Interview with Jim Wall, Global HR at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
1. What are the key contributors to your success as the Global Managing Director, Talent and Chief Diversity Officer, DTTL?
a) What do you think it is about your leadership style that is most valued?
I think it’s the commitment that I demonstrate to them as people, both professionally and personally. I believe in giving whoever I am with my undivided attention. Employee concerns go to the top of the list. It is clear to everyone that people are my top priority.
DTTL’s former CEO, Ed Kangas, who is a good friend, used to say, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Talk less and listen more”. It’s advice I try to live by as a leader.
b) How do other senior leaders help to ensure the success of your employees?
We have a global, diverse workforce, and our employees want to work with and learn from leaders they respect, and who they know respect them in return. I think this is key, having leaders who are invested in the development of their people, who value them as individuals, and who appreciate their contributions.
Also, you have to have good mentors, in your functional area and outside it. Developing leadership is not a solitary exercise. Effective mentoring relationships have been part of our culture for a long time.
2. What is one of the most important things you have learned about leadership?
Legitimacy and power do not come from your position. It is more about relationships and how you use what you know for the benefit of the client and the people around you, rather than “I am in a certain box on the organization chart.”
The Deloitte network is now the largest professional services organization in world. As we get larger, we don’t want to lose our core values that got us there: Integrity, Outstanding value to markets & clients, Commitment to each other, and Strength from cultural diversity. It’s important for the leadership to be stewards of these values, which then cascade to all 170,000 member firm people worldwide. Environment comes from the top down.
3. What were the main challenges for you moving from a US firm to a global role, and how did you overcome those challenges?
I had my role in the US firm as head of human resources for 12 years, and have been in the DTTL global role for seven years.
Probably the biggest challenge with a global role is understanding all the cultural nuances that vary from one member firm to another. The customs and how they do business in one culture differs greatly from one to the next.
However, I have also found that what makes us the same is far greater than what makes us different as a human race. Focusing on the differences can create conflict. People want basic things – safety, security, a sense of self esteem, family, and they don’t want to be afraid. If you deal with all people at that human level, my experience is that connections happen quickly, the relationship is authentic, and progress can follow.
4. What were the most pivotal moments in your career?
The most pivotal experience for me was being hired by the Deloitte US member firm in 1984. This was in the old Touche Ross organization, in Boston, and I was the first non-auditor to be hired as a recruiter in what was then the “Big 8.”
Truth be told, I was with Deloitte US one year and I was having a bit of a hard time in terms of making the transition. I had been Director of Housing Programs at Michigan State at 29 years old; I was young for the job. I had a staff of 500 and budget of $200M. When I came to Deloitte US, things were very different–it was just me and a part-time PA, and I was having a hard time finding my place.
A couple of Deloitte US people took personal interest in my success. They said, “Your heart is not in it. If your heart is in it, it will make a difference. We will help you see how you can be successful here. Stick with us, you will be ok.” I never forgot that. I never forgot the support and their interest in me.
5. We’ve heard a lot about the Deloitte organization’s diversity initiative. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it’s added value to the Deloitte culture?
Strength from cultural diversity is one of the Deloitte organization’s core shared values. Long before our competitors and the larger business community took actions to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Deloitte member firms took the lead, launching local initiatives for cultural change.
For example, a number of Deloitte member firms have implemented a program called Mass Career Customization, which allows employees to customize their careers. Unlike the “one-size-fits-all” model, which isn’t realistic, a professional career needs to be moderated over time so that someone can let down or let up, depending on the stage in their life. The hours, travel time and intensity of work should vary. It benefits both women and men. It has introduced flexibility not just within a working week but a working lifetime.
Research shows that diverse workforces come up with better solutions than homogenous problem solving, and we’ve definitely found that to be true within the Deloitte netork. Diversity is a fundamental source of our competitive advantage.
6. If we were to bring together a cadre (roundtable) of your peer executives in other firms- what are some topics that you would like to discuss? And who would you like to see as other participants on that kind of roundtable?
From a business perspective, I’d like to examine how you rebuild, achieve maximum profit, short term growth, etc. And then discuss how important employee engagement is versus profit, and how to reconcile the two.
Other topics I would like to discuss would be macro topics about the implications of the movement of capital from the West to East; the implications of disproportionate growth in emerging markets versus mature markets; the future of Africa, in terms of population and investment opportunity? Also, the turmoil in Middle East –what’s going to happen? How will all of this affect the global economy and world as a whole?
7. What are you reading?
I am reading a number of books about interesting and diverse individuals, including Abraham Lincoln, Churchill, Colin Powell, Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography, Nelson Mandela. I have had the privilege of meeting Mr. Mandela. He has just written a book, “Conversations with Myself,” comprised of notes he wrote to himself while a prisoner. It’s truly fascinating.
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee, and its network of member firms, each of which is a legally separate and independent entity. Please see www.deloitte.com/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and its member firms.
