I recently attended in Bangkok a breakfast talk of the Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce on the topic “Best practices to set up Thai leaders for success in Asia and worldwide”. There were two interesting presentations by a Thai and a French speaker, followed by a lively discussion on the topic by four panelists, all of them very experienced in the international arena. I took away three key insights with global validity from the event that I will share with you below. They might also be helpful to you when you want to develop leaders in your organization. Key Insight No.1: The person whom you want to develop must have a strong desire to grow in his leadership role. He must have a drive to develop further. Sometimes, you might come across people in your organization where you feel that they have great potential to grow and to make the next step in their career. But some of them might not want to take that next step, because they are happy with their current role, don’t want to move from one function to another one, or from one business unit to another one, or don’t want to relocate from one place / country to another one, etc. In such a case, have a deep discussion with the candidate, but don’t force him to make the next move, if he doesn’t want to. Key Insight No.2: What is the key in developing people? All four panelists agreed that the key is to take people out of their comfort zone, if you want to develop them. That’s where the biggest growth happens. One of the speakers and panelists, Mr. Chalermpong Darongsuwan, Managing Director of Philips Electronics (Thailand) Ltd, is a living example for that. He described to the audience the Philips way of developing top leaders. Members of Philips top leadership talent pool have to work for certain periods of time (typically 2-3 years) in at least two different functions (e.g. finance and sales), in at least two different business units, and in at least two different countries. After having completed that successfully, the doors to top leadership positions are globally wide open. What the panelists shared was also fully in line with what I had learned during a talk in Chicago by Prof. Paul Evans, INSEAD university, about ten years ago. When asked what is the best way to develop people he answered to pull the rug from under their feet, and see what happens. He also stressed to take people out of their comfort zone and to observe how they are doing with minimal adequate support. He said it is like throwing them into cold water and watch them perform. So, after carefully selecting your top leadership talents and after preparing them adequately, you might do the same with your candidates. Key Insight No. 3: Top leadership candidates need a person who has their back. They need someone whom they can trust, whom they can talk too, and who supports them. That can be the direct boss, somebody from the HR Department, or someone from another department who is in charge of the leadership talent pool, or a sponsor in the organization. It is important that this person also takes ownership in developing his top leadership candidate, and supports him in climbing the next step on the career ladder. From my observation, companies struggle with the ownership question, because often there are no clear responsibilities defined. In some firms, the top talent leadership pool is even attached as a showpiece directly to the CEO who however in reality might not be that much involved. I myself was part of such a bad example where we had sent our highest ranked Thai manager (after she had participated successfully in a talent pool assessment) to Germany based on the recommendation of our Regional Director Asia and myself (country manager). However, the lady got stuck in Germany for about five years without rotating to a different business function or a different business unit. The Regional Director retired, and I didn’t have any influence on our German operations. There was nobody in the whole organization who was directly responsible for developing the leadership talent pool. The breakthrough for the lady happened only after her old boss in Germany was replaced by a new one. The new boss gave her support, and after one year, she was relocated and promoted to a position in a subsidiary in Southeast Asia. She became a director and head of one of two business units in that company and showed an excellent performance. So, after a totally dissatisfying beginning , this top leadership talent story turned into a big success. So make sure that in your organization you have the right systems and structures for top leadership development in place, and also assure that you have a contact person or sponsor who has the back of your candidate. This is the last blog post for 2016. Let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family and friends all the best for 2017!
