he could translate his vision into practice, we tested the principles he had laid out against target investments. This proved to be the bigger challenge since some of the opportunities presented were not in alignment with what he espoused. Of course, he was happy to justify it with the return they would bring.

Using the values, behaviours and desired return he had set for himself, we challenged his thinking and guided him in exploring alternatives. We mapped out the framework that would enable him to navigate future forks in the road and improve his decision making.

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

HIDDEN STRENGTHS

  As part of a team transformation process, we worked with a number of people of various backgrounds and ages. This case is about a millennial. Perceived as difficult to manage, interactions were causing friction and frustration. We set about to see if we could fix...

STRATEGY & EXECUTION

  A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa with a triple-bottom line. We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate. Wanting to ensure he could translate...

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

A global financial institution was in trouble. Bankrupty was inevitable. Wanting to get ahead of it, a member of the regional team approached us to explore options. We profiled every team member, identifying their skills, aspirations and team fit We explored their...

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

A global financial institution was in trouble. Bankrupty was inevitable. Wanting to get ahead of it, a member of the regional team approached us to explore options.

  • We profiled every team member, identifying their skills, aspirations and team fit
  • We explored their deal sheets, understanding their capabilities and sectorial coverage
  • We pinpointed the key team members that were critical to each clustre and business
  • We mapped the cultural and sectorial fit and determined which client they were best suited to

Understanding the team’s capabilities and dynamics, our client was in a position to have constructive discussions with the leaders of the institution for a team acquisition. Initially exploring the acquisition of the regional team, the discussions shifted to a global acquisition, due to the alignment of the organisations sectorial coverage, cultural dynamics and way of doing business.

The acquisition in this case did not take place. Our client’s bid became untenable when another bank acquired the business, paying cash bonuses with the hope of retaining the team. Unfortunately that strategy did not work and team members started disbanding within six months due to a lack of cultural fit with the acquiring organisation and lack of deal flow.

TOXIC TEAMS

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

LEADERS THAT LAST

A family business with a franchise partner had a challenge – they had to replace the Managing Director with immediate effect. Failure to do so could result in them losing their business relationship with the franchise partner, which would have a big impact on their business, revenue and reputation. The time constraints were further exacerbated by the time of year – it coincided with a holiday season during which most people are not available.

The situation required an understanding of the issues and related factors, an ability to be laser-like in identifying the right person and out of the box thinking. Going the traditional search route would have taken too long. Taking a closer look at their client-base, contacts and additional resources, we formulated a unique strategy that identified the right potential candidates and we set out to profile them for best fit.

The targeted candidates were from three different geographical locations so there were a number of factors to consider including:

  • The right skills and motivations
  • An understanding of the market
  • A proven track record in building a business with similar challenges
  • An ability to work with the cultural mix of people that worked with the organisation
  • An understanding of what relocation would entail from a familial perspective, making sure everyone was on board and in alignment
  • Resonance in terms of the ability to fit and thrive in the corporate culture

Regardless of the tight deadline, anyone who wasn’t just right was excluded, for their own sake as well as the client’s. Failure to do so would have increased the probability of having to face the same problem some months hence. Using this methodology, the shortlist of three top candidates was presented within a month of first being alerted of the situation by the client.

The individual hired is still with the brand, growing the business in a new territory.

TOXIC TEAMS

  Growth is great. But growth can also be challenging. A start-up was acquired by a private equity firm. The people involved from the inception of the company were still with the organisation and were experiencing a change in culture, direction and method of working....

CORPORATE CULTURE & LOCAL CUSTOMS

A board member of a multinational company operating in emerging markets needed to address a situation. They discovered an individual who had access to the company float was taking money out of the company but replacing it before the new accounting cycle. With strong...

SPOTTING ROGUES & IMPOSTORS

As human beings, when someone is recommended to us by someone we trust, a part of our radar can be dampened. Furthermore, when under time pressure and with an urgent need to deliver, some could be tempted to just get the job done. Thankfully, we don’t operate in this...

COMPANY CULTURE STARTS WITH YOU

Ask a person the reason they love to travel and oftentimes they say to experience different cultures. Human beings seem to be intrigued by the social norms and ways of living of their fellow man in different cities and villages around the world. Having the experience and exposure to other cultures somehow adds a certain colour to our own lives, a certain richness.

What we are less aware of perhaps are the unique cultures we create in these environments we call workplaces. Just as the reality of visiting a country rarely reflects any possible depiction portrayed in a brochure, company culture is hard to convey by text printed in a company handbook or website, but rather better experienced by its essence, its spirit.

But how can we translate something seemingly ethereal into something more tangible and why is it even important?

The ‘spirit’ of a company

Just as any culture around the world is formed over time through traditions, cultural norms, societal needs, forms of communication, behaviours and attitudes, so too is a corporate culture.

Through a combination of day-to-day interactions we create the environments we work in, and those environments come with particular qualities regarding desired and accepted behaviours, attitudes, principles and modes of communication.

