It is Never Too Early to Get a Coach

It is Never Too Early to Get a Coach

Welcome to Executive Leadership Insights by Shields Meneley Partners, your newsletter that focuses on management issues for today’s C-Suite. In today’s ever-changing landscape, many leaders know they need a coach to help navigate the rough waters, however, many people don’t know when or how to get started. The latest edition of Executive Leadership Insights of helps readers understand why it is important to connect with their coach and when they will know the time is right.

As an experienced coach to the C-suite and executives, one of the most frequent questions I field is “when do I need a coach?” Given the amount of responsibility that lies on the shoulders of these leaders, this is an important question.

While there is no timetable for when an executive should work with a coach, in my many years of experience, I have found one common thread. There comes a time frequently when you feel overwhelmed and lonely at the top because you really don’t have anybody to talk to. You’re not quite ready to talk to a psychologist, but you’d love to have somebody’s perspective, objective, and confidential, and a conversation partner. In that situation, a coach could be a appropriate partner for that type of need.

Another instance in which clients come to me seeking coaching is when they start thinking about what work looks like after corporate life? This question usually arises as a result of an event which typically arises around the time they turn 50. Most of the time, it’s because they got fired, sometimes it’s because of a health issue and perhaps other reasons, but they typically have one commonality of having not given any thought to what they’re going to do next.

To be sure, this is a scary time for a client because their path has typically been mapped out and now they unexpectedly have to navigate unfamiliar waters. This is a great time to have a coach as a guide along this new journey. In our experience, this exercise often leads to what we call the “next, next” – what to do after the next step? After all, we want to learn from this experience and make sure our clients are prepared for the next event.

Working with our clients on their “next, next” is wonderfully exciting for them and for us because the possibilities are nearly boundless. We begin with a blank page and explore their options. As you may imagine, it is beneficial to have somebody with a coach’s experience to help guide you through that reflection, through the discovery, and then through a process to create a vision of what’s next. What is more, it is never too early to begin this planning.

There are other reasons when it is apparent a coach is needed. For instance, you are on the path toward the C-Suite and a coveted seat at the executive table and you know you have a deficiency or a flat spot that needs to be shored up. What is more, you know this challenge is recognized by your supervisor, the head of human resources and/or the head of the company. You are on target with 90 percent of your job, but that remaining 10 percent is a challenge. This is where a trusted coach can become vital because in addition to professional advice, there is an important element of life coaching.

My favorite example is when I was on the board of a fairly large zoo and I recognized something we see all the time, especially in not-for-profits, and sometimes in business – the person that gets to the top of the organization didn’t get there because they’re a great leader or manager, they got there because they’re good at the thing, and the thing for a CEO of a zoo is the animals. It’s somebody that has usually risen up through the world of zoo keeping, zoology, or a field along those lines.

During one board meeting I said out loud that our chairman had more humans working for him in the zoo than there were animals in the zoo, and that meant he needed to learn more people leadership skills. We set up a coaching engagement where I spent every Saturday morning with him talking about leading people, executing good management practices, such as succession planning, performance evaluation, compensation, and so on. All of which were a soft spot for somebody who had grown up as an executive by being an expert in the thing of the organization, rather than the leadership side. This kind of soft spots for leaders happens in all sectors, not solely non-profits.
Let us look at this from the human resources point of view or talent person that’s looking at the high potentials or people already in leadership positions. Quite often, they will spot a gap that needs to be addressed to keep that employee on the current path. Most organizations today do not have the resources to fill that need that a particular leader or high potential person has. A coach would be an excellent substitute or add on to that organization to help this person develop those skills.

Another good time to engage with a coach comes into play during onboarding. Given the new work landscape in the age of Covid-19, it is possible to bring on a new person without even having met them. How do they onboard in the culture of your organization? How can they be successful in their first 100 days? This is a wonderful time where a coach can help.

I strongly believe that coaching should be viewed as a benefit and not a punishment. In fact, I will not take an engagement where the person is told you’re going to get a coach or else. What I like to see is when a client is walking me through their organization and they introduce me as their coach. This happens to us often and it is that kind of validation that is so gratifying because we know we have done a good job integrating into that organization. More importantly, the individual is showing some vulnerability and letting superiors and reports they are taking steps to address their gaps, and that can be really rewarding for everyone.
Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and we hope you found it insightful. We encourage readers and subscribers to join in the discussion by adding your thoughts in the comment section below.

