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.

A few days ago we held a small client event at the Shard, to hear Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of the Sun, talk about Brexit. He offered us a unique perspective on the current situation in Europe, as well as its implications for British politics, having accompanied various ministers and politicians around the UK and the world. He was excellent and we all thoroughly enjoyed the evening. One point he made that really resonated was how general inertia (status quo bias) would lead most people to vote for staying in Europe. In order to get people to vote for any change, you have to make ‘doing nothing’ feel uncertain, unpalatable and unattractive. This was valuable advice for anyone trying to make change.

I have learnt a lot about ‘gender biases‘ from conversations with various women at different levels across our firm. Redington is a diverse place to work. We can do better though. The challenge for all of us is that gender bias across the city may be perceived by many managers to be no more than commonsense meritocracy, with respect to day-to-day working practices as well as the qualities required for leadership. For example, research suggests – women are less likely to put their hand up or put themselves forward for a project; women are more likely to put their success down to luck rather than skill; women will often understate what they can achieve in the future when compared with men. This week we have taken some immediate steps to raise awareness of these biases across our leadership team and are looking at further steps to manage our biases, support women in our firm and become better long term decision makers in general.

We are in the middle of year end appraisals. Performance measurement processes are hated by most people in most firms, often including HR. It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds but the reality is that most of the details don’t matter. Performance measurement is ultimately a process about allocating limited resources in the fairest way. My reflection this week is the need to have a fair calibration process where all managers sit together and review people as a group. Our employees’ faith in performance measurement relies on good calibration: without which it would be less fair, less trusted and less effective. Calibration can also help reduce individual manager biases. As a side effect, it is not a bad use of time for our senior people to sit together, talk about their people and reaffirm what we value.

This time I’ve had the privilege of seeing the objectives of my peers/colleagues (now my direct reports) as part of the end of year appraisals process. By stepping back and observing, I realised that we have a lot of good managers that really care about their people, they set a clear strategy for the team, they communicate well, they coach and empower (rather than micromanage) and have the technical skills to support people with their work. Furthermore, I was surprised by just how much stuff each of each of my colleagues is working on, what they have achieved and how much they have grown over the past 12 months. Most of us just see our colleagues through a narrow lens, through a handful of specific interactions. We don’t get to see them fully, as people with broader ambitions, passions, strengths and areas for development. I felt a renewed sense of respect, empathy and deeper understanding of my senior team. The experience has left thinking, what if we made everyone’s objectives visible to everyone else.

Graduates at Redington run a fortnightly breakfast club that I was invited to speak at last week. I challenged them to contribute to our business strategy, to share their frustrations and ideas. They offered candid comments on where we could focus our efforts, what needed attention and what we should prioritise. Following that many of our graduates have taken the opportunity to share their thoughts with line managers and the wider leadership team over the past few days. I gained such a valuable insight from seeing the firm through their eyes, all leaders would benefit from doing this periodically. I would love to channel their energy through a regular spring cleaning initiative of “bureaucracy busting” – empowering our youngest employees to identify their biggest frustrations and help to fix it themselves. What if we could facilitate mass empowerment in our firms, whilst providing an outlet for the brightest, most restless and most conscientious employees?

Working with people is difficult, it’s easy to get stuck. So often people can end up in a win-lose situation without realising. A working environment that has ambitious and driven people, chasing limited resources or opportunities can risk moving from collaboration to competition. This can be completely unintended but value destructive none-the-less. Vulnerability is invaluable for high performing individuals to be able to share, work together and collaborate. I wasn’t looking out for this and was caught a bit out of the blue with it. We have to go out of our way to put in the emotional labour, to encourage each other to play a longer term game, to support, invest in and collaborate with each other, in a way that offers a win-win for all parties. At same time we need to make it crystal clear what behaviours are unacceptable; what is non-negotiable. You can’t just say this once or twice, you build a great culture through lots of small interventions, constant learning and repetition.

I’m still making lots of mistakes and there are many challenges ahead, but I am enjoying it and I have lots to learn.

One thought on “We have 2 ears and 1 mouth (Day 15 as CEO)”

  1. Totally agree the ‘inaction is not an option’ approach to change. Also love the importance of wanting to learn – big challenge which I found in the past was that sometimes the fear of failure was greater than the desire to succeed……needs leaders who can instil this culture. Thanks for sharing Mitesh.

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