Metin Mitchell

Metin Mitchell

Monday, 09 January 2017 15:24

How do leaders ‘make things happen’?

I have spent the last few months interviewing Saudi leaders to gather views on What makes an Outstanding Saudi Chief Executive? (The report is coming out this Monday).

 

There were two things that stood out for me in this report. The over-riding theme was that outstanding CEOs need to be inspirational – in terms of vision and inspiring the workforce – and able to take the tough decisions, especially as Saudi faces changing economic times.

 

But having recruited for the Kingdom over 20 years, I would also put the ability to make things happen as a top skill.

 

How do we recognise people with the ability to do this?

 

JD Meier, the best-selling author of Getting Results the Agile Way, says “Strong leaders are able to translate strategy and ideas into execution. Leaders that make things happen and have a strong ‘ability to execute’ attract and retain raving fans and helpful followers.”

 

He adds: “One category of leadership skills is ‘leading Implementation’, and it includes the following leadership skills: coaching and mentoring, customer focus, delegation, effectiveness, monitoring performance, planning and organizing, and thoroughness.”

 

I think the key in this is how you turn a strategy into action.

 

Richard Coates of strategy consultants, Whitecap Consulting, and author of How to create and deliver an agile strategy, says: “There are two big issues around strategy.  One is that businesses spend days or even months agreeing their strategy and writing up a plan – but it doesn’t get put into action effectively.  The other is the speed of change in business today – long term strategic goals need to be balanced with short term agility of decision making and implementation.”

 

So what are the critical ingredients for making things happen?

1. Get your team on board

Years ago, the CEO of a major bank told me that he had once recruited an FD who was excellent, but he didn’t really warm to him. He didn’t think that mattered. But as he said: “What I hadn’t thought through was, if I didn’t like him, probably others wouldn’t. What happened was people in the business avoided talking to him and, importantly, sharing risks or issues. We had to get rid of him – it is high risk if your teams don’t trust or can’t talk to a senior person.”

 

If you want to make things happen, you need your chief executive to get agreement from their team and agree a clear plan with timescales.

2. Talk action early

A key skill for leaders is to talk ‘action language’. Examples would be to ask action questions such as ‘how will we make this happen?’ and ‘what could get in the way?’. Also to look at areas such as ‘how do we make sure we keep pace on this, after the first month?’.

 

The leader then needs to ensure everyone is absolutely clear as to what they can expect of one another.

3. Get started

It sounds obvious but I am sure we have all come across managers who spend weeks, if not months, stuck in their office planning a new initiative. For some people there is comfort in the talking and planning and a fear of actually putting the plan into action. The question ‘will it work?’ hangs over them and stops them getting going.

 

Great leaders give their teams confidence and help them take the first steps. Often it is good to break this down into small stages so a major initiative feels achievable to everyone.

4. Creating immediacy

Creating a sense of urgency can be challenging within some cultures.

 

To overcome this, leaders can help by asking questions such as ‘what will happen if we don’t do this?’ – and that could be tied to a timescale – or ‘what happens if we don’t do this?’ and paint a picture that affects the individuals personally if the plan is not implemented.

5. Clear communication

The leaders I interviewed stressed the importance of outstanding chief executives being good communicators – and that is a critical element of making things happen. First to ensure the plan is clear, as we cover above, but then to ensure everyone in the organisation understands what they have to do to achieve it.

 

Of course as a recruiter, our skill is in being able to test and interview candidates to check out how good a leader is at making things happen – among all the other outstanding leadership attributes needed.

 

But it would be good to hear what traits you think ensure a leader can make things happen and a strategy is implemented effectively?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016 16:19

Are Saudi leaders born or made?

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I have had the privilege of interviewing a number of Saudi chief executives to ask for their views on ‘What makes an outstanding Saudi chief executive?

One of the questions we discussed was how best to groom the next generation of Saudi leaders. A large percentage of today’s Saudi chief executives are of course in family businesses and that also raises the time-old question of – are leaders born or made?

If you Google this phrase, are leaders born or made, it produces six million results! It is an issue that leaders often struggle with in terms of how much can you develop someone to become a leader and to what extent do they need to have natural leadership qualities?

