Category Archives: Uncategorized

How to stop your CEO (or boss) from screwing up!

More than a year ago, April 2016, I set out to study leadership, by experimenting, journaling and reflecting on my own journey as the new CEO for Redington.

124H

I’ve tried to look back on the past year dispassionately to learn clear lessons that can frame the next year. I have tried to think about what has mattered the most, what to maintain, what to let go of and what changes to make. This has actually been really hard to do objectively, given how self-preserving our memories can be, forgetting mistakes, making us blind to so much and especially the many people who play a huge part, the conditions and even luck.

I found it really helpful to look back at my journal and blogs throughout the year:

Reflections on Leadership 1 year in

Management, as we know it, was invented 100 years ago to get people to show up to work, to do the same thing efficiently, every day and in the same way. It was not designed to engage, adapt and innovate. Yet the world, our work and industries have changed beyond recognition.  We need an overhaul of our management systems, tools and thinking to ensure they are fit for purpose.  I believe we need to reinvent leadership.

Patrick Lencioni wrote about the 5 Temptations of a CEO. Here are some related reflections on my first year in the role:

1. When you’re a new leader (frankly new in any role) there is a natural desire to prove yourself, to show that your recruiters/backers made a good decision. As a leader stepping into this role, I knew and trusted my own abilities. It was natural to make plans based on what I knew I could do, without a deep understanding of other people’s skills, ambitions and capacity. I did not ask for help enough and didn’t seek advice often enough. I tried to do too many things myself. This can only ever succeed in the short term. If you’re not careful this can lead to bottlenecks, resentment, over-dependence and abdication of responsibility from those around you. I’ve had to reframe and hack my own tendency to ensure I ask for help from my team, from the wider employees, from the Board of Directors and other CEOs.

2. Everyone looks to their leaders for certainty. Everyone tells you to project confidence in front of your staff. I think this is dangerous. My goal is to develop a firm of leaders at Redington. As a result I have tried to experiment with being vulnerable, acknowledging my mistakes, as well as inviting critical thinking and challenge. It’s been difficult (it’s not at all natural for me) but really insightful. I have found that talented people really value openness, transparency and clarity much more than leaders projecting false certainty and offering blind assurances.

3. As a leader you enter a different echo-chamber in which it becomes increasingly difficult to put yourself in the shows of your front line staff or your clients. Dan Pink says there is an inverse correlation between status and empathy. Leaders find it harder to empathise and see things through the eyes of others. I was aware of this coming into the role, so my experiment to counter this has been to regularly schedule honest and open conversations with clients, staff and suppliers to invite their constructive feedback and to see the firm through their eyes. Even if you schedule regular chats, people often struggle to give you the constructive challenge you desperately need. I need to periodically push myself out of the business to spend time in different environments, with different people and experiences.

4. Popularity is very seductive. It’s very tempting to want to be everyone’s friend. So often leaders struggle to have difficult conversations, to hold people accountable and call out the elephants in the room. Too often leaders choose to maintain harmony in the team and avoid confrontation. It’s natural to want everyone to get on, even though you know there is value in debate, challenge and constructive conflict. This has been difficult for me historically. I have deliberately worked on this all year. I have been running training sessions (using the AltMBA learning format) for all my direct reports and other team leaders on “radical candour”. We have been able to create a common language, permission and shared practice. Whilst radical candour is starting to creep into the language of the firm, it will take a lot more practice and trust for people to apply effectively across the firm (without abusing it).

5. Success is dangerous. It leads to complacency. The more that things go well, the more you start to believe your own hype. Even if you start off with a risk taking, failure embracing, growth mindset, success has the power to shift you to being fixed and risk averse, without even realising it. Every win, every successful project, every initiative landed sows the seeds of complacency, gradually eroding your growth mindset. In addition, what took me a bit by surprise is that people assume you know what your are doing because you’re CEO; success just reinforces that. The dopamine hit means you do more things that give you more status (without even realising), rather than focusing on the choices that will deliver the best results. I have to keep catching myself, asking my team and the wider firm to challenge me, to point out “what I am missing” or “what should I think about differently”. I’ve found this particularly hard, but it is the key to consistently delivering results.