Link(s) to article:

Remote Working Is Upending Onboarding

Remote Working Is Upending Onboarding


Connecting with new peers is one of the necessary steps for success.

I have the opportunity to coach senior executives from large companies who have either changed roles or changed companies during the pandemic, and something that continues to be shortchanged is onboarding while working remotely.

This is a problem because onboarding is a critical starting point for any new employee. Within this process, connecting with one’s new peers is falling through the cracks, and this can have dire consequences for the success of that new executive down the road. That is why I suggest companies devise a new onboarding plan that is probably different than the plan they had before.

Reach Out to Peers
There is not only a gap in overall onboarding but a specific gap that is not so obvious. When onboarding, or starting a new role, it is rather automatic, I suppose, that new hires have remote conversations with their bosses and with their direct reports in order to understand the business. But in the process, they often forget about their peers. Having solid relationships with an executive peer is critical to success because that will cut down on infighting that inhibits productivity and efficiencies.

I continue to encourage clients to reach out to their peers when starting a new position. Head off this potential issue with your equal at the first pass by taking the initiative to introduce yourself and to warmly open the line of communication. What we continue to find is that recipients of this outreach are surprised because it is just not expected, or even thought of, but it is vital to develop those relationships. It can start with just a friendly discussion to say, “Hey, I’m here,” but more importantly, these conversations can be used to establish an understanding of mutual expectations.

More Listening Than Talking
When I coach my clients who have taken on new roles, I remind them that their first responsibilities at the beginning are to do more listening than talking. Realistically, newly installed executives should not know what their priorities are on that first day because they need to take the time to understand the position. After that process has been completed, I encourage our clients to share the key learnings with peers to discuss priorities for their teams, next steps, and working together.

The Bottom Line
When it comes to onboarding today, there are two key points that need to be addressed: Companies need to think differently about onboarding people in the current situation because so many people will be working remotely. And newly hired or installed executives need to take the time to learn about their new jobs before declaring priorities for their teams.

Global business leader Robert J. (Bob) Ryan is an executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners, where he focuses on building strategic business partnerships and expanding service offerings to top leadership teams around the world. His career has included key leadership roles with companies ranging from $500 million to $84 billion, including Procter & Gamble, Tate and Lyle, Bombardier Recreation Products, Kimball Hill Homes, and Griffith Laboratories. Born in Montreal, Canada, Ryan began his career as a manufacturing engineer after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa, and McGill University in Montreal with a degree in mechanical/aeronautical engineering. When approached by his CEO, he “jumped at the chance” to lead strategic human capital initiatives that directly impacted the bottom line. Ryan has served on the Boards of the British American Business Council, the Northwest Cultural Council, and the Human Resource Management Association of Chicago. He also has been on boards representing economic development, education, and the arts. Ryan is also a graduate of the Hudson Institute Coaching Program and a member of the International Coach Federation.

Link(s) to Article:

Remote Working Is Upending Onboarding

Executive Onboarding During the Pandemic: Both Pitfall and Opportunity

Executive Onboarding During the Pandemic: Both Pitfall and Opportunity

Talent managers, human resources practitioners, and executive coaches continue to perfect work-from-home and make it the new norm. As they do, they find a hidden pitfall in their work becoming more evident each day. We’re talking about executive onboarding – specifically, for those new team members C-Suite and just below.

So how, in a remote world of work, does the new team member get to know their new colleagues?
Let’s say you just started that new position in the (now virtual) executive suite. You are looking to become part of the team quickly. Chances are you have already thought about how you are going to talk to your direct reports. You have a sense of how to communicate and collaborate,
of course. To help matters, your new boss and you have already figured out how you will interact. As some of our clients initially thought, there is a general sense of feeling good about their new situation. And yet, the piece that is missing is an important one.

The fact is we miss the opportunity to connect in person – especially as the new addition. And we haven’t yet learned how to get to know our peers in the organization while working remotely.

