WHAT IS TOP TALENT AND HOW IS THAT IDENTIFIED?

As a part of our talent acquisition engagements, we ask our clients how they define “top talent” and how they would assess those traits in the interview process. Reflecting on the insightful comments we hear every day, we thought there would be great value in a new blog in which senior executives/thought leaders share their “Take on Talent.”

This is the twenty-second in a series of blogs/interviews with senior executives who are thought leaders in the areas of Talent Acquisition, Career Development and Leadership who will share their perspectives on this ever present question.

 

Kevin Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Syniti

As CEO, Kevin drives the growth agenda of Syniti with poise and at ease. With a solid track record in driving growth at scale, Kevin joined Syniti, formerly BackOffice Associates, as president, global consulting and services April 2018, and was named as CEO in February 2019.

During his 20+ year, 2-term tenure at Accenture, he was Group Chief Executive for Outsourcing and Group Chief Executive Technology where he drove double-digit growth. Kevin was also CO-COO for Bridgewater Associates and COO for Oscar Health based out of New York.

As CEO, Kevin’s leadership remit here is simple: Inspire and empower those around him to deliver on the business’ vision and purpose. He oversees all aspects of our operation while also taking every opportunity to engage with customers, partners, and employees on the ground around the world.

At home and in relaxed mode, Kevin devotes himself to family life and the resulting bike rides and activities that come with such a commitment. He also coaches his children’s sports teams and can often be found at various sports fields hurling encouragement. This has even been turned in to a group activity when they attend Atlanta United FC as season ticket holders. Go five stripes!

Please share with us the top five characteristics (in priority order, first to fifth) of the most talented people you have encountered during your career, and your definition of each.         

 

  1. Self Aware and Humble – A former mentor told me early on, “Kevin what will confound you is that the people who need the most help don’t ask for it, the people that don’t need as much help,  ask a lot”.  Over the years I have learned that this is a combination of people knowing that they don’t know everything (self aware) and people always seeking input from others to make sure they have checked their thinking (being humble) .  One of the questions I like to ask in an interview is what are your weaknesses?   Some people want to try the “I care too much or work too hard”, but you can gain insights to the person if they say things like “I often get so excited with my ideas, that I get carried away” or “I have a blind spot when it comes to certain capabilities”. Ray Dalio, the legendary investor,  whom I worked for says, know and embrace your weaknesses, that is the key to being successful.
  2. Team/Customer First – I have worked with a lot of great talents over the years, but teamwork is a force multiplier and people who know how to collaborate and both lead teams and be part of teams is a key to success. When talking to people I like to note how many times they use “I” vs “we” when discussing accomplishments.  I also like to challenge people with providing examples where the team’s idea was better  than their own (or the majority thought so)  and how they supplanted their thoughts and committed to the team direction and what was the outcome.  I have also found that team- first people understand that serving the customer/client is priority.  As another mentor once said, last time I checked all our revenue comes from our customers. And on the other hand all of us have examples of brilliant people that couldn’t work with others.
  3. Stretch/breaking through barriers – every successful and talented person has encountered difficult situations in his/her life.  It’s how you deal with it that is key and the strengths you gain from those times . One example for me was when at Exult our stock went from around $8 to 1.52 in 12 hours after we were forced to change auditors.   Who rallied, who were friends in the time of crisis, that sticks with you vs. the people who were Eeyore’s (Character from Winnie the Pooh). Asking people for examples like this or when they had a problem like nightly processing taking 72 hours to run and learning how they thought about the problem, what resources they brought to bear and what they learned. Learning is a big part of breaking through barriers and in today’s world being a life long learner is absolutely required so exploring how people learn new things and what their thirst for learning is, provides additional insights.
  4. Integrity/Transparency – Living our word, saying what you will do and doing what you say is critical.  While very few people will ever say they lack integrity, but  if you ask them for examples where they had ethical dilemmas or they promised to do something  either individually or on behalf of their company and  then had a challenge doing it, you will get some insights into the person’s morale compass.  Also It’s critical  that people are transparent.  You will notice successful people, sometimes contrary to what people think, seldom play politics with their boss, spend little time tearing down those around them and often have little tolerance for not doing the right thing.
  5. Enjoy the ride, have fun, family –  Universally, the most talented people I have worked around, know that everyday might be our last, realize that there is more to life than just work, genuinely care about others and are fun to be around.   I like to know about the people I work with, what makes them tick, what gets them out of bed in the morning, challenges they have in balancing family commitments, etc.  I find that the most talented people aren’t afraid to say, hey I got an event at my kids school so can we move that meeting and they are also genuinely care about others, and pick up on clues when someone is down (hey you don’t seem yourself or you seem stressed). So when talking to people about joining our team, I like to know what they do to relieve stress, what they like about their current teammates, and examples of how they ensure bring their whole selves to work.

