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“There Is A Gap Between Business Strategy & People Strategy" - Dr. Hamira Riaz, Executive Talent & Assessment Director at Lloyds Banking Group

13 Mar 2023

The people behind the voices:

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Hamira Riaz

Executive Talent & Assessment Director at Lloyds Banking Group

The Employee Experience Podcast Season 2 Ep. 7

“There is a gap between business strategy and people strategy” – Dr. Hamira Riaz, Executive Talent & Assessment Director at Lloyds Banking Group

This week’s guest on The Employee Experience Podcast is Executive Talent & Assessment Director at Lloyds Banking Group, Dr Hamira Riaz.

For a company to deliver a positive employee experience, the approach it takes to diversity and inclusion is crucial. What many organizations are still missing is diversity of thought, an example of which is the lack of Chief Pyschology Officers on leadership teams, says Lloyds Banking Group’s Hamira Riaz.

“There is a gap between business strategy and people strategy,” Hamira explains. “At the moment, that hinterland between the two is not being bridged, and I think that’s where psychology comes into its own.”

Leadership teams need to acknowledge and rectify these gaps if they want to succeed, particularly in light of the changing needs employees have. These shifting priorities are calling out for leaders who are more compassionate, more human, and as Hamira notes, less of a “hero”.

“The ‘hero leader’ paradigm has dominated corporate thinking about what good leadership looks like,” she says.

“In my view, the pandemic has struck the death knell for the hero leader; the one who’s invulnerable, the one who always knows what to do no matter what. We don’t live in a world where a hero can solve all the problems anymore. We live in a world of polarity, contradiction, and paradox – it’s a careful balancing act. 

“So for me, the post-pandemic world requires a different set of skills: dealing effectively with paradox, not relying so much on consistency of approach so that you can keep all your options on the table until you figure out what’s going on next, sounding strong by using ‘both, and’ communication and not ‘either, or’ binary choices. Those are just a few of the skills that I think future leaders are going to need.”

Listen back now to hear Gillian’s conversation with Hamira

About the Employee Experience Podcast

The Employee Experience Podcast, hosted by Gillian French, is the podcast series for leaders pursuing innovative ideas to engage and connect with their employees. Listen to trailblazers across internal comms, employee engagement, and HR share the best ways to connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential.

Guests so far on Season 2 of The Employee Experience Podcast include:

  • Jane Datta, Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, on employee experience, connection & leadership
  • Debra Corey, Chief ‘Pay it Forward’ Officer at DebCo HR, ‘Recognition is more important than ever for our wellbeing’
  • Hollie Delaney, (Former) Zappos CPO, on why empowered employees are engaged employees
  • Peter Cheese, CEO at CIPD, on what employees want: the changing expectations of leaders
  • Nadine Hack, CEO at beCause, on connectedness and openness: a company’s most powerful tools
  • Pat Divilly, Podcaster, Author, and Facilitator, on why overcoming emotional disconnect starts from within
Full Transcript

Hamira (00:00):
I think that requires cross-organizational understanding of cognitive diversity, behavioral change, neuroscience. So, I can see a future with chief psychology officers sitting around the top table because I think there is a gap between business strategy and people strategy. At the moment, that hinterland between the two, that’s not being bridged. And I think that’s where psychology comes into its own.

Gillian (00:25):
Yeah, I was watching a talk there with a lady called Fredrica, I can’t think of her second name, she’s a neuroscientist, but she was talking about the neuro gap and saying that within diversity, we’re hiring and being seen to promote leaders that are ambitious, confident, competitive, maybe outspoken. There was a list of traits that we see within the organizations and then we’re not really promoting people that maybe have a nurturing disposition, intuitive more so than logical, and maybe not as ambitious. And therefore, people like that within organizations are feeling a little bit excluded. I don’t know what your view is on that, but for me, when I think diversity and inclusion, I personally have felt there’s a lack of diversity of thought within leadership teams and a lack of diversity of thought in other teams. It seems to be that respect for difference, of thought more so than anything else. But we don’t really talk about that. Is that a neuro gap or do I have it wrong?

