Tuesday 28 July 2015

The best route to being a successful leader

A series of interviews with experienced players and experts in human resources and organizational development. Here we ask the questions to professional executive recruiter Anthony McAlister of Thorburn McAlister, a London-based consulting firm, with a worldwide client portfolio in the energy, financial and transportation  sectors.

MCE :You’ve frequently commented that leaders who fail rarely get their top job back. How do you get back on top after a fall?

Anthony McAlister (AMc) : All our research shows that employers value a leader’s sector experience  a great deal more than success.  The rule is, if you fail publicly you must clearly explain what went wrong and what you have learned as a result.  You must also balance the story with ALL the good things you achieved.  However, you must be realistic about your age and length of tenure as it will effect your ability to climb back on the success ladder. You should always have a plan B and – critically -  time limit your job search.

MCE : What’s the best route to being a successful leader, what should you study, what experience should you have?

AMc :Three words – operations, operations, operations.  It’s best  if you come from a general management route, running parts of the business with international experience and a track record of turnaround/profitability.  CFO’s often step up but usually because it’s a safe/cheap/fast option and cost cutting is required.  Unfortunately, as track records show,  they are more likely to reduce shareholder value.

MCE : And the much discussed MBA ( from a good business school ), do you really need it, or should you spend your time and energy on something else??

AMc : An MBA is a useful learning experience, but will never be valued more highly than experience and success.

MCE : And the tendency for corporate leaders to suffer from the need to leave a legacy... what’s your advice on that – does it ever serve a useful purpose.?

AMc : Apart from the a handful of  tech wizzkids I don’t really recognise this. CEOs of public companies are fixated on share price: nothing else matters to the board, the analysts, or the shareholders and, in fact,  themselves. Controversially, emerging research is showing how little real affect CEOs have on their businesses. So, leaving on a high is  perhaps, sadly, just a matter of both luck and judgement.  The legacy that’s unfortunately left is  a declining share price, profit warnings and restructuring.

MCE : Finally, you are noted for your encouragement of women in the C- suite. What’s the biggest obstacle to getting (and staying) on top?

AMc : Traditionally women have been attracted to project-based professions that allow for raising families like accountancy and law.  This is why we see so many female NEDs (non-executive directors) coming from these backgrounds. However, this trend is changing and marketing and business development are now common NED profiles.  But what do we mean by C- suite ?, look at most large public businesses and you will see female HR and Communication specialists prominent in the mix.  But to get to CEO it always comes back to operational experience.  Staying there is easy, (consistently good performance) – most effective  women  leaders don’t seem to  have a problem with this.

Monday 20 July 2015

Faculty in the spotlight: Marc Feyen

Marc Feyen
At least 150 faculty work with MCE. Everyone has their own way of working, but they share a common passion : transferring knowledge. So, we decided to put each time a faculty in the spotlight to get to know more about them and about their expertise. 

Marc Feyen is delivering the Mini-MBA chemicals for MCE since 2013. He is delivering the part that is covering: Global Trends, Leadership, Strategy, Sales & Marketing and Supply Chain. The Financial section is delivered by a specific financial specialist. He offers a very pragmatic and result-oriented approach to coaching and developing leaders and managers to keep the business moving forward.

MCE: How this Mini MBA could help the future participants in their career, research?

Marc Feyen: 
  1. First of all the participants will see all major parts of a company and business and importantly how they are “inter-connected”. This is crucial for potential and future leaders to understand this. They need this global view in order to successfully lead a business or company, especially when they are going through major changes, which can be a result of change in strategic direction or restructuring. The business environment is today so complex and quickly changing that a full understanding of ALL aspects of a business is inevitable for success.  
  1. The Chemical industry is also a difficult industry. More strict regulations (f.i. Reach), sometimes still the bad image that the chemical industry has created in the past, the future challenges in new environmentally friendly technologies and products (read Bio-economy), requires strong and skilled leaders with a clear vision for the future. The Mini MBA for the Chemical industry will help them to understand and develop this further.
 MCE: As a trainer for this Mini MBA Chemicals at MCE, Could you tell us what is the “Future of the bioeconomy”?