I have shared these and many more reflections with my team and the firm over the past few months. On my one year anniversary I invited blisteringly honest feedback from across the firm and in response to it have tried to set up our governance, communication and decision-making differently for this next year, to learn from those lessons, setting up new experiments to deliver different outcomes.

Leadership 2.0

Having started my second year in the role, I’ve been thinking about setting out some red flags and warning signs to the whole firm, so they can keep me (as well as the other leaders in the firm) accountable. This was inspired by fund manager research process where we identify what could go wrong with a fund manager in advance using “RedRadar”. We share this with clients that are investing in any fund from the outset, so they can anticipate, be alert and prepared if something starts to go wrong.

Much like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), these are 7 Key Risk Indicators (KRIs) for me and frankly any CEO or leader:

  1. Infallible: if your CEO or manager is not making any mistakes, they are not taking enough risk, maybe previous successes have created complacency.
  2. Unchallenged: If people stop asking the CEO/leaders questions, stop challenging them, start accepting whatever them say, this is a red flag.
  3. Frantic: If they are always running around, from meeting to meeting, neglecting rest, learning and reflection, complaining about not enough time to do the important things.
  4. Defensive: If they are defensive when you challenge or criticise their decisions, this is a worrying.
  5. Agreeable: If they start to avoid people, do not facilitate conflict, do not offer radical candour this is a concern.
  6. Indecisive: If you are always waiting on them to make decisions, so that you can move forward. If every decision goes through them, this is a warning sign.
  7. Controlling: If your CEO/leader does not invest in others, does not develop leaders around them, this is a problem. I think a good leader is always looking to make themselves redundant.

I find these are really helpful checks and balances for myself.

I know for example, I am struggling with feeling a bit frantic (#3) at the moment and am doing something about it. This was my overarching focus (new year’s resolution) for 2017, to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides to give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term. It has been a daily battle, a weekly struggle and an ongoing war against my own mind, against the urgent, the loud and the easy. I am still trying to make deliberate choices, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions and creating a support network. Some days I win and some I lose, but its a daily battle worth fighting.

An invitation to challenge authority

Back to the overarching theme of this blog, I believe that everyone has a responsibility to hold their leaders accountable, to challenge them, to call them out if they show one of these warning signs and to help them succeed by not screwing up.

Of the various factors that have been tested by psychologists for what makes great teams, the one that stands out above all is ‘psychological safety’ – a shared belief held by the members of a team, that the group is a safe place to take risks and challenge authority.

Amy Edmondson wrote in 1996 in The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, that “the best team leaders encourage people to speak up; teammates felt like they can expose their vulnerabilities to each other; people could suggest ideas without fear of retribution; the culture discourages people from making harsh judgements.” My ongoing fundamental cultural challenge remains – How do we help people to feel safe, whilst encouraging them to disagree? – I’m sure this is true for most other leaders too.

It has been an incredible year of experimentation, achievement and learning. It’s been a great start to the second year. I feel privileged to serve the people in the firm, to be part of this tribe and to have shareholders who want to make 100m people financially secure.

“We don’t hire smart people so we can tell them what to do, we expect them to tell us what to do.”

References:

We have 2 ears and 1 mouth (Day 15 as CEO)

It’s been a busy second week in the role. I have learnt so much this week just by listening to (and talking to) a cross section of people across Redington and our client base.

2 ears 1 mouth

My main reflections and lessons are as follows:

Last week, I gave my first all-staff presentation in this new role. I decided to try something different in terms of format (breaking from convention): 45 minutes instead of 90 minutes; stand-up instead of sit-down; landscape instead of portrait; in the kitchen instead of a meeting room. It didn’t work – the room got too hot, legs got tired and people at the back couldn’t see the screen (fortunately people liked the content). I was a bit gutted, but on reflection was still pleased I had tried it. I think you have to try things, you have to take risks and it’s ok to get it wrong sometimes. In fact as a leader, I think you have to publicly take risks and get things wrong to foster an entrepreneurial culture where it’s ok to try and test and fail.