Since 2011, the HR (Human Resources) – consultancy firm Hays is conducting annual empirical HR – studies together with IBE, the German Institute for Employment and Employability. Over the years, the ranking of the most important HR topics hasn’t changed much. The soft topics culture, leadership, and employee engagement and retention are clearly in the lead. The big discrepancy between the importance of the above soft topics and their realisation has hardly changed. Companies weren’t able to achieve significant improvements. The reason is that these soft issues are difficult to tackle. There are no quick fixes. And it would need leaders who act in a sustainable way while addressing these issues. Leaders who are committed to make a difference. Leaders who serve and live as a role model every day. The focus of the HR – report 2015/16 was on the topic company culture. 532 decision makers from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria participated in the study of Hays and IBE. The participants were from top management, HR leaders, and other employees from companies of different sizes and across all industries. The top three HR – topics identified in the survey were the advancement of the company culture (41%), employee engagement and retention ((38%), and the furtherance of the employability (34%). In the opinion of the participants, the company culture is most influenced through communication (34%), leadership (26%), and flexibility and willingness to change (25%). There is a clear discrepancy in perception when it comes to the topics communication, and leadership. While 63% of top management marked the performance regarding communication very well or well, only 38% of the other survey participants rated it very well or well. A similar gap was found in the topic leadership. Here, 59% of top management rated it very well or well, however only 33% of the other participants marked it very well or well. Regarding communication, the three most important topics stated were a) openness in critical topics (81% namings), b) appreciative communication between leaders and employees (72%), and c) establishment of a feedback culture (69%). However, the implementation rate for these three topics were considered as rather dissatisfying with a) 23%, b) 39%, and c) 29%. The summary of the HR – study showed that there is a high gap between talking and taking action in the topics being considered the most important ( all these topics are soft topics) top management shows only rarely opennesswhen it comes to critical topics, and there is not enough open communication across hierarchies when it comes to leadership, not much has changed. Leaders often still apply the same old style. They claim to have no time. One main reason for that is the fact that leaders don’t empower their subordinates enough. when it comes to change, organizations are slow to compete with the speed of change in markets. Reasons are the little flexibility, and the low willingness to change. In order to close the huge gap between the high importance of the before mentioned soft issues and their realisation, leaders have to understand that it will take time to solve these issues. Nevertheless, they need to commit and make it a priority to tackle these challenges which can lead to a competitive advantage. And they need to see the criticism as a chance, not a risk.
During a recent long cross-continental flight, I have read the book “How will you measure your life?” by Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen and his co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon. The book is building up on a graduation speech that he gave in 2012 at Harvard Business School. Christensen had come through a phase of intense personal reflections. He had just overcome the same type of cancer that had killed his father. In addition, Christensen had made surprising findings at the 5-year reunions with his own business school classmates at Harvard. Many of his former classmates were struggling with personal dissatisfaction, family failures, professional issues, even criminal behaviour (Jeff Skilling, the former Enron CEO who ended up in jail was also one of his former classmates.). Christensen had noticed that succesful people often struggle to balance their personal and professional lives. With his book, he aims to help people to lead and live better lives. Therefore, it is essential to find answers to the following questions: -How can I be successful and happy in my career? -How can I be sure that my relationship with my family is an enduring source of happiness? -How can I live my life with integrity? Based on business research, business case studies, management theories and tools, and personal experiences and learnings, Christensen provides guidelines and advice for finding meaning and happiness in life. He states that business can teach us a lot about life. Let me share some of the key takeaways of the book with you: -Job satisfaction / Job dissatisfaction: The authors point out that it is possible to love your job (e.g. for the perks, wealth coming along with it) and hate your job at the same time (e.g. having a boring job, not aligned with your own personal values, disliking your boss etc.). You need to find the right weight between the hygienic factors (money, other compensation, status, job security etc.) and the motivators (challenging work, recognition, responsibility, personal growth etc.). -Relationships: You need to deal with the struggles of being successful at work and at home. You need to build strong relationships. The only way to have those relationships bear fruit in your life is to invest long before you need them. Investments in our family (e.g. in our kids) often don’t pay off for a very long time while investments at the office or in our career are often very tangible and result in immediate achievement. You need to balance your business life and your family life. -Strategy: Real strategy – in companies and in our lives – is created through hundred of everyday decisions about where we spend our resources. It is not decided by top managers in a meeting based on best numbers and analysis at that time. Therefore, determine your priorities and align your goals and your efforts in all points of life. -Personal Integrity / Principles: It’s easier to hold your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold them 98% of the time. The boundary – your personal moral line – is powerful because you don’t cross it. If you have justified doing it once, there is nothing to stop you doing it again. Christensen states that you need to decide what kind of person you want to be and what you stand for – and how often you want to stand for it; not some of the time, not most of the time – but all the time. -Leadership: Christensen recommends if you want to help other people, be a manager. He genuinely believes that management is among the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers more ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. I enjoyed reading the book very much. Immediately, it became one of my all time favourites. I highly recommend it. The book will probably make you pause and reflect on your life which is a valuable exercise because it might well lead to positive change.