Executive Onboarding: A Challenge Even in “Normal” Times
As is the case when working in-person at an office, remote teams and group leaders tend to become siloed. After all, when working alone, it is easy to become narrowly focused on our own departments. Although a natural occurrence, this makes it difficult for the new chief marketing officer, for example, to know much about what the chief financial officer is doing.

Scheduling video calls with equals is not typically on executives’ wavelengths. But in today’s world of work, it should be – it must be. Because when the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing, problems result. Company efficiencies and productivity suffer. As we coach our clients: You are not just joining the team you will run, you are joining your boss’ team. Neglecting to invest in the development of relationships with team members and leaders at your level, in your situation, creates a leadership dysfunction that is not good for the company – any company.

Developing Relationships in a Virtual World
The key to a successful onboarding process and the development of one-on-one relationships is active listening. In the new work-from-home landscape – where the watercooler conversation, spur of the moment “let’s grab a coffee,” and unannounced pop-in are absent – how does one develop those relationships? Where are the opportunities for active listening? It is not through
only one’s direct reports, nor is it solely from your boss – a key source of learning comes from peers.

Your peers will likely have various levels of experience and institutional knowledge about the company. That experience and well-earned knowledge will likely become essential resources for your own team’s success at some point. After all, the Chief Procurement Officer will likely need to rely upon the Chief Supply Chain Officer, and vice-versa, to succeed. Not only will they know the business, but they will also know your people. And developing those relationships, over time, is an integral part of being a good executive.
So how does a new executive team member develop those relationships while working from home? Here are three suggestions:

Develop a Comprehensive Communication Plan
Along with your hiring manager, develop a detailed onboarding plan that ensures you will communicate with all stakeholders. This is especially important for connecting with new peers, an oft-forgotten cohort. It is natural to devise a plan to configure best practices for your new boss and those reporting to you. But developing those relationships with your equals is critical to your success because these people will help you navigate the workplace culture from your same vantage point.

Plan for Spontaneous Connection
Leaders at every level must find a substitute for the unplanned office drop-in to say hello. Those interactions are typically low-stress and ultimately derive high returns when it comes to relationship-building. For WFH, we suggest keeping a pad near your computer to write down a reminder of what you might say when you virtually drop in. That means preparing what you want to say in that short text and quick call—no need to schedule a videoconference to relay that “job well done” encouragement.

Schedule Virtual Happy Hours
Carve out some valuable end-of-the-day time for an after-hours virtual coffee or cocktail with your new team and with your peers. New leaders should accomplish this task through one-on-one meetings or in small groups. Be sure to develop these relationships in a more casual setting because everyone a more relaxed environment will encourage team building and team bonding.

Connecting with one’s peers within the organization should happen regularly for established leadership teams, regardless of work circumstances. When it comes to onboarding in a remote work situation, we encourage our clients to intentionally reach out to their new colleagues via video call or telephone call. Not to accommodate formal meetings, but just to say hello. This
aspect of virtual executive onboarding will also help understand the company culture and, just as importantly, what you can anticipate others will expect of you.

How Will You Improve Executive Onboarding?
Deliberately making that introduction, sharing enough personal information to form a bond, and offering your help to new colleagues will surprise some new coworkers and fellow leaders.
Those actions will also make an excellent first impression and go a long way toward easing the transition into that new position—all while working from home.

Link(s) to Article:

It is Never Too Early to Get a Coach

When Career Transitions Go Sideways, Keep it Cool

The social contract between employer and employee that was in place for generations has pretty much fallen by the wayside. In the past, people worked in one company for a lifetime believing that the company would “take care of them”. Today’s C-Suite needs to be prepared for a bumpy exit no matter how unlikely he or she may think it is.

Don’t believe me? Here are just a few stories of some of our clients:

A CEO of a $400M healthcare company was fired without warning. The news was leaked to the press before he could reach his family. A local television reporter called his home, his 16-year-old daughter answered, and the reporter asked, “How do you feel about your father being fired?”

If that doesn’t make your stomach turn just a bit, how about this one:

The chief operating officer of a private company had been promised that he would succeed the chief executive officer when the time came for a leadership transition. The founders called him into a previously unscheduled meeting, fired him on the spot without cause and then dared him to do something about it, saying: “We are not going to honor anything in your contract. If you don’t like it, sue us.”