Continue reading We have 2 ears and 1 mouth (Day 15 as CEO)

Our journey of self discovery

IMG_4538

Last week my wife and I left our children with their grandparents and travelled to Rajasthan, India, with a group of 86 Brits, 600 Americans and a handful from the rest of the world, to join more than 45,000 Indians in a very unique project.

We had gone to participate in a 7 day pilgrimage; a journey of self-discovery. We had all volunteered our time to a grassroots initiative in human and social development called ‘Swadhyay’, which literally means the study, knowledge and discovery of the self in Sanskrit.

We were tasked with going from person to person, from house to house, to meet, build bonds and establish a sense of common humanity with the people of Udaipur (the 5th largest city in Rajasthan). Udaipur is a very cultured, historical and proud place. The warmth, love, curiosity, respect and blessings we received from the people of Udaipur was incredible and beyond belief.

Every family we met had preserved many of its old customs and traditions, but are worried about the influence of globalization, materialism, self-centeredness and pop culture on their children and whether their centuries old unique culture will disappear within a generation. As we spoke and opened our hearts to each other we went from being complete strangers to extended family members within a week.

Thousands of volunteers from diverse walks of life had come together to meet people, young and old, of all races, castes and religions across all of Rajasthan. It is India’s largest state by area. It used to be home to the Indus Valley Civilization one of the world’s oldest, developed and most wide spread. Rajasthan’s economy is primarily agricultural; with a heavy exposure to metals & mining. The problem of famine and drought is deeply related with the economy of Rajasthan.

Between Jan 3rd and 9th, 48,000 Swadhyay volunteers visited 7,677 villages, towns and cities across the whole of Rajasthan. Collectively, we met with more than 400,000 families all over the state. We met everyone from the King and his ministers, to the people sweeping the streets; we went to schools, universities, businesses and homes; we met leaders, professors, teachers, students, children, cleaners, drivers, wrestlers, business owners, rich and poor, young and old.

Our purpose was not to pity the needy or to give them money, charity or other things but instead we wanted to inspire with love and ideas. We wanted to awaken their own self-respect, self-reliance and a sense of social responsibility. We had gone as much to open our own eyes and our hearts, to remove our prejudices and judgements, to bond and connect with people of all backgrounds, races, classes and beliefs. They were inspired in turn to offer their time, effort and skills in creative and collaborative projects that benefit their communities and contribute to their own self-improvement.

This ‘pay-it-forward’ approach was inspired by the teachings of Pandurang Shastri Athavale. More than 60 years ago Athavale put Human Dignity at the centre of his mission and devoted his life to inspiring one person at a time, to commit to changing themselves as the first step to changing the world. Peace, equality and unity are rooted within our own minds. During his lifetime he travelled from house to house, town to town, country to country with his message of common humanity, shared responsibility & collection action. He said “Politics, religion and economics alone cannot resolve the human predicament, because man needs to be transformed and this has to begin with the individual’s outlook towards himself and others”.

We did not go to preach or teach, to pity or rescue, we went to change our own outlook and over these 7 days our hearts melted, our barriers crumbled, our eyes opened and our minds were set free. We feel connected to the rest of humanity in a way we could never have imagined before. We have been transformed from the inside-out. We will never be the same again.

15 top tips for a successful 2015

IMG_0899

I have jotted down my top tips for 2015 to help me remember the most important lessons from last year. If you are running a project, managing a team, leading a business unit, company or charity you might also find some of these tips useful.

1. Focus
2. Address conflicts
3. Consult widely
4. Be decisive
5. Don’t wait for perfect
6. Find brightspots
7. Challenge convention
8. Create new routines
9. Be prepared
10. Don’t underestimate people
11. Live by your strategy
12. Periodically step away
13. Zoom in / zoom out
14. Be flexible
15. Create assets

1. Focus: Don’t diffuse your attention over a dozen things.

As I have grown in age, roles and responsibilities I have had to take on an increasing number of goals, roles and jobs. In 2014, I found the power of focus. I decided not to diffuse my attention over a dozen things but pick one thing at a time to put all my energy into. When you apply all your energy, passion and intellect to solving one problem at a time, to delivering one outcome or achieving one goal, the results are incredible. There’s another benefit too that, with clear focus, others know what you’re working on, they can get involved, support and help you; they can also see when not to distract you; and it’s much easier to say ‘no’.

