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Join me on this weeks’ podcast to hear two brilliant Chief People Officers share their perspective of the challenges and joys of life inside an executive team.

I was joined by San Johal – CPO of EDF Renewables UK & Ireland and Jayde Tipper – CPO of Temenos.

We explore the ideal size for an executive team and the impact this has on decision making.

And we look at the role of the ExCo in role modelling your desired culture.

Chief people officers, or their equivalent such as a CHROs hold a unique place on an executive team. Because they’re both a member of the team, and they have the functional responsibility for ensuring leaders and leadership teams develop in a way that meets on the evolving needs of the business.

And because of this, they’ve got important insights into the current functioning of executive leaders and executive teams – and they have their ambitions and desires for those teams.

It’s because of this that I’m thrilled we’re having doing a mini series of conversations on the podcast with CPOs in conversation, not just with me, but with a peer from a different industry. We talk about what’s front of mind for them right now and some of the challenges they see with leading from the C-suite. So let’s dive in to today’s conversation.

I’m delighted to be joined by two exceptional CPOs who have deep insights. We have Jayde Tipper who is CPO of the fintech organisation supporting the banking sector, Temenos. And we have San Johal who is the CPO for EDF Renewables UK & Ireland.

This conversation was, honestly, a joy and I hope you get as much from it as I did. Let’s hear first from Jayde Tipper.

Jayde Tipper

Thanks, Jacqueline, for having me. And nice to meet you, San. So yeah, Temenos,  some people might not have heard of Temenos. We are one of the largest European FinTech companies. We sell banking software. We’re a billion dollars in revenue and about 7000 employees and the company is now 28 years old now. So we’ve been at this a while. I’ve been with the company for six and a half years or so now. I started out as a business partner around talent acquisition for a while and then moved into the CPO role about eight months ago. I’m based in in the UK, actually not far from San in Birmingham. I live in Stafford, but I’m from Birmingham. I think it’s an amazing time to be in HR at the moment, I think there’s sort of two hats that we wear as CPO. One is the running of the business. And the other part is transforming or the growth of the business. And I think increasingly the role is kind of splitting in half. And we have to kind of straddle both. Working with executive teams as a coach and a confidant and a thought partner in the CPO role, which is our, you know, our day job, but also being part of that team as well. I think we’re increasingly tackling problems and challenges that are new that have never been seen before. And I think there is a lot of inward views of like, we don’t know, and we don’t have all the answers. And I think that makes it very interesting, but also huge challenge. So whether it’s, you know, with hybrid working and the skill shortage that we’re all facing, these are unprecedented times for business leaders. So yeah, a great time to be to be in HR and to be working with our executives from my perspective.

Jacqueline Conway

Great. Thank you very much indeed. And so we’ll turn our attention now to San Johal San, tell us a little bit about you. And what’s exciting in your work with your executive team right now?

San Johal

Yeah, thanks Jacqueline. It’s great to be here, with both of you. Not dissimilar actually, to kind of what Jayde just talked about. But before I get into that, so introduction wise, I’ve been with EDF Renewables, UK & Ireland for two years now. I started just as locked down happened. So that was a very interesting time to be joining a new organisation and taking over a pandemic response. Back then, it was, oh my god, what is this thing we’re facing? What we do, well it kind of says what we do on the time. We’re a renewables organisation, part of EDF Energy in the UK and part of EDF globally. We develop, construct and maintain renewable assets across all kinds of renewable technologies such as onshore wind, offshore wind, battery, and solar. And so in terms of what’s exciting me about the executive team, and the work that we’re doing right now, is kind of really the contextual point that J just made. The context in my mind is forcing us this year in particular, is forcing us to really think about the way we lead and operate as an exec team. And Jacqueline, you and I have talked about enterprise wide versus functional leadership many times, but actually, for me this year has really demonstrated kind of front and centre, how enterprise leadership now has got to be the only way in which exec teams operate, and certainly the execs in our business because actually what we’re seeing in terms of that those contextual challenges, whether it be supply chain challenges, whether it be some of the kind of geopolitical stuff we’re seeing, or the economic stuff, is our only response to that has to be a whole team response. You know, we cannot, we’ll be battling elements of that in our functional work on a day to day basis. But how we respond to that as an organisation and how we remain strong, robust, and continue to meet our objectives, faced with that context can only be done by the whole team working in an enterprise wide way. So that for me is the most interesting thing that is going on for us right now. As well as that, whilst we’re trying to kind of operate with those challenging contextual matters, we’re also trying to grow the business. As Jayde talked about, we’re trying to improve it. We’re trying to continue to meet our day-to-day objectives. And so in what we ask of exec teams, how do we step up to that challenge? And how do we continue to lead an organisation and kind of lead through ambiguity, I think is extremely exciting, and something I’m very curious of how on a day-to-day basis.