            MF: During the next decades, the world will be faced with an increased shortage of natural resources, while the world population is further growing. So an increased competition for it will be the result of it.
            Therefore, a transition towards a more optimal use of renewable biological resources is an absolute must. Europe and the rest of the world will be forced to move to technologies and products that needs less input, requires less energy to produce, create less environmental impact and reduce further the CO2 emissions.
For Europe this will be a serious challenge as it will be a crucial element in order to keep her competitiveness towards other large economies. However, in my opinion, it creates also an unique opportunity for Europe to become a more resource efficient society that can rely better and more on renewable resources while still achieving economical growth.
The bio-economy is wide comprehensive: primary production and industrial into the food industry, waste treatment, pulp & paper, a large part of the chemical industry and of course the energy industry.
MCE: According to you what is the impact of the new technologies on the chemical industry?

            MF: It is estimated that the bio-economy represents a market value of more than 2 trillion Euro annually already today in Europe. It provides employment to more than 21 million people. These estimates makes it clear that the chemical industry can strongly benefit from it. The bio-economy will drive the companies to be more innovative, creative and very "open-minded thinking” in order to develop new sustainable technologies and products for the future. This will change the way of leading and structuring companies. It will require more R&D people, creative minds and innovators in the chemical industry. In other words: bio-economy is very much “Knowledge-based. The leaders of the future needs to be very much “Entrepreneurial” oriented in order to create (invent) new collaboration and business models. The bio-economy will be also very interesting, in my opinion, for the so-called “medium sized” companies. There are many companies in this segment, like f.i. agriculture industry. They excel mostly in their specific knowledge, but the commercialization is often difficult and expensive. Cooperation with larger companies is then needed to develop further and commercialize these new sustainable technologies. I strongly believe that not only in the food industry, but also in the chemical industry a very big future is ahead of them in the search for new, ecological sustainable product and technologies. 

Thursday 16 July 2015

Europe’s Cross-border Leadership Emphasises ‘Softer’ Skills

VIEWPOINT: Europe’s emerging leadership style is leading the way. Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, offers valuable insight in this fourth in a series of articles for IEDP:

One of the great aspects of my job is that I get to meet so many people from many different places and professions.
 When we meet – often in a leadership development environment – I am regularly asked one simple question: “Tell me Rudi, is it harder to be an effective leader today than it used to be?”
 When I reply : “Yes, I think it is,” the same question always follows: “so how is it different ?”

Well from my travels and experiences there is one thing that separates today’s leaders (and by ‘leader’ I mean people at all levels in an organization) from those of, say, a decade ago. Nowadays they have to lead in a far more complex world. And much of that complexity comes from the fact that an increasing number of us are leading and managing in a global marketplace.

Interestingly, in Europe virtually every business, small, medium and large has an increasing exposure to external influences. While they may not have factories and offices in other countries, most businesses export, import or exchange services on an ever growing cross-border basis.

My view is that successful leaders are going to be those that understand today – right now – that the criteria that have worked for us over the last 20 years are not going to be sufficient for the demands of tomorrow. And if I am right, then Europe is quite possibly ahead of the U.S. in getting to grips with this new model.

Why? Well the European business model – grounded deeply in sociological orientation – is a much closer fit to these emerging leadership requirements than that of the U.S. where the free-market rules and ‘making the numbers’ is a recurring corporate mantra. (See my blog on ‘Making the Numbers’ published in May)

As I move around Europe, I’ve developed some interesting views on how Europe and the U.S. differ as we search out an emerging leadership style.

A new generation of leaders realize that to be an effective leader in 2015 requires meeting the expectations of the workforce (insourced and outsourced). To do that consistently requires an emphasis on those more collaborative skills – include persuasion in that too! – that will create respect and involvement within our businesses of tomorrow.

As I explained earlier, we may not have paid enough attention as to how this evolution of the leadership skill-set is coming about, but as I travel around Europe and see the on-the-ground reality, I am deeply encouraged by the way the next generation is tackling the leadership challenge.

So, today, when I get asked that question, “so how is [leadership] different?” I have a new answer.