An article on the Forbes site says that leaders are both born and made: “It turns out that both camps are right. Researchers have found that leaders come by their talents partly through genetics but mostly through hard work and persistence. In fact, one study from The Leadership Quarterly on heritability (that is, the innate skills you bring to the table) and human development (what you learn along the way) estimated that leadership is 24 per cent genetic and 76 per cent learned.”

What did the leaders who I interviewed think – and what did they think are the best ways to develop future leaders? We will be sharing this information in our report, out shortly, but here are some of the highlights from our discussions.

1. Education is an essential for future leaders

The general view was that the next generation of Saudi CEOs need to have a strong basic education, but they also need a breadth of experience from working in different areas of a business.

Many interviewees are excited at how this education is now extending beyond that of America and Europe, recognising the Far East will bring new thinking around business models, marketing strategies and operations.

There is a real desire for the Kingdom to do more in the way of business school education to help leaders – and perhaps to do more to adapt this to the needs of the country.

2. On the job learning

Several of those interviewed mentioned how they had worked in most departments of their family business to gain grass roots understanding of each area and how they fitted together. This was generally seen as essential for future chief executives - they need to work their way up.

Inevitably there were differing views about which skills and experience actually have the most value for the final chief executive role – should they have held the chief financial officer role, be very good at strategy or be highly skilled in business development?

As a recruiter, I know that good chief executives can come from all disciplines but a good head for finances is essential and also the ability to get things done – I emphasised this in a recent article on creating Saudi leaders; there is a particular need in the Kingdom for chief executives who can make things happen. I don’t think there is any particular discipline that will produce this ability.

There was considerable discussion around how ethics and governance are becoming increasingly important. There is an issue in terms of education – are business schools up to speed – but also our interviewees felt there is a need for a formal plan to develop these skills while working.

3. Mentoring and coaching

Mentoring and coaching is still a relatively new concept in business. Good leaders have always coached and developed those around them, but businesses are increasingly putting formal plans in place to ensure this is done thoroughly – and to teach people how to coach their junior members.

Coaching was often raised by those I interviewed and a few referred to having hired professional coaches for themselves – this was definitely seen as a good thing.   Many referred to the loneliness of being a chief executive and having a coach can help to keep a perspective on the job.

So to sum up, today’s leaders all recognised the challenges facing the Kingdom as it aims to achieve Saudi Vision 2030 and the importance of having outstanding chief executives. Will these leaders of the future be born or made – everyone agreed they need to be made. This will be done through a mix of education, learning on the job, being coached by current leaders and also bringing increased expertise in new areas such as governance.

The verdict from these interviews was that leaders are most definitely made.

I came across a thought-provoking blog on the future of Saudi leadership by Professor William Scott-Jackson, chairman of Oxford Consulting Group last week.

In it he argues that Saudi will need 1.9m leaders to achieve Saudi Vision 2030. With a population of around 15m employable Saudis, this will be a challenge in terms of pure numbers, let alone skills.

leaders for KSA

I have spent the last few months interviewing a number of Saudi chief executives and chairmen to gather views on what makes an outstanding Saudi chief executive – in particular the skills that will be needed to take the Kingdom through a period of great change over the next 15 years and how you develop these skills. This is very relevant to how the Kingdom develops these 1.9m leaders for the future.

We will be publishing this report early in 2017, but here I want to share insights from our conversations and add to – and challenge – some of Professor Scott-Jackson’s comments.

Professor Scott-Jackson says: “The most important capability for achieving Saudi Vision 2030 is leadership, which has a fundamental impact on every aspect of organisational and national success – and indeed the well-being, happiness and productivity of all people.”

And this view was shared by all the leaders I interviewed. However, while I agree leadership skills are critical, I think it is easy to overlook the importance of being able to ‘manage’ and get things done. I would place as much importance on this as ‘leadership’.

It is easy to under-estimate the skills needed for different cultures. I think what will differentiate Saudi businesses will be those with chief executives who have an ability to get things done. Of course, leadership plays its part in that but in doing that, we should not overlook management ability when recruiting and developing future leaders.

