At a recent conference, I found myself sitting next to the founder of a rapidly growing media company. She was talking to me about the challenges of hiring and retaining graduates. “What is it with millennials?” She said. “They are so impatient, some haven’t even been working for a year and they want to be promoted. In my day, you just put your head down and did your time.”
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.
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.
It has been an incredible first week in the role. Week one has culminated tonight in sharing initial thoughts and plans with the whole firm in our Town Hall meeting.
There were 10 things I have been reflecting on from my first week in the role:
Over the past couple of days we have been locked away in a workshop with Mike Harris. [For those that don’t know of him, Mike was the founder / CEO / Chairman of Mercury Telecommunications, First Direct (the first telephone bank) and Egg (the first internet bank); he has been coach and adviser to various telecom and technology giants and startups; and a lecturer on “disruptive innovation” at MIT. Though he has now retired, he’s been persuaded to continue coaching 3 firms, one of which is Redington.]
Here are the 10 best ideas I took away from Mike over the past couple of days (interspersed with my own reflections and lessons):
Yesterday was my first day as CEO of Redington.
Redington is not a conventional company. We care deeply about improving the lives of those around us, especially our future generations.
I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the confidence and trust placed in me by Redington’s co-founders Robert Gardner and Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, as well as our colleagues and clients.
Wikipedia says: ‘The term “unconference” has been applied to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference…’.
Our goal with the Unconference was to create an event that could showcase the breadth and depth of Redington’s ideas, research and talent. This is our biggest event of the year.
We wanted to design it with a blank sheet of paper that really put our clients at the center. We designed every aspect of it with our clients in mind from the invitations, to the registration, to the format, networking, food & wine, etc.
Rather than stick to the safe, easy and traditional, we wanted to try new things, take risks, make mistakes, learn and iterate. This drive to make things better is one of the most unique things about Redington.
Here’s a review of some of the deliberate risks we took with the Unconference (and how they played out):
1. Calling it an “un-conference” (Redington client conference would have been safer). More than half the people signed up just based on the name/concept before we had communicated speakers and topics.
2. Limiting speeches to 5 minutes (15 minutes or more would have been safer to get into more depth and cover more detail). Most people really liked the short, sharp and punchy style of the Unconference.
3. Inviting two of our clients to present (its far safer and easier to just have internal speakers). These were the most popular speeches and most useful for the audience.
4. Using Prezi which caused stress for speakers, content team, design, AV and tech team (PowerPoint is much safer, stable and easy to use). This continues to be the most engaging visual backdrop for telling stories on stage.
5. Introducing an interactive whiteboard on stage (it would have been far easier not to). It gave context to the talks and demonstrated our consulting style.
6. Creating a promotional video to play at the beginning (it would have been far safer not to have it). Apart from a few people that thought it was unnecessary, the vast majority loved it. Even the clients who took part in it, really liked how it turned out.
7. Appointing “walkers” to greet clients at the door and escort them upstairs (it would have been easier to greet & just direct them). This seemed to be received well and gave our graduates a chance to introduce themselves to our clients.
8. Stopping midway for some gospel-style singing. (This was risky, it is not expected at a conference). It really energized the room. So much so, that maybe we begin the conference with something like this in the future.
9. Q&A: We tried something different, asking pre-submitted questions to a panel instead of traditional Q&A – it didn’t really work any better than a regular Q&A. We might scrap Q&A altogether next time.
10. Overall our digital marketing goal was to try and get the event oversubscribed. We didn’t quite achieve that (and there were a few drops on the day, which is normal). We intend to explore this again properly.
11. We tried a shorter feedback form with just one question (it’s natural to want to ask more questions but we tried to make it easier). Around half the attendees filled it out. Most rated the unconference an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10 – which is awesome! (with one 6 and a couple of 7s).
12. It will take a couple of weeks to know how the new “So what now?” video series is received, as well as the new Redington Ampersand Institute branding and research promise. Feel free to check them out…
You have to try things, take risks and feel uncomfortable if you’re going to achieve anything memorable, special and useful.
So many people from across Redington came together to make the Unconference 2016 the success it was.
You can see pictures, videos and download the articles here.
A huge thanks to the following awesome people who made it all possible:
– Elena for finding RSA House as well as the overall logistics and delivery.
– Danny and Alice for taking overall responsibility and oversight of the whole event.