Jacqueline Conway

There’s an ongoing conundrum that CEOs are faced with when designing their executive team. Namely the composition. Who should be on it, how big should it be. On the one side, there’s an argument that you keep it small and manageable. A smaller team will be able to make decisions faster, it’s more nimble and you don’t have the process losses – such as how to ensure everyone is fully appraised of everything – that you get with bigger teams.

But the flip side is that a bigger team, by its nature means there’s more diversity of opinion and perspective which is valuable for a team that’s trying to grapple with challenges that are complex and which requires different perspectives in decision making.

As it happens, the team that Jayde is on has recently reduced in size from 11 to 7 to speed up decision making, and the EDF exec team was restructured in 2020 that brought in San’s role at the time she joined the organisation.

Jadye Tipper

In my experience and opinion? Yes, definitely. And I think we spoke about this, in our previous conversation. We’ve actually recently at Temenos, changed that the size of our executive committee and made it smaller. So we’ve gone from 11, in the ExCo to seven. So that’s the CEO, myself, the CMO, Chief Marketing Officer, Product to Revenue Officer, Chief Sales Officer, and obviously the CFO, the CIO. So we’ve gotten smaller, and I remember having a conversation with our exec Chairman, while this idea was coming into fruition back in January, and I said, okay, just explain to me why we’re doing this. What’s he said, precisely, to your point, Jacqueline, this is to make faster and better decisions is the only reason we are doing this; so we can prove to our shareholders and our wider Board about the decision-making power of that smaller core team. At the time, I thought, that’s interesting. What’s that all about? But having sat through meetings, where it is a smaller group. We’ve also got a wider leadership team of about 14 people. And maybe it’s the context of our culture and our the team dynamic if people stick to and comment on their area of expertise. So if there’s a people question or a discussion, everybody looks at me. If it’s an issue with legal they look at Chief Legal Counsel. And that’s when you have more people sat around the table. And I also see that with the people there, there’s a divergence of dominant voices that come to the fore, and then people almost don’t speak and then you have this piece in the middle where people follow the crowd. I think it’s human nature. But you obviously have the benefit of more diversity, of diverse perspectives. When we are in a smaller group, I feel there is much more equal airtime amongst everybody? And you are expected or given the platform to have an opinion on a view outside of your domain because, like I would say to our CEO, you can’t see everything, I can’t see everything but as a group we all see. We can all see everything. So I think there is a lot of value in having that smaller core team to make better decisions but not only that, to the point around this idea of enterprise leadership, it’s much easier to get consensus and say, we’re going to step out of this room, and we’re all going to back the CEO, because we all have a duty to do that. And we’re all gonna step out of the room and deliver and do what we said we were going to do. That’s much easier, I think, when you are smaller, and particularly at a time when I think trust across organisations is probably at an all time low. I think, from an employee perspective, they are looking to the leadership team asking, can I trust you? Do I believe in you? Have I got confidence in you? And it’s early days for us. So time will tell whether it was the right call or not. And, and this is not some sort of locked secret room where and discussions happens. Because we do have that wider management board to support us. But for us, the decision to make it a smaller ExCo was based on our ability to make faster and better decisions. So yeah, early days, and of course, the culture of the organisation and team dynamic and the leadership of that group will set the cadence for what’s to come. But for me so far, I think it was probably the right one for what we need now.