These are just two of the many stories we have heard from our clients and each one makes us angry because it is avoidable.

No matter how poorly a termination is handled you must keep your cool. Take it in, control your emotions, let the person know that you need time to process what you have been told, and terminate the meeting as soon as you can. It is important to remember that every action you take while in, and after that meeting, may well determine everything that happens later.

Most of the clients who come to us are at the top of the leadership ladder – a Board Member, a CEO, a direct report to the CEO, or a Division Officer – but no matter who they are, they need a solid reference from the organization they are leaving. It is important to maintain a professional business demeanor because that is the final and lasting image that people will have of you. No one wants to help an executive who “kicks the furniture” on the way out the door.

Listen. I get it. We are all human and we’ve had situations where we let our emotions get the best of us. But don’t let this situation be one of those situations. How?

Breathe. Reach out to us. Using our confidential process, we can debrief you and help you understand what happened and examine appropriate next steps. We will ask a lot of important questions.  How was the situation presented? Who was in the room? How did they present it? What did you hear? How did you react to it? If we sense that our client took the low road, we offer solid counsel on how to regroup. Most senior executives are smart enough not to do anything rash or make idle threats, but they are justifiably upset – particularly if they didn’t see the termination coming.   But, our client has to go back to his or her former boss, apologize for the emotional response, and ask for their help to make the dissolution of the partnership as fair and equitable as possible to both sides.

Our clients have small but highly influential inner circles. When they later run into friends and colleagues, they are often asked, “What really happened?” It is our role to make sure that our clients have that answer ready to go – a truthful, carefully constructed, positive (or at least neutral) story that provides an opportunity to say good things about both the company and herself or himself.

After all, job loss is viewed as one of the top three most stressful situations in a person’s life – preceded only by the emotional disruption of a death and or divorce. That is why if you can’t rush through or repress the healing process that is required. Our team of coaches, advisers and executives have significant P&L expertise and understand the unique needs of the C-Suite. Armed with that knowledge and understanding, we help clients neutralize the emotion that can be so close to the surface when someone asks why he or she left. Once we have achieved that, clients will be ready to re-enter the marketplace with confidence.

Once that emotion is resolved, these very smart, talented and successful people begin to regain their perspective about who they are and what they have accomplished during the careers. As the process moves forward they will say, “Good grief. I’m not so bad, am I?” Or “Wow! I’ve really got a lot done, haven’t I?” They also recognize that they are in good company, because transitions are part of the risk/reward equation that is part of any top job.

Then it’s time to prepare for interviewing by developing compelling stories about the challenges they faced during different parts of their career, what actions they took to resolve them, and the results of their actions. This puts the “fire back in the belly” and they are ready to engage in finding the next opportunity.

This phase includes developing relationships by reaching out to those they know and meet, expanding their scope of influence, and interviewing for roles that are interesting and challenging. When negotiating for that that new role we are behind the scenes conducting compensation studies, recommending employment lawyers to review contracts (with appropriate severance provisions) , and developing a detailed On-Boarding Plan to ensure early success.

Signing on the bottom line to accept that new role is a moment we all relish and celebrate together. These men and women have learned from what came before, increased their self-knowledge, and developed fresh insight into what the market needs. They also know they can handle any unexpected change to their employment status with confidence.

Executive Onboarding During the Pandemic: Both Pitfall and Opportunity

Here’s Why Today’s Leaders Should Choose “And” Thinking

HR Strategy, Work Culture by Elizabeth K. Olson
To the detriment of talent development and work cultures everywhere, we most often employ “either/or” thinking. Let’s talk about why today’s leaders should more often choose “and” thinking….

So many important aspects of human capital are nuanced and interrelated, yet seemingly polar opposites. For instance, recognizing the individual performer or recognizing team efforts. Showing respect for each person or showing respect based on performance and rewarding managerial-style performance or rewarding leaders.

Some organizations state only half of these pairs as desired values, hence the “or” between them. This is a mistake because when we see these values framed as either/or choices, we miss the synergy from leveraging the best from both sides. We cause harm from overfocusing on one value to the neglect of the other. After all, many values are interdependent, and ideas we think might be opposites are both highly desirable. The misleading part about this is that they need to live in tension with one another over time. These pairings can be called paradoxes, wicked problems, or polarities that require “and thinking.”