It goes like this, “Don’t ask me. Look at what you are doing and what you have done. You are leading the changes, so you tell me what’s different, because I need to learn from you.”

I have a great job, watching a new generation in a new Europe find new ways to lead. Sure, I and my colleagues can help to put the practice and principles of leadership into focus in a learning environment, but it is in the offices and factories that the basic elements are assembled to create a new leadership focus: one that seems to be grounded in collaboration and mutual reward.

Cross-border, cross-functional, cross-industry, cross-cultural, Europe’s business leaders in the 28 member states have rapidly learned a host of lessons that are being put into practical use on a daily basis to manage an emergent economic area. This is creating leaders comfortable with complexity, ambiguity and constant change and challenge.

It is going to be very interesting and exciting to see where this journey takes me and everyone else who has a true interest in the concept and practice of leadership, because – while the basic tenets of leadership are constant – we must recognize and welcome the emergence of new ways to take our businesses forward. Leadership is, after all, a competence grounded in understanding and adapting to change.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here

Friday 3 July 2015

We can make your event/ meeting a real success

We know just how important meetings can be for an organization like yours, that’s why we make sure that together we’ve thought of everything and that it all goes according to plan.

You see at MCE, we have more than 50 years of experience in planning and delivering business events across Europe, and better than that, we’ve got the perfect place to host yours.

Yes, MCE has the largest purpose build conference and business centre in Brussels. We’re able to welcome virtually every type of business event, and all you have to do is help us define the size and the requirements.
And don’t worry. On your behalf we can rent any equipment and every possible accessory you might need. 

Always ready and connected, to welcome your event/meeting.

Apart from our main conference room (583 m2 – enough for 700 people seats in theatre style), there are 38 additional rooms for groups of different sizes, not forgetting our lobby and rooftop terrace to mix and mingle on, and a high quality open-plan restaurant.

In other words, we can make your event/ meeting a real success. And we want to communicate directly and be connected with You. So, do not hesitate to stay update, by following us on: FacebookTwitter and Linkedin

Cliff Dennett explains us what means for him : "Serious Game".

A series of interviews with experienced players and experts in human resources and organizational development. Here we ask the questions to  Cliff Dennett, the founder of Soshi Games www.soshigames.com  a serious games start-up in , Birmingham, UK.

MCE : So, you’re a big fan of serious games and their ability to change the mindsets  of the masses (your employees) and modify behaviour. Is that a good or a bad thing; are we in danger of crossing a border into the realms of interference from Big Brother?

Cliff Dennett (CD) : Any thoughts of Big Brother interference are really the domain of connecting technologies in general rather than games. People have already demonstrated their willingness to reveal their life antics to the world through the unparalleled take-up of Facebook and Twitter and also allow the stories of others on these networks to influence how they fell about the world and themselves.

For me, Serious Games are about combining what the gaming world has learnt over forty years about how to engage, with what the world of corporate IT has learnt about how to make processes efficient. If we can combine these, then the ROI from IT spend and employee satisfaction could be significantly improved.

MCE : And it is supposed to be immersive and FUN. Detractors say employees don’t come to work to have fun. Well, are they right or wrong?

 CD : My response is in danger of being a bit ‘head in the clouds’, fluffy and philosophical, but here we go anyway. Plato once said “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. Yet even from school, we are taught to segregate work from play; a bell goes and it’s time to start class and work, then another bell goes and it’s time to stop work and start to play. Then another bell goes and play stops, work starts again. Then we grow up and start work and play only happens in the evenings and weekends and workers all over the world can’t wait for their holidays to take a break from work.

It seems almost too obvious to say that surely if we are having fun doing something, that thing is done with more passion, enthusiasm and probably therefore better. More than this, because we enjoyed it, we want to do it again, rather than staring at the clock, waiting for home time.

I think we have got this work/play split wrong and believe that if people can have more fun when managers ask them to do things, they will do those things much better. It’s no more difficult than that!

MCE : Next generation in the workplace grew up with X-Box, Wii U and the rest with movie quality graphics. So is that what we’ll need to provide if we’re to get full acceptance from our employees. Won’t this mean the creation of a new industry with new talent needed to make it work?