2. Address conflicts: to avoid confusion, loss of credibility and wider organisational disfunction.

Too often we are left to resolve issues that really should have been addressed at the top. So many things are left unsaid, unresolved and unaddressed despite people spending more and more time in internal meetings. Most of us would rather have polite meetings than have to face the discomfort of conflict. It feels difficult, destructive and disruptive to address the elephant in the room, even when everyone is aware of it. As Patrick Lencioni explains in The Advantage – What we often don’t realise though is that when leaders avoid conflict amongst themselves, they transfer it in far greater quantities onto the people they are supposed to be serving. We need to get better at addressing difficult issues, having difficult conversations and addressing conflicts to create momentum, clarity and loyalty.

3. Consult widely: but don’t wait for consensus.

It’s quite natural to wait for consensus before taking any action, in order to get proper support and buy-in. All too often though we end up with decisions that are too late and too mediocre. I have found that waiting for confirmation that a decision is right before making it is a recipe for disaster.
In 2014 I learnt that consulting widely and socializing an idea broadly is even more impactful than trying to get consensus. Most people will not actively commit to a decision that they haven’t had the chance to provide input to. However, they can rally around an idea that wasn’t their own as long as they’ve had a chance to debate and understand it.

4. Be decisive: overcome inertia and boldly deal with the consequences.

In the absence of clear decision making; confusion reigns, credibility is lost and the organisation suffers. It’s so easy to wait for others to make decisions or to avoid difficult decisions. We all hear people complaining about a lack of clear decision making. What I find incredible is how long people will continue to work in the absence of any clear guidance or direction, with little faith that the important decisions will ever be made. Often in these situations more than getting the right answer, it’s important to simply have an answer – one that is broadly correct and around which everyone can commit. In 2014 I learnt the value of being decisive – I still consult, test and socialise my thoughts – but I’m not afraid of making decisions and am happy to deal with the consequences.

5. Don’t wait for perfect: The pursuit of perfection is the real enemy of progress.

Whenever we are designing, writing, developing or changing something it is natural to seek perfection. We want to do the best. We want to hold on sending the document till it is perfect; we review and re-review our presentation and publications; we don’t communicate the strategy because it still has holes in it; we don’t share our values because it is always work-in-progress. I have found that striving for perfection causes huge inertia and ultimately frustrates everybody. We all know that we learn by making mistakes, even bad ones. By making decisions we allow ourselves to get clear, immediate and frequent data from our actions. We need to lead by example and foster a culture that encourages this.

6. Find brightspots: don’t just look at what’s going wrong.

In our day to day business of finding incremental improvements it is really easy to only look at problems, or what is wrong. Good teams try to analyse their mistakes so that they can learn from them. This is true and important. In 2014 I learnt that it just as important, if not more important, to also look for brightspots, to identify what going well, really well, and study the secret of those successes, in order to share them and replicate those successes again and again.

7. Challenge convention: just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we always should.

A culture is a way of working together that has been followed so frequently that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. There is real power, speed and scale in having tried and tested habits. A culture is set through hundreds of everyday interactions. Once it is set it’s almost impossible to change. That’s no surprise given we all like the comfort of what we know and what we have always done. It only really becomes a problem when these old habits become outdated. We need a mechanism for periodically asking ourselves and each other whether our culture is fit-for-purpose, facilitating natural opportunities for challenge and creating mechanisms for change. Great teams and companies often disrupt themselves before others can come along and disrupt them.

8. Create new routines: it’s the most direct route to changing a culture.

In my experience if you have identified a problem, consulted widely, provided an opportunity to debate and found brightspots, then all that is left is to create new routines or rituals. These new routines, however small, can appear insignificant but can play a huge role in facilitating broader changes. There is no getting round the fact that change is hard and to succeed you have to persist. Our daily decisions about where we invest our time and how we respond to issues will reinforce this. Small and well thought out changes in routine are the first steps to facilitating bigger shifts.