Jacqueline Conway

It’s really interesting that you’ve gone in that direction, because the thing that I notice with the clients that I’m working with, is that the trend is towards increasing the size of the executive team. And indeed, that’s what’s happened in EDF Renewables. San, do you want to say a bit about that and respond to what Jayde has said? But also the fact that Mathieu, who’s the Chief Executive, made the decision to increase the size? What was the rationale? And what do you think about it?

San Johal

Yeah, I mean, it’s fascinating to hear what Jayde is speaking about, because my own personal opinion is, I think it’s the kind of decision either way is probably more driven by the organisational need. And in particular, I think for us, it was driven by where the organisation was in relation to its growth trajectory, and what was missing from arguably the top table or the exec team table. I think the kind of decision making factors that were clearly very important within Jade’s organisation were not the primary reasons for us. For our CEO, I wasn’t around at the time, but our CEO was taking into account when he made the decision to go from a five member exec team to a 10 member one, including the CEO… I think the main drivers at that time, were kind of seeing the growth trajectory ahead of them at that point and understanding what would be more important to be led at an exec level over that trajectory. So for example, the CTO role didn’t exist, there was a head of HR role. That’s arguably kind of minus two from where the exec team is sitting at that point. So the CPO role was created. I’m a bit biased on that one! But I believe that was the right thing to do. Because actually, when you think about the trajectory, yes, we can think about megawatts in development and construction and operation. But what sits behind that in terms of organisational change, cultural change, strengthening of the people agenda, and all those things that sit traditionally within the CPO remit, it’s kind of a no brainer that it had to be a new role. And at that point, there was a creation of that role. But the existing five roles remained just as important as they were before. So it wasn’t a kind of one in one out. And there was a similar kind of rationale for the other four roles that were created at that time. Now, is that going to be the kind of enduring change? Just as Jayde says, I think it’s kind of moment-in-time stuff sometimes, isn’t it? Yes, you’re not chopping and changing the size of your exec team every year, but it would be silly to be thinking that, you know, it’s locked in and it stays like that forever. Because the contextual points that I made earlier, have such an impact. But I think for us in EDF Renewables, the growth agenda in particular, and the kind of aggressiveness of the acceleration of that growth is what drove those decisions. And what we’re now working on, as you’re aware Jacqueline, is how do we become really effective as an exec team of 10? What is it to kind of think about those points that Jayde was referencing? What is it about decision making processes that we need to improve on that needs to happen in particular outside of exec team meetings to prepare people for the decision that is coming to the table? At the meeting, such that when you get to the meeting, and you have a limited amount of time, because they always run over, and there’s never enough time, that you can have a really enriching conversation, and people can align to the outcome of that decision, without feeling like they’ve been, you know, they’ve not had the opportunity to influence it, or to have any impact on it in terms of their point of view. So we’re trying really hard to think about how we do that beforehand. My favourite phrase for my team at the moment is, how do we socialise this decision amongst the execs before we get to the meeting on Tuesday? And who is it from the nine execs that we think we need to spend a little bit more time kind of socialising it with before we get to the meeting? So kind of been building some allies? If you like, before you get to the actual event.

Jayde Tipper

We’ve had something similar as well, actually last week? Yeah, we had our executive committee meeting and one of the things was, we always have a dinner beforehand, which is almost as useful and goes on as long as the meeting the day before. And that’s where a lot of the stuff gets aired in that context, which is useful. And one of the things was we need to think about how do we make most of these meetings so that we can make decisions and stick to the decisions? And who do you need in the room? Everyone, but who do you need to be involved in your decision making? In that group? And that’s not quite frankly, let’s not use these as update meetings. Right? If it’s an update, this is not the forum. And we all fall into bad habits, right? Even at the executive team level. So yeah, we have the same thing.

San Johal

I agree. In fact I was just going to add, I was laughing to somebody a couple of weeks ago that we’d had a night out before a formal meeting. And I joked to someone the other day, that actually I could probably do my job on the basis of nights out, because that’s when you really see kind of true feelings and open conversation that really does give you the insight you need as a CPO. To kind of really work through and understand how you can add value as much as possible to those relationships and the development of that team.