 

How do you communicate these characteristics to your HR and senior management team?

At  Syniti, we are fortunate to have gone through a rebranding exercise and as part of that we got input, discussed and debated and established our values.  Not surprisingly our values represent what I and the leadership team think is important to have in each of us and our people. Customer First, Enjoy The Ride, Innovation/Breakthrough, Integrity and Teamwork.

I also have had a couple of hiring principles that I find helpful in communicating what I look for. First, when hiring anyone that is a direct report to me, I do the early interviewing, often the first interview. I learn what is available in the market, and get the chance to see first impressions and establish the hook of the candidate.  I don’t communicate what I think of the candidate only if I want to stop further interviews.  After others of my directs have interviewed the candidates, we discuss what our impressions are and what we see as the person’s strengths and areas of concern.   It helps to make sure we don’t have group think and my views don’t influence others. I will also always have some members of my board interview any of my directs.  I will then spend two more times talking with the person and when I conclude the right person, I communicate why I thought that person was the right candidate.

Second,  I also request that I interview any of direct reports to my direct reports.  I am open to when in the process I do this but I want to make sure I understand why we are hiring the person, what we are looking for and how their success will be judged.  It’s also a chance for me to establish a skip level relationship.  We use the same principles when transferring or promoting people into a role that is a direct report to one of my directs.  Even though the person is already within the company, its good hygiene to ensure same standards are applied as with a new hire.

 

How do you handle challenges to the existing culture by talent you have brought in?

In my view, culture in today’s world cannot be stagnant, it needs to reflect an evolution that mirrors how a business is evolving and what is needed to get to the next stage in a company’s growth.  As a leadership team we sat down shortly after I became CEO and did a design thinking exercise around the type of company we wanted to be, both in terms of objectives and feel and characteristics. It included our values and also included our purpose.  All of this to say that, we defined what we wanted our culture to evolve to and set about making it happen.  As with any move forward the power of the past is a challenge to change.  The forces of resistance can stop the evolution. To counteract the resistance I ask HR and my leadership team to demonstrate the values we want, to recognize people that are demonstrating our values and retrain or replace people following  counter behaviors.  Ultimately, culture is about performance and values.  People,  new or long timers, have to perform and demonstrate the values of the company. If they don’t do both, they are not a good fit and have to leave.  Otherwise, our values and culture are compromised, becoming words.

Leadership assessment: Do men and women influence differently?

By Darleen DeRosa

Do men and women lead differently in the workplace? Based on much of the research, the short answer is “yes.” Although the gender leadership differences often align with the stereotype that women lead with a more interpersonal style and men with a more task-oriented style, it appears that gender does play a role in leadership style and preferences.

Because a leader’s success often depends upon their ability to gain the support and cooperation of people who frequently have competing priorities or conflicting goals, OnPoint Consulting wanted to understand what gender differences, if any, exist in how leaders use influence. To help answer this question, we used a 360° feedback questionnaire to collect data on the influencing skills of 223 leaders (116 men and 107 women) across organizations and industries.