Hamira (01:34):
No, you don’t at all. I’d go one step further. One big step that I think perhaps I’ve thought a lot about in … also since the pandemic is this idea of the hero leader paradigm that has dominated corporate thinking about what good leadership looks like. And of course we’ve had alternatives for the last decades, several decades in servant leadership, host leadership, transformational leadership. But actually it’s the hero leader that still dominates in the corporate world. And in my view, the pandemic has struck the death knell for the hero leader, the one who’s invulnerable, knows what to do no matter what. We don’t live in that world anymore. We don’t live in a world of problems that the hero can solve anymore. We live in a world of polarity, of contradiction, paradox, all of that is a careful balancing act.

So, for me, the post-pandemic world requires a different set of skills, dealing effectively with paradox, not relying so much on consistency of approach so that you can keep all your options on the table until you figure out what’s going on next. Sounding strong by using both and communication, not either/or binary choices. And those are just a few of the skills that I think future leaders are going to need. And you’re absolutely right, therefore we’re going to need to think about different types of brains and different types of personalities.

And then we have tended to think about as having potential future leadership in the past. I think future leaders will have to develop existential courage. Even if the planet is dying, even if there is a climate crisis, even if energy prices do go through the roof, how do you take an organization through that? A serendipity mindset, where there are always opportunities in chaos. It’s not something to be feared. Those who can therefore see the opportunities where other people just see risk and complexity.

Our human brains are not designed for that stuff. It takes a certain type of brain to be able to navigate through that type of complexity and we don’t tend to identify that using the talent processes and the assessment processes that are typically used in the corporate environment at the moment.

Gillian (03:58):
Would you think that’s because I think … I don’t know if the FBI or that, that I heard that that’s the type of profile that they like. But I think personally it’s because we’ve set up school and we’ve set up work in similar ways, where it’s particular type that will thrive within that environment and then others don’t. And we tend to do that. We put structures in and they’re not fluid enough to actually deal with all the different types. And it’s one of the things I learned when I started HR, is that one size does not fit all. I really think, because I wrote an article recently on co-leadership and personally again I think it’s too much. I’m talking to myself as in I was CPO, I was trying to keep abreast of everything that’s happening within the HR world, sure I knew all the buzzwords and what was happening in other organizations.

I was then making sure I was trying to keep up with a network externally, keep up to date with everything that’s happening with my own team. Everything that’s happening with the organization and everything that’s happening with my organization’s industry. It’s really humanly impossible, plus try and have a life with three children.

So therefore, I think sometimes for leaders as well, there’s huge pressure on them to know all this stuff. So, I wrote an article on co-leadership and I think it could be quite successful in the future if you had a deep respect for difference and also, if we could reduce the ego or we’re never going to eliminate it completely. But I think the ego plays a huge role in not being able to restructure in organizations. I don’t know if you had any thoughts on co-leadership, or if you ever came across it?

Hamira (05:37):
I have come across it. I think for me that’s something that sits underneath … For you to be able to do well, or the type of leadership that’s going to be required in the future full of paradox and contradiction. I think you’ve used the word that I would use, which is you need to be fluid and we can measure cognitive fluidity. It’s different from IQ and yet, you don’t tend to have the expertise in-house to be able to do that. Fluid brains are in the minority. Fluid brains tend to be the ones that are always pushing for more change and they’re pushing for ideas that tend not to be resisted by the majority.

So, they feel like outsiders. Over time, they can get demoralized, they can feel frustrated, they can move organizations faster than others. And that’s because they’re ahead of the curve with regards to what’s possible in situations of complexity and ambiguity and risk. They can just handle that stuff better. I’m a big believer in identifying the fluid brains and empowering them and providing them with a set of circumstances where they flourish. I’m not suggesting that every future senior leader has to be a fluid leader. I’m just saying you have to have enough of those around you, to be able to deal confidently with the future that you can’t predict anymore. And so, I do think very discerning assessment going forwards. I think actually assessment that can only really be done by a psychology expert, I think that’s going to start to become much more important.