9. Be prepared: failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.

We all know that with pitches and presentations just taking the time to prepare, to script, to rehearse and seek feedback can lead to a tremendous improvement in success rates. Great speakers and presenters don’t just ‘wing it’, they prepare till its spot on. This year I have learnt to take the importance of preparation in all aspects of my professional, charitable and personal life. My boss (Robert Gardner) comes prepared to every meeting; he has a mind map ahead of every conversation we have. Working with him has taught me to prepare for every meeting I have with him. It’s not long before you see the benefit of thinking ahead and I have started to apply it to every meeting and every conversation I have.

10. Don’t underestimate people: take time to understand them and to develop them.

The ‘right stuff’ that most companies look for is not a superior set of skills that someone is born with but skills people have honed through life’s experiences. Companies focus too much on the grades, trophies and accolades someone has. Over the years I have found that lots of people that have become ineffective or perform poorly are in the wrong role, are not understood, or not well managed. I truly believe that everyone needs to be given a chance to shine in their area of mastery, skill or expertise. In recent years I have learnt not to accept other people’s perceptions and judgements; but to understand people better myself, to look carefully for whether a person has wrestled with the problems you need them to tackle and to create these learning opportunities. As Clayton Christensen says “management is amongst the most noble professions as it offers more ways to help others learn and grow”.

11. Live by your strategy: Carefully choose how you will spend your valuable time, effort and money.

A strategy is not just a one-off, high level plan, created in board rooms and then forgotten till the next year. A good strategy is created through dozens of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money (how you allocate your limited resources). With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us. We need to avoid giving our limited resources to whoever shouts the loudest for our attention or wherever the need is most urgent. If your team are important to you then invest in their development; if learning is important then make time to learn; If your family are important to you, ask yourself how often family comes out top in all the choices you have made in the past week. As Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

12. Periodically step away: don’t overestimate your impact, allow others lead the way.

Over the past 12 months I have tried to be home for most of the school holidays. Initially I worried that this would make it hard to manage my workload, team, clients and deliverables. It’s actually turned out to be a blessing. Having to be away for a longer period of time forces you to train and coach others. It also gives others the space to fill your shoes and to step-up. I have found that getting some space, stepping away periodically critical to developing a team of leaders.

13. Zoom in & zoom out: we need to check we’re going in the right direction

Our first accomplishments as professionals are usually rooted in our skill in getting things done. We’re fast, we’re efficient, and we do high-quality work. However, to lead effectively often we need to do less. We need to go from being firefighters to being fire marshals, taking a more strategic approach to the business, and solving problems before they become crises. Whilst we all need to be able to get our head down to make sure we get stuff done, we equally need to periodically lift our head up to keep checking were going in the right direction. We need to learn how to both zoom in and zoom out regularly.

14. Be flexible: Work does not need to happen between 9-5pm at the desk.

There are times you need to be in the office from 7am – 9pm and there are times you are better off at home. In the concept/strategic phases of any project I find it’s better to not be in the office. In the socialization/implementation you absolutely have to be in the office. In the insights/feedback phase you need to get out of the office and speak to clients/stakeholders. I think the idea of working 9-5pm in the office everyday is out-of-date. We need to have shared goals and work towards them sincerely and above all flexibly to get things done best in the most sustainable way.

15. Create assets: Don’t just do a job, build process and turn them into assets.

Our teams need our time and attention but above all they need processes. All businesses and teams need ‘processes’, habits and routines to convert scarce resources into something useful. They need to learn routines for how to solve problems themselves, how to deal with mistakes, how to build client relationships, etc. They also need values and ‘priorities’. This defines how they will make decisions, what they will invest their time and resources in and what not. The best way of developing processes and priorities is by helping them solve hard problems for themselves. When we do this systematically we create assets, that are not dependent on us, that make the company or team more productive and more valuable.

