Last week I went to a truly thought provoking event hosted by Talentarc. The theme: C-Suite challenges in an age of innovation and disruption.

So many interesting comments were made by the panel which included Dhiraj Mukherjee, digital entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Shazam, Mira Magecha, Chief People Officer at Just Eat,Nick Moreno, Director of Strategy, Satellite & Media at Arqiva, and Jason Tavaria, experienced CEO & board level advisor.

As well as discussing who now gets a seat at the table, the panel talked about the criticality of skill vs. behaviour in today’s business, how to change context and stimulus to get the most from your teams, and how to stay relevant. The event was under Chatham House Rules but I wanted to thematically share some of the key takeaways as they’re so relevant to how we all think about business structures today.

Who gets a seat at the table?

  • A pretty damning comment to start: research from the likes of Bain has pointed to internal dysfunction, not lack of opportunity or unmatchable competitor capabilities, as the main barrier to continued profitable growth. C-suites need to change and address dysfunction head-on if they are to grow.
  • It’s all about inspirational leaders. The premise of the CEO has changed. The job is no longer focused on reporting to shareholders. Having the ability to inspire the team is an equal priority. In my mind, this isn’t down to skills. This is about having a clear leadership vision, solid values, and behaviours which demonstrate expectations to others. For example, if you want to create a challenger brand culture, the leader must show that s/he is willing for their own thinking to be challenged.
  • Traditional C-suite roles are changing. We’ve seen Chief People Officers, Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Digital Officers pop up left and right. But ultimately the panel sees the C-Suite being organised based on what the business is trying to achieve.
  • One of the most valuable behaviours for the C-suite today is economic thinking. For example, “how do we create something of value to customers even if we don’t know them yet”. That thinking can and should come from anyone in the C-suite, or from any other level within the organisation.

The criticality of skill vs. behaviour

  • Unanimously the panel agreed that hiring based on behaviour was more important than hiring based on skill. This applies to the C-suite but the broader business too. Skills can be learned, but behaviour is hard to change and takes considerable time. They suggested an 80/20 (behaviour/skill) focus split when recruiting.
  • Changing how you screen talent at interview stage to focus more on behaviour was also discussed. The panel cautioned against over-speccing job descriptions, as they tend to be very skill focused. Instead paint a picture of the business challenge you face and the type of person needed to collaborate for success. An example was given of a business who has removed CVs fully from its screening process and is now sifting applications 100% based on 4 pre-set behavioural questions. Extreme? Maybe. Interesting? Yes. A determined applicant seeing a business dare to be so bold would likely be intrigued, and it says a huge amount about the behaviour of the employer.

Changing context and stimulus 

  • A really interesting discussion point centred on how the environment impacts the outcome. For example, having an experienced C-suite team meet with a group of senior customers will likely lead to a relatively predictable outcome (granted, that outcome can be a great one). BUT… put a razor sharp young and inexperienced ‘rising star’ from your business in the room and the conversation is likely to be different as the stimulus has changed. When this is done in a thoughtful way, it can lead to great things. This is good food for thought – what could you change about how you approach meetings?
  • Hosting discussions in different countries and cultural settings can be another great way to change the stimulus. Where some cultures naturally default to hierarchy, others actively promote healthy challenges from bottom to top. Again, this can lead to different ideas and outcomes for your business.
  • Diversity. Is. Important. So very important. As well as gender, BAME and LGBTQ diversity, the panel also talked about age, backgrounds and class. In the UK we also face a North/South divide in talent, which is a major barrier to businesses getting smart people who can do amazing things. Rethink how you find and attract talent, and make sure your workforce is representative of your customer base.  

Getting the most from your teams

  • Many businesses today are focused on collaboration and global teamwork, and yet many still have bonus schemes and structures which are centred around country-level revenues and EBITDA targets. Those two things simply don’t align, and they don’t promote long term thinking either.
  • The more senior you get, the more you’re at risk of being trapped by your own experience. The panel’s top tips to counter this were:
    • Make sure you're talking to the troops and understand what's driving their thinking
    • Be involved in hiring the most junior staff so you understand where the talent market is, and how that compares and contrasts with your goals
    • Repeat your goal time and again. Everyone needs to be clear on where you’re going as a business, but also why
    • Ask your team for ideas and feedback, but don’t then just say ‘go and do that’ to the good ideas. Take those golden ideas, share them with C-suite in respect to 'this idea could fit into our goal in this way', and then make a decision. If you end up with tens or even hundreds of splinter ideas which don’t support the single business goal, your time and energy will be wasted.

 How to stay relevant

  • Towards the end of the session, a concerned voice in the audience asked “How do those over 30 stay relevant”. In a world where digital natives increasingly have an upper hand, this was a fair question, and one which many senior leaders likely worry about. The advice:
    • Develop a growth mind-set
    • Embrace what you don’t know and seek out a reverse mentorship opportunity
    • Build transferable skills. With career changes becoming the norm vs. the exception, how can you continue learning in a way that will give you options for the future?
    • Don't work for a traditional company. If you do, get out and find a brand who incorporates the values you have.

Many thanks to Tracy Flowerday and the Talenarc team for hosting such a great event!