Coherence in practice

Adrian Brown, Chief Executive, UK and Western Europe, RSA

Adrian BrownI believe some people are born with high energy and passion. People who knew me at school or work would use these two words to describe me as a person. I was always aware that energy and passion was what defines me as an individual but it took me longer to recognise the importance of that in defining my leadership style.

Energy and passion are skills and resources a leader should use as tools to make them a better leader. However to maximise your effectiveness you need to understand the impact you are having.

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Ian Cheshire, Chief Executive, Kingfisher Group

Ian ChesireIn a recent situation, the internal dynamics of our top team of five had a complex set of plays. I brought together one internal team member and recruited three external members. After we had all spent some time getting to know each other, it became clear that there was a real spectrum of opinion. That in itself is not a bad thing, but there was some quite strong conflict developing between two key players. The conflict was coming out of different takes on the world, but also the human dynamic of one person trying to act as a guru and being paternalistic and the other person feeling patronised.

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Carolyn McCall, CEO, easyJet

imgresWhen I joined easyJet in July 2010, one of the things that stood me in good stead was that I’d come from running a media group (Guardian Media Group with newspapers and digital, radio, regional papers and magazines) where there was lots of complexity in terms of relationships. Just as in the Guardian, with its range of stakeholders (trustees, journalists, marketing and sales people and printers), at easyJet there are similar complexities. We have a large family shareholder plus institutional shareholders, and then various communities: pilots, cabin crew, management, engineering all with very different views and needs.

I created an executive leadership team forum almost as soon as I arrived, where the top 50 leaders in easyJet meet every month so we can debate, discuss and shape the strategy before it goes to the plc board and also it is where we discuss the key issues we face. After establishing that forum, we then created a very effective management conference twice a year with around 150 people in easyJet. They are our leaders that have the most to do with managing our people. We’ve done that for two years now. They really buy in because they feel they’ve been involved in all the key areas. They are very motivated by the strategy and our cause, which Alan helped us develop. Our cause is to make travel easy and affordable.

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John Browett, Chief Executive, Monsoon Accessorize

John BrowettPerhaps because I trained as a scientist, I have a natural disposition to strategic thinking in business. I see the world as a series of inter-related systems. This mechanistic approach is helpful, but has to be tempered by experience and the understanding of human behaviour to work well.

There isn’t a scientific way of getting to the answer for every company. You can’t mechanically work through the numbers to make the right decision. You never have enough data or the right data to be able to do that. Rather you have to make educated guesses and judgements about what could be right. I use a lot of pattern recognition, but also a lot of intuition. Good intuition is really just the ability to make the right decision even without all the right data.

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Alan Brown, CEO, Rentokil

Alan BrownOver the last three years I have made a lot of changes in my life. I was frustrated by significant dips in my energy levels through the day that made it difficult to perform consistently in my work and I was unsettled at home. So there was undoubtedly a ‘burning platform’ for change, even though outwardly it might have appeared that I was relatively successful with a demanding and fulfilling career.

Around that time Alan Watkins came to talk to me about coaching. He was different – very different – and I was intrigued by what Alan said about energy management. He claimed that this was something I could control, rather than my energy levels controlling me. So we embarked on a coaching odyssey. Alan talked, I listened, made notes, experimented and learnt – so far as my energy levels allowed.

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Henry Maxey, Chief Executive, Ruffer

Henry MaxeyWhen it comes to trading, people get caught up in the irrational. Even a rational thinker like Newton made this mistake that tells you how difficult it is not to get caught up in the emotional side of what we do.

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Michael Drake, TNT (Singapore)

DrakeI have often been asked ‘Why have I been successful in Asia?’

I am not sure there has been a special formula but one thing I am careful about is not to assume that the way things have worked somewhere else will also work in Asia. I approach things in a way where local staff – the people closest to the business – get to have the major say. I believe ‘respect’ is really important in Asia, maybe everywhere else too. It is certainly something I try to bring in my business dealings.

If you accept the fact that people are educated differently around the world, then you should be less concerned about things not happening in ways that you’re used to. Things should be achieved on time, with good quality and of course, with integrity – but the methodology that is employed to get there is less important.

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Mike Iddon, Finance Director, Tesco UK

Mike IddonOne of the discussions I had with Alan was around my own unique attributes and skill set and what I bring to the team. Working with him has helped me ‘play in position’. He really challenged me about what it is that I do. Initially I talked about five year plans, identifying good returns and market share ambitions, but Alan kept pushing me for something more. In the end we got to my core purpose – I figure it out.

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Lodewijk Hijmans vd Bergh, Chief Corporate Governance Counsel, Royal Ahold

Lodewijk-Hijmans-van-den-BerghCorporate responsibility must be at the heart of the business. Without that, it becomes a tick box exercise, the senior management does not feel responsible and you never make real progress.

In 2010, we set company-wide targets on climate change, responsible products, healthy living and employee engagement. Setting targets led to a change in the dynamic of the business. We had fundamentally linked responsible retailing to the heart of the business. We changed the way we talked about corporate responsibility and very clearly linked it to mitigating risk, reducing costs, increasing sales or simply creating new opportunities for the company.  This was a major step, because it helped others realise that this was not just the ‘flavour of the month’, but it would really help them in the business.