2013 was a year of ‘discovery’ for me – listening to my calling, having faith, being bold. 2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ – I made a conscious choice about where, when and how I was going to devote myself, my time and my energy.

As I look forward to 2015 I don’t yet know what it holds for me. It has started as a year of sacrifice and giving. I feel excited by the possibilities as I am a whole year older and wiser. The best part of starting a New Year is that it is still unwritten and it is full of potential waiting to be released. I wish you all the best in maintaining focus to stick to your goals and resolutions, in learning from previous mistakes, in building upon previous successes, to create new routines, build new processes and to make 2015 a fantastic year.

Best wishes for the New Year.

P.S.

Now that the year is over I wanted to look back, review and reflect on my top 15 from 2015:

1. Focus — We all know that if you spread yourself too thinly you don’t progress anything properly. This year I learnt that though you may focus on one major thing at work (you can juggle various smaller things too). Also you still have capacity to focus on one major thing at home, one in your leisure time, etc.

2. Address conflicts head on — I tend to deal with the most difficult problem first and this year was no exception. What I learnt this year though was that most of our brains’ natural tendency is to put off or avoid difficult situations. Acknowledging this is a powerful first step.

3. Consult widely — I knew people want to have an input, contribute and be consulted, even if you don’t end up taking their suggestions on board. What I’ve realised this year is that actually many brains are better than one, and people will highlight things you would never have considered.

4. Be decisive — It’s so easy to procrastinate over a difficult decision. I’ve really learnt the value this year of “shipping”.

5. Don’t wait for perfect — I am not a perfectionist, but I definitely spend too long thinking about and working on presentations and reports. I’ve learnt it’s better to just get out a version 1, so you can get feedback and iterate on versions 2, 3, 4…

6. Find brightspots — I still need to work on this. I find it much easier to identify problems, point out shortcomings and criticise. I need to make it a habit to praise and acknowledge successes and brightspots daily.

7. Challenge convention — there’s a balance to challenging the norm. At one extreme you become a troublemaker, at the other end you’re too compliant. Like everything I’ve realised this is a matter of picking your battles.

8. Create new routines — I’ve struggled. I’ve allowed old routines that I really value to fall away. I haven’t been able to make new routines stick. This will need overhauling in the New Year.

9. Be prepared — I have been preparing a lot more for presentations, meetings and even conversations rather than just ‘winging it’ this year. It’s a really valuable habit.

10. Don’t underestimate people — the most unlikely people have surprised me when given the opportunity. What I’ve realised though is that they may need some support and coaching to really succeed.

11. Live by your word — it’s no good saying something is important to you if your actions don’t demonstrate it. I’m very conscious of this.

12. Periodically step away — the value of this has been really clear this year. Every time I stepped away, or went on holiday, my team really stepped up and shone. We need to do this systematically. It’s is the key to delegation.

13. Zoom in / zoom out — when faced with a problem it’s easy to dive further into the details but it’s a combination of stepping back to get perspective, alongside diving in that creates new solutions.

14. Create Assets — I have caught myself every time I get too consumed in delivery. I have consciously stepped back and tried to create processes, routines and assets for my team. We could all be even better at this, even at home with our children.

15. Work flexibly — I’ve been awful at this in the past 6 months working every hour I can. I want to plan my time better and work more flexibly next year. Moreover, I want to leave at 5pm at least 3 times a week so I can have dinner and do bedtime with my family.

I look forward to starting fresh in the New Year, with new lessons learnt, with new resolutions and new habits to create. Change is the only constant.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

When to fire your fund manager

I spoke about “Knowing when to fire (& when to retain) your fund manager” at Fund Manager Selection 2014 this week.

Here’s a link to the Prezi.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

What are the most important red flags for you? Are there other early warning signals you look for?

Is it possible to identify good fund managers?

IMG_0767

I’ve been involved in identifying, assessing, hiring, developing and managing talented investment managers for most of my career. In 2004, I worked on an initiative, at my then employer, with some organisational psychologists to uncover ‘What are the common traits of the best fund managers?’. A decade later, my current project and the article in this week’s FTfm have brought the question of ‘what makes a really good fund manager’ and ‘is it really possible to identify them through manager research’ back to the surface of my attention. More broadly, I am fascinated by talent, excellence and what conditions help foster a high performance team.  I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and observations on this subject.

