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Is your role in the C-suite expanding?

In this edition of the podcast, we hear from two CPOs whose role has increased to take on additional responsibilities that have a strategic overlap with their people agenda.

We discuss with Cecilie Heuch how Telenor is adopting an approach to leading remotely across geographies using a ‘tight-loose-tight’ approach and with Dr Tracey Leghorn on the importance of positive constructive challenge in the C-suite in SUEZ UK

More brilliant insights from seasoned C-suite professionals.

Guests: Cecelie Heuch, Chief People and Sustainability Officer at Telenor and Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief HR & H&S Officer at Suez UK.

Jacqueline Conway 00:00

As the environment that executives are leading in becomes more complex and demanding CEOs have a number of ways to react when it comes to the way that they structure their executive team. One is to expand the size of the team to bring in all of the expertise that’s required that currently sits at the functional level. And another is to have a very small executive team, which works much more closely with that next level, the tier one leaders and that’s where the broad issues preside within that functional responsibility. But there’s a third option, which is that the roles of the executive team itself are expanded to meet the challenges confronting the business. And so, it is with both of my guests today.

Each of them is Chief People Officer of a large successful business, and both have roles that have expanded beyond their core responsibility. Each has also been working in new ways, in particular post COVID new ways of problem solving and of collaborating, and they’ve both been embedding these into the leadership capability in the organisation. What’s fascinating in the discussion today is that there’s a strong agreement on what the other is doing in their business. whilst they’re also doing something quite different within their own organisation.

I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Tracy Leghorn from Suez UK and Cecilia Heuch from Telenor. I let them introduce themselves before we get into the discussion.

Tracey Leghorn 02:34

Hi, I’m Dr. Tracy Leigh and I’m the Chief HR and Health and Safety Officer at Suez Recycling and Recovery UK. We are a Waste and Environmental Services organisation, which collects processes and disposes of over 11 million tonnes of waste a year throughout our 330 sites. I sit on the board of Suez UK, and I’ve got quite a wide portfolio. I’m responsible for HR, health and safety, facilities, project management and IT across the company.

Cecilie Heuch 03:15

Hello, my name is Cecilia Heuch and I’m the Chief People and Sustainability Officer at Telenor a telecommunications company, based in Northern Europe, so Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. But we also have operations in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and Malaysia, around 170 million customers altogether.

Jacqueline Conway 03:43

You are both a member of your executive team or board. But you also hold responsibility for the development and the ongoing evolution of that because of your people agenda. So, I think these conversations are absolutely fascinating because of the depth of insight that you can provide for us. And what’s really interesting about both of you, is that you have a remit that goes far beyond just people. So, we heard from Dr. Tracey, your remit Tracey is HR, and Health and Safety. And Cecilie, your responsibility as well as being Chief People Officer is also in Sustainability. So, I’d like to just explore that a little bit. I’m really curious as to why both of your organisations have expanded those things out. Cecilie, do you want to do want to go first?

Cecilie Heuch 04:36

Yes, I started out as Chief People Officer, and then the parameter and the scope was increased. I think there is no one size fits all in this. I think it depends on the purpose, the person and I think there are many ways to cut the cake. You can find similarities and synergies. across different functional areas. So, I don’t think there’s one size fits all. But what makes sense in our case is that some of the things that we work on in the sustainability area, externally are also things we work on internally, within the people function. To give a few examples. We work as part of our sustainability agenda; we have two big items. The first is building digital skills in the societies where we are to give back to the societies in which we operate. For instance, Bangladesh, for instance, Pakistan, we have a whole agenda where we work with Plan International, we work with UNICEF, and we have the goal in 2024 to spread digital skills to 5 million people. At the same time, we have a very strong competence development agenda internally in the people area. So, and it’s the same with things like diversity and inclusion, we have a diversity and inclusion agenda externally. But we also work on it internally, we have a climate agenda, we’ve signed on to the science-based targets, externally, we’re working on reducing our footprint year by year. At the same time, we are also working both externally and internally on these issues and trying to engage the whole workforce around the areas of climate and environment.