There is one main difference though – I am not aware of any society in the world that set out to create a particular culture intentionally, consciously. Rather the culture morphed through the ages. It could be said that some companies morphed in the same way, directed mainly through the attitude and conduct of the board, leaders and managers, and the behaviours that were tolerated.

But if you stop to think about it for a moment, through corporate culture we really do have quite an awesome opportunity – that through our actions, we can shape and form a mini-society that lends itself to our highest ideals, to enable others to step up to the plate and be their best, to focus on and achieve a unified purpose and direction.

And quite scary in the wrong hands…

So how do we get it right?

Setting the Tone

If you want to set the ‘right’ culture – start with yourself. Whether you are aware of it or not, your character, your personal conduct, value system and manner of treating others is akin to a metronome, the timekeeping device used in music to keep everyone in sync. So ask yourself some key questions:

Who are you, what do you stand for, what drives you? How do you treat others? Are you a person of your word? Can you be trusted? How do you come across – friendly, approachable, aloof, firm but fair?

How do you communicate, what is your preference – formal, structured, agenda led, walk around the floor? How do people interact with you and react to you?

What is your business ethos and how does it translate in practice?

Your people

The people you surround yourself with and the manner in which you interact with them speaks volumes. If for instance you are smart enough (and humble enough) to realise that you are not great at everything and surround yourself with people who are ‘better’ than you, you have set the scene for greatness. That is of course if you also create the environment for them to speak their mind and you are open minded enough to listen.

Measuring success

What does success look like for you and your company? Is it just about profit at all costs? What milestones do you measure and reward? Does the manner in which objectives are met really matter and are they taken into account? Are certain behaviours tolerated, just as long as there are results?

Aligning vision with practice

A lofty and noble vision is all well and good but it’s what you do in practice that counts.

Do not underestimate the impact that your individual actions and conduct have in setting the standards and the cultural tone. So ask yourself: Do you want to create an environment in which compromising behaviours are tolerated in the name of profit? Or, do you want to generate an environment that nurtures, develops and engages competence and character, to build great companies that add value to more than just their profit margins?

 

As featured in WorkLab

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WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP – MIDDLE EAST PERSPECTIVE

There is a general look of surprise, even bewilderment, when people hear I love working in the Middle East. This for the simple reason that I’m a woman.

I understand how there is a perception that women are not respected or highly regarded in the Middle East, therefore making it difficult to fathom how a woman could have a successful business. But in my experience, there is a chasm between perception and reality. This especially since the traits that seem to be more abundant amongst women, such as insight, intuition and inclusion, seem to be trusted and appreciated in the Middle East, enabling us to not only contribute but also play our role in business

But I am just as bewildered as those who find my success in the Middle East surprising, by some of the rhetoric around women in the workplace and leadership in the UK and London specifically. A recent article on the matter pointed out that 15% of Senior Leadership roles in the City were held by women, and the majority of those by foreigners. The article went further by attributing this ‘fact’ to the foreign women’s swagger. The truth of the matter is, given that London is a global financial center, there is a strong likelihood that a senior leadership role will have a regional or global focus and if the potential candidates haven’t had any international experience, they simply don’t qualify, swagger or not.

That said, the ‘swagger’ comment did get me thinking, and led me to reflect on the great Arab women I have had the privilege of interviewing and working with. They are highly intelligent, very well-educated and extremely insightful – ingredients which are prevalent amongst many women around the world. They don’t seek to be liked but rather have the courage of their convictions. They don’t have to speak loudly or demand to be listened to, but still have their views be known and considered. They tend to speak less and act more. They are compassionate and kind but don’t tolerate fools.  But above all else, there is a particular ingredient in their presence and demeanor, described perfectly by a dear friend from the region – “we are salty not sweet”.

 

From Segregation to Sisterhood

It’s fascinating when you think about it. Yes, women in the region tend to live more segregated lives. This means that instead of competing with men, they understand and nurture the concept of sisterhood, encouraging and supporting each other. When they get older and enter the corporate realm, government or family business, they are purposeful and have a quiet self-confidence, an inner strength which is ready to come out and be deployed in a broader spectrum. And contrary to popular belief, they are welcomed in the workplace and encouraged to grow and rise through the ranks. Have they had challenges to overcome? Absolutely. Challenges have shaped their character, balancing their resilience, perseverance and determination, together with their faith, patience and belief in a higher power. Formidable indeed.

So what are some of the ingredients that help foster women’s capabilities in this way that we could instill to make our companies more balanced, diverse and better equipped to handle the changing times?

 

Vision & Purpose

If you want to attract, nurture and keep the best women, consider what difference your business makes, why it matters. Frankly, if your business isn’t concerned with anything other than profit, you are going to face challenges in finding and keeping people with character and competence – women  or men.

 

Interview From the Inside Out

If you are using an interview simply as a checkbox exercise to see if the person has the skills for a particular job, you are missing out on a great opportunity. A person’s CV is merely a scratch on the surface of not only who this person really is, but also how far their capabilities can extend. Context is key.

