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Speed, Diversity, and Disrespect recommended by European CEOs for success!

Just over two months ago at the Great Place to Work Conference and Awards in Athens I had the privilege of inviting a few European CEOs from Abbvie, DHL Express, Salesforce and Workday for a fireside chat – the perfect spot to ask some burning questions!

The conversation touched on some interesting and timely questions – Is it the best time ever to be a woman in the workforce? What can Europe and the US learn from each other culturally? How is leadership changing? How are these leaders in some of Europe’s very best workplaces dealing with the greatest tensions of productivity and profitability while keeping it human? What are they looking for from employees today? And how will HR need to change to be relevant in the new world of work?


It was Chris Byrne of Workday who surprised many of us, telling European employees to stop being overly deferential and recommending that they instead challenge with more frequency and ask for what they want. Olivier Derrien from Salesforce wants Europeans to take on the American attributes of speed, and accept the trade-off of the risk inherent in faster decision making.

The whole panel believed that the nature of leadership had inherently changed, now focusing much more on providing an inspiration focus, and connecting individuals to the purpose of their role. But Frank-Uwe Ungerer of DHL Express outlined his belief that it's fast becoming the turn of Middle Managers to stand up, and reimagine their role as one that focuses on learning and coaching to enable high performance. Also, he's not fully convinced that hotdesking or work-from-home policies are effective enough to drive the necessary level of collaboration in today’s world of work.

Pascal Apostolides from Abbvie believes that newer generations are having a fundamental effect in their organisations, and that they need to shape their own work and workplace supported by family friendly policies. Diversity is a necessary ingredient of any high performance team and if you are not obsessing about creating that multi-layered diversity you're missing out.

There was widespread agreement again on the need for constant feedback, with the refrain that "there's no such thing as negative feedback when there's high trust." Olivier shared Salesforce's V2MOM practice (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures) - a structured approach to feedback that provides each employee with a transparent business plan for all to see, with clear measurements of what constitutes progress. The increased level of trust and transparency is essential in the drive to sustain employee engagement and commitment.

From Chris Byrne’s perspective, it is getting better for women in many workplaces – but they need to be supported while get promoted on merit. (Personally I was disappointed to share the statistic that out of over 776 Best Workplaces across Europe, fewer than 10% were led by women). For many, the feeling is that substantive equality is about far more than just equal pay, but rather full equality of opportunity.

The advice for HR was to offload the "people support" piece to individual line managers, and instead take time to focus on enabling employee success. This should involve getting closer to business priorities, driving a learning culture, and staying relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Thankfully today's Athenian audience was much more receptive to the philosophical musings of my panelists when compared to how the ideas of Socrates were welcomed, so we’ve come a long way!

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