“A fish rots from the head down”

C-suite challenges in an age of innovation and disruption. 

Storm Erik may have been blasting his way across the country last week, but I found an entirely more welcome breath of fresh air at the TalentArc media and tech event in central London. How refreshing it was to hear the expert panel talk unanimously about the importance of culture for business success.

Hosted by TalentArc’s Tracy Flowerday, the panel included Dhiraj Mukherjee, co-Founder of Shazam & digital entrepreneur, Jason Tavaria, Entrepreneur, CEO and board-level advisor, Mira Magecha, Chief People Officer, Just Eat and Nick Moreno, Director of Strategy and ‘challenger` Board Member, Arqiva Satellite & Media.

While there to discuss the challenges of the C suite in an age of innovation and disruption, the conversation kept coming back to culture.  An alarming statistic that 94% of execs blamed internal dysfunction (read culture) as the main barrier to their continued profitable growth [1], left the panel incredulous. Surely, it’s the leadership’s job to sort this function, they mused. If not, then whose is it? Where are all the inspirational leaders? If you’re not inspiring then, well… the unsaid words “what’s the point of you?” hanging in the air!

“what’s the point of you?”

From compartmentalised to collaborative and creative

The challenge of how to change from compartmentalised to collaborative and creative was discussed. Once again, the panel agreed it’s all about culture and culture must be led from the top.

Everyone needs to know where and why the organisation is going (purpose) and how what they do contributes to that. Clear strategic objectives and shared goals to deliver on that purpose. If they’re doing work that doesn’t support it, be brave and call people out.

A culture open to challenge is vital. Interesting examples shared of how many tech companies have their R&D centres in Tel Aviv where culturally people seem much more open to giving and receiving challenge.

Alas, a culture open to challenge was felt to be the exception rather than the rule, with line managers blamed as huge blockers to change and challenge.

When it comes to collaboration, fear of failure is a big barrier. When people move out of their silo to try something new, they ‘get their heads bitten off’ leaving them to scuttle back to the safety of their own area never to risk such behaviour again!

Tapping into the talents and attitudes of the upcoming Generation Z (born after c 1997) was offered as a way to help spark innovation and new ideas, exposing senior teams to their thoughts and ideas. Even encouraging some reverse mentoring.  Collaboration will become second nature for Gen Z as they’re likely not only to have to collaborate with human colleagues but with machines and AI too! 

The challenge of recruitment – developing a diverse leadership pipeline

Straight back to culture again.  The panel argued that it’s the right behaviours and the right attitudes that count, not necessarily the experience.  The consensus was that to be successful, a business must have the right culture.

“I’d give up a lot of experience for a well-functioning team”

If that’s the case, why does the CV sifting, job spec SEO, keyword tagging process still focus so heavily on experience rather than behaviours? A major cultural shift is needed right across UK PLC.

Do we need quotas to foster the right numbers? Certainly, that’s been successful in Norway where a legal quota has not just delivered women on boards but shown commercial results have improved as a result.  A win win all round.

Of course, diversity is much broader than sex, it’s ethnicity, faith, sexuality, diversity of background whether that’s class, education, or experience. It’s not just diversity that matters but inclusion too – creating an inclusive organisational culture where diversity is valued, nurtured and free to thrive.

A final voice of caution

“… talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, keep hiring the same kind of people over and over”

And that, of course, brings us right back to culture again.



[1] Bain and Co

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