As a starter, why don’t you put the CV aside and get them to tell you their story. Adopt a curious mind,  seeking to learn about the person’s experiences that has brought them to the present day. This approach can open up an individual’s character, their way of thinking, approach to challenges, and the environment and factors needed to bring out their best. You never know – you could even learn something along the way.

 

Don’t Hire What You Don’t Appreciate

This may seem a bit of a shock, but frankly, if you don’t see how someone adds value to your organisation, why hire them? And if the person is onboard, why aren’t you listening to their viewpoint and perspective?  If you want yes people who just go along with what you say, you are wasting your money in hiring great people. A recorded message to yourself telling you you’re doing a good job will suffice. But if you hire us, listen to us. We have a different perspective. It may not be what you want to hear but we are here to add value. Allow us – there are skills, traits and natural capabilities just waiting to be engaged. If you don’t appreciate us, we’ll find or create companies that will.

 

As featured in Women’s Prospects 

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AMBITION, ATTITUDE AND ACTION

Ideas are great but it’s action that turns them into reality. So do you know what you’re really creating? Do you know for what purpose? Or are you in danger of getting there at a cost you hadn’t envisaged?

Here are some tips to help you achieve what you truly want – not just what you think you may want.

What is your Ambition?

Nelson Mandela had said: “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being”. 

So in your defining your ambition, consider and factor in:

  • The type of person you want to become
  • The values and principles you believe in and are committed to
  • The accompanying behaviours and actions that reflect the above
Keep Your Attitude in Check

It is pressure and time that develops diamonds and so it is with character. As lofty and beneficial as your ambition may be, the likelihood is there will be challenges along the way. Integrate them into your plan and have a strategy on what to do if and when the chips are down. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pick a mentor or support team
  • Find an activity that picks up your spirits
  • Adopt principles from martial arts, yoga and other practices
  • Write a letter to yourself from a position of clarity and strength to provide yourself with the courage and insight you need to pull yourself through.
  • Learn to breathe properly 🙂 – we tend to panic or get stressed when things aren’t working out according to our plan, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain, further compounding matters.
  • Build the capacity to identify lessons and opportunities – turning lemons into lemonade
  • Have the wisdom to readjust and fine-tune along the way
  • If you see challenges as rough seas and waves – learn to surf! Find your own personal way to embrace the challenge and see how you can go with it, harnessing what is put in front of you.
Take Action!

All the ideas and ideals in the world are no good if you don’t act upon them. Imagine your outcome and break it down into the steps you need to take to reach it and turn these into daily do-ables. Here are some suggestions:

  • Include the action in your daily to-do-list
  • Review your actions at the end of every day
  • What went well?
  • Where can you do/be better?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What are you going to integrate into the next day?
  • Set milestones
  • Create celebrations
  • Enjoy the process!

You will be amazed what can be achieved when you set your mind (and heart) on a focal point and I am looking forward to hearing about the beautiful surprises that will come your way as all the pieces come together. So take the first step towards realising your ambitions, the rest is there waiting for you to step up.

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USE YOUR RESOURCES TO OPTIMISE YOUR IMPACT

For the last few years the topic of regulation has played a key role in our economies. From debates about stronger regulation for banks to curb future debacles that led to the financial crisis, to regulations for tech giants and what to do with private data.

What I find particularly intriguing is that private enterprise bucks what they see as interference from governments in favour of free enterprise. But have these same private companies shown the level of maturity that can allow them to proceed freely? Do they have the ability to curb their voracious appetite for profit to do what is right? Have the politicians for that matter?

We seem to live in an age in which we operate through justifications or blame. ‘Others are doing it’, ‘there isn’t a law that covers it’, ‘that’s what the markets want’. Does anyone have the moral fibre and backbone to buck the trend and consider the long-term implications of our current actions? What happened to our internal compass or have we, in this age of globalisation, subcontracted our ability to think, reason and decide to some unknown entity?

This is somewhat akin to frogs – if you put them in hot water, they will jump out but if you put the frogs in cold water and slowly heat up the water, before they realised it, they are cooked!

Whilst these debates go on, users and customers around the world continue their every day habits and transactions with little thought or consideration of the consequences of their actions – somehow trusting the kinks will be worked out – always of course by somebody else.

The younger generation needs to realise the level of influence they have.

  • You have access to resources generations before you didn’t.
  • You have a laptop / computer / mobile.
  • You have access to hoards on information through the internet.
  • You have these incredible platforms of social media.
  • You had the privilege of being educated and know how to read!

Use your resources wisely and instead of being addicted to endless hours of brainless surfing, or the inevitable, click-like-share (other than this article of course 😉 ) get curious as to what is going on around you. Let your voice be heard. To reiterate the words of Steve Jobs, a key architect who helped make our current reality a possibility, “the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Make sure you are changing it for the better…the foundation for your future is being cast today.