In a study by Caliper into the most important and difficult aspects of leadership, 300 presidents and CEOs shared their thoughts on aspects of leadership. They were asked to rank various tasks: creating the right vision, getting people to embrace the vision, maintaining momentum (motivating, influencing and persuading), managing change (strategic planning, problem solving), surrounding yourself with the right people, developing staff (coaching, managing performance, transforming teams), and delegating.

Nowhere in here does it refer to ‘gettting things done’.   You could argue that if you surround yourself with the right people and are good at problem solving and delegating , then this will ensure that things are done. But I think there is another layer of skill needed in here that is specific to getting the best from the Saudi culture.

Saudi leaders need to understand how their business works, particularly the profit drivers and have a particular skill in helping their teams to unblock problems. Aspects of the Kingdom’s culture can make this challenging – especially family dynamics and respect for elders.

There is a lot in the Professor’s article that I like and agree with.

He asks how can Saudi build leadership skills fast – and looks at some specific advantages of the Kingdom. This was something we were keen to do in our interviews – ask leaders to share what is good about Saudi leadership that should be retained as the Kingdom goes through change. There is often a tendency to think the West has all the answers and put the wrong values and priorities on to another culture.

Professor Scott-Jackson says: “There are two exemplary situations in which young males and females are often fast-tracked [in Saudi] and often do a great job.  The first is the royal family itself and the second is the family firms where young successors are trained from birth in the obligations and skills needed to lead. In addition, Saudi (and the Gulf in general) has a unique leadership style which, in many ways, has advantages over the best practice western style taught on courses today.”

In his analysis of Saudi Leadership style (see the table below), he highlights potential weaknesses as ‘task and project deadline management’ and ‘tough decisions and difficult conversations’.

the saudi leadership style

The first, project deadline management, comes back to the point about making things happen – and is one of the most critical skills to ensure success in the Kingdom. The second point – taking tough decisions and having difficult conversations – was discussed by nearly all the leaders I interviewed. In a period of change, a good leader may have to ask loyal and hard-working people to leave, because they do not have the right skills for the job to be done. This is not easy for any leader but it is a question of ensuring the right people are doing the right jobs and that the organisation is ‘fit for purpose’.

How else do leaders need to be developed? The Professor says everyone needs a qualification such as from the Chartered Management Institute and to start leading young. While our interviewees rated qualifications, several were keen to bring ideas and different approaches to the country such as from China, Korea and Malaysia. One leader commented on the Chinese being great risk-takers and focusing on volume and mass markets – where the West tends to lean more to niche markets. They felt a mix of thinking will best benefit the Kingdom.

Many of our leaders also talked about learning the basics in their family businesses from a young age and working their way up. They felt it stood them in great stead – but they talked more about doing and learning than leading when they were young.

Developing Saudi leaders of the future is a big topic and I plan to expand on many of the ideas from our leaders along with our own thoughts in future blogs. I would welcome other ideas and experiences on this important topic.

I have been honoured to interview a number of Saudi CEOs recently to hear their views on the skills needed to achieve Vision 2030. This is for a report we are producing, What makes an Outstanding Saudi chief executive? (You can read my views on the skills that Saudi chief executives will need in this blog)

One of the themes to emerge is the need for a corporate governance framework in the Kingdom. As one CEO said, “We need to have a conducive atmosphere for leadership to flourish, but under a robust corporate governance framework. Corporate governance starts at the top. Audit needs to be independent.”

Corporate governance is still a relatively new concept across the world. I was interested to read Lubna Qassim’s blog (she is on the leadership team and general counsel at Emirates NBD) where she cites the Cadbury report in 1992 as the start of governance in the UK.

What the Cadbury Report did was to introduce the concept of independence. And it is clear that if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to become more open to the world, it will need its own corporate governance framework.  

Saudi Arabia has been pursuing corporate governance reforms, with the Capital Market Authority (CMA) in 2003 and the publication of the Saudi Corporate Governance Code (SCGC) in 2006. In the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants (SOCPA), the accounting standards committee holds the responsibility of developing and reviewing accounting and auditing standards in the country. All of these will play a part in developing Saudi Arabia’s own corporate governance code.