– Queency, James and Renata for ably supporting them with the high quality pre and post marketing, the social media campaign as well as managing the overall invitation strategy.
– Gurjit for pulling together all the contributors into the fabulous Asset Class publication, as well as Dan, Pete, David and Rob for review/editorial. You can download it here.
– Natalie for co-ordinating all the content strategy including getting all the speakers to prepare, rehearse and have their Prezi’s ready on time.
– the speakers (Nick, Pete, Honor, Lydia, Dan, Phil, Neha and Mette) who put in a huge amount of preparation and effort to delivering their fabulous 5 minute speeches.
– David, Karen, Robin and Patrick for bravely accepting our Q&A panel challenge.
– our Prezi makers Natalie, Gurj, Honor, Keir, Kristina and Matthew with special thanks to Keillian (who went over and above the call of duty).
– Chris who calmly dealt with all the technical challenges we threw at him, including a near system crash halfway through the conference.
– Sophie and Leanne on the front desk who ran a warm, friendly and efficient operation at reception.
– all those from Consulting, ALM, MRT & Ops who mingled, introduced, networked and chatted to our clients and prospects.
– the many helpers who made guests feel welcome – Chris, Keir, Aaron, Arjun, Tom, Ben, Susie, Matthew.
… and so many more who went out of their way to make the Unconference unlike any other conference.
“If you want to go fast, go alone,
if you want to go far, go together.”
– African proverb
As 2015 ends and a new year begins, I wanted to reflect on the past few years and plan for the coming year. I was helped by the fact that I had written a New Year’s blog at the start of each year:
- 2013 was a year of ‘discovery’ – starting a new chapter in my career, developing new skills, facing fears and being bold (Become the hero of your own story!). My big lesson was focus.
- 2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ (What will you devote yourself to this year?) – My focus was on figuring out what I was going to devote my time, enthusiasm and energy to? I learnt lots of lessons and I found my tribe at Redington.
- 2015 started as a year of ‘sacrifice’, surrender and pilgrimage for my wife and I. Over the year it developed in directions that I could not have even imagined. I learnt more, wrote more and delivered more than I ever thought possible (15 top tips for a successful 2015).
In 2015, I handed on my youth development responsibilities to a new generation of leaders (after nearly a decade), completed the AltMBA, met the Dalai Lama and Seth Godin, launched Hindu Heroes with my children & friends and contributed to some really cool projects at work…(it’s funny how we never remember our failures and mistakes when we look back – more on that later…).
So what’s my resolution for 2016?
It’s not business, it’s personal…
In 2015, the biggest lesson I learnt is that business is about people (sounds obvious but we seem to have lost the ‘personal’ in pursuit of the ‘professional’).
I was reminded that leadership is about people, marketing is about people and in fact everything is about people. Organisations are just communities of people. People with ambitions. People with hangups and insecurities. People with dreams. People with feelings.
Companies don’t have values or ethics, people have values and ethics. As Seth Godin points out “Corporations are collections of people. Business is too powerful for us to leave our humanity at the door of the office. It’s not business, it’s personal.”
Innovation from the heart
Our corporate jargon like strategy, vision and innovation also miss the mark when they omit the critical human element. There’s nothing wrong with these words, but they’re not the ones that inspire human hearts.
In the words of Gary Hamel “Innovation starts with the heart—with a passion for improving the lives of those around you.” Without tapping into individual passions you just have an ideas box. Empathy is the engine of innovation.
That’s why we should worry about just how de-humanized our organisations have become. If you want to innovate, you need to be inspired, your colleagues need to be inspired, and ultimately, your customers need to be inspired.
“The best innovations—both socially and economically—come from the pursuit of ideals that are noble and timeless: joy, wisdom, beauty, truth, equality, community, sustainability and love. These are the things we live for, and the innovations that really make a difference are the ones that are life-enhancing. And that’s why the heart of innovation is a desire to re-enchant the world.” – Gary Hamel
The more we understand people the more likely it is that we will do great work: from the people we are managing, to the people we are serving; from the people who supply us, to the people who we are persuading.
People are not always rational, people are not one-dimensional, people are not just a number and people are certainly not all the same. We need to understand each person, each tribe and each group, in order to engage, influence, change, manage or inspire.
We need to seek to understand peoples’ dreams and goals, their worldviews, their boundaries and constraints, their assets and the voice in their heads. This has to be the starting point if we want to tell stories that will grab attention, resonate and mobilise.