Tracey Leghorn 06:40

Yeah, I was just going to say I’m really encouraged that Cecilie’s role has expanded into sustainable development. Clearly, you know, being at Suez, that’s our job. It’s everybody’s job, and as well, social value very much part of our culture and way of working. And I think moving forward, I’d like to see more HR leadership roles have the sustainable development piece within their portfolio, the global sustainable development goals, of course, have a lot of people elements in there. So, there is some really good crossover, good synergies that can be gained from that, from my own perspective, when I joined Suez four years ago, I was responsible for HR, health and safety and facilities. And that was just, you know, part and parcel of the role. And I was encouraged really, by that, to broaden my portfolio and knowledge into other areas, particularly sort of their health and safety at that point in time. And more recently, I’ve taken over responsibility for project management and IT and having, you know, that real bulk of the support services, within my portfolio means, you know, we identify areas where we can really gain and learn from each other in a way that perhaps doesn’t happen when they’re sitting within different portfolios unless you’ve got a very collaborative way of working across an organisation. And that’s challenging in large organisations. I know that when we talked prior to the podcast, Jacqueline, you asked me about my role. And how I always answer this with regards to the role that I have at Suez is that really, it feels to fall into three main big parts. The first one of those is about being a leader, a third of my time is dedicated to being a leader, being out in the business being visible, gaining from the insight of the people doing the jobs on the ground, taking that back into the boardroom, and into the discussions that we have. The second third of my role about the strategic direction of the organisation. And there’s massive changes ahead in the Waste and Resources sector. And so that’s, that’s a really big part of my job, as well as obviously, ensuring the financial sustainability of the business. So that is, you know, another sort of third of my role. And the other third is around that technical delivery, for those functions within my portfolio. And to do that, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got a really great leadership team, in and around you, heading up those various functions that you have. And I think that’s important. I think for HR, that we don’t let ourselves become too confined and that we are very much about knowing your business, knowing your numbers, as well as technical delivery.

Cecilie Heuch 09:58

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, I also think that especially the people function and the people role we are, it’s really important that we engage the rest of the executive team, they need to be the people, responsibility is in the line organisation. I’m not personally responsible for all the people. So, I put things on the agenda. But I need to get the followership with the rest of the executive team. So, we spend a lot of time on people issues in the executive team. And that’s not sort of me spending the time it’s us spending the time. One example, we have a category of people that we call the sort of the talent management arena, the top 125 in the organisation. And as a team, we spend 25 hours every year, going through every single person every year, and giving input to their performance and their development, so that we manage to use people in the right roles. And that we see people from a from different perspectives, and that people do not get labelled from an incident and unfortunate incident, they hadn’t, you know, five or 10 years ago, but that we always get a fresh perspective of how people have performed and their potential going forward.

Jacqueline Conway 11:28

In our pre conversation with both of you, there was an issue that you raised as important front of mind for you as an Executive leader. So obviously, the audience for this podcast is chief executives, and CEOs and other executive leaders who are trying to learn from and gain insight from other people in the C suite. So, what’s it like there, and you both had an interesting perspective of something that is going on in your organisation. And I’d like to just have both of those conversations one after the other. Tracey let’s start with you. Because you talked about the necessity for positive constructive challenge in the C suite in order to be able to make decisions and move things on. And you mentioned a little bit about the importance of the role of a collaborative chief executive officer in that. And I wonder if you can say a little more about that, and why that is particularly important for you and for your organisation.