“And” Thinking Versus “Or” Thinking

Both inside and outside of work, complexities exist that require us to think about these tensions between seemingly opposing pairs, rather than choosing A over B. For instance, one critical thinking point for leaders is the push-pull between continuity and transformation.

Those business leaders often find themselves executing complex change initiatives that enable their companies to compete better. At the same time, they must create and maintain consistent foundational cultures employees can lean into – no matter what. All too often, when the message is only why complex changes are necessary, without acknowledging what has been going well (and what needs to remain in place), even the best plans blow up.

Everything done “the old way” is now wrong. Right?

This pervasive contradiction lowers morale and confuses, thereby sabotaging the energy and focus needed to implement the change.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Coordination

One of the biggest derailers for employees is the pendulum swing between centralized coordination and decentralized coordination. Organizations are frequently in a seesaw around this polarity. It’s as if one is better than the other, so they over-focus on one at the expense of the other.

For instance, a new chief executive officer is instituted and says: “We’ve lost the entrepreneurial nature of this organization, and we must decentralize and give control to each of the business units.” Because centralization and decentralization are interrelated, people complain there is no coordination and little ability to share services effectively. That causes the next CEO to say: “We have to centralize; everything is all over the map. Nobody knows who’s on first.” After finally getting used to the new structure, it whipsaws back to some version of the old one. With the average tenure of CEOs being three-and-a-half years, organizations must simultaneously focus on centralization and decentralization.

The Solution: Mapping Versus Gapping

One way around this conundrum is to institute a mapping process…

Instead of executing a gap analysis, which is how most people approach change, we think about the upside and downside of their preferred value or pole in the polarity equation. We then do the same for the countervailing pole. Then, as the diagram illustrates, we outline action steps for gaining the upsides from each pole. We also design strategies for avoiding the downsides of each if we over-focus on one pole to neglect the other.

That is “and” thinking.

Once we get the tension right between the different energetic poles, my clients find themselves comfortably resting in a virtuous cycle. They begin to get the best of both options, no matter how opposite those options seem. For many leaders, this comes as such a relief. Because those leaders, rather than focusing on the power of both – the “and” – tend to over-focus on one side of the equation. They then find themselves in a vicious and contentious cycle that isn’t good for them, their fellow leaders, or their teams.

Harness the power of both poles. Expand your thinking to “and.” You’ll soon create a virtuous cycle that will enable your organization to thrive, freeing your teams to unify under healthy “and” tensions versus the opposing camps that can form from “or” decisions.

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Investing in the Future of Food: Three Essential Steps to Successfully Build a Leadership Team

Investing in the Future of Food: Three Essential Steps to Successfully Build a Leadership Team

Hugh Shields Featured in Food Navigator USA

In this segment of Inventing in the Future of Food, career coach Hugh Shields of Shields Meneley Partners explains the factors that could stunt the company’s growth and how his three essential steps in building a successful leadership team can help entrepreneurs smooth their transition to working with newly hired executives while growing the company.



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To defend budgets in a downturn, L&D must focus on the future

To defend budgets in a downturn, L&D must focus on the future

Budget cuts and downsizing present an unfortunate reality, but that isn’t the full story for L&D, sources told HR Dive.

It’s an unfortunate reality during the COVID-19 pandemic, as with economic downturns past: talent development and training departments are likely to be subject to budget cuts and downsizing.

“History tells us that training is a line item that gets sought,” Dale Rose, president and co-founder of California-based consulting firm 3D Group, told HR Dive in an interview. “It’s a familiar path.”

But the trend is not necessarily a universal one, and Rose and others who spoke to HR Dive have worked with employers that take a different view. The difference between the current economic moment and that of the late 2000s recession, so goes the thinking, is that the underlying structure of the economy isn’t being impacted by COVID-19. “The one thing we do know is that this isn’t permanent,” Rose said.

Layoffs, furloughs and other cuts are taking up a lot of energy for organizations, Bob Ryan, executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners in Chicago, said in an interview, but employers need to prepare for when the script flips. That means a certain percentage of staff should dedicate themselves to outlining the organization’s future, and “a part of [that percentage] needs to be L&D people,” he said.