The central components of the voluntary Cadbury Code, are

  • a clear division of responsibilities at the top, primarily that the position of chairman of the board be separated from the chief executive, or that there be a strong independent element on the board
  • the majority of the board to consist of outside directors
  • remuneration committees for board members to have a majority of non-executive directors
  • the board to appoint an audit committee including at least three non-executive directors

So what do I think would be the key ingredients of corporate governance for Saudi Arabia and the challenges and opportunities of this?

1. Independent board members

Saudi Arabia’s businesses are no different from the way American, British and others have been run – and still are in many cases. Before codes of conduct were introduced, the tendency was to recruit family members to the board and appoint ‘people we know’. The phrases ‘old boys’ club’ and ‘old boys’ network’ came from the very normal practice of appointing people you were at school with or were in the same men’s club

old boys    

The Cadbury code is voluntary and it has taken years to achieve the shift in culture to recruit independently – some would say this still has a way to go in the West, especially around finding and recruiting women.

This will be one of the biggest challenges for the Kingdom; to open up family businesses to outsiders.

2. Clear division of responsibilities at the top

Separating out the role of chairman and chief executive has been well established in the Kingdom for some years. While this should be included in any governance code, the practice of executive chairmen in Saudi is not widespread and will be less of a challenge to achieve.

The issue that will need addressing is that, while there may be a distinction between chairman and chief executive in terms of titles, many chairmen act like the chief executive, essentially making the role of the CEO more that of a chief operating officer.

3. Audit committee with three independent non-executive directors

Having an audit committee with independent non-execs will be more of a challenge to achieve in Saudi Arabia. An independent audit committee requires a confident chief executive to accept, and also manage, strong external views.

A report by Independent Business Research on Corporate Governance and Auditor Independence in Saudi Arabia: Literature Review and Proposed Conceptual Framework looks at the emerging role of the auditing profession and the role of audit generally. They say

this end

Vision 2030 has set out a clear direction for the future of Saudi Arabia – should a corporate governance be part of this to ensure a robust and sustainable business community in the Kingdom?

Last month I wrote a blog on Will Saudi’s chairmen of 2030 need to look different from today? I have had a number of comments and discussions on this, both when I have been in the Kingdom and also online - and one comment in particular got me thinking.

 

Mohammed Abdul Gaffar of KFB Holding Group said “It is not just the chairmen who need to look at business differently from today” – and of course he is absolutely right. He continued: “The idea of Vision 2030 has to be trickled down to each and every individual in an organization. Proper communication of the Vision 2030 to everyone and encouraging participation from all groups is paramount to achieving success. Just my 2 cents.”

 

Well they are a good two cents and lead nicely into what I have been thinking about concerning the skills that will be needed for chief executives to achieve Saudi Vision 2030.

 

What will be the biggest challenges for Saudi chief executives?

In my view the toughest challenges for chief executives will be how they cut costs without harming businesses.

 

Just last week, Reuters reported that “Saudi Arabia will cut ministers' salaries by 20 percent and scale back financial perks for public sector employees”

 

Inevitably oil prices are having an impact in the Kingdom and the ability to make these tough decisions wisely will be critical for the long term success of both companies and the country.

 

But the biggest challenge is achieving operational efficiency through cuts – and also knowing when to keep innovating and investing. Great leadership is about achieving this balance and also bringing employees with you so they can see the better future in return for a more difficult time now.

Building a pipeline of skills

You might say that anyone can cut costs. The harder task is to manage through a recession and still build the skills needed for growth.

 

To do this, salaries are going to have to be more aligned to performance and – another tough decision – not reward people who have not performed. That is going to take a big culture change in many organisations, but bonuses have to be earned.

Connectivity with employees

In the next few years, chief executives are going to have to ask their employees to work longer hours and find new ways of doing things to be more efficient. Leaders need to create a team spirit of everyone pulling together and getting people to rotate around departments to learn these wider skills.

 

This is where Mohammed Abdul Gaffar’s comment is so important – leadership that will bring a future vision alive and encourage every employee to participate fully in the company.

