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Shaping the bravehearts of tomorrow

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In this exclusive, senior management from Schneider Electric, Hootsuite, Watsons, and more, speak to Wani Azahar on what is needed in shaping future leaders.

— With inputs from Jerene Ang

The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 by DDI, EY and The Conference Board has found that organisations which extend the development of high-potential talent below senior levels are 4.2 times more likely to financially outperform those that don’t.

However, in the past, organisations have often had a narrow definition of the “type” of person who has leadership potential. When in fact, organisations that take a broader view of leadership potential prove to be more financially successful, feature stronger top leaders and have more women in leadership.

While the main objective of identifying high potentials (HiPos) may stay fairly similar, the demands and expectations have changed in the leadership landscape.

In this exclusive, Wani Azahar spoke to various business and HR leaders from Schneider Electric, Hootsuite, Watsons Singapore, and more, on what they perceive as necessary in embodying the leaders of the future.

Ability to marry business strategies and human capital

Carmen Wee, VP of human resources at Schneider Electric, highlighted how talent growth is – and will continue to be – a priority in the industry.

“Other than coming up with innovative products and solutions, developing talent will not go away. This is why future HR leaders need to make the correlation between business strategies and human capital,” she points out.

As the delivery of content and training may change over time, there’s a lot of emphasis on enabling technology to unleash the human potential.

“Leaders are now able to see more intelligent information on data, talent profile and demographics. It’s all about the analytics, and having a very clear view of how you (as a leader) are going to unleash the potential of your workforce. Whether it’s leveraging on technology on leading-edge developments, leadership programmes or exposure opportunities, this is a key skill for HR leaders to have in the future.”

Future HR leaders need to make the correlation between business strategies and human capital
– Carmen Wee, VP of human resources, Schneider Electric

The next important skill set, she explains, is the ability to create models that support the business, and can draw out the HR implications while adapting to the strategies accordingly.

For that, Schneider Electric launched the RAY programme in 2017 – to not only develop the HiPos in the company, but to also promote business growth.

Involving the management and senior leadership teams, nominations were given to selected HiPos worldwide. In this pilot project, the firm selected nine female and nine male staff to take on projects that would transform the organisation.

According to Wee, it is important for these HiPos had to view the entire enterprise from an outside-in perspective. She says: “Coming from all over the world, across different functions, these are the future leaders of technology. We decided to invest in their projects and changes recommended. Some have already been implemented, while others are in the pipeline.”

She adds some of these changes included a sales enablement process, that is now consistent globally. Through this process, inefficiency has been reduced and sales professionals can spend their time on their core job function – which is to sell.

“Other than that, there’s also the global ambassador map work. These ambassadors are the go-to contact for communication that comes out from their respective offices.”

The second batch of the RAY programme is likely to be initiated in June 2018. Taking on a more global perspective, she shared the skills needed to make the shift from an Asian leader to a global role. She pointed out three key factors – technical skills, a global mindset and energy and drive – that are needed to make the shift.

“You need to be masters of the HR game, so your technical skills must be strong. A global mindset is also necessary. You have to be cognisant on when to be pro-employee, probusiness and pro-stakeholders,” she says.

“Furthermore, the global role is very demanding. You signed up for night calls, back-to-back meetings – these stretch your fibres. You need to have the drive and energy to succeed.”

An effective communicator

With skills becoming obsolete overnight and business needs changing constantly, the ability to select and grow the right talent is going to be a key attribute for leaders. In such an instance, Kai Majumdar, people partner for APAC at Hootsuite, says: “Digital businesses are expanding rapidly and time has become an even more valuable asset. Time wasted in rectifying a wrong talent choice is proving to be costlier as good skilled talent is hard to find and retain with competition getting stronger.”

Not only that, she points out that leaders must communicate the company’s vision and direction effectively to team members such that it appeals and resonates with them. She notes that being a visionary is not enough anymore. In fact, as tech organisations expand and go global, and offices get increasingly remote, it is important for a leader to be able to translate and communicate the company’s vision, direction and goals to employees in a manner that they are able to comprehend and relate to easily.

“The leader should be able to buy the trust of the employees, especially those in remote offices, by being an effective communicator of the company’s vision, business direction and goals,” she says.

The leader should be able to buy the trust of the employees, especially those in remote offices, by being an effective communicator of the company’s vision, business direction and goals.
– Kai Majumdar, people partner for APAC, Hootsuite

Third, she highlights the important ability to effectively evaluate and analyse data and trends to enable sound decision-making in a timely and accurate manner.