Tracey Leghorn 12:39

I think it’s really important for boards to develop a really deep relationship that’s based on trust. So that conversations can be had that aren’t about always been completely harmonious and agreeing with each other. But actually, having some really healthy debate, some very positive argument before coming to decisions. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to always agree with the views of others round the table. Once decisions are made clearly, you know, you need to be united in that in moving it forward. And I think that’s achieved when people know that there has been a healthy debate that their views have been heard. And I do think it makes for better decisions. When I talk about this, I often think about conversations that are had around negotiating forums, perhaps with unions and management. And often in my experience, management would say, oh, yeah, why can’t they just agree with us? Why can’t they just see that we need to do this, Tracy? And I’d say, well, actually you know, they’re entitled to a voice, they’ve got a particular role around the table, and we should hear it, because that may actually change our view on things. And that’s really helpful and healthy as a negotiating forum. And for me, I think that works at all levels within the organisation, and particularly necessary for the board. And to make that happen, and to create that safe environment to have those types of constructive conversations. You do need a leader who’s very good at facilitating those types of conversations and who is very collaborative in their approach.

Jacqueline Conway 14:31

How has your chief executive and your team been able to stay in relationship with simultaneously being able to be really challenging from one another?

Tracey Leghorn 14:44

I think that’s not an easy answer, you know, to provide an answer to and I think some of it is instinctive within leaders. Some of it is you know, through skills that they’ve developed. Some of it is through leadership training. Some of it is through, you know, identifying positive ways of working and creating those types of conversations in others, and then, you know, practicing that ourselves. I certainly feel that, you know, at Suez, our chief executive John Scanlon is particularly good at this, he’s prepared to ensure that everybody feels that they have had, you know, a view in conversations. I think sometimes with a rapidly changing world, and businesses that need to move at pace, sometimes there’s a tendency, actually to move straight to a decision rather than actually take the time to make sure it’s the right decision. And I’m not saying that we should take too long to make decisions, there is a balance here. But it is about getting that balance, right.

Cecilie Heuch 15:54

Yeah, that’s the balance, definitely to be struck. We’ve had now two very different years, during COVID. We are not geographically in the same place as the executive team. We have been working remotely and many of us have worked for nearly two years from the home office. So, it’s been a very different time. And I think that it’s easier to have the more healthy debates and maybe the more difficult debates when you are physically co located. So, I think that has been a challenge at times, that it’s easier to sort of lean back when you are on the screen and not get into the difficult areas. So that’s something we’ve been working on. During COVID, we have experienced that it would was good to try to introduce a new leadership concept that has been working well for us during COVID and that we will continue to work on now that we are in more hybrid way work and that is the “tight, loose, tight”. It’s nothing that we have invented and is rooted in research from decades back. Tight means that we as leaders set the direction; so, we start with why. And we mobilise our teams around purpose, we define goals and the desired impact based on the strategy and the customer needs. We role model our behaviours and our code of conduct, that’s the first “tight” and then we have the “loose”, which is all about trust-based leadership. And so, we give the teams’ autonomy to go out and get the job done and deliver on their outcomes. And then we in the meantime, we act as de-blockers, and we ask how we can support. But we do not control. And we create these, I think you were on to it as well, Tracy, these the conditions of psychological safety. So that’s the “loose” part. And then the last “tight” is where you hold people accountable. And we learn to evaluate the outcomes, and you maximise the speed of learning by continuously measuring what matters. Doing it this way we nurture a high-performance culture. This is a very simple concept that people have been able to relate to throughout the organisation, whether you’re in Bangladesh, or you’re in Norway. It has worked wonders for us in a time when people have not been physically together. And we work across borders: tight, loose, tight.

Jacqueline Conway 18:56

And one of the things I found interesting about how you operationalize that is, is that you mentor people, one layer below your direct reports. Do you want to say a little bit about that?

Cecilie Heuch 19:09

Yeah, so everybody in the executive teams we have, we are mentors for people in the levels below. When we mentor around leadership, we use this concept. And we also share within our top team where we are on the tight, loose, tight. We’ve had workshops in all the top teams in the different countries on where are we as a team, and what we want to work on. I mean, some are really good at setting the targets creating shared purpose at the beginning. Some are more loose in the beginning and then they are maybe very controlling in the middle because they haven’t been tight in the beginning. We all have different ways of operating, and this creates a language. It’s easy to talk about this as a concept; it’s easy to grasp whatever culture we are in. We use it in mentorship throughout the organisation and in leadership training throughout the organisation.