While the data pointed to some significant differences in the approaches men and women use to gain others’ buy-in and support, we also uncovered some surprising similarities. The following is a summary of our findings.

Most Effective Influence Tactics
Our previous research on influence identified 11 influencing tactics used by the most effective managers. We then grouped these tactics according to their effectiveness in gaining others’ support and commitment—most effective, moderately effective, and least effective tactics. The four tactics that are most effective in gaining commitment from others are: Continue reading

Are You Pursuing Your Vision of Career Success — or Someone Else’s?

by Laura Gassner Otting

You’ve checked all the boxes. You’ve graduated from the right college, held the right internship, flourished in the right graduate program, and landed the right job at the right company. You’ve followed the path that everyone else told you would be the one to lead to success — to your dream job — only to find that your dream job doesn’t feel so dreamy after all.

The good news is that you aren’t alone. Across each generation, the realization that success hasn’t brought with it the expected happiness has created a zeitgeist moment where conversations about purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction reign supreme. In fact, a 2015 study by Gallup showed that only one-third of the American workforce feels actively engaged in their work.

Each generation is experiencing its own work identity crisis, trying to determine why their work isn’t working for them. Millennials — social media natives who have never lived separate lives at work and at home  —  don’t look for work-life balance, but rather work-life alignment, where they can be the same person, with the same values, at home and in the office. Boomers are turning the standard retirement age of 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day, but are not ready to put their hard-earned toolboxes on the shelf to gather dust. One-third of Americans over the age of fifty —nearly 34 million people — stated that they were seeking to fill their time with some professional (paid or unpaid) purpose beyond just the self. GenXers, finding themselves caught between raising children and nursing aging parents, are looking for work that contributes to managing these demands rather than working against them.

While these generations may differ in terms of what’s most meaningful to them, across each generation, meaning matters. Continue reading

The Challenges Faced by Global Cosmopolitan Women

by Linda Brimm

To tap the full potential of these agents for change, organisations must listen and push beyond assumptions.

Carolyn was thrilled when she was offered a role in China. A high flyer in her Dutch organisation and fluent in Mandarin, she believed this was the perfect opportunity to get the international experience that she wanted. However, her boss suggested that it would be difficult for a woman to lead a team for this particular project in China. While his intentions might have been good, his comments left her feeling vulnerable to concerns about gender bias and her ability to handle it.

She knew that the decisions she would have to make in an unfamiliar context would be scrutinised. Carolyn could run into difficulties related to language. While these factors risked eroding some of her self-confidence, she was determined to enter this complex negotiation and decision-making arena. Due to her gender and culture, Carolyn was used to standing out and knew how to benefit from different perspectives. She would probably need to be much better than the men who had previously held the same position to be appreciated. Continue reading

Building Gender Balance Against the Odds

By Benjamin Kessler, Managing Editor; Clarissa Cortland, INSEAD Post-Doctoral Research Fellow; and Zoe Kinias, INSEAD Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour

To enable women’s advancement where it’s needed most, individual, interpersonal and institutional changes are required.

When it comes to developing gender balance, organisations in male-dominated fields such as venture capital, STEM and the “greedy professions (as well as in leadership roles within most companies) have a two-fold problem. First, they may face challenges in recruiting women: Deeply entrenched gender stereotypes about which jobs are appropriate for women can affect both women’s career aspirations and hiring managers’ decisions. Second, many women bravely venture into these organisations only to confront a steeper path to advancement than their male peers. In the finance industry, for example, the representation of women across all levels declines from nearly 50 percent to a mere 15 percent as one ascends from the professional to the executive level.

The INSEAD Gender Initiative’s 2019 Women at Work conference, recently held in Singapore, concluded with a research session on how organisations can dislodge the built-up biases that impede women’s career progress, creating new pathways to leadership for deserving women.