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FROM THE DATING WORLD TO THE CORPORATE WORLD

Do we treat people like a one-night stand or do we show the level of commitment we would to someone we want to marry? And once we marry, do we work at keeping the relationship alive, or do we take each other for granted?

I can’t think of many people who don’t want to love what they do and feel they matter. Yet on the other hand, we hear of the difficulties organisations have in engaging their people.

So I thought I’d create the connection between work and love to identify the ingredients that can help unlock engagement.

 

“Luck – when preparation meets opportunity”

Just as you are unlikely to meet Mr or Miss Right if you don’t make the effort to go out and meet anyone; a job isn’t going to land in your lap if you do nothing.

When you apply for a job, do you know what you are looking for? Do you know what skills, talents and interests you have? Do you know where and how you can best add value? Or are you so desperate you’re just looking for something that pays the bills? Likewise, when you date someone, instead of looking at the entire list of criteria they should possess, have you taken a close look at yourself to see what you bring to a relationship?

“Oh how exciting, someone wants me, they’ve asked me for an interview/date.”

The question itself seems to validate someone’s worth. They’ve been noticed. Hope rekindles.

And then the panic sets in. What questions will they ask me? What should I wear? Am I ready? All along masking the underlying question – am I good enough, will I be accepted?

So you plough through endless blogs and articles, studying the dos and don’ts, making mental notes of what to say and not to say, all along contorting yourself into a bag of knots.

The bigger question is – if you haven’t accepted yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

“It’s fine (for now)”

Have you ever known anyone who is dating someone who they’re not planning on marrying? Have you ever heard anyone accept a job offer saying they’ll look for something else? It begs the question – what’s the point? Is the other person aware of the lack of intention or are they investing in something they hope will lead somewhere?

“It’s not in what you say; it’s in what you do”

We have all experienced people who have promised the world, but have they come through? Are they a person of their word or do they come up with platitudes and countless apologies whilst still showing the same behaviours?

As human beings we want to believe what people say, believe in them and that this time it’s different. And yet we keep experiencing the same let downs. At some point, one needs to realise the common denominator to these disappointments is ourselves. Are we discerning enough? Do we look for consistencies between what a person says and does? Do we have the courage and belief in ourselves, what we stand for and represent to say ‘this isn’t for me’ and look for what is right?

Many people seem to behave like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters – so eager to fit into the glass slipper, they’ll contort themselves into all kind of shapes and sizes to fit in and be accepted. But after a while, those feet will hurt – just as the pain of not being oneself will one day become too hard to bear. So if you want engagement, use the four-letter word rarely uttered in the workplace – love.

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THE BUSINESS CASE FOR ETHICS

In order for a company to thrive, it needs to ensure the wellbeing and level of satisfaction with its stakeholders – investors, employees, suppliers and customers. Recent times have seen how bad conduct results in negative publicity, poor company image and a drop in share price. So should a company adopt ethical practices as a means of improving and securing a company’s economic performance?

Risk Mitigation

According to EIRIS, studies show that ethics-related news influences a company’s share price for better or worse, revealing effects of between 0.5% and 3% of share price.

The lesson to be extrapolated from the shift in share price is the underlying knock on effects on the dynamics and relationships that enable that business to thrive, and ultimately the level of trust and confidence in management. Without this trust, stakeholders tend to limit investments, negatively affecting growth.

Although on the surface private companies may argue this doesn’t affect them since they don’t have a share price to worry about, they still have other stakeholders to bear in mind, especially customers, suppliers, employees and themselves as the ultimate owner of the asset – its value, reputation and standing.

People Taking Care of People

Employees prefer to work at companies where they will be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. Creating an environment in which employees feel they matter has a residual benefit in propelling them to create positive experiences for customers. But if employees see, hear or experience negative behaviour, it erodes their trust in and loyalty to the company, and the quality of care they feel compelled or empowered to portray to customers.

Customer Satisfaction

Companies with high levels of customer satisfaction tend to generate a higher degree of customer loyalty, repeat business and more market share in the long run. Customers may decline to deal with a business that causes them to be suspicious and afraid. Businesses that genuinely contribute to their community and maintain good relationships with other businesses tend to be more successful in the long run. On the flip-side, those who have corporate social responsibility efforts on the one hand but poor business practices on the other, are in danger of breeding cynicism into their customers, and mistrust.

Creating Value

Ethical business practices are sound business practices. Instead of being consumed by unnecessary lawsuits and other activities that detract from the mission and purpose, the business can focus on producing quality products and services that enable positive financial results for the company.

Financial Health

Beyond regulatory requirements, accurate financial records are key for sound decision-making and long-term success. Financial records provide an overview of return on effort, a tool to support business to measure its rewards for initiatives taking place in the marketplace. Sound and timely financial records are essential in determining the trajectory of the business, providing the means to course correct where and when necessary. They also provide the ability to respond quickly to opportunities that arise, without adding strain or unwarranted risk. Furthermore, a clear picture on the financial situation of the company will enable it to have the cash flow required to fulfill its commitments, a sound business practice to keep employees and maintain relationships with suppliers.