Jacqueline Conway 20:12

It’s fascinating because one of the things that we observe in the executive teams that we’re working with is that getting this balance right, you know, you’ve either got an executive team, that’s kind of too stratospheric and that needs to sometimes come back down. That’s less often than executive teams that tend to be too involved. And so, it provides a framework for actually balancing that within the executive team, which is sometimes quite problematic when the Exec is too functionally focused.

Tracey Leghorn 20:44

It might be that, you know, just sort of circling back to what we started with. And the fact that the portfolios of exec teams are actually expanding is the reality is, you haven’t got the time to do everybody else’s job, you have to focus on your own. So even people who perhaps, would have a tendency to want to be more in the detail and perhaps a little bit more controlling for want of a better word. Actually, you can’t be. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do that. So, in some way that brings about that lifting up of everybody to the next level to concentrate on actually, what are their, in Cecilie’s words tight deliverables, with regards to that their own role. It certainly resonates I think, the approach that you’re taking, being clear on what you want people to deliver, giving them empowerment, and autonomy to deliver that, and then actually gauging how they’ve delivered against those targets. I think, you know, as Cecilie is saying, it’s nothing new. But I think it’s really positive that they’re setting out within their organisation very clearly that that’s the approach that they want everybody to take. And so, I think that’s very interesting.

Jacqueline Conway 22:11

Going back to this point around collaboration. And Cecilie, you talked about the fact that you’re in this remote working environment. You’ve got a globally dispersed team. And obviously, the wonders of Zoom and Teams and the technological ability to communicate with one another has really got us through the lockdown period. But you’re speaking to its limitations, aren’t you? And the fact that when you’re going through things that are relatively straightforward, then it works quite well. But there is something that’s lost in it being digital, that when you are together, particularly when you’re trying to have difficult conversations or you’re grappling with something that’s a bit more gnarly and problematic, that that is better face-to-face. I wonder how you overcome that, given that you’ve already identified it, what do you do to overcome it?

Cecilie Heuch 23:15

We think that it’s really important that we now get together also in the physical space and do things like just having dinners together. We see that when we have a dinner together the night before our discussions the day after is more fruitful. So just being together, again, has made a big difference. And we prioritise that people travel so that we can be together at times. And that helps the times when we are not together. So, it’s actually not that complex. And it’s a little bit what we encourage in terms of flexible work with all our people that to be able to build relationships, to be able to build the culture of the company, we sometimes need to meet as well. And we had this situation where the CFO of our company, our group, had not met one of the members of the executive team sitting in Finland, and they didn’t meet for two years. So, because of COVID then there are limits. We are trying to build that back up together.

Tracey Leghorn 24:27

I honestly could not agree more. I’m a social scientist, and so I see the benefits of human interaction and how necessary that is not only you know, in the workplace, but in life in general as well and in the well-being context. Yes, it’s about having that constructive challenge, physically in the room is a lot better than online. And often if that challenge is becoming quite strong. You know, when you break to get a coffee, you often go to the person that perhaps you’re not agreeing with and say, you know, just want to be sure that you know where I’m coming from. And you might do that informally whilst you get a coffee, but not necessarily in the room, and certainly not online. And I think also, as Cecilie is inferring, a lot of decisions are made before we walk in the room. And that can’t happen when you’re online, that’s not inclusive. What I was going back to before, about having a leader that makes sure that everything’s collaborative, and everyone gets their say, that doesn’t happen in online meetings, particularly if perhaps you’ve got some people who are together in the meeting, and others that are dialling in to join. I do feel that unless you are absolutely skilled at ensuring everyone gets those voices, it doesn’t work in the same way.