Jacqueline Conway

That’s so fascinating. You’re both, referring to something that happens organically. And naturally, when you put people in a social situation, and they just bring their sort of human side, rather than what happens…. I mean, in actual fact, I literally wrote a blog about this last week, where I was with a team where we went out and we had a drink together the night before. And there was laughter and there was camaraderie, and there was debate about things and quite sharp debate, and then the next day, we got into the exec team meeting. And, you know, there was a big agenda and always like, super formal, and the ability of the team to really kick around the issues has to do good sensemaking and good positive challenge seemed to be greatly diminished by the way the meeting was set up and structured. That was what was palpably different from when there was this kind of social aspect the night before.

Jayde Tipper

My kids said something quite funny to me. We invited our CEO to one of our HR off-sites and he said to me: You know, what your kids think you do is really what your job is. He’s got young kids and they think that he’s training to be a news journalist, because he practices speeches. And I asked my kids, so they’re just little but they said: “You have to just go on a plane and then go to the pub.” Because whatever they got, invariably, I end up in a hotel bar with a colleague of mine, it’s influencing. Part of our job as the CPO is influencing and persuading and getting feedback and buy-in for a lot of, you know, we don’t have control over the whole population. But each of those people that are our peers do, right? So you can touch them all. I thought that was quite funny and quite true.

San Johal

Yeah, I would agree. I think you’re in a hotel bar or a restaurant, trying to get somebody to kind of really tell you how they’re feeling and then trying to get them to do the same in the formal setting.

Jacqueline Conway

Another important aspect of executive leadership is the impact that the executive has on the prevailing culture in an organisation. People watch executive leaders for clues and cues of what’s acceptable and what’s not.

San Johal

Yeah, thanks, Jacqueline. This is very topical for us right now. If we take what we just talked about in terms of growth, ambition, and needing to improve the organisation, ensuring the organisation is fit for purpose in terms of that growth, and the leaders role in that, I’m firmly of the view and the opinion that the exec team are a core part of shaping organisational culture. That’s not to say it just sits with the exec team. Of course not. You know, this nebulous concept of culture is one that we could probably spend all day debating. But it my view is that actually, we’re in a privileged position in exec roles, we have the eyes of the organisation on us as. As much as many execs I’m still astonished to find don’t think that is the case, it is the case. And that’s to kind of face facts. And we’re in these roles because, yes, we’re competent, we are functionally competent, we have expertise, but we’re also taking on a very important mandate, which is the leadership and the driving of the organisation. And with that comes a bit of a kind of microscope of the role modelling the kind of little cues, the things we do say, but more importantly the things we don’t say the kind of behaviours, the actions, and that for me, it constitutes the nudges on culture. Every one of those things, shapes the culture of the organisation, and it signposts what is and what isn’t acceptable in this organisation, what we value and what we don’t value. And so, for me, I’m trying to kind of break it down into very small examples, with our exec team colleagues coming out of an exec team meeting and rolling your eyes. That will have an impact on culture, because people will see that and they’ll take a cue from that. And they’ll also jump to some conclusions. Some of those conclusions might be right, and maybe not so healthy, and some of them might be wrong. And therefore, whilst I’m not looking for us to become robots, and not be our authentic or genuine selves, what I am asking for our exec colleagues to do is recognise the role that they’re playing. Culture doesn’t happen ‘over there’: everybody has a part to play in it. And actually, for us, it’s about setting a bit of the standard, but also really showing some organisational alignment and being really clear about how we’re going to lead the organisation through ambiguity, through challenging times. And how we’re going to do that with the kind of right behaviours in an authentic way. And so, yes, it’s a big ask, but these are big roles, and we’re privileged to be in them. And so therefore, with that comes this responsibility. I think leaders at all levels are very important to shaping organisational culture but especially the exec team.

Jacqueline Conway

Yeah, absolutely. Jayde, what’s your view on this?

