Leadership: Rock-Solid, Red and Well-led – Where values rule

You have to get the three “R”s up front in conversation about leadership at Vodafone. It’s happy to own that its values: red, rock-solid and restless are at the heart of everything the company does – including its efforts to build leadership at every level in the company.
As director human resources Michael Stanley explains, it’s process that’s more journey than destination both at individual and corporate level. Making it to CEO doesn’t mean you’ve finally got the leadership piece right.
“Something I’m very passionate about is that leadership is absolutely modelled from the top – so the level of executive commitment from the CEO and senior team to developing their leadership and being really intentional about modelling leadership is essential.”
The “passion” thing crops up quite bit in conversation – that’s what the “red” stands for and passions for “customers”, “our people”, “results” and “for the world around us” are described as the glue that welds the corporate culture. That glue is another reason why top execs need to walk the leadership talk.
“There is nothing more powerful,” says Stanley, “than people looking at the CEO and seeing that he is stepping up, doing things differently…”
There’s fair chance Vodafone’s top team gets quite lot of scrutiny because feedback loops are an embedded part of its leadership programmes.
“It’s really important to measure and monitor things and what we find is that giving leaders individual feedback as to how others are experiencing their leadership, I think, is the single most valuable thing you can offer,” says Stanley.
“The training, mentoring, coaching – all these things are really important parts of the process. Then give them very direct individual feedback and watch them grow.
“Leadership isn’t necessarily an instinctual thing. Some are naturals – others just have to learn it. But what stands out is that our leaders are really committed to doing good job therefore whatever evidence, feedback, information they get on how they’re doing is great motivator – either affirming what they’re doing or encouraging them to do better, to learn and develop. Accurate personal feedback is really critical to driving development.”
The company uses Hay Leadership and Engagement models to build leadership capability. All leaders with four or more reports get to go on the “managers index” where they’re rated against specific leadership and engagement criteria by their people.
“So it’s pretty easy for anyone to look at how they’re going compared to other leaders in Vodafone and, over time – and we’re now into our third year of running this – to track their own progress.”
Then there’s more intensive 360-degree feedback mechanism that looks at leadership styles and what sort of environment that particular person creates.
“It’s much more intensive, holistic feedback from peers, people, managers on how you are seen to be performing as leader. That is cornerstone of our leadership development programme.”
There are, explains Stanley, two “big buckets of activity” in the leadership programme – the Hay leadership model and assessment, and what is described as “management essentials” which includes the more technical elements such as performance management, career management etc.
“This year we’re also introducing programme on resilient leadership – and we have whole variety of other processes. Senior leaders have quarterly offsite that runs for two days and focuses on leadership performance and leading the business outcomes. That’s always preceded by the executive team having an added two days during which we set the agenda for the senior leadership team.”
This strong focus on leadership development has been part of the company ethos since Vodafone NZ was established around decade ago. It’s an investment that drives retention of key people, positive experiences for all its people, high performance and company success, says Stanley.
“I strongly believe that people stay with good leaders and leave bad ones. We’re fortunate in having an attractive employment brand so people will join for the brand – but they will also leave if there is poor leadership.”
Over the past year, says Stanley, the company has developed an employee value proposition and promise.
“It’s ‘be your possibility’ – make it happen. Against that, our commitment is enabling that experience. But don’t work for Vodafone if you don’t want to be as good as you can be. If you don’t want to grow to be your possibility then this is not the right environment for you.”
Those who yearn for stability probably shouldn’t apply either. The fact that the company is in maturing, consolidating phase of its own growth as it shifts gear from providing mobile services into full fixed line/mobile/broadband telco mode does put slightly different spin on how it operates, suggests Stanley.
“I do think the experience of values-driven organisation in start up is quite different to the experience of values-based organisation as it matures. Passion in and of itself is not customer delight – there needs to be robustness in the business model that enables really passionate delivery of service to our customers.”
But it still lives in very dynamic space. The growth of social networking, for instance, is creating profound changes to how people communicate. Who knows what technology disruptor might appear over the horizon.
“There’s sense of reckless speed. I think there is this notion that life is about stability – that you get to point where life is stable and predictable. That is just never going to happen at Vodafone. So you really want leaders to have delight for change – people who can smooth out the inevitable bumps and feel good about it.”

Leadership challenges

• Keep moving towards the goal of becoming New Zealand’s No 1 telecommunications provider.
• Maintain the energy and focus of all our people in continuous improvement.
• Offer full range of products with associated services of high level to meet customer expectations.
• React to changing environment and build resilience for the challenges of increased competition
and tighter economy.
• Respond to competition.

Vodafone’s three “R”s

Red = being passionate, believing in and loving what we do
Rock Solid = delivering, taking ownership and doing what we say we will
Restless = being challenger, taking fresh perspective and being hungry to improve

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