Challenges bring success
What happens when your boss, board or senior executive team needs to come up with a solution to a new business requirement and they communicate this challenge to you? Do you volunteer to lead that project and take yourself out of your comfort zone?
This was the scenario David Reay found himself in. It was during his early career as HR and development manager for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority - a fast growing business with 500 employees - that the executive team was tasked with improving talent management and learning development solutions.
Little did Reay know, three years into his career (he'd started out at IBM as HR advisor in September 2003 and joined NDA in July 2005), that offering himself up to this challenge would lead him onto discovering his vocation for spotting potential in people and developing talent.
Starting off with the help of a consultancy, Reay introduced a competency-based interviewing framework to hire talent based on behaviours. It was through this new recruitment and selection process that he was able to develop his own coaching skills. He went on to build capability around coaching at management, executive leadership and board levels, as well as implement new strategies for personal development, succession planning, learning and talent management.
During his career stint with NDA, this company environment provided Reay with the perfect stepping stone to road test his own ideas, find out how to get the best out of people and help them realise their own talents and strengths.
"My boss took a punt on me," he reflects. "I was given the freedom to pursue my own vision and strategy. By having someone believe in my abilities and provide me with the resources I needed, I was able to step into the unknown. I was exposed, I worked hard and pushed myself. I was given feedback and at times I felt really uncomfortable. I went through the pain of constantly challenging myself. You might feel nervous for a period of time, but it's exciting. Most of all, if someone puts trust in you, it gives you confidence."
Who's potential? Conversational skills
This first-hand career experience offered him invaluable insight into the power of intuition, risk-taking, communication and belief in others, which would go on to form his key guiding principles. He says: "If more people felt confident about being opened up in their role and encouraged to take a risk, performance management would become redundant.
"If you create the right space, ask good questions and open up individuals to really talk about what they want from their roles and where they want to head next within their careers, you'll get good answers," champions Reay.
He continues: "It's so important to me to help leaders spot potential by enabling leaders and managers to ask simple questions such as: 'Do you know your people?', 'How motivated/driven are they'? 'What are they interested in'? 'How well do they learn and grow'? 'How do you sow the seeds for an individual's career development and help to unlock their potential'?
"Don't write people off," he argues. "It's your duty as a leader to spot potential in every individual within an organisation and give them the support they need. When you push people, broaden them out and make it safe for them, it can be hugely rewarding."
Disconnect - changing talent approach
So often, in other industries and company cultures, there's communication breakdown between leaders, middle management and employees. Reay points to the financial services or the public sector as examples of where so many people lose their confidence and hide behind process. Especially when they find themselves facing political difficulties with their leaders or even within their own team. Most of this disconnect sits right in the middle of an organisation. Some managers sell out by being compliant, which begs the question of whether it is right approach.
Reay believes that managers have to be careful not to get 'sucked in' and become stale. Some organisational cultures can be battle grounds. If you find yourself in this situation where it isn't clicking for you or you're just waiting to live out your pension, it's time to be brave. When it comes to talent strategy, it's not about managing programmes but helping people to learn.
"We all get invites to conferences where talent management strategies are still turning around on the same old roundabout," says Reay. "We need to change the approach. When it comes to organisation design, there tends to be a focus on top-level potential and creaming off the top 10%."
He argues that when it comes to performance and talent, it's not about being too rigid with tools and techniques. He says: "A nine-box grid has it's place but it's about giving everyone the best chance of being successful. Instead of creating elite cultures we should strive to be inclusive."
Action learning & high performance
Now, in his recently appointed new role at Sony Music Entertainment, Reay is tasked with developing leadership capability, performance culture and talent among 4,000 global employees at headquarters in New York, an office based in London and 40 other countries. His aim is to created personalised career journeys by upskilling people and building pockets of energy throughout the organisation.
"Within the music industry, I'd love Sony to be known as somewhere you stay for your whole career," says Reay. "People are quite discerning when it comes to moving around the music industry, but Sony is special. I want people to know that if you come to Sony, you'll be treated well."
As an entertainment business, everything is built on relationships. At Sony, the culture is democratic and innovative. The core three values of Sony are excellence, teamwork and creativity. Part of Reay's role is bringing these values to life. He plans to do this by using 'action learning' techniques to enable people at Sony to work collaboratively and problem solve together, and for people to be able to challenge the norm and conventional thinking.
He comments: "By creating the space for people to share ideas, we can impact how people feel about working at Sony. Rather than using a survey to measure engagement activity or using more global formal, corporate processes to enhance performance and personal development, it's about making people feel empowered.
"By inviting someone for a cup of coffee, sitting down with them and asking: 'what are your challenges?', 'what have you done?', 'what works well?', 'what do you wish you could change?' and showing that you're interested in their ideas, you give them an outlet to talk and become engaged."
Leadership brand - stealth & intuition
Another key focus for Reay at Sony is to explore 'leadership brand' to develop presence and greater personal awareness, and act as a source of inspiration to himself and others. He wants to find out what Sony employees stand for and want to leave as their legacy.
As for Reay's own leadership revelations, it's dawned on him that throughout his career he has relied heavily on his own intuition. "If you think of artists, visionaries and creative types, they have vision and trust their intuition, but sometimes intuition can get knocked out of you when you find yourself in an organisational culture of task and process. I want people to realise it's ok to go on your gut feel. When building the development agenda, don’t spend too much time talking about the concepts or get wrapped up in global processes – roll your sleeves up, practice and pilot. It’s the only way to learn.
"I believe the best in people, as well as in fairness, providing opportunity to others and respectfully questioning them to open their eyes to other career possibilities. I believe people work for the goodness of the business. I trust you straight away. When developing potential in talent, it's not about me, it's about your own story. You have to give everyone a chance, and that means being approachable. Within Sony, I want people to know that when they have an idea, they can say it and they will know where or who to go to for help and be listened to," he says.
"Stealth and subtlety are often the best ways to progress the organisational agenda. One of the best bosses I ever had in my earlier career once told me to remember that although people value how we listen and ask good questions, leaders also look to you for a clear opinion. They may sometimes disagree with you but they will know what you stand for. They want your expertise. This is where you can add lots of value and really hold your own within the business."