CD : Some of the best selling and most engaging games do not have “movie quality” graphics. Of course there are the big, so called triple-A games which cost hundreds of millions of Euros and hundreds of people to make. I don’t believe though that this is what we need in Serious Games. If you are trying to simulate an earthquake and want a full 3D virtual reality experience to train aid workers, then the more realistic the better. However, most problems in organisations that I see are much more to do with; communication breakdown, hidden agendas, defensive behaviours, people lacking confidence (exacerbated by social media by the way), not being solutions focused and getting stuck in their own mental models of the world. These kinds of problems can be addressed through gaming and don’t necessitate fancy graphics. It does however need careful consideration to apply the correct types of gaming for the right kind of challenge and providing an immersive and enjoyable experience for the participants.

MCE : Learning “on the move” is possible. But, all we see on our daily commute is people looking at movies or listening to music. How do you break down the barrier and get people eager to learn new stuff from new sources?

CD : Learning is fantastic fun. People who aren’t academic enjoy learning new things, it’s just that many people don’t realize it until they accidentally do so. If you tell people “right now you are going to learn something” a lot of people will switch off (or switch their music on). If however you say to someone “can you come and help me with this problem” and together you are immersed in an engaging challenge, that encourages both of you to play to your strengths and be respectful to others, people will have fun and accidentally learn new things.

What is your opinion about this article? What does mean for You Serious Game? Do not hesitate to comment below. 

Wednesday 1 July 2015

"HR has to demonstrate to the senior decision makers in an organization that it speaks their language"

Lance Wright 
A series of interviews with experienced players and experts in human resources and organizational development. Here we ask the questions to Lance Wright a seasoned HR professional who has just published a new book – “HR In The Boardroom” packed with advice on how HR can get themselves invited to the top table.  

MCE : In your new book, you talk about HR’s desire to be “IN” the boardroom. How close do you think they are to realizing their dream for being a real, accepted part of the decision–making process?

Lance Wright (LW) : This  actually gets at something that has concerned me for years that I address in the book. Frankly, despite the increased number of executives that have the title chief human resources officer, or CHRO, who may in fact sit in the executive suite, I think we are still a long way from most HR professionals being a real accepted part of the business decision-making process. Let me explain. 

I believe a large part of the problem is many HR professionals and senior executives operate within a bifurcated paradigm -whether they consciously realize it or not - where there is “the business” on one hand and then there is HR on the other. I refer to this as an economic and business inefficiency that has been around for a very long time.  This, in many respects, is at the root of the complaints we hear from many HR people about not having a seat at the table. Granted, many businesses and other organizations have gotten a lot smarter about the importance of HR. However, those HR people who made it to the executive suite and the boardroom that have a seat at the table are often not fully involved in developing business strategy or in making decisions that will impact the course of the business. This is reflected in the surveys and studies that are conducted on a regular basis about HR and the relationship it has with CEOs and other senior executives. In a nutshell, the surveys and studies show that HR often believes it has a greater impact on the business than the CEO, and other senior executives, may believe.  
There are certainly occasions when HR is asked for advice on what may be considered “people issues.”  Even then, it is possible that the opinion of other senior executives who may or may not have any real HR experience is given more weight than that of the so-called CHRO.  HR people who are considered savvy business professionals who are given the opportunity to express an opinion on the nuts and bolts aspects of running the business are in the definite minority. 

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against HR having the ability to be intimately involved in business decision making. In the book I reference a comment by David Ulrich who is a recognized HR guru. He has made the observation that HR’s involvement as a strategic business partner could be plotted as a 20-60-20 bell shaped distribution. According to Ulrich, 20% of the curve at the front end represents HR people who are very much involved as a strategic business partner with the CEO and senior management. The 20% at the other end of the curve, for lack of a better description, don’t have a prayer of the influencing the CEO or other members of the executive suite, or the board.   The 60% bulge in the middle represents companies who have not yet made full use of HR as a strategic business partner but may or may not do so.
Anyway you cut it, there is a long way to go before HR is real accepted part of the decision making process in most companies.

MCE : What is it that HR need to demonstrate to get the “ear “of top management (the CEO)?