Jayde Tipper

Yeah, I think one of the things that I feel like a broken record sometimes with our leaders is around … you use a word which I use as well San, is privileged. Whether you like it or not, we’re in a role where all eyes are on you, and particularly like in our organisations after there’s a next step. So what happened? What was spoken about? I say don’t play to the rumour mill, right? Because the rumour mill is ferocious in any organisation. We have a party line that we stick to authentically but we’ve got to stick to it. And above all, we have to back each other because people will, whatever we need to vacuum pack this executive team and then we’re all saying the same thing authentically, in our own words, but we can’t say oh, just because someone disagrees with something, the eye rolling, the shrugging, whatever with these leakages. It can be ferocious across the organisation and undermines the credibility of the whole executive team. So, I think we really have to kind of hold the mirror and be really intentional about how we, how we behave, and like you say, not to be robots. We just have to go further, everything you say and do has to be intentional, because all eyes are on you. And when there are times of change, it could be an acquisition, it could be a restructure, you know, all these things that are happening across organisations. Yeah, all the time. It’s then people will talk to see how we are essentially responding and reacting and the narratives around that. Because people need to feel safe. I think, ultimately, and particularly with what everyone has been through, over the last couple of years, more than ever, potentially.

Jacqueline Conway

You both agree with the point that the exec has a really important and quite unique role in shaping and role modelling the culture, and you both get it, and we would expect CPOs to get it. But how, how much does the rest of the exec team get it? You know, to what extent is this view shared across the Exec? Or do people really need reminded of it?

San Johal

I think there’s a constant reminder that’s needed. And that’s not because people are incompetent. Not at all, I think that the kind of the anti has increased on the role of execs in culture, because of kind of the challenges that all organisations are facing, and the great resignation and how important it is for people now in terms of the choices that they have in a candidate-led market, to kind of wanting to work for the right kind of the ideal organisation. So I think it’s never been more important. But there’s a reminder needed because, you know, let’s face facts, as executives there are a number of things going on at any given time that you need to give some attention to, you need to be monitoring, you need to be ensuring is on track, etc. And so I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of that we need to be reminding ourselves of this challenge all of the time, because there are so many other things that execs are contending with. I think the reminder also then serves for it to become embedded, because I’m sure we’ve all seen leaders where it’s kind of second nature and they’re not CPOs. It’s such a pleasure to see because they get it and they kind of live and breathe it and they understand what the impact of their particular actions are going to be and how they can positively contribute to shaping that culture.

Jayde Tipper

I find myself saying so often, particularly when it comes to the people agenda, is that we should be talking ourselves out of a job. I’m like, “this is not an HR issue. This is a business issue”. Whether it’s culture, resignation, the succession, whatever we are talking about, I would start with this is everyone’s issue, just in the same way that everyone has a responsibility for the brand. Everyone needs to have an eye on cost, revenue, whatever. So as soon as you take that, oh, well, that’s cool chair. “Hey Jayde, what have you got to say about that?” then we’ve missed the point completely around a lot of these things. And I think to you’re earlier point around so this functional versus enterprise concept, I think just the continuum of that is shifting in that leadership or being an exec or whatever, can’t be something that you do when you finished your day job. And when you’ve got time, it needs to be all the time embedded, like you say, we talk about the great resignation, we also see CEOs change. There’s a change of CEO at a higher rate than it’s ever been. All the data points are telling us something is changing, right. It’s hard. It’s really hard. But I think there needs to be knowledge of that as well.

Jacqueline Conway

So we’ve been hearing about the crucial role of an executive team. And yet, I wonder if the C-suite isn’t the last place where we take leadership development really seriously? The research shows that the C-suite is where the least amount of ongoing leadership development happens. And yet, the work of collective leadership – which is what’s necessary in the C-suite doesn’t happen by accident, but by deliberate practice. And the shift from functional to enterprise leadership requires ongoing development and practice. I was curious about this and asked my guests if they thought enough work was being done in executive team to really focus on their collective enterprise leadership.