Gillian (07:17):
I think so. I mean, how many more Netflix documentaries do we happen to have before we say, “Well, I think there has to be someone on company boards that has a people perspective, or that understands people, or that can contribute.” Because I do look at some documentaries of companies and I think, “Oh my God, when will we learn?” When do we understand that some of these profiles can be quite damaging? Can be absolutely effective in so many ways, but can damage, and damage people and damage the business.

And so, always, I’m amazed first of all that we don’t see the thread and we don’t stress it. But also again, amazed that with a lack of people on C-suite with people backgrounds and psychology backgrounds, but company boards, you really would see the benefit if you had someone like yourself on a company board, that could really speak to the board about the dynamic of their leadership team and what that could potentially happen if things weren’t managed correctly, we didn’t have the right people on the team.

Hamira (08:22):
It feels like a no-brainer to me, but I think you’re right. It’s really interesting that isn’t something that, at the moment so far at least, there hasn’t been the space made at C-suite level for that kind of thinking. My experience of working with very senior teams would suggest that you do need a very open environment. You need a trust-filled, psychologically safe environment.

You mentioned another word that I think comes into it. You have to leave your ego at the door and be open to learning about all the things that you do not know. So, I put that question back to you, Gillian. How many senior executive teams, do you know where those conditions exist? I mean, not many in my view.

Gillian (09:11):

Hamira (09:11):
Ego tends to get in the way, not wanting to say that you don’t know about something or that it doesn’t come naturally to you. That doesn’t … And again, I’m talking about the hero paradigm. It’s pervasive in ways that we don’t fully acknowledge. The traits that are most successful in corporate life tend to be associated with the hero leader. And until we move away from that and fully embrace the alternative way of thinking about leadership, I don’t think you’re going to see executive teams opening themselves up for that level of scrutiny.

Gillian (09:53):
I really think it’s probably … if you were to think of that, the right position for say, an organizational psychologist who could nearly be sitting on the board because sometimes the hero leader makes it to the CEO role.

Hamira (10:03):
That’s again.

Gillian (10:04):
And again, I’m not a clinical psychologist. I do read a lot of psychology books and I have a passion for it, hopefully one day, but we tend to promote people maybe with tendencies to drive again and drive the team hard. And we then have a facilitation of a team that are merely enablers and help this person then achieve their results. And for all intents and purposes, it looks from the external perspective as in the boards and shareholders that the company is running very well. But then internally it’s a very, very different situation. And it can sometimes be the CEO. Which is difficult if you are part of the C-suite, to address something like that because you’re part of the team and you’re the team member. It’s virtually probably, if I’m being honest, it’s impossible.

Hamira (10:57):
I think the way forward is thinking about what future generations of leaders want, how they want to succeed and how they define success. I think it is changing, actually, Gillian. I think I see a difference between leaders who are currently 45 to 55 and those who are under 40, in the ways that they see themselves as human beings, the way that they parent, the way that they coach, the way that they have learned about leadership, the mistakes they’ve made. They’re fundamentally different from those of the generation that came before them.

So, I do feel like we are heading to a crossroads and that when this next generation of leaders end up in a place where they wield the kind of power as existing leaders do now, will they be supported to leave a different type of mark in the world? I think that’s going to determine whether those sorts of new behaviors for the future actually end up being embraced. I think if we define success in the way that we always have done, we will enable the behaviors that have led to that kind of success in the past. I think if we define success in the future differently, we open the door to different sets of leadership behaviors and the kind of environment that’s needed to produce those sorts of behaviors.