Green Practices

I was once told ‘whether you’re chopping trees or hugging trees, people look for returns.”

The fact of the matter is if you don’t keep an eye on your bottom line, the business will be unsustainable. The bottom line is affected by people’s perception, belief and likeability of your company. The internet and social media have provided stakeholders with the tools to have greater insight into the impact businesses have on our environment and society. Customers seek to do business with companies that reflect their values, and suppliers and investors would be wise to follow suit.

Unforeseen Circumstances

It is far easier to set off on the right foot in the first place than trying to course correct once calamity hits. That said, genuine errors and unforeseen circumstances do happen. The ability for a business to respond appropriately and speedily speaks volumes in the eyes of stakeholders. But waiting until a crisis strikes to instill and encourage good behaviours is a poor strategy given the time it takes to overhaul embedded systems, beliefs and practices. These changes result in delayed decisions, negative public opinion and a downward spiral in relationships with stakeholders. Not good practice for any business that needs customers, employees, suppliers and/or investors to thrive.

Some may still argue why change when some are getting away with it. Others may wait for regulatory bodies to force them to clean up their business practices. And there will be those who choose to see the tide is shifting – that the manner in which products and services are produced and delivered matters, the impact business has matters. Now is a good time to challenge the ills we tolerate under the guise ‘but this is business’ and start by acting responsibly in the first place.

As featured in Fresh Business Thinking

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STEWARDSHIP, EDUCATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Succession has been of concern for families for generations, and never has there been a more crucial time to take a closer look at the issues. Despite numerous financial structures on offer, in 90 per cent of cases family wealth is not passed beyond the third generation. This reflects not poor investment decisions, but rather a lack of cohesion and communication between family members, where the family fragments, and with it the wealth.

Many families find themselves in a position to look at how to take their business and their family to the next level, and feel a need to consider succession planning, the next generation and legacy.

The next generation attend the best schools and universities across the world. And yet, they are still not properly prepared to tackle the challenges that face them when they return home. Each phase of life presents its own unique set of challenges. Families need to ensure they are doing their best to equip themselves and the next generation with the skills and knowledge they need to move ahead quickly and sure-footedly in their professional and personal lives. Awareness and specialised education are key.

To demonstrate the pitfalls and considerations family members need to take into account, let’s take a closer look at some of the key stages and situations.

Challenges Facing Young People

Imagine a young person getting ready to embark on higher education, perhaps abroad. We are all aware of the challenges youngsters face through peer pressure and a desire to fit in and make friends. These challenges can be enhanced for someone from the Middle East. Sadly, it is common to hear of individuals bragging about their family’s wealth as a way to gain acceptance in a new environment, or of people making assumptions based on origin. If a young person is not properly grounded and prepared, this can make them easy prey to be taken advantage of by supposed friends.

In such cases, there are two common outcomes. The first is that the young person becomes surrounded by parasites, taking advantage of their wealth. The second is the young person succumbing to peer pressure, taking on behaviours or habits that would not be condoned in a Middle Eastern family environment. Although both examples are factors every family, regardless of origin, needs to be aware of, these two scenarios seem to be greater challenges for families from the region, due to the perception of wealth from the Middle East, along with the differences in culture and traditions between the Middle East and non-Islamic societies.

Who Should Succeed?

Succession does not guarantee success, and being the oldest does not make a person best suited to take over the family business. The Middle East has an additional layer of complexity with the cultural transition that is taking place in the female role in the family and society. Traditionally, families in the region have leaned towards the oldest son being the natural successor. However, history and excellent examples of female leadership have shown that this is not necessarily what is best for the family or the business.

Transition from one generation to the next can be challenging at the best of times, but the speed at which society is changing in the Middle East can add a different dynamic to succession. Alignment between personal values and family values can be perplexing, but adding traditional, cultural and religious values can add a further dynamic, especially in times of cultural and societal change. Ultimately, the person who succeeds should be the best equipped to ensure the long-term sustainability and longevity of the family wealth, to support current and future generations.

Shared Vision

The need to create value to support a growing family is not the sole responsibility of the patriarch, but of every member of the family moving together towards a shared vision. Each member of the family must also take personal responsibility to ensure that they work in the family enterprise only if they add value. Failure to do so jeopardises the wellbeing of not only the family enterprise, but also the whole family system. No two people have the same combination of skills, talents, interests and aptitudes, so each needs to hone their skills to make them fit for whichever role best suits them, if any.

Consider the Olympics: being the son or daughter of a great athlete doesn’t make you a great athlete. You need to have a certain aptitude, talent and interest. You then need to have the resilience, tenacity and passion to develop and sharpen your abilities to be fit, to be skilled and to have the stamina to win. It is hard work being successful. It is imperative for families in the region to bear this in mind, to support them in passing the baton on to the family members who are best equipped to carry forward the legacy, as opposed to the traditional eldest son.