“Leaders have to be skilled in interpreting, synthesising and translating key organisational metrics into effective and timely business decisions,” she says.

“While technology is enabling transformation, success lies in the hands of a leader empowered to build teams that are engaged, and drive a culture of innovation and improvement.”

Which is why at Hootsuite, the firm prides itself on leading with continuous and consistent training; as well as the development of its leaders. Understanding that leaders need to stay abreast with people strategies, industry and business knowledge, Hootsuite empowers its leaders with the best tools and training to make them better in their jobs and at managing teams more effectively. This is a top priority at Hootsuite.

Majumdar emphasises that a seamless and sustainable succession planning strategy is extremely critical and relevant to manage and grow digital businesses with speed.

“We’re constantly identifying and placing emerging leaders in leadership programmes and pushing them out of their comfort zone to take on challenges that hone their leadership skills. Providing them with a testing ground and stretching goals to effectively gauge their capabilities and readiness for leadership responsibilities is a key responsibility we undertake,” she says.

With grooming the right leaders a key priority for the firm, it believes that building up teams, hiring the right talent and filling the right roles according to a well-defined succession plan goes a long way. It also ensures a positive impact on the bottom line.

Hootsuite also brings a niche skill set and value-add to the table. At the core, it believes in thriving in diversity with teams that come with a range of skills and complementary abilities. She explains this helps to inject vitality, bridge skills, knowledge and methodology gaps.

With leaders always strapped for time, managing and fitting training and development efforts into their demanding schedules, this can be a barrier for HR teams.

“Clashing schedules and differences in time zones make it difficult to get all the leaders in the same place, at the same time for conducting training sessions and workshops, she says.

“Having said that, it’s imperative for talent managers and HR teams to have a strategy that builds engaging training programmes, catering to a wide variety of leadership traits, thus making it more engaging and compelling.”

Elaborating further, she calls attention to leaders identifying with the training programmes. “While you’re communicating the values and inspiring strategic direction, it’s important for your leaders to identify with training programmes, (preferably) customised for individual senior leaders.”

“It’s important to acknowledge that authenticity is a leader’s most precious skill and losing that to generic programmes and techniques that don’t fit their strengths can lead to disengagement.”

Looking inwards

When it comes to identifying a leader for senior management roles, Irene Lau, chief operating officer at Watsons Singapore, recommends looking inwards into the organisation.

“Empowerment and strong mentors are very important. When the organisation gives aspiring employees the opportunities to shine and the right support systems, they can step up and excel,” she says.

“Organisations should also first look inwards whenever there are any opportunities for senior management roles.”

However, she also highlights that it’s important to know what employees can bring to the table and not judge by age or gender, when it comes to selecting a candidate for higher roles. And when it comes to women in leadership, she advises aspiring female leaders of tomorrow to try something new.

Organisations should also first look inwards whenever there are any opportunities for senior management roles.
– Irene Lau, chief operating officer, Watsons Singapore

Sharing her words of wisdom with Human Resources, she says: “I love the saying ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results’. Always try something new, don’t be afraid to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. Along the way, learn as much as possible from all these different experiences. Communicate your career aspirations to family and ask for their support.”

“Build a strong support network to enable you to free your mind and concentrate productively in those nine hours. It is very important to continuously challenge ourselves to truly discover our fullest potential.”

Similarly, Rebecca Lewis, account director at Mutant Communications, says women professionals should show initiative when opportunities arise.

Recalling a conversation she had, she says: “A CHRO once told me that ‘men are raised to ask, while women are raised to wait to be asked’, and it’s something that has really stuck with me. Right from a young age, women are typically told that men ask them on a date, or for their hand in marriage. Little girls read books about the prince saving the princess, and female characters needing to be rescued by a male figure.”

“As adults in the workplace, this translates into women feeling less confident about asking for what they want. If a promotion becomes available internally, a woman might look at the competencies needed and think ‘I can only do half those things, so I won’t bother applying’, whereas a man might think ‘I can do half those things, so I’m going to go for it’. My advice would be to ask. Ask for what you’re worth and ensure you’re getting a fair deal, a fair chance and a fair opportunity.”

Ask for what you’re worth and ensure you’re getting a fair deal, a fair chance and a fair opportunity.
– Rebecca Lewis, account director at Mutant Communications

Photo / 123RF

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