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Warwick Brady, COO, easyJet

Warwick BradyeasyJet’s recent history has not been a smooth one. Between 2006 and 2010, the then CEO Andrew Harrison led a management team with a big growth plan. Unfortunately, the shareholders did not agree entirely with this plan. At the same time, the financial crisis had just begun; Lehman Brothers crashed, oil prices were high and easyJet faced huge cost pressures.

Under such intense internal and external pressure, the business suffered. Day to day delivery was poor, customer service was low and the business was struggling to control costs. This all culminated in a collapse of performance in Summer 2010. The number of easyJet planes arriving on time dropped to around 40 per cent. Gatwick Airport published the league table of airline on time performance (OTP) and easyJet came out below Air Zimbabwe. A fact shared with the wider world, when Ryanair, a main competitor used it as a headline in a national newspaper advertisement.

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Chris Hope, Head of Operations Strategy & Change, easyJet

During our wChris Hopeork with Alan we started by working in detail on the relationships within our team.  Having made good progress to build and strengthen the relationships, the next stage was to look at the ways of working within the team to identify how we could work together more effectively.

With Alan’s help we mapped out all the meetings that involved two or more senior managers from the team.  This also established how much time we spent in meetings and showed that even a small improvement in our efficiency and effectiveness in those meetings would deliver a significant benefit to the business.

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Orlagh Hunt, Group HR Director, AIB

Olga Hunt

In my first three years as an international HR director, I focused on performance management, linking performance and reward, performance levels and executive development. When I moved into the Group role, I realised that although our employee opinion survey was showing lots of progress in areas such as clarity of business direction and links to performance, the one thing that hadn’t moved was emotional attachment or emotional engagement with the business.  To address that we put in place development interventions aimed at the front line and middle managers in 30 countries.

We also recognised that we needed to develop the executive team in the same way and that’s where Alan helped. We were coming out of a turnaround situation where a directive approach had been necessary and beneficial, but we needed to begin the shift to a less directive and more inclusive style of leadership.

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Thras Moraitis, Former Executive General Manager, Group Strategy and Corporate Affairs, Xstrata

Thras MoraitisAn organisation is a group of people getting together to achieve something – whatever it is they define to achieve.  Within that group, it’s essential that you are integrated and all the components need to make sense together. It may sound reasonable for the CEO to be telling the head of HR to build the strongest HR strategy in the industry, telling the head of marketing to create the best marketing and sales capability and telling production to ensure you have the most efficient and modern production, but if they all scurry off and do that, there’s no guarantee it’s going to work because it may not be coherent. Perhaps the production person perceived what he had to do was create a low cost product, whereas the marketing person thought he was promoting a high quality and exclusive product. All the components of the organisation model need to be coherent and mutually reinforcing.To my mind there are three critical components to building a successful organisation:

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Shaun Usmar, Chief Financial Officer, Xstrata Nickel, Toronto

Shaun Usmar

In the mining business most senior people have had quite narrow functional or technical career paths. As a result, when we discuss business planning, strategy, direction or budgeting, people get very passionate about their different perspectives. They are really guarded about anything that doesn’t meet their view of the world. I really struggle with this.

In one recent acquisition, the first thing we had to do was to make sure we were all working off the same basic information. People had varied information sources and would use similar terminology, but would mean different things. This resulted in management often double or triple counting returns to the business, claiming the benefits for the investments for their part of the value chain, while ignoring unintended risks and costs to other parts of the value chain – leading to poor decision making. We had to spend time as a senior team getting rid of the noise that can be created by people questioning data and focus on the relevant data that informs good decision making – particularly when faced with uncertainty in those decisions. That process took a couple of years in the mid 2000s, but it ended up being a crucial step to our future success.

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Iman Stratenus, Former Managing Director, TNT China

Iman StratenusLooking back at my time with TNT in China, I am especially proud that the team that I led for three years, and left two years ago, is still in place and is still performing. The trust we had built was so strong that ultimately the team did not need me as the leader anymore. They have a new leader and have adapted to a different style, but they continue on the journey we had begun.

The most important moment of my development as a leader was when I realised that leadership was not about me. Of course it matters greatly what I do and how I lead – my energy, my intentions and my actions – but the goal is not me, nor is it me who is judged. All that matters is the strength of the connections in the team and the impact we have through our collective efforts. For me, that shift was liberating. All my interactions – interviewing candidates, coaching conversations, leading team discussions, interacting with customers and suppliers – became a lot more worthwhile and satisfying when I could shift my interest from me to the other person.

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 Dr Ann Redgrave, The Redgrave Clinic

Ann RedgraveRowing is an interesting sport. When rowers go out to race, they leave the coaches and the support team at the landing stage around 30 to 40 minutes before the race. They go through a prepared warm up routine and then they are required to sit on the start line for up to five minutes. Once they’re on the start line what happens – self-doubt can creep in. I know because it happened to me when I was competing. You sit there, you find yourself wondering what you’re doing there! It’s the last place you want to be. It’s exciting but also a bit frightening. Crazy thoughts go through your head.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed this having a detrimental effect on the performance of our rowers as they leave the start line. The athletes were coming out too hard, harder than they had planned for. Very quickly they had an oxygen debt and from then on the race plan was compromised.

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