Cecilie Heuch 26:02

So, I think the sort of the conclusion of this is that in the executive team, we’re just as everybody else, and this is what people have grappled with during COVID. And we see it at every level of the organisation. But if we’re looking ahead, we’ve had a lot of work now on what is the future leadership. And we’ve defined a few traits. So, a few sort of focus areas for leadership the way we see going forward. One is that we as leaders are, in a way, what we call Ecosystem shapers. Because in our organisations, we have lots of stakeholders. So that’s why we call it a shaper of an ecosystem, we have an impact, which is not just one-to-one, but it is a bigger ecosystem of partners. I think also business-wise, we work more with partners now and we will be in the future. And then secondly, it is creating space for innovation. There’s so much uncertainty so we need to be able to have more of a culture of experimentation and innovation. And then to be this adaptive leader, because we are venturing into a lot of areas now. And having complex challenges, there no blueprint. So being adaptive in the way we lead is a third thing that we’re focusing on. And the last thing is about embracing ownership and accountability, personal ownership. So, it’s around thinking and acting as an owner executing on strategy while role modelling the culture change and the leadership transformation.

Jacqueline Conway 27:50

That’s fascinating. And, of course, a lot of the things that you’ve talked about, particularly around shaping an ecosystem, being an adaptive leader, these require us to actually lean into problem solving in a different way than sort of old mechanistic ways of trying to solve problems don’t really work when you’re in a culture of innovation and in a disrupted world. How do you manage that across different countries and different cultures? Do you find that it manifests itself in a different way across for example, the part of the business in Southeast Asia versus the Nordics? Tell me about that?

Cecilie Heuch 28:36

I think these things are and these leadership traits work in every culture, I don’t think there’s that much of a difference. If you are a telecom operator, and you’re going to develop new products and services to businesses and to consumers. You need more partners now because we don’t have this integrated value chain anymore. It is disintegrating and there are new partners, new businesses coming in and taking parts of the of the value chain. So, we need to be more collaborative, and we need to work with partners much more. And this space, this thing about creating a space for innovation and being adaptive. I think it goes for every business that there is a lot of uncertainty. And we can’t have these sorts of very, very long product development times and the longer we need to make small experiments tested out in the market. Telecom is very traditional and not the most fast paced industry. But we’re feeling that we need to get to another level in terms of speed now, and in terms of collaboration with others. And I think this is the whole industry. And I’m sure in Suez that you can recognize because you also have a long legacy, right? So, all of us, whether we’re part of something bigger or something smaller, we need to be more agile in the way we work wherever we are.

Tracey Leghorn 30:06

Yeah, I wholly agree with that. At Suez, got a very unique culture. It was always a very paternalistic organisation, despite the fact that even in the UK, it’s a nearly a billion-pound organisation, clearly formally part of the global service group. For us, we’ve put a lot of work into implementing lean across our sites. But we’ve grown from that now into systems thinking. And applying problem solving in a whole system approach and looking at it through the eyes of our customers. And we’ve done a lot of work to create trust and create safe spaces for our people to solve the problems on the ground. But to solve them on the ground, with a line of sight across the whole system within the organisation. So, getting people together from different parts of the business to solve persistent problems. And that’s not the leaders solving those problems. That’s the people who know the jobs and actually know how to fix those problems. So, when we think of Cecilie, with tight, loose, tight, in that initial tight bit where perhaps you’re setting what’s required to be delivered, actually at Suez we collaborate with our people and say, “tell us and help us to understand what we should be delivering, and also how we could better deliver it”. So again, coming back to that very collegiate approach, when you do that and you involve people in creating the solutions, the implementation of those solutions, is expedited. I don’t read a lot of leadership books. But there’s one quote that’s always stayed in mind for me from my early studies. And it’s by Evans, 1996 and he says, you know, it’s human nature to resist, unless you’ve been part of creating that. And I’ve had that in mind for last 25 years.

Jacqueline Conway 32:26

And you say, you bring people together to solve those problems, but Systems Thinking, thinking systemically across the whole problem doesn’t happen naturally for lots of people. Some people are more inclined to this way of thinking than others, developmentally. So how do you overcome that? Somebody might have a really good perspective on their part of a problem but are less good at seeing that within its context.