Ensuring Sufficient Value and Growth

How does a family ensure there is sufficient value and growth in the family’s wealth to sustain a growing family? With increased longevity, there are now more family members across generations alive at any given time. In the Middle East, this figure is amplified by cultural traditions, creating larger families than other societies. Some families have around 30 family members across three generations. This increases the pressures families face in terms of having enough wealth to pass on to maintain an equivalent standard of living. In addition, there are greater challenges in inspiring cohesion and shared values among the family members. This makes the danger of wealth dissipation a starker possible reality.

Investments

Certain investments that may seem able to produce sufficient returns may not align with traditional Islamic principles. The fallout from the financial crisis has created a lack of trust and uncertainty in frameworks and asset classes we thought we could rely on before. But this may not necessarily be a bad thing. One could argue that, as leverage is not allowed under Shariah, those who employed financial strategies based on traditional Islamic principles would have weathered the recent storm better than others, and hence fared better at safeguarding the family wealth. In looking at how to grow and secure family wealth, one needs to balance risk and reward appropriately, aligning the strategy with long-term sustainability, as well as with principles.

Value-creating Enterprises

One way to provide sustainability is through value-creating enterprises. This makes sharpened entrepreneurial skills even more essential in the Middle East. But this is where the shifting traditions, mentioned previously, can be a positive influence to the continuity of family wealth in the region. With more Arab women tapping into their entrepreneurial capabilities, the region and its families have greater potential in wealth creation, further safeguarding the family’s legacy and wealth for future generations.

Hence, embracing the changes in society and the shift in traditional views, and supporting the role of women in business, is a way to benefit all parties.

Managing Transition

Transition is never easy, and, for the patriarch, handing over while finding new direction and purpose can be challenging. Over the years patriarchs have gained precious experience and wisdom, and often still want to feel needed and useful. That said, transition also offers an opportunity for patriarchs to harness their wisdom, experience and interests for a new chapter, exploring and undertaking new ways to continue their legacy. But, as with all change, this has its challenges. Entrusting someone with your life’s work is no mean feat. The region has changed so much over the years that this can add an extra layer of difficulty for patriarchs from the Middle East.

Patriarchs have also seen a shift in the values that are being fostered in the next generation and the society we currently find ourselves in. The next generation, coming on board with a fresh pair of eyes, is eager to take on new frontiers. Managing succession requires all parties to understand the two perspectives, and finding balance between them is key. Passing on the legacy is a gradual process that comes over time, but eventually there is a need to let go. Leaving the transition to the last minute is likely to leave the next generation ill-prepared, with a greater chance that the wealth and legacy will be dissipated.

The Process of Succession

Ninety per cent of wealth, globally, does not go beyond the third generation, and the dynamics of families in the Middle East could increase that number even further. The poor statistics demonstrate the intricacies of navigating the phases of a succession process. And there lies the key: it is a process where the better prepared you are, the greater the chance of success. As Kierkegaard said, ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’ It is all well and good understanding how an enterprise got to be, but, to succeed through the generations, it must be handed over to the appropriate stewards in a timely and responsible manner. This is not merely about setting up structures to ensure that wealth is passed on, but about creating a process to instil the next generation with the skills, tools and aptitude to succeed for generations to come.

Stewardship, education and entrepreneurship are key.

 

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6 + 5 =

STARTING OUT – TIPS FOR FRESH GRADS

Our work is a great way to expose us to new environments and challenges. Experiences that will further develop our skills as well as our character.

But in order for this to happen, we need to find the environment that is most conducive. So if you are young and looking for work, how should you go about it?

Know yourself

You have only just graduated so you may think you haven’t got much to say on a CV or a job application. But having spent around 24 years on this planet, there are experiences you have had, observations you have made, things you have learned, views you have started to form. Write them down. Reflect upon them. Figure out what makes you tick, what doesn’t. Discern your likes and dislikes. Find your highs and your lows. What you are proud of, where you could have done better. Identify experiences and lesson you would still like to have. Find your story.

Get curious!

Youngsters in this generation are so lucky – you have access to mounds of information on various industries, sectors and even the businesses themselves. Instead of spending time on Facebook pressing like and share, you might be better off doing some research to see what appeals to you. Make a list of companies that interest you. See what appeals and what doesn’t. Look up the people who work their. Does anything / anyone resonate?

Be brave (and vulnerable)

Reach out to the companies and people you have identified to learn more. It may seem daunting picking up the phone or sending a mail to a complete stranger but the world we live in is intimately connected. Jump on LinkedIn and track them down. See if you know someone who knows them. Create and leverage your network. Once you get hold of them, ask them about what they do. What they love about it, what they don’t. What types of people they look for? Do you fit? Don’t hold back from telling people your aspirations. Even be brave enough to tell them you don’t know and you’re exploring. You will see that people are pretty kind and are willing to lend a helping hand because you know what, we’ve been there, we know what it’s like and we want to help and encourage you to find the right path. And we will appreciate your honesty.