We must not lose the existing outstanding qualities of Saudi chief executives

Whenever we look at change and new futures, there is always a danger of forgetting to identify and keep what is outstanding about the present.

 

In the case of the Kingdom, many Saudi chief executives are extremely compassionate towards their employees and often look after them secretly to ensure they are supported and they do the right thing.

 

There is also another very special attribute in Saudi leaders which the West would do well to learn from – they think about and plan for the longer term, looking 10, 20, 30 years ahead or even generations.

FT article on Paul Polman

I loved an article in the FT this weekend. When Paul Polman became chief executive of Unilever in 2009, the FT article says “He immediately said that he only wanted investors who shared his view that Unilever needed to shepherd the Earth’s future as carefully as it did its own revenues and profits. As one of his first acts, he announced that the company would no longer publish quarterly profit updates, as they encouraged short-term thinking. Simon Zadek, a long-time British sustainability campaigner….[said this was] more than just tinkering or public relations, it was a new business model.”

 

Well the Middle East is way ahead in this respect. Muslim teaching is that every individual must protect the Earth’s future and Saudi leaders take this long term vision and planning very seriously. It is not just talk but a daily reality.

 

If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to create more businesses that are globally competitive, its leaders will have to balance retaining the best parts of their culture with the need for tough decisions and still investing for the future. There is a clear strategy to do this – we just need to find the leaders who can achieve this.

Women will play an important part in the long term success of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – but how important?

King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud has said: “My first objective is for our country to be a pioneering and successful global model of excellence on all fronts.” And in the Kingdom’s National Transformation Program 2020, which outlines future workforce skills for this success, the document is full of clear targets to increase the number of women working in the civil service and private sector, training in teleworking for jobs at home and training initiatives to ensure these women have the skills the country needs.

Below are just two examples of these targets and it is heartening to see Saudi Arabia, like the rest of the world, is aiming to have more women in senior positions. The target is to increase the number of women in Grade 11 and above positions from 1.27% of the civil service to 5%.

 

fem grafic 01

 

fem grafic 02

 

What are the challenges in empowering women? No matter where you go in the world, the stats about women at the top are pitiful – the stats below are from the McKinsey report, Women in the Workplace 2015. Many of the challenges for women in Saudi Arabia will be the same the world over, but here I am looking at those specific to the country and what we can all do to help the Kingdom achieve its ambitious targets.

 

fem grafic 03

 

The four barriers to women in the workforce

There are four challenges making it difficult for women to work in Saudi Arabia – some of these can be addressed by government, others are cultural and will take longer.

  • The first obvious step is to increase opportunities for women – the vision is there in the National Transformation Program but the government must ensure these are delivered
  • Physical segregation at work makes collaboration and simple dialogue difficult. We have already seen the challenge earlier this year when Albawaba reported: “The third phase [of feminization] was supposed to start last October … dedicated to the feminization of women shops in small governorates. The plan was delayed as there were many adjustments that needed to be completed in order to feminize many of the shops.”
  • There are pressures from society for women to be the home-makers and mothers, but women can be home makers, great mothers and also have a career and contribute to the economy
  • Many people are still not comfortable with seeing women in the workplace

 

What changes could increase the number of working women in Saudi Arabia?

I have discussed this subject with my female Saudi colleagues and other leading women in the country. Here I share their views of what changes could help achieve more working women in the country

  • Changes to the culture around guardianship for women – this could be changed/updated by the government. At the moment women need permission from their father, brother or the eldest male in the family (which could be their son) in order to work. Allowing them independence to make their own decisions would be a considerable step
  • Increased education. While women’s education was a significant achievement of King Abdullah’s reign, the main focus was on higher education – women now account for 58% of all Saudi university students and that is expected to increase further.   However there is still a reluctance to allow women to take up subjects such as engineering, aviation and construction or allowed on medical programs such as general surgery or paediatrics – or to travel overseas for education
  • Women setting up their own businesses. Bayan Mahmoud Al Zahran was the first Saudi woman lawyer who launched her female law firm in Jeddah in 2014. The firm is highly successful at using Twitter and finding clients through social media – and this trend of women employing women will help increase the rate of female employment.

