TODAY’S LEADERSHIP: AN INTERVIEW WITH PIERRE NELIS, BUSINESS ADVISOR
Pierre Nelis, Business Consultant, has on-the-ground company experience on everything dealing with business strategies and tactics, marketing and development. Prior to being part of the Inno-centre team, Pierre gained experience with a variety of engineering consultancies, including Tecsult, the Noranda Group and Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceuticals. His wide-ranging trajectory led him to Softimage, a pioneer in special effects software (later acquired by Microsoft). After starting up an international project for its advanced technology division, he left Microsoft in 1998; since then, he has held several company directorships, and has also completed on-site mandates for institutional and private investors and entrepreneurs. He is active in many sectors, including cosmetics (Lise Watier), entertainment (Solotech), manufacturing (Morgan Schaffer), software (Simactive), special effects (RodéoFX), and clean technologies (AddÉnergie). Pierre has an ASC certificate from the Collège des Administrateurs of the Université Laval and from McGill University’s Management Institute.
With professional experience in several sectors, including the entertainment, cosmetics and manufacturing industries, Pierre Nelis understands extremely well the significant role that leaders play in the operational success of any organization. During our meeting, Mr. Nelis shared his knowledge and experience about the important role that leaders play in organizations. This article reports Mr. Nelis’ point of view regarding three aspects: leaders and performance, leaders in a changing environment, and new trends in leadership.
Leaders often set the tone when it comes to employee commitment in the workplace. In your opinion, what are the key actions/attitudes of a leader, which can lead to a highly committed workforce?
The first attitude to adopt to keep employees committed is discipline, in the sense that you have to practice what you preach. Discipline will prevent your team from scattering in all directions. Next, leaders must be accessible. They must listen to what their employees have to say, so they don’t feel ignored. In addition to listening to what their employees have to say, leaders must be open to ideas and even go overboard when asking employees for their opinions as part of the decision-making process. When you start a project, ask your employees where they want to go with the project and how they want to get there. It is important that your employees feel included in the decision-making and that they feel they’ve had an impact on the decision. This way, employees will feel more involved and will be more committed to the project.
What do you do as a leader to transform creativity into performance?
Having worked in creative environments, I’ve been able to find a few tricks to convert creativity into concrete performance. To do this, you have to find a concrete objective, i.e., an objective that the team can rally around. You have to create an action plan around this objective to concretize ideas into measurable and attainable accomplishments. You need specific objectives as well as brain-storming in order to make the best use of creativity. Everybody will become involved and rally around this objective. If there is no measure, performance will be weaker.
To measure performance, you have to agree on an objective and performance evaluation criteria related to the field in which you are working. It’ll be very important to closely follow the evaluation criteria to ensure that your projects are making progress.
LEADERS AND CHANGE
What is the importance of a leader in the context of a corporate culture change?
The leader has a major responsibility for change to be successful. In a context of change, the leader must ensure the success of the project. The leader must be the catalyst of change. Democratic leaders are those who will help the change to be a success. They will be the element that facilitates a chain reaction in employees allowing for change to be adopted. These leaders must, again and again, practice what they preach to motivate employees to follow them. You can’t ask people to tighten their belts if you aren’t tightening yours. Briefly, leaders must be ready to make the sacrifices they are asking their employees to make.
In addition, to help employees become involved in change, leaders must, once again, ask them if they want to go along with the change and how do they think that it can be attained. It is important that employees feel involved in the change process and that they can have their say.
In this case, based on your experience, how must a leader approach a new work environment?
The first step for a manager who approaches a new work environment is to make connections. The leader has to get an understanding of the environment, without making decisions; the leader must listen, observe and consult. He needs to let enough time pass in order to reach cruising speed. Often, managers, who make a decision too quickly in a new organization, think they understand it well, but they may miss certain subtleties that could have an impact on the decision. Only observation can provide an understanding of these subtleties. And time remains the biggest factor in a leader’s adaption to the new environment.
EMERGING TRENDS IN LEADERSHIP
Do we have to consider new approaches to leadership because of Generation Y? In your opinion, what current trends are related to this?
Quite recently, I was working with a manager who said he had a very good accountant, who alternately worked at home and the office. Although this employee delivered the work required, the manager found it disagreeable that she wasn’t in the office full time. The manager wanted to terminate the accountant’s off-site activities, without any real justification. This decision appeared to me to be a bit out-of-date—today’s leaders must be more flexible and allow employees more freedom, if they remain efficient. Today’s leaders must give measurable objectives, but must allow flexibility in the ways and means employees can use to attain them.
Today, we’re noticing a transition between leaders, who are nearing retirement, and the young ones, who are increasingly imposing their ideas. This new environment is making things difficult for those who are older, who sometimes have trouble adapting. However, I don’t think that the leaders of the new generation are ready to take over just yet. They must work closely with those who are older to gain experience, so that they will finally become ready.
To continue, how would you describe today’s leaders?
Today’s young leaders no longer focus on work quantity, like older leaders, but are able to work on quality. Today’s managers are much more permissive about the processes their employees use to attain their objectives and are more flexible with regard to the work-life balance.
Young leaders tend to be more democratic and tend to make decisions while listening to their employees—they make decisions in a collegial manner. Older leaders are usually more authoritarian and often make decisions without necessarily consulting their employees. I’ve also noticed that young leaders have a better capacity for interpersonal communication, compared to older ones.
Have you had the chance to work with different types of leaders? What do you think is the role of a leader in an evolving organization?
I call that an “orchestra conductor leader”, i.e., a leader who doesn’t necessarily have to know how to play each instrument, but who must understand all of them. He doesn’t have to know how to play the piano, but he must know what this instrument brings to the orchestra in order to create a harmonious performance. To continue the analogy, the orchestra conductor must know and understand his musicians well enough to be able to ask them to play in a certain way and to adapt to their audience.
This means that the leader must understand his environment well and the role of his employees to be able to successfully coordinate their activities. He does not need to be a specialist, but he must surround himself with specialists. Leaders, who know their team well, can adapt to changes more effectively.
Business evolution has led to markets that are much less predictable than they used to be. These days, with globalization, environments are changing substantially, forcing leaders to frequently adapt to new practices, new clients and, increasingly, to competitors. They must be at the cutting edge of the market and ready to change direction from one moment to another.
As a final point, do you have any advice to lend to the leaders of the new generation?
The best piece of advice I could give is to invest in your employees. We now know to what degree on-going training of employees is important and the leaders of today must not neglect this. Money spent on training should not be seen as an expense, but as an investment. Training will help make employees more efficient and will reduce your company’s turnover rate.
Another tip that has helped me a great deal in the past when integrating new employees was to pair them with seasoned employees to facilitate their adaptation and integration into the organization. Experienced employees had the task of facilitating the junior employees’ development in their new job and instill organizational values, so that they could have a better understanding of how the organization functioned.
To conclude, the leaders must provide the favourable conditions on the rink so that the employees can score the goals.
Corporate development agent