Deloitte provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services to public and private clients spanning multiple industries. With a globally connected network of member firms in more than 150 countries, Deloitte brings world-class capabilities and deep local expertise to help clients succeed wherever they operate. Deloitte’s approximately 170,000 professionals are committed to becoming the standard of excellence.
The Founder’s Dilemma
THE FOUNDER’S DILEMNA
Small entrepreneurial companies have been the foundation for economic growth in the United States for generations. Most of our new employment opportunities are created by such companies. The founders of these companies are enterprising, risk taking energetic motivating visionaries without whom our global leadership would not have happened. Most of the technological creations that have driven our success as a nation began with the inspiration of these founders’ leadership. They draw the talent, the capital and the organizational genius together to create the great companies of the future. Without them our nation would not be the economic giant that it is.
There comes a time when the founder realizes that a change in their role is necessary or appropriate. The fundamental question at this point is what is the right course for the company? Is it to provide for succession planning or to explore alternative opportunities such as a sale or merger with another entity? When succession planning is the chosen route there may be legitimate concerns about the viability of the business without the founder. The resolution of this dilemma raises issues at both the management and board levels.
The challenge of succession planning is compounded when the firm is run by the founder. There is the added complexity that the firm developed out of the thinking, creativity and drive of the founder. Entrepreneurial founders see themselves as excellent communicators. However, in most cases, such leaders are only partially right. They do tend to present their vision and mission compellingly. On the other hand, they treat their colleagues and employees as if they were arms and legs. That is to say, they have a thought and assume their followers have heard and understood. When we move a hand, we don’t have a conversation with it. We think and the hand moves. Entrepreneurial leaders frequently make these assumptions with their people and hence feel they have communicated superbly, while their subordinates are left wondering what they want, why they want it and would they do the same thing if the founder were not there?
Additionally, bringing on new talent that can strengthen the management team is complicated by the frequent fact that some of the original team members hold positions that may interfere or compete with the new senior talent. Founders can be so grateful to those who join them early on that they have a hard time recognizing that many of their original team is now out of their depth as the company grows in size and complexity. Hence, they don’t provide the proper support and guidance to their core group and they don’t change their roles sufficiently to enable the challenged team members to succeed. These people may have been indispensible at the outset, but now their roles and performance requirements have changed and they may lack the critical competencies necessary to succeed in the new environment. Understandably, this group feels entitled to stay in the inner circle of leadership even when they are no longer able to perform the job required. Thus, the founder’s core group which was instrumental to the initial success of the enterprise can anchor it in the past and thwart its continued growth.
Founders also frequently suffer from attachment to the heroic form of leadership. They love to be the one to save the day. Also they have a hard time believing that others around them can fully understand how to protect the original franchise when things seem to go wrong. This leadership style may well sabotage the new leadership and the trust in them by others.
When founders decide the role of leader is no longer appropriate for them, or the Board decides on a change of CEO, the organization is often reluctant to accept the disciplined methods of a new leader. The first response of the members of the organization is either grieving the loss of the founder or relief and delight, but in either circumstance there is often underlying guilt and remorse over the removal of their former boss even if that individual stays on in a significant capacity. Also as new structure and discipline are implemented, many miss the things that attracted them to a start-up in the first place and fear they are now to be lost in a bureaucracy. They resist new policies and procedures as evidence of creeping bureaucracy. It is often useful to have an outside coach at this time to discern whether this is simply a default to the muscle memory of how things have always been done or is a person truly being obstructive and simply not on board with the new management team.
The challenges of succession planning are no less important at the board level. Years of the experiences of boards, of start-up companies and investors in those organizations has shown how delicate a process it is to transition from an entrepreneurial organization to a more sophisticated professionally managed enterprise. The board of directors of small and mid-size companies often includes members lacking the depth of experience of seasoned directors and who need support in understanding their proper role. In privately owned companies, many directors sit on numerous boards of companies. Hence, their attention is fragmented and they have little time to commit to any one of the companies. By providing the appropriate oversight and guidance to management, outside advisors can enhance board functioning and prepare the company’s management to understand the most effective ways of supporting the directors of their companies. Often additional difficulties surface in aligning the perspectives of corporate directors with the senior management of the companies they serve. If the two are out of alignment, the dissonance that surfaces quickly erodes trust and confidence which can result in lack of clarity around mission and direction.
GOVERNANCE –V- MANAGEMENT RESPONSIBILITIES
Peter Drucker was right when he said that sometimes the line between governance and management needs to be fuzzy so that the unique skills of a director can be applied to specific management issues. Nevertheless, there does need to be a line drawn so the governance and management issues don’t become confused. In small companies often (and in most companies on occasion) a director needs to cross the line and perform a management role. It is essential in such cases, that both the board and senior management acknowledge the need and agree in advance that a director will play a management role for a specific reason for a specific time. The interim nature of the requirement may draw on an individual director’s abilities to deal with a particular customer, an issue of finance or deal-making, an operational issue, a matter of technology or of human resources, or even a regulatory or other legal matter.