San Johal

I think it’s very obvious that we’re not doing enough. I mean, I’ve worked in a number of exec teams. In the ones I’ve worked in, we’ve definitely taken the step of scoping, and bringing in a partner and doing some focused exec development work. And that feels great. And that has happened with each exec team I’ve worked with. Where we’ve not been so great, is actually how we continue to what I would call build the muscle around that without the help of a partner. And that’s not to say that the partner hasn’t given us the skills or the capability to be able to do that. I think it’s, it’s a kind of capacity and agenda time thing. And so, you know, we haven’t nailed it for sure. But what we have been trying to do, and it feels uncomfortable at times is we’ve been forcing it back into our agenda, we’ve been forcing ourselves to do self-reflections and self-assessments, and understand what we are doing better at and what we’re still not doing so great at. It’s actually recognising that the things that we haven’t been able to move the dial on that were definite areas of executive leadership that we needed to get better at that we might just need to bring a partner back to the table just to help us in. I suppose if we were maybe earlier on in our careers, and we recognised that there were areas for development that we really needed to fill, we probably would have been less shy about it and kind of more forceful in making sure that those gaps were filled yet. But you get to this exec level, and maybe it’s that kind of feeling of, well, we must know all of the answers and we therefore can’t possibly admit that we haven’t got all of the answers. As you say Jacqueline, I think that there’s maybe a switch that’s required there that says, actually, for us to be authentic for the organisation, we also need to be authentic amongst ourselves about what still isn’t working for us and where we could improve. And for me, it feels like it’s not just about gaps being filled. It’s how we keep that muscle strong. How do we keep investing in it? It’s a bit like, you know, not taking it as a bit of a fad when you go to the gym, but actually making a sustained commitment. And I see this as being the same. Absolutely.

Jayde Tipper

Yeah, I mean, I knew we were going to agree! Absolutely, definitely not. And I think there’s a couple of things that are on my mind around this is that we’ve already spoken about a little bit about your Executive Team addressing new problems, unprecedented problems. And yet, are we just trying to use the old solutions for new problems, right? And you know, it’s that famous quote: :what got you here, won’t get you there”. So I think there is an element of what has worked in the past is probably not going to work moving forward, have we got the humility and self-reflectiveness to say, hey, we need some help in this. Secondly, I think about role modelling. Our organisation, like a lot of organisations, are really looking deeply into skills, skills for the future, creating a learning culture. And I think you’ve got to role model that and be very, it’s a little bit like back-in-the-day when people wouldn’t admit that they had a coach, right? It was like, “Oh yeah, that’s a sign of weakness”. I think to be able to go out and say, as an exec, we are trying to get better, right? And we talk about the learning culture. So this is what we are doing, and really role modelling that across the organisation, I think is something else that’s super important. My husband is a triathlon coach. He always says “Nobody would ever do an Ironman without a coach. You guys, at your level, are  doing like an Ironman every day. And you know even amateurs, decent amateurs would never do something like that without a coach”. Whether that’s group coaching or individual coaching, to be the best that you can and we shouldn’t stop trying to get better and I think that sometimes perhaps there is a point, not all the time but some seasoned people think. “well I’ve got here so I must have all the answers”. Maybe they do have 90% of them right, but I think there is a change. And I think particularly as you bring in new generations of leaders, and I do see a bit of a divergence around this with new leaders who have this sort of thirst for new knowledge and learning and perhaps, maybe, again, it’d be organisation, cultural specific, but around, you know, acknowledging ‘this is what I’m good at, and this is where I need to work’ and being quite open with that their teams as well. But again, it’s not something that’s necessarily easy or comes naturally all the time. So, lots to be done, I’m sure. And if somebody has nailed it, I’d definitely like to know what they did.

There are some fascinating insights that Jayde and San explored in this episode. If you’d like to find out more about how we’re working with executive leadership teams, you can reach out on the contact page that I’ve include in the show notes. I’m so grateful to Jayde and San for coming onto today’s podcast. I’d like to say thanks and give a shout out to the podcast producer, Dave Howard at Bespoken Media and thank you, for listening. If you like that podcast, it would mean a lot if you could like and review it so other executives can find out more about it.

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By Jacqueline Conway…

Dr Jacqueline Conway works with CEOs and executive teams as they fully step into their collective enterprise-wide leadership, helping them transform their impact and effectiveness.

Jacqueline is Waldencroft’s Managing Director. Based in Edinburgh, she works globally with organisations facing disruption in the new world of work.

About Jacqueline Conway