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This is how you hire an executive leader you’ve never met in person

This is how you hire an executive leader you’ve never met in person 1

By Anne Murphy, Partner and Global Head of the Financial Services Practice at Odgers Berndtson,

discusses how financial services firms can overcome the limitations of remote hiring when making their next leadership appointment

Before coronavirus, it would have been highly unusual for organisations to hire a director to the board or executive committee without ever having met them in person. Appointing someone to your leadership team requires a detailed exploration of an individual, beyond their skills and experience – what drives them, how they lead, how they’ve achieved what they have, how they manage difficult and complex situations, how they respond when faced with adversity, whether they’ll fit in with the rest of the leadership team and importantly, whether they are being truthful. Much of how we form an impression is ascertained from physical responses – a tapping leg, fidgeting hands or stiffening or relaxing in a chair. These are bodily reactions that an interviewer can see in person but are incredibly difficult to pick up when that person is reduced to a small box on a screen which only shows their face and upper torso.

In short, organisations didn’t conduct interview processes entirely by video calls before the pandemic because in-person interviews are far more effective. Yet financial services firms still need to make critical leadership hires, and whilst the UK and other countries may be easing lockdowns, many are not and the financial services candidate pool at this level is global. Even in countries where the R rate has reduced, strict social distancing measures will be in place for some time and the risk of future waves, localised lockdowns and reticence to travel means that remote interviews are here to stay. How do we therefore adapt the interview process for leadership appointments so that they are just as effective remotely, as they are in person?

Firstly, increasing the number of people in the interviewing process so that the candidate meets more people from across the organisation, over both formal and informal video calls is helpful for both parties. By doing this, you can piece together a more complete assessment of the candidate from people in a variety of settings – they may have asked questions you didn’t think of or elicit responses you didn’t pick up on because the tone of the interview was different. With multiple views on a candidate, the hiring party is better able to assess soft skills and cultural and team fit.

Increasing the number of people you introduce a candidate to will (within reason!) also have a positive impact on how that candidate feels about the organisation and the process. Currently (and most likely for the next six to nine months), there is an enhanced risk for candidates, perceived or otherwise, when it comes to moving jobs. Increasing the number of touch points for the candidate demonstrates that you understand this risk and that you are serious about them and the role. In the absence of a visit to the office to meet people and get a feel for the place, speaking to a range of people they would interact with and who have recently joined in addition to the core interview group will help with the due diligence.

The next thing you should look at is the interviews themselves. Apart from the rare occasions when a child, pet, delivery driver or poor Wi-Fi connection interrupts them, video interviews can be overly formal affairs; there’s no handshake or natural pre-interview small talk where tea and coffee is handed out and you chat about the journey or the weekend. This makes it a lot harder to put the candidate at ease and therefore to evaluate EQ and chemistry indicators. It’s easy on a video call to get straight to business and not make the effort to properly engage. To overcome this, interviewers should make a conscious effort to spend the first few minutes in general conversation to relax the candidate. Preparing some social icebreaker questions will help mimic the informality of the in-person pre-interview welcome and afterwards, ensure there are more casual questions to end the interview with.

Building rapport is another aspect of the interview process that is key to determining ‘fit’ and something much more easily achieved in person than over a screen. Using eye contact during remote interviews helps overcome this hurdle and to do so, you either need to be looking directly into the camera when possible or you should move the tile/image of the candidate closer to the camera to provide a more natural sightline. Addressing or responding to the candidate by name can also help build the rapport you would otherwise achieve in person.

‘Overtalk’ is common in Zoom interviews – particularly in panel interviews where there are multiple interviewers. In this situation, it is particularly important to plan and agree who will chair the meeting and who will have responsibility for asking specific questions. To overcome the inability to read fellow interviewer’s physical queues, the chair should ‘stage manage’ the move from one interviewer to another and stick to an agreed format. Rules for ad-hoc and follow up questions should also be made clear in advance and be managed deliberately to avoid interviewers tripping over each other.

Finally, it is worth recognising that remote interviews do have a number of advantages over those conducted in person. Whilst uncommon, how someone reacts to an unruly child or inconvenient delivery will offer you a window into that person’s character and how they handle the unexpected. Zoom interviews are also a good measure of emerging leadership competencies. From now on, leaders can expect to work with a blended workforce of on-site and remote teams; those candidates who demonstrate patience, empathy and the ability to listen and read an interviewing panel’s ‘mood’ virtually are more likely to have the skills to lead the workforce of the future.

Whilst a completely remote interview process may seem unappealing or difficult, it is still very much possible to carry out a senior appointment during the pandemic. By adapting them correctly and recognising that as an interviewer you must do more to bring out the candidate’s personality, you can reduce their formality and overcome the limitations of judging character to the point where you are in fact, more likely to identify and appoint the type of leader that is fit for the emerging workforces that they will be required to lead. Combine this with extra data sources such as detailed referencing and leadership assessments and you will have a robust process to support the hiring decision and provide the right coaching and support to ensure success.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 2

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   3

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 4

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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