BOARD COMMITMENT AND EXPERTISE
The demands of boards in the twenty-first century require much more focused time and attention than appeared to be true in earlier eras. Hence, board members generally and private equity partners in particular need to be careful that they limit their directorships to a manageable number of boards. Otherwise they cannot possibly understand the complex issues facing most companies. It is also true that more directors need to offer more than a generalist’s perspective to their company. Directors need a depth of industry knowledge; an ability to spot the right managerial talent for leadership roles; and to be great connectors both with the marketplace and with other skills and capabilities needed for the company’s future growth. They should be able to spot synergies within an industry and within a marketplace. They should bring expertise in technology, an understanding of obsolescence, the competition, geographies relevant to a company’s marketplace, regulatory issues, and, of course, financial acumen. This allows them to have an accurate view of the big picture on both a macro and micro basis.
A strong director is an individual who can see possible pitfalls and spot potential opportunities. Such directors can add value by simply asking the question of management: “But, have you thought of …?” Management members often get tied to businesses that the company should exit, and a good director will challenge adherence to a business where there is little promise and wasted management attention.
SUCCESSION –V- SALE OR MERGER
An honest independent assessment is required to assess the opportunities and risks for the ongoing business and whether the company may be better off as part of a larger more integrated organization. Whether it is determined to proceed with a sale or merger or to continue as an independent entity the other significant issue that develops is for the board and management to uncover unrealized value hidden within the enterprise. Any corporation of any size has within it skills, capabilities, channels, facilities and the like that are not being fully utilized. In some cases, it is intellectual property or client relationships. Whatever the hidden opportunity, an outsider’s objectivity permits them to see what the insiders are missing. The key to future success, either in M&A situations, lift-outs, or restructurings or repositioning, is to have the ability to spot hidden opportunities and know how to realize the value of that opportunity. This will yield outstanding returns to all of the company’s stakeholders.
It is only when all these issues are identified, evaluated and successfully managed that the Founders Dilemma can be dealt with in the most appropriate manner.
The Execution Trap
The idea that execution is distinct from strategy has become firmly ensconced in management thinking over the past decade. So much so, in fact, that if you run a Google search for “A mediocre strategy well executed is better than a great strategy poorly executed,” you will get more than 42,600 references. Where the idea comes from is not certain, but in 2002, in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble, Jamie Dimon, now CEO of JPMorgan Chase, opined, “I’d rather have a first-rate execution and second-rate strategy any time than a brilliant idea and mediocre management.”
Sigma Thought Piece – Community
The Sigma Group has built its success and reputation on a commitment to the creation of communities of common interest. We know that success in life, in business and for organizations is dependent on the realization of our interdependence as people and as institutions. To create the ability to mutually enhance each other’s success, it is necessary to know the strengths and capabilities of others who are out in the marketplace. We have consistently created strategic alliances with firms with complementary capabilities to our own. We are careful to tell client companies and prospective clients of others in the marketplace who may be more appropriate than we are to meet some particular need. We also offer our clients our help in managing other external resources so that the best result can be obtained. We have been instrumental in the creation of coalitions of common interest such as The Coaching Coalition. The Coaching Coalition brings together senior executive coaches in the New York metropolitan area with those on the corporate side responsible for managing coaching programs.
It is easy to forget that throughout most of human history people traveled infrequently and lived in the same community for most if not all of their lives. Where one lived was also where one worked and frequently where one spent one’s leisure time as well. It was not hard to decide whom to hire if one needed employees or whom to engage if one needed a plumber or a carpenter or a doctor or a lawyer. Everyone was your neighbor and everyone knew the strengths and weaknesses of those in one’s neighborhood.
Today we are spread all over the world. Our society is highly mobile. We were not educated at the same schools, did not live in the same areas growing up and do not personally know the people we will hire for the most part, nor the tradesmen we will engage or the professional service firms to which we will turn.
However, it is becoming increasingly necessary to find people we can trust to serve us, to work along- side of us, and to advise us. The best way to do so is by creating communities that will emulate to some degree the small town reality that used to prevail in our world. The Sigma Group has dedicated itself to creating communities of common interest in which participants will know and trust the other members. Simply put, we commit ourselves to building networks of the brightest and the best across industries and professions.
When a major professional services firm was seeking to build a world-class external coaching program to serve their internal needs, we scoured the country to find the best coaches and helped our client firm to develop their own internal management program using these external resources so that they got the best both of what we had to offer and also the best available from our competitors.
We continue to look for opportunities to bring resources together to serve the marketplace as we also strive to know who the brightest and the best are so that we can bring our clients and colleagues together for mutual success.
We are proud of the fact that many of our competitors have referred their clients to us as well as asked us to serve as sub-contractors or advisers to them to help them serve their clients in the best possible way.
We make it our business to know the latest and the best solutions to a broad range of issues and challenges. When we are the best provider , we will put ourselves forward as the solution. But no one company has all the best answers nor all the best solutions. Neither does any company necessarily have exactly the right person for any given client. Our promise is that the needs of our clients will always be served first.
Our commitment, above all, is to create a marketplace in which the best can serve the best.