LW : To get the ear of the CEO and the top management team, they must first “hear” HR.  In order to be heard, HR has to demonstrate to the senior decision makers in an organization that it speaks their language.  And to be able to speak their language fluently, HR must understand the business from front to back, as well as the numbers and the other concepts that represent the language of business.  Bluntly, HR has to demonstrate it has something worth listening to before it will be able to get the ear of the CEO and the top management team. 
The best way to get the ear of a CEO, or another senior executive, is to have that person think of you as a peer and a trusted advisor. The HR professional should demonstrate the sort of business understanding and savvy that would prompt the CEO to say, “…this is a person who thinks like me, understands what I am attempting to accomplish, and what I am up against. HR has to know the business strategy and be able to poke holes in it based on a thorough knowledge of the business, the competitive environment, and the capability of the organization and its talent to get of the ear of the CEO and other senior executives.  In a sense, HR needs to be able to perform a classic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis as well as any highly paid management consultant that may be brought in from the outside. There are many, well intentioned HR professionals who will describe themselves as a “people person.”  Some of these HR professionals may not have, or be able to demonstrate, the business skills needed to get the ear of the CEO so they don’t.  The HR function does not operate in a vacuum but in the context of the business. While almost every CEO mouths the words that people are the most important asset of a business or any organization, most senior leaders are hoping to have at their side a business person who understands the people part. An HR professional who hopes to get the ear of the senior management team has to demonstrate business acumen and ability.
I point out in the book that, in a general sense, to get the ear of the CEO and other members of the executive team HR has to be viewed as credible and knowledgeable. HR has to demonstrate the ability to give consistently sound business advice over time. The CEO and senior team members will also appreciate an HR professional who demonstrate the courage to give advice that may not be pleasant or welcomed. An HR professional has to be viewed by the CEO and other members of the executive team as an impartial and independent arbiter to get their ear. Unfortunately, as we discussed earlier in the other question, there are some CEOs and senior management teams whose “ear” HR will never be able to get. 

MCE :If you were advising an ambitious young HR professional, what would you tell him or her to study and get experience in what areas of business?

LW : Operating as a senior executive in a business is similar to being an airline pilot. There are certain skills and capabilities that should be developed by any young person who hopes to make it to the top of an organization, not only a young HR professional. All pilots understand the physical aspects of lift and drag and are able to land and take-off safely whether they are piloting a Piper Cub or an Airbus 380.  Any young professional who wants to eventually be a senior executive in the C-Suite, and the boardroom, has to understand how businesses work, financial concepts and theories, and the ins and outs of financial statements. Many young professionals who have math, or science, or engineering, or finance backgrounds often have the computational and numbers crunching skills needed to operate at the senior levels of an organization which, in the past, has given them a leg up on most young HR professionals. In my book, I give the advice that a young HR professional needs to know what an MBA knows. This doesn’t mean every young HR professional needs to obtain an MBA degree. Many young HR professionals may pursue the degree – increased numbers are doing just that.
Along the way, young professionals should develop the other skills and capabilities needed to be a senior executive. The ambitious young HR person should concentrate on developing the qualities that are looked for by most organizations. There isn’t a lot of magic to the list.  So in addition to the hard skills we just discussed, young HR professionals should also pay attention to developing these other qualities:
·         Vision creation - Do you have the ability to help others see what the future will be if certain actions are or are not taken. 
·         Leadership -Work on what it takes for people to be willing to follow you. 
·         Business acumen - Learn all you can about business in general, not just the company or industry in which you work. 
·         Strategic thinking - Concentrate on learning to “connect the dots,” and challenge the conventional wisdom. 
·         Decision making – And learn to be decisive. Decisiveness is one of the qualities that virtually every senior executive has to develop – and display – to be successful.

MCE : You’ve spent your entire professional career in HR, out of that long career, what would you say was the most rewarding, experience?

LW : My stint in financial services early in my career gave me the foundational number-crunching and financial skills needed to make it the senior level of an organization.

All in all, the most rewarding experience of my career has been serving as a trusted advisor and confidant to various organization leaders who have sought my counsel on a range of business issues and not just those that were people related. The really rewarding part is I have been able to play that role in a number of different countries around the globe. My last position as a member of the executive committee of a publicly traded company was certainly a highlight of my career.