The glass cliff

What can be worse than organisations without meaningful career opportunities for women? Arguably, those offering opportunities that can actually be traps. First recognised in a 2005 paper by Professors Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam at the University of Exeter, the “glass cliff” is a widely noted phenomenon whereby women are installed as leaders at times of potential crisis, thus essentially being set up to fail.

At the INSEAD conference, Ryan said she became aware of this “think crisis – think female” association after reading an article in The Times newspaper, which argued gender balance was bad for business, citing supposed linkages between the presence of women directors and corporate underperformance. Using detailed archival examination, Ryan’s subsequent research found that the newspaper got the causation backwards. It wasn’t that having women on the board was a liability, but rather that women tended to be appointed at moments of poor company performance (as measured by a decline in share price).

Why are women singled out for these unenviable posts? “Stereotypes of women mediate that effect,” Ryan says. “We think women are good at crisis, but we also think women make good scapegoats.”

In later research, Ryan and her co-authors tested the behavioural basis for the glass cliff, launching several studies in which participants were asked to nominate a leader for a fictitious company that was either flourishing or in decline. Men were chosen slightly more often than women to helm successful companies. When the company was in trouble, both male and female participants showed a clear preference for women.

As the concept of the glass cliff gained recognition, some studies and articles appeared purporting to debunk it, while others presented confirming evidence. Apparently contradictory findings may create confusion as to whether the glass cliff is real or not. Ryan has recently tried to make sense of it all with a meta-analysis of all available data relevant to the concept. She found a “small but significant” overall effect, affecting women as well as racial/ethnic minorities who end up balancing precariously on the edge in newly appointed positions of leadership. In related work, Ryan finds that this glass cliff effect varies in size depending on a number of factors. For example, when the new leader is well supported and has more financial resources, the crisis leadership situation is no more likely to bring in a woman leader. It is really the most precarious leadership positions that compel decision makers to see women as a better fit than men.

That the glass cliff is a contingent phenomenon does not make it any less real. Ryan explained: “It didn’t start from theory; it was an explanatory mechanism for data that were out there,” she says. The glass cliff is not universal, but it offers an explanation that sheds light on a set of circumstances that unites women leaders as disparate as Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who were handed the rudder of unwieldy ships at moments made especially perilous by their immediate male predecessors.

Ryan’s research underscores a clear need: Companies (and governments) must provide women and minority leaders with a broader range of opportunities to enable them to also show what they can achieve when all is working smoothly.

The emotional basis of backlash

Despite leaders’ good intentions, many men within predominantly male organisations actively resist working with and for women. Backlash has serious implications for women’s advancement, both in its subtler forms and when it manifests as outright sabotage.

Managers should strive to create processes to prevent bias and address discriminatory behaviour swiftly and decisively. In addition, Chiara Trombini, Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, suggests that a psychological intervention that addresses negative emotional reactions could be key to reducing backlash.

Trombini theorises that some men may be unsettled by the stereotype-shattering prospect of a more gender-balanced workplace. This is especially true when women display more assertive behaviour that goes against cultural and societal norms. Men’s feelings of anxiety and threat thus give rise to backlash.

Fortunately, there is a simple intervention proven to calm those exact emotions: self-affirmation. It involves asking people to reflect upon the values that matter most to them or to think about the best version of themselves. The exercise is designed to boost psychological resilience and offer protection from self-doubt in ways that subsequently reduce defensive reactions to threatening information.

Trombini and her co-authors carried out a series of studies with men and women participants to test the emotional threat hypothesis. First, participants were shown videos of women negotiating assertively during a job interview. Then, they were asked to put themselves in the place of a hiring manager. One group of participants did a self-affirmation exercise prior to viewing the videos; a control group did not. No differences were found between the women in the two groups. Among the men, however, the values-affirmed group displayed much more openness to the women interviewees in the video who negotiated assertively, indicating that self-affirmation can lead men to be more accepting of assertive women.