Are manager recommendations from investment consultants really worthless?

I realised early on in my career that the traditional manager research process, as it is most commonly executed, was flawed. So, I have some sympathy with Steve Johnson who writes in this week’s FTfm that “The funds recommended by consultants do no better than any other, and by some measures they underperform the wider market significantly”. He is referring to recent research, conducted on US equity funds, published by Oxford university’s Said Business School. I think he takes it too far in labelling all manager research, done by all consultants, across all asset classes as “worthless”. I don’t agree. I have worked with (and been interrogated by) some great manager researchers, as well as some awful ones, and there are asset classes, strategies and market environments in which good research is invaluable.

It is true that many manager researchers go through the same tick-box exercise of screening out poor past performance, small assets-under-management, new teams, high turnover, etc. It’s easy to ignore funds that don’t neatly fit into a box, in favour of factors that are more easily observed such as business profitability, coherent philosophy, consistent process, risk control, client service and past performance. I can understand why many firms do it this way (it’s easier, more scalable and lower risk), but rigid templates, tick-boxes, rigorous screens and committee decision making kills the best investment ideas for manager researchers (just as it does for fund managers).

Unfortunately, even when consultants conduct face-to-face meetings with fund managers they are not always effective. Fund managers are hugely incentivised to say the right thing and to avoid saying anything that might cause concern. The rewards for getting it right are massive and the cost of getting it wrong is bigger. Fund managers get coached, briefed and trained ahead of due diligence research visits. Only the best communicators are usually presented to researchers. This understanding is so ingrained that roles and promotions often depend critically on communication skills in consultant and client meetings. These many layers of polish take some getting through.

Getting under the bonnet

Over the years my colleagues and I have experimented with a variety of methods to get beneath the surface of managers in face-to-face meetings/interviews:

·  recognising that our main advantage was the power of comparison, we would compare stories for accuracy across different individuals in a team or have face-to-face meetings with all the managers of a particular strategy/sector in a short period of time;
·  leveraging the privilege of being able to interview people at all levels of a company from CEO’s, to fund managers and analysts, to risk managers, operations and support;
·  monitoring what was said in meetings with subsequent on-the-desk research of portfolio positions, key risks, changes to decisions over time and in different market conditions;
·  retaining an element of surprise, visiting managers at short notice (like the Ofsted inspectors that turn up to schools unannounced) and asking to see people who hadn’t been prepared;
·  getting trained in the art of enquiry, asking probing questions around uncomfortable issues, using silences, ensuring that we aren’t just being presented to and focusing the discussion what matters most;
·  forming our own view of third party research, tools and systems, including speaking to the banks/sell-side for their experience of fund managers dealing practices.

One of the most effective techniques I used was to share my research notes with fund managers, appealing to the ‘better angels of their nature’, moving to a much more open and honest basis of engagement.

The common traits of the best fund managers

As I mentioned earlier, I have had the privilege of hiring and managing some amazing investment talent over the years and they tended to have the following traits in common:

·  an ability to make decisions in the absence of complete information (otherwise it can be too late);
·  a natural appetite for taking risk and being at risk (of loss);
·  a clear sense of personal accountability, rather than deferring real decision making to committees;
·  seriously competitive, they compete with some of the smartest people in the world and their performance is visible to all daily;
·  tremendous pride for their craft, they are fascinated by how markets work and evolve;
·  surprisingly imaginative, creative and lateral thinking; they think about “what may happen?”, “what could go wrong?” – which is often the best form of risk management
·  make decisions intuitively, based on years of experience and practice, making it difficult/artificial to articulate how they make decisions, in terms of a clear process. Yet it is a clearly articulated process that so many manager selectors look for.

An aside – The problem with graduate recruitment

Some of the best fund managers I have worked with had not had a conventional financial education. They are not all Maths and Economics graduates. They were not all A-grade/1st class students. They were not all head boys/girls and had not all trained for the Duke of Edinburgh award. In fact for a number of them, their risk taking traits were formed in their early years.

