Tuesday, September 9, 2014

CEOs let alone Managers – It’s a problem finding dynamic people! REALLY?

What do you think? 

I was reading an article that alluded to the possibility of Sri Lanka requiring to fill CEO positions using expatriate’s due to the lack of locally produced talent in the marketplace, due to a variety of reasons.

Let us go back a little in recent history. All the well managed foreign Multinationals are run by 30 or 40 something foreigners, rising up the corporate ladder in their Groups. This has been the case all along, for Ceylon Tobacco, Nestle Unilever, Holcim, Standard Chartered and now the heads of the Chinese Corporations which are doing the Construction of Highways, and Ports. For example Nestle has over a 100% return on capital employed, a dream for Sri Lankan companies.

The comment from this consultancy, is just an opinion from one who makes their money from talent search amongst other things, and we MUST be vary of self-appointed pontificators, who make claims. Nevertheless WE MUST address this issue carefully. I know of Sri Lankans, some now retired in Sri Lanka, who have held important positions in multinationals overseas, and therefore it is more about retaining talent to apply for the positions in Sri Lanka and less about hiring people from abroad.

We in Sri Lanka are saddled with the white man knows best concept whilst the rhetoric is the opposite. In this instance, the same job is done better by the foreigner merely because the subordinates are MORE willing to take orders from a non-National in preference to a local. Some mental block of our people, both at the executive level and at the unskilled laborer level. 

To illustrate the latter issue, the Local planters were never able to have the same perfection and discipline from the Estate Labor in the plantation that the Britisher was able to instill and I have heard this lament from senior planters. It may be due to the Britisher being a stickler to discipline and timing. Have you forgotten about the how the hot bath was run at 7.25pm sharp every day, so that he would get into it at 7.35 sharp at the right temperature everyday as five minutes later and the bath would have got colder!

That precision is not wired in our brains, and the Appu’s view of the sahib drops more than a few notches!! It is therefore this management practice that has to be fine turned, so that the workers know EXACTLY what standards to expect, devoid of unfair favoritism that varies from day to day, rather than being etched in stone!   
Lets then get back to the main point of the entry, which is finding the right caliber for the top job.

There is NO question that Sri Lankans are capable. Overseas they shine in their work as compared with the same person in their home country! Why is that? As someone who has worked overseas and at one time in my early 30s managed a staff of around 100 in Santa Barbara, California in the US, it is simply that one knows what to expect from the people who work for you there and are generally not people who say one thing and do the opposite.

It then makes the task of managing easier. Here the foreigner devolves that task to a local, and stays ABOVE the fray, looking at the KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS of his job, and improving only on them, and delegating the subsidiary tasks to local managers! That I believe is one reason for this discrepancy I alluded to above. So when it comes to firing it is done through someone else, and done for an objective reason of poor performance and NOT a personal issue.

How can we then manage our diverse businesses which are now getting to a size they are large enterprises that MUST be well managed to compete in a global marketplace. I know of personal friends who have struggled with this same issue, of hiring professionals to do the job, and found them wanting thereby taking the risk of getting an untested person from overseas to carry out the task, even at the obstacle of not knowing the language.

I was involved in a case where the Bank of Ceylon 15 years ago hired a Britisher as CEO and so did the People’s Bank and I had dealings with both of them, and I did not think much of them at the time, but they were able to implement the changes the local people would have found hard to do. Why is that? They are removed from the daily politics. They are hired for a specific purpose, and their incentive or bonus depends on certain parameters being achieved.

If we replicate that sort of discipline commensurate with a remuneration, hidden from the staff (remuneration that is) then I believe we will have able and willing young managers with some overseas exposure who are fit for the task. Hell we have over 25,000 students at any one time physically studying for degrees and masters programs in foreign universities. Can’t we find about 50 at the top end to manage some large companies that are growing by the day? We can of course.

So it is time the pontificating HR & Management consultancy gets a grip on the reality, identify why they make the statement and do something to correct this! Not just find a reason to earn fees in recruiting from overseas as there is a surfeit of foreign job hunters currently that need placing somewhere at some suckers establishment!