A later study bore out Trombini’s hypothesis about the emotions that precipitate backlash. After viewing videos, participants rated their own feelings of anxiety and apprehension, as well as how hostile and arrogant they felt the job-seeker in the video was. Replicating the first study, the self-affirmation exercise didn’t influence how women participants rated the job-seeker. For men, however, there was a difference. The control group participants perceived both their own anxiety and the job-seeker hostility as higher than did the self-affirmed men similarly evaluating an assertive woman.

In the final study, the researchers manipulated men’s anxiety levels by exposing them either to hyper-competitive, stereotypically masculine work norms (such as overt displays of confidence and physical stamina) in the high anxiety condition, or to psychologically safe work norms (such as collaboration, sharing and valuing others’ perspectives) in the low anxiety condition. Participants then chose between assisting a woman in a demanding task or withholding help (i.e. sabotage). As expected, anxious men were more likely to sabotage, unless they were self-affirmed.

Trombini’s research has implications for corporate cultures and the norms and values they espouse in a larger sense. “Anxiety is important in context,” she says. “Organisations where stress plays a role have heightened potential for stereotyping.” Overall, and especially in high anxiety contexts, self-affirmation can protect against bias by helping men to feel more secure.

Fostering allyship

Combating backlash is an important strategic objective in addressing bias that prevents women from advancing in masculine spaces. An equally crucial objective is cultivating active support for gender balance amongst the male majority – enabling men to be allies.

In research presented at last year’s Women at Work conference, Toni Schmader, the Canada Research Chair in Social Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and her co-authors discovered that conversations with male – and only male – colleagues that were not experienced positively were linked to increased burnout and social identity threat among female STEM professionals. In other words, the absence of clear male allies may hold women back in ways that parallel clear-cut incidents of bias.

At this year’s conference, Schmader talked about her role as co-leader of a research team called Project RISE (Realising Identity-Safe Environments), where she is about to launch a workshop designed to foster gender inclusion in STEM. Her team will recruit more than 400 scientists and engineers working in team environments as workshop participants. “Both men and women say they are highly motivated to be allies in their organisation, but they’re not quite sure how to go about doing it,” Schmader says. The Project RISE workshop will focus on laying the emotional groundwork for allyship as well as developing the necessary skills.

Two features of the workshop show particular promise, as reflected in pilot data. One key component is the affirmation of shared values, which lowers social identity threat for both women and men. Another is a dialogue task where two-person teams respond to questions about diversity and implicit bias, such as “What is one of your biggest concerns or worries when talking about gender bias issues?” In a trial run involving engineering students, both men and women – but especially men – found these dialogues beneficial when their conversation partner was of the other gender.

An honest conversation between two people can be surprisingly impactful, Schmader says. “The more men converse with women about bias, the more they show an increase in the ability to take women’s perspective and believe women can succeed, and there is an indirect effect on support for gender-inclusive policies as well.”

A multileveled approach

Qualified women must perceive that avenues to success are available to them within an organisation. For that to happen, organisations should increase the visibility of female role models and make a concerted effort to signal a wider cultural shift.

In her own talk, INSEAD’s Clarissa Cortland described how the year-long iW50 campaign – spanning the 2017-18 academic year and celebrating the past and present of women at INSEAD, as well as the vision for the future – delivered on three conceptual pillars:

  • Highlighting gender-balanced models of leadership through communications campaigns both on- and offline, prominent women speaking on campus, etc.
  • Raising awareness through research, alumni- and student-led events
  • Engaging men in all INSEAD communities, including faculty, staff, alumni, and notably via the introduction of an official group of male MBA allies called Manbassadors

The iW50 campaign may be over, but the work of the INSEAD Gender Initiative continues. In any large organisation, there is always the danger that progress will pause when gender balance is no longer top of mind. Empowering women to achieve their full potential in spaces where they are underrepresented is not a one-off project, but a long-haul effort requiring maintenance and frequent reassessment.

As INSEAD Gender Initiative’s leader Zoe Kinias said at the conclusion of the conference, “Diversity initiatives need to be perceived and enacted more like change management.”

Source INSEAD