The crazy thing is despite knowing this, most fund management companies only recruit Maths/Economics graduates, who have their sights set on becoming fund managers every year, from the best universities, with the best grades, even though this rarely provides the best material to train a good fund manager.

It’s a real bug-bear of mine as I think investment teams also need to hire fund managers from off-the-beaten-track and seek out those with not only the mental resilience and market savvy but also imagination, risk-taking sensibility and a strong sense of personal responsibility.

Final thoughts

I am a big believer in active management (alongside passive and smart beta management), in particular that some people and teams, in some asset classes and market environments, have the ability to consistently outperform their peers. I have also worked with some great manager researchers and conducted research on asset classes and strategies where good research adds meaningful value for clients. At the end of the day good manager research is not all that different from good fund management.

Going forward, I feel the best consultants will focus their resource and attention on identifying and quickly assessing managers, strategies, or asset classes that have compelling sources of return (to help their clients get in early before the crowd) and even more importantly help their clients get out early enough to not be left with the masses trying to squeeze through a tiny door. Manager research will need to become part and parcel of a good investment process, aligning bottom up with top down, with sole the objective of making money for clients, rather than just picking safe funds and managers.

In my opinion, the best fund managers and manager researchers tend to have one or more of the following sources of competitive advantage:

1.  Information edge – access to better, broader, more reliable or more timely information
2.  Processing edge – ability to sift through data to quickly identify the key issues (qualitatively, quantitative or both)
3.  Decision making edge – ability to make good decisions more often than not (alone or as part of a team) and often in the absence of complete information
4.  Execution edge – ability to access deal flow and the best market pricing, in size and in times of crisis
5.  Resilience / Humility – ability to stick with a good decision in the face of pressure from the business, market or peer group balanced with the humility to know when you’re wrong.

I would love to hear your thoughts (Reply below or to [email protected]sheth.com).

Management needs reinventing

In this excellent video (click here) Gary Hamel, founder of Management Innovation Exchange (MIX) and one of the world’s most influential business thinkers, explains why management is out of date and needs reinventing to make it fit for the future and fit for human beings.

Many of management tools we use today were invented before 1920, as we entered the industrial revolution. The problem that management was invented to solve was – how do you organise human beings into semi-programmable robots that deliver consistently, efficiently and on time? How do we get farm hands to turn up on time, to do the same thing every day, over and over again? Our management structures were built to solve this problem and we were successful, but that is not our challenge today!

We face unprecedented challenges today: exponential change; hyper competition and creative destruction. Knowledge itself is becoming a commodity. Our challenges today are: how to create organisations that can change as fast as change itself; where innovation is the work of everybody, all of the time, everyday; where people are willing to bring to work the gifts of their creativity and passion. We are struggling to create organisations that are adaptable, innovative and engaging.

To deal with this Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies (India) created ‘reverse accountability’ where all his employees rate their boss rather than the other way around. This is a culture where people hold their management accountable. It may not be for everyone but Vineet firmly believes that all value is created in the interface between the employee and the customer and so a manager’s job is to encourage the innovation there.

“My employees are more important than their managers; in fact they are more important than our customers. Unless I take care of my employees they are not going to work hard for my customers” – Vineet Nayar, HCL Technologies

In this video Gary Hamel says promotes aspiration, being a contrarian and learning from the fringe:

  1. Aspiration – Innovation starts with aiming high
  2. Be a Contrarian – Next you have to be willing challenge dogma, confront embedded and unexamined beliefs that limit us and our organisations
  3. Learn from the fringe – innovation happens at the edges.
To make our organisations future-proof we need to instil some of the values that underlie the success of the the Internet which is inherently adaptable, innovative and engaging.
We have an amazing opportunity to create organisations that are fit for human beings, because as humans we are already adaptable, innovative and engaging. We already have many of the qualities our organisations don’t, because they were built to serve another purpose.
I want to be a champion for the future and help build more human organisations that fully utilize and honour the gifts of every single person who comes there every day.
What about you?