Listen

A mentor once told me, “You have two ears and one mouth use them in that proportion (and engage the grey matter in between)”. Ask smart questions and listen intently. Listen to what is said and what is not said – sometimes more is shared in the spaces in between. And also listen to yourself – some call it their gut, others their intuition, this will help you figure out if something is right for you or not – the package may be tempting, but are these people you want to spend your time with?

Do It!

Don’t be surprised if you are offered an opportunity along the way. Don’t overthink it. At some point you must take a decision, and once you do, do it wholeheartedly. Just make sure you can learn from your boss and s/he or someone else in the organisation will take you under their wing.

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MORAL COURAGE AND CORPORATE CULTURE

It is not in calm seas that our character and integrity are tested but in times of crisis. It is at these times that mistakes are likely to happen.

When people think of ethics and social responsibility in the corporate context, they perceive it as a simple matter of determining what is right and wrong. Since we do not live in a world where decisions are a matter of black or white but more in shades of grey, steering the right course is not always a clear cut decision. With increased diversity of cultures and nationalities in the workplace, the topic of ethics and social responsibility becomes ever more complex, and one that should be treated with attention and focus.

Every company in hiring executives seeks people with integrity and good moral standards, but how do these translate to the corporate culture?

Every organisation has a value system. But is what the company says it stands for and the value system communicated, aligned with desired behaviours, practices and reward systems? There is little point in having formal policies and procedures that prescribe one mode of behaviour, if people are positively rewarded for achievements where an alternative and ‘non-desirable’ behaviour is applauded in terms of raises, bonuses and promotions.

Sharing the value system of an organisation enables the individuals within it to look within themselves and align their values and subsequent behaviour with that of the organisation, making them stronger people and better corporate citizens. Making this a topic of continual attention in an organisation has a resultant impact on the level of openness, integrity and trust amongst colleagues. Research has shown that in organisations with such systems, people within the organisation are motivated to not only be stronger representatives but better enabled to handle turbulent times such as change or crisis management. Continual attention to ethics in the work place sensitises leaders and staff to how they want to act consistently. And this comes from the top – leaders who lead by example will set the tone for the whole organisation to follow.

Ethics programmes have also been shown to support employee growth and development. A study cited in the Wall Street Journal found a direct correlation between the level of emotional health of an executive and the results of a battery of tests on ethics.

Having ethics as part of the organisation’s agenda better prepares employees to face reality with the resultant effect that they feel more confident and ready to deal with whatever comes their way.

Another benefit is the impact ethics can have on a company’s public image if people perceive those organisations as valuing the manner in which business is conducted more than profit. Recent years have seen greater attention to this factor, with more companies reporting on their social responsibility and analysts making it part of their agenda in their valuation of company stock.

In the meantime, we need to ask ourselves how are we contributing to the sustainability and longevity of the local economy? How are we ensuring that our actions have a positive contribution for the next generation and beyond?

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GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR BOARD

While internal boardroom politics are the bane of many an executive’s existence, getting your board members working in the same direction can be a vital step towards a successful CEO tenure.

Corporate governance has brought with it greater scrutiny of the board, its role, its composition and its effectiveness, and we are ever more aware of the importance of independence and ethical guidelines. And when one looks at the composition of several boards, there are general rules of thumb that are followed. But looking across a number of organisations, it can be seen that although some companies’ boards have the “right” mix in terms of backgrounds and skills of the individual directors, some have more of an impact than others.

So, if it is not structure, what is it that makes a good board? Research documented in the Harvard Business Review stresses that the key ingredient is the social element as opposed to the structure per se.

Just as the chemistry in a well-functioning, successful team cannot be quantified, it nonetheless is a key, determining component that is present in effective boards.

There are five key elements that can help a CEO foster the optimum environment in which the board, and each member within it, performs at their best: creating a climate of trust and candour; fostering a culture of open dissent; harnessing the mix of different roles; ensuring individual accountability and performance evaluation.

Climate of trust

Creating a climate of trust and candour is a virtuous cycle whereby board members develop mutual respect, therefore developing trust, and hence enabling the sharing of difficult information. The CEO needs to be transparent and open in information sharing, providing documents with ample time for them to be read and digested. This will enable all members to have the same level of information and so allow for more balanced discussion and a better- informed decision process.

The CEO should also give board members free access to people who can answer their questions, such as creating opportunities to meet key company personnel and inspecting company sites. Encouraging different board members to engage in this kind of activity and spending time together creates more unity and minimises the exposure or risk of factions. Providing free access to information and key personnel also eliminates the need and/or desire of individual members to create “back access” to information leading to them breaking away from the team and creating possible factions.

Open culture

In an environment of trust and mutual respect, healthy debate is encouraged where assumptions are challenged. This ensures issues are thoroughly discussed and each member has the opportunity to voice his viewpoint.