A lot of organizations are suffering from not being able to develop a clear and concise strategy, communicating it throughout the organization, and aligning all employees around it. I just came back from an off-site strategic planning process meeting of CARE Thailand / Raks Thai Foundation, an affiliate of the NGO CARE International. Raks Thai wanted to develop a 10 year strategic plan. I recommended them to use the OGSM (Objective, Goals, Strategies, Measures) – framework that I had already used at other occasions. The origin of the OGSM strategic planning process goes back to Japan as well as to Procter & Gamble who popularized the model among Fortune 500 companies. What I like about the OGSM tool is the fact that the document created is very concise (usually only one page). It can be used for communication and alignment across the organization. Raks Thai had already developed the vision and the values of their organization during workshops in the last two years. So it was a solid base for going about the whole strategic planning process. The strategic horizon as defined by CARE International was 10 years. Raks Thai decided to add two and five year horizons. The OGSM – framework: Objective: First, you have to define the objective(s) of the organization within a certain time horizon. Please note that this is not numeric. Goals: Define numerical goals for each objective within defined time frames. Strategies: Define key strategies to reach each goal within defined time frames. Measures: Define numerical measures for each strategy within defined time frames. Raks Thai was able to develop their OGSM strategic plan during their off-site meeting. Now, it’s all up to thorough execution, regular monitoring, and, if necessary, from time to time adjusting the OGSM strategic plan, if justified by changing circumstances.
How do you make sure while looking for the right management candidate that you find a person that doesn’t put his personal agenda above the company goals? In a recent article by a Facebook executive I read that the company is looking for empire builders and self-servers in their hiring process – and then doesn’t hire them. They are looking for team players instead. A great question Facebook asks is “Can you tell me about four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?” You should build that question also into your company’s recruitment process. From the answer of the candidate, you will be easily learning whether he cares about the success and progress of other people. You will be able to sense whether he has a passion for people development or not. And if the candidate comes short on this question, you obviously won’t hire him, even if he has great technical skills. After all, you want to have a company culture where team work is valued, where people are developed across the organization, where the focus is on the success of the team and the company, and not where everybody is interested only in his own growth and his own career success. Therefore, hire only the right leaders for your company, even, if it takes some time to find them. To say it with the words of Harry S. Firestone, an American businessman and founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.”
I recently attended a talk by Sebastian Purps – Pardigol, a management and organizational development consultant. Inspired by his friendship with the renowned German neurobiologist Prof. Dr. Gerald Huether, he has combined the findings of modern brain research, psychology, and behavioural science with methods for management training and organizational development in his book “Leading with brain – How to engage employees and increase the success of a company” (available only in German language). Purps – Pardigol pointed out that the hidden strengths in an organization (similar like in a brain) cannot be brought out by force. For a company, it is crucial to develop a culture for unfolding potentials. In such an environment, individuals have the opportunity to grow beyond themselves, which is also true for teams, and, ultimately, for the entire company. During his presentation, Purps – Pardigol shared with us that during his time as senior manager in three different companies he had noticed that one of the key success factors for business success are the human relations, the interpersonal relationships of the employees (including the management team). This was confirmed in his later in-depth interviews with 150 senior business leaders, among them CEOs of companies ranging from 40 to 50,000 employees. In his talk, Purps – Pardigol stated that there are three crucial elements for establishing a culture for unfolding potentials: a) belonging: Belonging is a deep-rooted basic neurobiological need. Therefore, leaders need to create a sense of belonging and bonding in their team / organization. b) involvement: All people carry within themselves a desire to co-create, to be actively involved, and to shape things. As a leader, you need to provide these opportunities for your people so that they and the company can develop and grow. c) envisioning: You need to develop strong internal images. You have to envision the positive change that leads to the future great state of your organization. Human action can be explained through the influence of strong visions. At the end of his presentation, Purps – Pardigol gave us examples of some enterprises in Germany who focused on the above three crucial elements and whose economic success has been based on people-centred leadership. He called those companies the missing stone in the puzzle, because it is much easier for you as a leader, if you know about companies who have already achieved what you are trying to do.