As L&D professionals go into meetings with executives — in some cases to literally advocate for their department’s continued existence — their pitch cannot be to simply return to business as usual, Ryan said; “This is the time to be creative and show the CEO, CFO and CHRO that L&D is important, but it’s going to change.” Top companies, he continued, are opting to increase, not decrease, investment in talent after the pandemic.

“I believe the conversation with business leaders needs to start and end with how learning supports business strategy and outcomes,” Chris Holmes, director of global learning and development at Booz Allen Hamilton, told HR Dive in an emailed statement. “If learning is integrated as a part of a shared outcome, then the need to ‘advocate’ for training investment can be a very different conversation.”

L&D departments can also appeal to their role in shaping the organization’s future competitiveness. “The competitive advantage that companies have coming out of this is going to depend on their talent,” Cat Ward, managing director of JFFLabs, a division of workforce and education nonprofit Jobs for the Future, told HR Dive in an interview. “We’re moving into a pretty fluid environment here.”

Distance learning provides a way forward

It’s simple enough to say that talent development will be important, but how L&D professionals keep it top of mind during and after the pandemic will differ. Ryan described practitioners at one manufacturing industry client who took matters into their own hands by making reopening-oriented training videos with their phone cameras. L&D teams elsewhere have held Zoom calls to step back and brainstorm solutions for assisting workforces that may have moved to remote status during the pandemic.

Some teams will struggle with a learning environment that is more digital. “There’s the chance for disinvestment in workplace learning, and a lot of that is due to the fact that a lot of learning at work hasn’t been digital-first in nature,” Ward said. “If you want your business to be competitive, you need to be preparing your workforce for these changes.”

But digital transition can be an advantage for L&D teams, particularly those at employers that had not embraced digital transformation before the pandemic, according to Rose. “Maybe there are benefits to someone sitting at their home office; maybe they have more time,” he said. “The opportunity of the moment is to embrace distance learning.”

At Booz Allen Hamilton, employees are actually consuming more learning content, and they are particularly focusing on content covering how to work and lead effectively in a virtual environment, Holmes said.

One understated impact of the movement to online learning post-pandemic is that it could level the playing field for talent development. In his own experience doing online presentations with clients, Ryan said he’s seeing high levels of participation and engagement from learners. “I can look at 20 to 30 people as I’m leading the meeting, and it’s just easier to manage.”

Employers will still need to deal with some hurdles when it comes to online learning, Ward said, particularly ensuring all workers have access to a reliable internet connection and other necessary technology. Front-line and middle-skill employees will also need to be included: “It’s a business advantage that your entire workforce is able to keep their skill sets fresh and stay competitive,” Ward added.

It will also be difficult for talent professionals to advocate for internship programs, many of which have been cancelled or otherwise rolled back during the pandemic. But online delivery can help here, too, Ward said. Companies like Microsoft have opted to turn their internships into digital experiences, and the tech giant has said that this move will influence its approach to internships well into the future.

Virtual reality and augmented reality, previously used by globally spread, remote-based organizations to disseminate training programs, could also help navigate a situation in which on-site operations are suspended. Ward said she’s aware of companies that have considered sending sanitized VR headsets to employees so that they can train at home.

Reopening as a blueprint

COVID-19 may not be the disruption L&D teams anticipated, but it is nonetheless a reminder that the field’s future may lie in preparing organizations to adapt to massive change.

“The way we work has completely changed,” Rose said. As organizations look to reopen in an environment of social distancing and disease prevention, L&D could emerge in a highly visible role that supports all employees. “Caring for my people has always been important, but that’s more important now. If they’re going to be effective in their work, I need to be tending to them more than I might normally.”

This care can take many forms, from facilitating how employees should reorganize their schedules to literally helping them move from point A to point B within a facility.

Soft skills training is a particular area of emphasis for companies that moved remote. “I think that has just gotten really ratcheted up here,” Ward said. Workers and managers will need assistance adapting to phone-based and web-based communication, especially if they are used to an environment that is dependent on face-to-face communication. Even the subtler act of reading the body language of team members will require adjustment, Ward noted.

In some ways, moving to a remote basis can create a new standard for work itself. “It’s a different way of setting goals,” Ward said. “There’s much more of a premium on execution … and that is going to require even more communication.”