Gillian (13:04):
Yeah, that sounds very odd thing to today, but I’m a feeler, in the sense of I feel there’s a difference. I feel there’s a change, the language people and how they’re speaking about things. So, maybe that’s my circle. I’m obviously 46, so I’m probably a little bit out of the bracket that you talked about there, but I feel there’s change coming. There’s definitely a shift in people’s perspective and whether the catalyst was the pandemic, where people reconnected with family, themselves, and nature and all of these type of things. There’s definitely a shift and I think hopefully, we’ll see a more positive shift into the future.

Hamira (13:47):
Fingers crossed.

Gillian (13:48):
Yeah, I would love to get your perspective on employee experience. A lot of the podcasts we do, we love to get ideas for our guests on … I suppose just your view on employee experience. I sometimes believe the basics are the most important and sometimes we have organizations that are focused on fancy, innovative things, but really the basics of employee experience. A lot of us are still getting wrong when we look at the data. So, what is your view on what’s really important around employee experience and what leaders should ensure that they get right?

Hamira (14:22):
So, whenever I’m asked a question that’s big with a capital B, like the one you just asked, I do tend to go back to basics, actually. I think everything we need to know about the human condition has already been known. We just tend to have a very selective memory. So, this is a question I often go back to, what do human beings need to thrive, and feel that theirs is a life well lived?

I’ve yet to find anything that sums it up as well as self-determination theory. So competence, autonomy and relatedness, and what does that mean in HR? So, I think everything that I do that’s new, I make sure that it’s built in a way or anchored in a way that number one, helps people feel that they’re leveraging their strengths and fulfilling their potential on the planet. And that’s all about competence.

Number two, provide options and encourage experimentation, based on the idea that there’s lots of different ways in which you can move forward. It’s about choosing the way that will work best for you to take the next step right now in your circumstances. So, that’s the idea of autonomy. And then three, provide multiple ways of connecting, be that open access to experts, or creating lots of different types of fora where colleagues can share what they’re doing in that space. And that’s the idea of relatedness. So, that for me in a nutshell, I think are the critical success factors when it comes to engagement and a positive employee experience.

Gillian (15:59):
I would do you say all of them have equal importance? Is one more important than the other?

Hamira (16:04):
I think they’re all important. I think if you miss one, I think we jeopardize the success of what you’re trying to do.

Gillian (16:11):
And so, what would you say to people that are in roles where they’re not getting to be their best and they probably don’t get to demonstrate the best of themselves within a role? Is it best to move on, even though maybe you might like the organization? But what is your view? Is it damaging to the person to stay in a role?

Hamira (16:33):
I think we have changed our approach to potential. Since I’ve been at Volvo GTT, we’ve moved away from the idea of the nine box grid, that very elitist idea of those who’ve got high performance, high potential, are the ones that you promote. And we’ve moved towards a much more inclusive sense of potential, which is actually, as long as you’re alive, you’ve got potential. And the question of an organization is potential for what and when?

And so, that is the conversation that should be happening within development planning, is what do you think you’ve got the potential for and how does it show up? And is it of use to the business when it’s trying to deliver on this strategy and how long do you think it’s going to take for you to show up in this way? All of that sort of conversation allows you to make decisions, co-create actually, with an employee whether they have a future, short term, medium term, or long term with that organization.

Gillian (17:34):
Amazing. I absolutely love that because it is one of my bugbears, is the boxes and the grids and putting people into them, especially since then, I’m 46 and I’m like, “Please do put me in a box at this age.” And it’s unbelievable. Organizations sometimes will see this logical approach to fit people in, yet people really are so different, with such many different parts of their career and life, and they bring so much difference to the business. It does seem so illogical to me to have something like that.