A few years ago while I still was the managing director of a subsidiary of a large multinational corporation, the CEO from our head office in Germany came for a two-day visit. During his stay, we had arranged for a lunch with our local leadership team in Thailand. Being a team of highly motivated leaders that are always eager to learn, I wasn’t surprised when my colleagues asked the CEO for some career advice. One of them wanted to know what he thinks is the main reason that he succeeded already at a rather young age (the CEO was in his mid-forties at that time) in becoming the CEO and the boss of more than 30,000 employees worldwide. The CEO replied that this is a question that is not so easy to answer. After giving it some thought, he said that he thinks a big factor in becoming CEO was that he didn’t do any job within our global organization longer than five years. He briefly described to our leadership team his career path which led him from a position in a R&D – laboratory to a sales & marketing position, from a job in our German head office to an Asian subsidiary, and from heading a chemicals business unit to being in charge of the pharmaceuticals business. And then, he stated what impressed me most. He mentioned that luck was a very important factor in becoming CEO. We were all surprised when he said that, because it is rather unusual that a CEO admits that you need also luck for reaching such a position. And it shows that modesty and humility are also valuable characteristics of a CEO.
Family Values are the moral and ethical principles traditionally upheld and transmitted within a family, as honesty, loyalty, love, respect, and faith. I have always been intrigued by the values that each family member brings to the fold. Ten days ago we spent a whole week in Japan as a family vacation. Here again was opportunity to discover the uniqueness that each individual family member is endowed with and how these endowments are displayed in our daily lives. Something that came to light for me was that my children have grown up and they wish to be more independent. During all our past vacations, I had to draw out or suggest plans for each day. That was the past and for now my life got much easier because they made all plans. I had to accept it and give them a chance to prove their independence. The norm is that even the best laid out plan can run into obstacles. When that happened, I could see the respect and understanding that took place rather than any bickering or dissatisfaction. When we could do that, there was love and more joy with each passing day of our vacation. Discovering our family values helped us as a family and we are already looking forward to our next vacation. In today’s business environment, corporate values play a distinct importance on how every employee behaves. When everyone in the organization is living the corporate values, the customers benefit. The corporate values bring connection between the organization and every stakeholder.
I recently attended a housewarming party of a former colleague. She introduced me to one of her guests as the guy under whose leadership our company had achieved in 16 years 13 times double digit sales growth. That businessman was eager to know how we achieved that extraordinary growth performance. So I described to him the key success factors (and I thought I share them with you too): Develop a mindset for strong growth. You and your leadership team must have an optimistic mindset and build up confidence throughout your team and your company. Keep negativity out of people’s heads. A lot of leaders think only about the negative aspects, like e.g. the poor state of the economy, why they cannot achieve (high) sales growth. However, I always told our employees: “In every economy, no matter whether it is booming or shrinking, there are companies that will win market share and companies that will lose market share. We will make sure that we are always among the ones that are winning market share.” Develop a culture for extraordinary sales growth. In our company, DDG (=double digit growth) was a magic word that was positively occupied in our employees’ mind. The whole company was aligned around it. Already during the recruitment process, we made sure that we selected people who have a positive attitude, love challenges, and can handle pressure. During the budget talks with our business unit leaders, everybody knew that we start our discussion at DDG level, i.e. a minimum sales growth of 10 %. We often went for stretch goals being aware that even if you miss a stretch goal, you typically still achieve high growth. That took the fear of failure away from our people. The most popular quote in our company was “Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you will land among the stars!” (by Les Brown). And whenever we achieved high sales growth, we made sure that we celebrated together, and that we rewarded our people generously. Whenever we reached a particularly high sales performance, we went with a l l our employees on an overseas trip. That was already the first step for again great sales growth in the consecutive year. Develop an inspiring vision. A prerequisite for sustainable extraordinary sales growth is an inspiring vision that aims to create value not only for your shareholders, but for all stakeholders (i.e. also for employees, customers, and the society). Employees are looking to find meaning and purpose at work. Only if you share the benefits of the extraordinary sales performance among all your stakeholders, your employees will be willing to go for your ambitious sales growth goals.