.... and the one, you would most like to forget ?!!

Oh, for sure there have been some experiences I would like to forget that were not at all rewarding. During one of my assignments in Europe many years ago, I reported to the head of an affiliate who acted as if I was his personal butler. It made for some tense situations when I had to stand up for myself.
However, this was trivial compared to the very difficult experience of dealing with the unexpected death of an employee. Because of the length of my career there have been a few times when I have had to deal with this. The first time I had to deal with this was in the first year of my career. I was 22 years of age at the time. One of the librarians at the university had committed suicide and her parents were eligible for payment from our self-insured program as her beneficiaries. My boss and I personally delivered the check to express our condolences. I remember the sorrow of those parents and how heartbroken they were. That has stayed with me over the years and has been very hard to forget.

Enter the discount code PM15THIRTY  at checkout for a 30% discount.

"Women constitute half of the talent of the planet."

A series of interviews with experienced players and experts in human resources and organizational development. Here we ask the questions to Elisabeth Kelan, Professor of Leadership at Cranfield School of Management, and a world renowned expert on gender diversity and women in the workplace. She has just published a new study “Opening the Black Box” (*), that  examines the struggle women have to get into top jobs. 

MCE : 50% of the world’s working population are female. Are we ever going to recognize that fact and realize that we are talking about half the talent of the planet?

Elisabeth Kelan  (EK) : It is surprising that is has taken organizations so long to realise that women constitute half of the talent. Many organisations not only realise that they overlooked half of the talent but also that the talent they have been grooming as future leaders is changing dramatically. With the demographic and generational changes the 'Organization Man' who prioritises work over life is no longer a model that organizations can rely on when it comes to talent. This provides a strong impetus for change. 

MCE : Your new study is titled,“ Opening the Black Box”. (*)– We have to ask the question: “is it really worth the effort; isn’t there a better, more useful, contribution that talented females can make to organizations, without hankering after being the CEO” ?

EK : The study looks at how journeys to the boardroom differ for women and men. The research was conducted by Scarlett Brown, a PhD candidate at King's College London, who is funded by the ESRC and by Sapphire Partners an executive search firm specialising in diverse talent. There is currently a lot of focus on achieving at least 25 percent women in FTSE100 board rooms following the Davies review. The Cranfield Female FTSE report shows that we are on track to hit the 25 percent target. The effect on candidates is that it raised the ambition of many women and they now aim for a board seat. While women aim for a board seat, men are more likely to aim for the chair of the board. There is still a difference in ambition and it is important that women not only get a board seat but also take leadership roles on the board. We also found that women received a lot of advice on their way to the boardroom whereas men benefitted from sponsorship - they had power brokers who put them forward for roles. Women and men network in the same ways but get different things from their network. This shows that a lot of work needs to be done to achieve gender balance on boards and beyond.  

MCE :  Do you think, that women who choose a business career get a rough ride from the media and are all too easily stereotyped – any thoughts on how to avoid that?

EK : Women in the media in general get a rough ride. Women are more likely to appear as vox populi but much less likely to be featured as experts. The media thereby perpetuates gender stereotypes instead of providing an impetus for new societal possibilities. This of course affects women in business careers where the focus is often on their private life and their attire rather than their business contribution. Media organisations are waking up to this and some are changing the messages they put out. 

MCE : Do you have any female business women heroes – and why do you respect them ?

EK : We are really lucky today to have a good selection of senior women in business and beyond who are all very different. Just think of women leaders such as Angela Merkel, Ginni Rometty, Christine Lagarde, Hillary Clinton, Marissa Mayer to name but few. All of them have found ways to lead in their unique ways rather than complying with a template. I admire that.  We also should not forget that there are many men who practice leadership in such ways that allow gender equality to flourish. So rather than looking at women as leaders we also need to foster gender inclusive leadership practices in men as well as women. For instance I am currently engaged in a new research project that explores how middle managers practice inclusive leadership. 

(*) You can download the study at : http://www.openingtheblackbox.co.uk