The pandemic is not just a chance for L&D departments to prove that their programs have a return on investment; workers are watching, too, and evaluating the responses that employers put forward.

“Remember that employees will remember and value the choices that companies make,” Rose said.

Link(s) to Article:

An Unexpected Networking Opportunity

An Unexpected Networking Opportunity

Believe it or not, this is a great time for executives in career transition to network and to meet people. In my role as a coach for C-Suite members looking for their new jobs, one of the things that we talk about is how important networking is in general and during this time with more people being at home, they’re actually starving for interaction with people. That desire to connect intersects with the fact that potential new contacts are more available because big holes have shown up in their schedules since they are not traveling and they are not commuting. So, they have time.

At Shields Meneley Partners, we have relationships with the most influential search firms and we are finding that recruiters are available. I have already lost count at the number of calls I have had with these people who do not understand why people are not calling them or returning their calls. This is a huge mistake. If you are an executive, particularly in the C-Suite, and you are in career transition, do not assume that nothing is going on with recruiters because nothing could be further from the truth.

Generally speaking, we know about half the positions, executive C-level, are on hold or at least moving slowly, but that also means the other half are full speed ahead and filling these positions is really important. No one wants to go into a board meeting this spring and say that a key position has not been filled because of the pandemic. So, recruiters are still looking to fill those roles.

Even if you are an executive not in career transition, this is still a good time to continue networking. With so many executives home and not busied with travel and in-person distractions from the office, people have the time to catch up. I recently made a list of 16 people that I wanted to contact over the next couple of weeks and after only a few days I had conversations with 15 people! In normal times that would have not happened during such a short timeframe. This is a good time to stay connected with people, offer your help, and at the same time listen. and share what is going on in your life.

Based on what we are seeing in the marketplace, best-in-class CEOs are staying in contact through Zoom or other video tools, with their leadership team, but also getting messages out on video vignettes that are pushed out to all employees, including those whom are furloughed, working, out in the field, or working from home. This is executed with a very human touch that shows leadership’s concern for families first and bringing them up to date on the business.

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Companies Appointing Fewer Finance Chiefs With Accounting Skills

Companies Appointing Fewer Finance Chiefs With Accounting Skills

At the 1,000 largest U.S. public companies, the portion of CFOs who are certified public accountants fell to about 36% last year, according to organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry. PHOTO: ISTOCK

Strategic, operations-minded finance chiefs are finding favor, with specialists increasingly taking care of the books

Directors of Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital Inc. congregated in the boardroom in late 2018. On the agenda: the ideal résumé of their next finance chief.

They wanted to fill the impending vacancy with someone who had expertise in raising debt and equity—a priority for the Annapolis, Md.-based investment firm.

The board also decided they could do without one particular qualification. Having appointed a chief accounting officer in 2017, they didn’t care if the new chief financial officer had an accounting background.

“It was almost counterintuitive, almost backwards,” said Steve Osgood, a board director at Hannon Armstrong and chairman of its audit committee. “But that freed us up to get a capital-markets-focused CFO.”

CFOs have traditionally emerged from the accounting ranks, with reputations as masters of cost management, corporate finance strategy, accounting standards and reporting requirements. But the role has morphed to the point that accounting expertise is often no longer required.

At the 1,000 largest U.S. public companies, the portion of CFOs who are certified public accountants fell to about 36% last year, according to data from organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry. That is the lowest figure in the six years Korn Ferry has been collecting the data, down from 46% in 2014.

Finance chiefs today often oversee more than just the books. They are increasingly in charge of human resources, information technology and elements of enterprise risk management. As a result, companies increasingly want skilled general managers who possess strategic savvy and a firm grasp of operations in the CFO seat.

“Technical accounting is becoming a smaller percentage of the job,” said Andrej Suskavcevic, chief executive of professional organization Financial Executives International.

Executives and recruiters trace this evolution to the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when companies increasingly wanted strategy-focused CFOs who would promote transparency and operational changes to spur growth and guard against threats. That was a change from the years after the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, when companies—under pressure to improve their financial reporting—often picked chief accounting officers as their finance chiefs.