A number of corporates have introduced sponsorship for women – Aramco is one that comes to mind. And I believe it is this multi-pronged leadership from the King, the government, corporates and, above all, women themselves that will ensure the Kingdom achieves its aims. There is no lack of enthusiasm from women, now it is time for us all to tap into their talent.

 

Saudi Vision 2030 is an ambitious vision for the future of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to create a vibrant and diverse economy that will ensure long term sustainability for its people. But while the National Transformation Program 2020 outlines future workforce skills for success, little has been said about whether new leadership skills are needed or what these should be.

 

 

ntp 2020

 

Here I share my thoughts on what leadership for the Kingdom could be and what this means for future chairmen and chief executives of public and private organisations.

 

1. Saudi leaders have to trust their own skills

The over-arching challenge is to prepare the Kingdom’s organisations for a highly competitive environment, where the economy will not depend on the price of oil and the country no longer relies on the expertise of ex-patriate executives.

Can they do this? Most definitely, yes. But the first new skills that have to be developed are confidence and self-belief.

In my view, there is still a tendency for the Kingdom to look to the ex-patriate community to create strategies and solutions for the country. But Saudi Arabia needs its own home-grown solutions for the future – and these may well be considerably better than outside influences have managed so far.  

A large body of bright Saudis has had overseas and local education and training. They have great ideas and can see what the country needs to achieve its vision, but in the past have been held back by the slowness of pace of change and the lack of transparency in appointments. There is still a tendency to appoint relatives, members of a tribe or similar network because of their position in the community, not for their expertise for a particular job.

 

2. Creating a picture of the future

Change is hard, no matter in what country or culture. Saudi Arabia will need to change expectations and mobilize its people behind the 2030 vision.

Leaders of the future will need the skills of storytelling to show different alternatives as a way of mobilizing. Bright futures contrasted with bleak futures. Bright futures that will allow for sustainable prosperity for the Kingdom as a whole.

 

3. Outstanding companies and their leaders of the future

What I am excited about for Saudi Arabia is the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of Europe and take the best from Saudi Arabia’s own culture – and create something very new and special that the rest of the Arab world will look up to.

My observation of great Saudi leaders is that they plan 10, 20, 30 years ahead – even generations away. The West has a lot to learn from this – it was short term culture that brought the world’s financial markets crashing down in 2007.

The best Saudi leaders also take care of their employees, in the ways of the old Quaker families of Cadbury’s, Rowntrees and Fry’s. The best chief executives care for their drivers as much as their executives. Search on Forbes or Harvard Business Review and there are dozens of articles on ‘culture change’ – all striving to achieve just this fairness of attitudes to employees that already exists within much of the Kingdom.

 

4. Chairmen of the future

To help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its endeavours towards 2030, Metin Mitchell is carrying out research with recognised leaders in the Kingdom to pull together a view on the qualities that an outstanding chairman will need for the future.

My own view is that future chairmen will need to have

  • An urgency in understanding that everything has to change and above all, that they need the right chief executives and boards to help them do this. The Chairman and the Board must not be a hindrance to the Chief Executive but a support, a resource of good counsel and a sounding board to discuss ideas.
  • The ability to empower their chief executive. As chairman, they need to ensure the strategy is in place and monitor performance but let the chief exec get on with delivering – not endlessly creating reports
  • An understanding of the industry that they are leading in
  • Ensure governance on ethics, that money is not wasted and is used wisely in the company where it belongs
  • An ability to change people’s mind-sets, create their own vision and a belief in their employees that they can succeed in this new environment

The Kingdom already has successful companies where there are strong leaders, and some fine examples of good governance and transparency, decent values and high profitability. They are successful by any global measure. I would name as a few examples, Al-Marai, The Olayan Group, The Al Muhaidib Group and The Al-Jammaz Group. We need leaders of these companies to be sharing their stories and helping others to achieve change – it would be good to see the country’s universities starting to research and identify key factors for success in this change.

I look forward to hearing and sharing views on this topic – and please feel free to contact me to share your own thoughts on what will make an outstanding Saudi chairman of the future.

 

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