• World Biz Magazine

CULTURE IS A COMMERCIAL IMPERATIVE - JENNI HIBBERT, GLOBAL MANAGING PARTNER AT HEIDRICK & STRUGGLES



Today’s most successful CEOs are putting culture at the heart of their business strategy – but that wasn’t always the case. Jenni Hibbert, global managing partner of Search Go-To-Market at Heidrick & Struggles, explores the changing relationship between leadership and culture, and why that relationship is now key to commercial success.


When we unpack where things have and really haven’t worked in the past, we found that these workplaces wanted a more holistic view of leadership competencies. One that assessed candidates in terms of cultural leadership, empathy and ability to guide and connect the organisation in a shared vision of success.

Not all business leaders will succeed in their roles. Whether they are undone by lack of necessary competencies, a clash of culture, or even competition, some leaders will find that they are not the perfect choice for the role. And while this usually comes as a shock to both the leader and the company - both who partnered for the best intentions – the reasons for early exit often come down to vague expressions about “fit.”


In our world, this explanation can be unhelpful for all parties as there is rarely a clear or shared understanding of what that really meant. As executive understanding and appreciation for company dynamics has become better articulated, we now know that getting “the right fit” is another way of saying that successful leaders have a net positive impact on the culture of their organisation. They contribute in a way that makes their colleagues better, their organisation stronger, and their success as a sure thing.


When we unpack where things have and really haven’t worked in the past, we found that these workplaces wanted a more holistic view of leadership competencies. One that assessed candidates in terms of cultural leadership, empathy and ability to guide and connect the organisation in a shared vision of success.


In a now hybrid, highly dispersed working world set against the backdrop of increasingly acute macro-economic pressures, the most successful of today’s business leaders understand that successful P&L is largely dependent on the culture and behaviours of their people.


Organisations need to start by asking the important questions of their workforce:

  • Do the employees feel connected to their workplace?

  • Are they inspired by a sense of purpose?

  • Do they believe they are treated equitably?

  • What makes working here different to our competitors or other industries?

  • What do we do to uphold and strengthen the best parts of our culture?


Now, more than ever, these are the questions that leaders need to focus on to foster retention and ensure commercial success in the future.


Today, business leaders must meet the growing demand to drive and sustain the company purpose, lead the charge on sustainability, as well as being a visible, proactive champion on wellbeing, social justice, diversity and inclusion. In short, agility and empathy have emerged as crucial leadership traits and the technical functions of executive leadership must be viewed with a wider assessment of the inter-personal skills they possess.

Culture As Core

A survey of CEOs around the world conducted by Heidrick & Struggles in 2021 showed that 82% had made culture a priority in the previous three years. That’s a major shift to express acknowledgement of the role that it has to play in both organisational and leadership success.


We also now know that thriving cultures are sustained when leaders understand that culture is a multi-faceted journey, not a destination.


To help drive this journey, you must remember the four key principles of culture:


1. Build a purpose-driven, intentional commitment to culture, aligned with strategy, and measure human capital and business performance metrics.


2. Commit to personal change to become an authentic leader who demonstrates a growth mindset, and inspires others in the organisation to do the same.


3. Drive broad engagement where a deep sense of purpose and values permeate across every corner of the organisation, embedded into the culture, and aligned with the company’s systems and processes.


4. Create systemic alignment – culture can’t thrive if an organisation’s systems and processes are rigged against it.


The ability to implement and uphold these four principles becomes a linchpin in challenging times, especially amongst the uncertainty we all now face. Today, business leaders must meet the growing demand to drive and sustain the company purpose, lead the charge on sustainability, as well as being a visible, proactive champion on wellbeing, social justice, diversity and inclusion. In short, agility and empathy have emerged as crucial leadership traits and the technical functions of executive leadership must be viewed with a wider assessment of the inter-personal skills they possess.


When shaping an inclusive culture, leaders setting the right example, demonstrating inclusive behaviours, and communicating transparently and empathetically is key. Leaders must decide on their values and purpose, and most importantly, commit to them.

Big changes in society

These changes are of course partly due to the complexities we’re all dealing with post-pandemic: grief, burnout, wellbeing concerns, family relationships, war, social unrest – so much has impacted people over the last few years. And then there are the influential changes in the expectations, priorities and outlooks of millennials and Generation Z, who are looking for more compassionate, empathetic and inclusive leaders, and who now have broader options to work with companies that provide a place of community, purpose and belonging.


The leaders that understand this will demonstrate empathy towards the perspectives of all their colleagues and stakeholders, so much so that they’re willing to make themselves vulnerable through their own courage and curiosity.


Additionally, we emphasise that successful organisations put the CEO’s culture commitment front-and-centre and hold the leader accountable for their influence across the organisation. When shaping an inclusive culture, leaders setting the right example, demonstrating inclusive behaviours, and communicating transparently and empathetically is key. Leaders must decide on their values and purpose, and most importantly, commit to them.


In parallel, organisations must also embrace rigorous cultural implementation at all levels – culture is not a one level dilemma and must be consistent across the whole organisation, with every employee engaged and aware of their role in making the organisation a success. As we are all aware, culture is far more than just a human resources issue, and employees across the board are often the best co-creators and most innovative promoters in leveraging it successfully, which is why it must be in every aspect of the organisation.


 

Jenni Hibbert is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and the global managing partner of Search Go-To-Market, with oversight for global practices and strategic accounts within the firm across industries, corporate officers, and specialty lines.


She serves on the firm’s Management Committee and reports to the CEO. Her client portfolio is expansive, and she serves clients across industries at the most senior levels, both executive and non-executive.


Previously, Jenni led the global Financial Services Practice, the firm’s largest in size and scale with a presence in every office across all three regions. She has held numerous leadership roles throughout her time at the firm, and has served on the firmwide Consultant Promotion Committee.


Prior to joining Heidrick & Struggles, Jenni spent four years as a broadcaster with the BBC with a focus on financial and business news. She began her career working on Capitol Hill.


Jenni serves as a non-executive director of the American European Business Association, a business networking forum. Until recently she was an honorary associate of Newnham College, Cambridge University, having served as an elected associate for 10 years. Previously, she served for six years as a board governor of the English-Speaking Union, a global educational charity.


Education: Cambridge University, MPhil in English. Birmingham University, First Class BA in English and Drama. Cardiff University, PgDip, with Distinction, in Broadcast Journalism.


 

Heidrick & Struggles - An industry leader serving industry leaders.

Heidrick & Struggles is the premier provider of senior-level executive search, culture shaping, and leadership consulting services. We serve more than 70% of the Fortune 1000, with clients in virtually every industry and sector around the globe.


Across all our offerings, we employ data-driven methodologies honed over decades of engagements with the world’s leading organizations. Our insights enable clients to find the world’s best leaders, build diverse, inclusive cultures, and transform their teams to achieve new levels of performance.


Find out more: heidrick.com