Last year, more than ever before, I learnt how valuable it was to spend time understanding and aligning people’s personal ambitions, needs and agendas.
I learnt that success is not from persuading everyone around the table about your point of view but inviting each person to shape, mould and contribute. After all, regardless of how good your idea is, its only worth anything if implemented or executed. It will only be adopted, if people have had a chance to contribute or if helps them achieve their personal ambitions.
The long and short of it is – the more we are willing to change ourselves, the more we are willing to listen and understand … the more we can build and work in highly effective teams.
Business is personal. Leadership is personal.
“I think that leadership is in deep, serious, and historic trouble today. I think that leadership needs radical reinvention — and further, that reimagining it is going to require coming squarely to terms with its failures and shortcomings.” – Umair Haq
At Sandhurst Military college they teach all the officers that – “We serve to lead.”. Personally, I think we lead to serve… the words of Clay Christensen really resonate with me “management is one of the most noble professions, if it is practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow…”.
I’ve learnt more about ‘selfless service’ from my wife than anyone else. To really lead others we have to start by leading ourselves. We need to cultivate our inner qualities of empathy, forgiveness, compassion, rebellion, perseverance, purpose, imagination and passion .
It seems that the more human we are, the more fallible we are, the more vulnerable we are … the more people can relate to us … the more we can understand and engage the humanity in others.
At the start of 2015 I shared 15 lessons/tips for the year. As I start 2016 I just have one…
In 2016 I want to lead, to serve and, above all, to make it personal.
In order to do that properly, I need to be more vulnerable. I need to share my thinking, my processes and, most importantly, my mistakes.
Our mistakes are far more valuable for helping those around us feel secure, take risks, deal with failure, learn, grow and be inspired.
Vulnerability is a leader’s greatest asset.
Happy New Year everyone!
Please share your lessons and resolutions too…
The anxious feeling of ‘not knowing what to expect’ sets in when you approach a golf course that you have never played before. You find yourself in an unfamiliar environment and do not know what the course holds in store for you.
During the first two weeks of December, I had the opportunity to job shadow my cousin, Mitesh Sheth, at Redington Ltd. The morning I started, I had the same anxious feeling as previously described, with that comparison in mind, I find it best to relate my two week experience at Redington – to the game of golf, something I am passionate about.
The most important golfing tip I have been told to remember is to always judge the distance you want the ball to travel; then you can correctly pick the required club. The people at Redington work together like all the clubs in a golf bag – each individual tasked with a different purpose to reach the same goal. Redington has a working culture that promotes creative and effective thinking – especially when there are chocolates on the kitchen table to keep the drive going.
My work experience at Redington has taught me four main lessons that will help me in my future endeavors; each one relating to a specific golf swing.
The first and most important is the drive shot, it propels the ball to gain as much distance as possible. It is the first step towards achieving your goal and requires a certain amount of courage and risk taking. I could see this within the Redington environment as everyone is prepared to go beyond what is expected of them in order to maintain proficiency.
The next, is the fairway shot. Even when the going is good, you need to push yourself one step further with every opportunity you are given. Redington has shown me that networking is incredibly important and you should use it to your advantage. One of the main aspects I learned was that creativity is the key to making you unique and gives you the competitive edge needed in the corporate environment.
The chip shot is the second last step to reaching the hole; it’s a small but effective stroke action that leaves a lasting impression. This shot is one of the hardest shots to perfect; even a professional is always looking to improve their technique. Redington showed me that no matter how much you know about one topic, there is so much more out there that you need to expose yourself to.
Last but not least, is the putt. One of the important but most meticulous stroke of them all. The putt is often hard to master when you attempt to find a balance between the pace, angle and technique. This reminds me of the importance in maintaining a balance, between work, social time and time for yourself. It is imperative to enjoy what you do, which incorporates purpose, autonomy and mastery of your skills.
I am looking forward to starting the next stage of my life. My time at Redington has supported my decision to study Actuarial Science next year. I can’t wait to step onto the golf course of life and drive the ball further than before.
This is a video recording of my presentation to 150 fund managers at the RSA on 20th November 2015, at Redington’s Annual Manager Forum.
I talked about how we see our relationship with fund managers, our promise to be open/clear and what we expect in return.
In particular, I invited the fund management community into a strategic relationship with Redington, as we help our clients get smarter, make better decisions, save time and have greater confidence in achieving their long term goals.