The CEO should not punish or discourage rebels or nonconformists, but instead use the opportunity to learn. It is through these interactions that people’s perspectives are challenged and horizons expanded. The CEO should leverage the knowledge and wisdom of the members of the board. Having a thorough understanding of members’ positions and their justifications opens opportunities to new conclusions and stronger decisions.

Research conducted by Eisenhardt and Bourgeois, found that the highest-performing companies have extremely contentious boards and regard dissent as an obligation, treating no subject as a taboo topic.

Roleplay

CEOs, along with other board members, should encourage members to play a variety of roles thereby giving them a wider perspective of the business. Viewing a scenario from a different perspective and developing alternative scenarios to evaluate strategic decisions not only broadens the number of possibilities and opportunities but also inhibits members developing a rigid point of view. Hence, members should be encouraged to play devil’s advocate, at other times delve into the details of the business and also be given the opportunity to act as the project manager. A case that demonstrates the impact this can have on a business was at Pepsico in 1997 when the board decided to sell the various components of its well-run restaurant group.

CEO Roger Enrico had previously turned around the unit which had been the brainchild of two of Enrico’s predecessors and must have had great pride in the division. Yet, he eventually convinced all that the restaurant unit should be sold and so that it could flourish freely beyond the controls of the parent company. It proved to be a brilliant idea.

Accountability

Ensuring accountability is probably one of the toughest challenges a CEO faces. In a survey conducted by the Yale School of Management and the Gallup Organisation, 25% of CEOs claimed that their board members did not appreciate the complexity of the businesses they oversaw. In recent history we have seen cases of individuals blaming others, proclaiming ignorance, Enron being a case in point.

Directors should take their duties seriously and encourage others to do the same, setting the tone for acceptable behaviour and performance.

Behaviour breeds behaviour and although the CEO and chairman of the board can assign tasks to get individuals fully engaged, peer pressure will play a major influencing factor in further enforcing positive behaviour.

Tasks can take on various formats and could involve collecting external data, meeting with customers, anonymously visiting plants and stores in the field and cultivating links to outside parties critical to the company. The exercise will then require members to impart knowledge and findings to the rest of the board and allows them to become better versed in strategic and operational issues the company faces.

GE’s board members for instance, dine with the company’s largest suppliers and distributors the night before the annual meeting while Home Depot’s board members are expected to visit at least eight stores outside their home state between board meetings.

Evaluate performance

Not giving feedback to a team is self-destructive as there can be no learning without feedback. Findings from a combination of research and surveys show that directors rate their board’s effectiveness significantly more positively at companies where individual members are evaluated. Although, when individuals are in an interdependent group such as on a board, it is better to conduct a formal evaluation on the performance of the overall group rather than its individual members.

One reason for this may be that, as it currently stands, board members are typically replaced for performance reasons only in extreme circumstances (e.g., criminal misconduct, conflict of interest, active disruption, very poor attendance/participation record) – and if they are replaced, they are rarely given an early warning and a chance to improve. In most cases, boards wait for under-performing directors to retire, a more reactive than proactive approach. Since the Board is in effect a high-level team, no matter how good it is, it is bound to get better if  there is an evaluation process in place.

A good first step in director evaluation is to have directors assess only themselves. After two or three years, a peer assessment can be introduced, with directors evaluating one another. A simple pass/fail along several dimensions will ensure that the process is not too time consuming. The evaluations can be handed over to a trusted board advisor, such as outside legal counsel, who summarises the findings and provides individuals with their results. A next step is for the assessments to be turned over to the committee charged with director nominations, so that under-performing directors can be identified and action taken. Overall, this is good way of identifying who is truly adding value to the organisation, as well as making performance expectations clear. In evaluating directors, ask yourself the following questions:

• Do they understand the company’s strategy and business?

• Do they keep up to date with issues and trends affecting the business?

• Are they willing to challenge management when necessary?

• Do they have special expertise that is important to the company?

• Do they have an appropriate level of involvement in CEO succession and assessment?

• Do they attend boardroom meetings and discussions?

• Are they readily available for committee meetings?

• Do they contribute to board and committee agendas?

• Are they well prepared for meetings and discussions?

• Do they actively participate and contribution to the committee and boardroom deliberations?

• Are they available outside meetings to advise management?

• Do they effectively inquire about major performance deficiencies?

Although there are guidelines in how to formulate a board, the attitude a CEO takes towards the board is key in the tone that is going to be set. If a board is to truly fulfill its purpose of monitoring performance, advising the CEO, and providing connections with a broader world, it must become a robust team. Its members need to be actively engaged in seeking the truth and challenge each other to broaden their perspectives and viewpoints. The CEO should work in collaboration with the Board and all its members as opposed to viewing it as an obstacle that needs to be managed. Adopting an approach of transparency, honesty and respect will go a long way to building and nurturing a strong team, and a robust and effective board.

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