Tracey Leghorn 32:56

Well, three years ago, we started a major transformation programme to really enhance our approach to systems thinking. And we started looking at persistent problems in one area of our business, our industrial and commercial collections. And we literally took 60 people out of the business across all the process steps that was about servicing our industrial and commercial customers. We took them out of the business for five weeks, we put them in a very large room, and we asked them to solve all those persistent problems. And that resulted in over 100 improvement initiatives, some very small, some medium term. And actually, we’ve just completed the implementation of those longer term, high investment improvements that were needed. And the result of that has been absolutely phenomenal for our business and on our customer relationships and scores as well.

Jacqueline Conway 34:02

Cecilie, how are you solving large systemic problems? How do you invite somebody to become an Ecosystem Shaper within Telenor?

Cecilie Heuch 34:13

Well, first, we have for some years now we have we’ve used agile methodologies in different shapes and forms. And we have then created more and more cross functional teams. And that has that has helped us in thinking much more broadly than we used to before because we have had issues with working too much in silos. And this has been one way of overcoming it in different shapes and forms as I said but working cross functionally and also inviting customers in and doing co-creation with customers more than we have done before. And we are going to do that more in the future. So, co-creation is one of the things that we do, and experimentation are our ways of doing it so that we don’t commit to something too long term where we don’t really know what the end will be and how things are changing in our context before we get there, but rather we’re taking small steps, experimenting, co-creating, working with more partners, closer with customers. So that’s it’s a different way of work that we’ve started and that we will continue.

Jacqueline Conway 35:26

Yeah, lovely. Of course, all of these are, the approaches that one would see are more appropriate when you’re dealing with complexity. So, it’s really nice to hear the different ways that your organisations are grappling with these. I want to just to finish off the conversation by asking you both, as you look to your executive team, what are the developmental challenges for your executive team moving forward? What’s the thing on your agenda for the team for the remainder of 2022, and potentially into 2023?

Cecilie Heuch 36:03

Well, for us, it’s quite clear, because we have a new strategy that are we are implementing. When you have a new strategy that is accompanied also by new structures, we also have to think about culture, we are going to be a less integrated company going forward. So, there might also be differences in culture that will come. But it’s important that the top team is thinking and talking and being accountable for the bigger transformation and the bigger cultural change that we want. We want there to be a layer that is common across the organisation. And we need to role model that layer and work on the totality of the transformation. And then there will of course be people taking more accountability and ownership of building, building the culture in the in the separate parts, and being responsible for the more detailed strategic deliveries.

Tracey Leghorn 37:06

For us, this huge changes ahead in the Waste and Resources sector, arising from the Waste and Resources strategy that was introduced by the government in recent years. It will bring about huge changes at every level, not for us just as an organisation, but actually for people in society around their approach to managing waste. And that will mean that we’ll need to transform our organisation again, evolve it again, in order to respond to the different approach that the government wants people to take in society around waste management, and recycling and reuse, and renewing. And it is about societal change, change of attitudes, and we need to be ready to respond to that. But it’s not easy to respond when actually that involves a lot of infrastructure change or building of new infrastructure. And we’re also very keen to grow our business quite rapidly over the next five to 10 years, as well. But we want to do that in an appropriate way. And our new Chief Executive of the last two years has introduced an approach of triple bottom line, which is around people planet, and profit, and approaching decisions, looking at those three dynamics in the decisions that we make. And always putting people first and foremost, we feel if we do the right thing by our people, they will then do the right thing by the planet. And by doing that and supporting our customers in that respect, then we will be a profitable and sustainable business. So, it’s about embedding that moving forward.

Jacqueline Conway 38:59

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What’s required from Executive Leaders has changed. Find out how executive leaders and executive teams can survive and thrive in our disrupted world. Interviews with CEOs and insights from Waldencroft’s Dr Jacqueline Conway.

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.