The shift has had a ripple effect on the career trajectories of junior finance executives and others who were traditionally groomed for the CFO role.

Changing Role, Evolving Expectations
As the role of the CFO has broadened, some traditional areas of finance—tax, treasury and investor relations, for example—have grown increasingly complex, demanding more focused expertise.

“There’s no way a CFO can truly be a technician in all areas,” said Chris Stansbury, CFO of Centennial, Colo.-based electronics distributor Arrow Electronics.

The nuts and bolts of accounting are therefore increasingly being handled by chief accounting officers and controllers, executives say.

That played a role in Hannon Armstrong’s choice of Jeff Lipson, who has a background in issuing debt and equity securities but isn’t an accountant, as CFO early last year. Mr. Osgood, the audit committee chairman—and a CPA himself—said the board reasoned that chief accounting officer Charles Melko could take care of the books and research the accounting implications of new types of transactions.

Mr. Lipson, who was previously the chief executive of Congressional Bank and held treasurer roles at CapitalSource and Bank of America Corp., said having a strong accounting chief factored into his decision to take the job.

“We maintain a very close and constructive working relationship,” Mr. Lipson said. The relationship has enabled him to embrace a capital-markets focus. He helped the company obtain a corporate debt rating from S&P Global Inc. and Fitch Ratings Inc., and he led the issuance of $500 million in green bonds, which fund environmental projects—both firsts for the firm, which invests in energy efficiency and renewable energy companies.

The progression of the CFO role could also reflect changing expectations from Wall Street.

Analysts spend more time questioning a company’s business lines, future growth and potential acquisitions than they do scrutinizing its accounting, said Richard Bove, an analyst at Odeon Capital Group LLC. “The Street doesn’t care about accounting functions any longer,” Mr. Bove said. “They don’t get into the nitty-gritty anymore.”

Whether or not a CFO has an accounting background only tends to rise to the top of investors’ minds when the company faces an accounting problem or has a history of those problems, said Noah Kaye, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

Advocates of the accounting profession say CFOs who lack accounting credentials could pose a risk to companies and investors.

Public companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are required to have independent certified public accountants review financial statements to regulators. And while there is no regulatory requirement for internal CPAs to review financial statements, having a CPA in the finance chief seat can boost credibility, analysts say.

CPAs are held to a code of professional conduct. If they breach it, they could be suspended or lose their license. “If you believe that ethics bring value to an organization, the accountant offers something more,” said Michael Bryant, CFO of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, which serves more than 50 U.S. accounting boards that issue licenses and regulate the profession.

Building Know-How
To be sure, many CFOs-in-training still desire accounting backgrounds. Many boards still prefer an accounting-focused CFO, even if they don’t require it. And some boards still insist on a CFO with accounting credentials.

“The person in that position just needs to have an evolving skill set,” regardless of their initial training, said Bob Ryan, an executive adviser at Shields Meneley Partners, a career-transition firm that advises executives.

Finance chiefs without accounting backgrounds are still often responsible for the books and financial disclosures, so they must develop familiarity with accounting rule changes and reporting requirements. Exposure to the accounting side of the operation also helps them ask more probing questions about an enterprise, executives said.

“You need an appreciation of accounting,” said Kirkland Andrews, the CFO of NRG Energy Inc. “You want to be closely aware of all of the new provisions.”

Mr. Andrews spent 15 years leading debt and equity deals at Citigroup Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG before joining the Houston-based energy company in 2011. He developed a working knowledge of accounting over the years, gleaning expertise from an external audit partner and consulting with an enterprise resource planning expert on issues such as switching accounting systems after a company merger.

Lloyd Howell Jr. also had to build accounting know-how when he was promoted to finance chief of Booz Allen Hamilton in 2016. Mr. Howell, a veteran of the McLean, Va.-based government consulting firm, started his career at Booz Allen as an engineer and went on to lead business segments at the company. But he’s not a CPA.

To strengthen his understanding of accounting, he leaned on internal finance personnel as well as a cadre of experienced CFOs outside the company. That, plus the experience from previous roles, he said, has helped him serve as an effective adviser.

“CEOs seek a business counselor as much as a financial counselor in a CFO,” Mr. Howell said. “That candidate can speak to broader issues facing the company. The board seems more accepting of that.”

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