But then I do understand when organizations get so big, just talking to a company today and they have over 10,000 employees, how do you manage that? But personally, I think it should be around PBAs and what the person … their personal best and how they can be better again. But I’m sure that’s very difficult to manage. But I like your …

Hamira (18:31):
Well, we say that, but then I’m always reminded of that group quote by H.L. Mencken, I don’t know if you’ve heard it, the American journalist. And he says, “Every complex problem has a solution, which is simple, direct, plausible and wrong.” And for me the nine box grid is that sort of solution. It is simple, direct and plausible, but it’s wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So, I often quote that whenever I see people absolutely attached to a process that, yeah, absolutely, I can see that the process works, but it’s the wrong process for the complex set of issues that you’re trying to deal with. So yes, I understand the need for simple ways forward, but not at the risk of dumbing down a complex challenge. That’s not how you can deal with being human, or with showing up at your best in a corporate environment.

Gillian (19:33):
Wow. Totally love that and 100% agree. Oh, very refreshing. So, I’d love to get your view as well on the future of work. So, what do you think we’re going to see into the future? What would be your predictions of how the world of work will change?

Hamira (19:54):
I think there’s probably a few things. I think we’ve seen the shift towards the hybrid debate and all of that. I think the next shift will be avatar. So, I think we’re on the cusp of a range of cost-effective, virtual reality solutions, that will allow us to create virtual environments, where we can co-create and collaborate without having to be in the same room.

I work in a business full of engineers with all sorts of wonderful brains. And so, they’ve been road-testing solutions in-house, but I’ve also seen what sort of new age consultancies are producing in the VR space. So, I do feel like that that is going to be another tool in our toolbox.

So, we’ve seen this quite binary debate happening either when you’re in the office or you are working from home. I think there’s a third way, which is virtual reality. And so, I do think we’ll see a lot more of that going forwards. I think the other thing that I’ve read a lot about over the summer, is how do you prime the human brain, which is actually … it’s not designed for the modern world at all. Our brain is not designed for the modern society in which we live. So, how do you prime it to handle the kind of world that we’re currently in?

And Nathan Furr, that was my big read over the summer, Nathan Furr, The Upside Of Uncertainty, that was really interesting, quite integrative, bringing together thinking around what kind of brains and personalities thrive in chaos and uncertainty. And so, I really enjoyed that book and I think we will be needing to help leaders and employees develop that kind of mindset going forwards. Because we often think about resilience and performance as two separate things. Actually, going forwards, I think in order to perform, you will have to make sure your brain coats with the stress and the strain of the modern world in which we live. And I think priming your brain to frame uncertainty, risk, ambiguity in different ways, is going to be a critical scale. It will be the thing that distinguishes between people who can handle the future and those people who are just struggling to keep their head above water.

Gillian (22:39):
And do you think there the virtual reality world is a healthy one for us to move as humans? Or does it really dehumanize or remove connection? I was talking to a good friend of mine, he’s an older psychologist, I think he’s like 73. And he said to me, “Look, you just have to move at the times. There was a time on the radio in Ireland, they said it was going to destroy people and you have to move with technology.” And I said to him, “Well, I wonder is it better for our children though?” And he said, “Well, they’ll know no better.” And I came back with, well, is that a good thing or a bad thing? That the reality of having human interaction and connections is healthier than the virtual reality. But I don’t know. And maybe because I’m older as well, and I’m not of that generation, the alpha gen I think they’re called now, maybe I’m just getting older and that just seems a little bit foreign to me.

Hamira (23:40):
So again, I’m very cautious about either/ors and I actually think there’s room for all of this. I don’t think we’re going to escape technological development. I think there is space for us as we move forwards, our ability to be in one place and feel like a cohesive of team face-to-face, I just think there will be limitations placed on how we live and how we work. So I think we do need to be thinking about innovative ways in which we can feel like we’re in the same place working together, et cetera. So, I think VR has a space, it has a role to play.

As to the bigger question, I think it is a bigger question around how does the technological development over the last decades and to come, how does that help or hinder our ability to feel human? I just think that is worth debating at a corporate level, actually. And I think there’s a lot of research around the identities that we build in a virtual space versus how we come across in real life. I think there’s a lot of scope for the human brain to compartmentalize different bits of its persona. I think that’s a very natural reaction to stress, actually.

We learn a lot about it from celebrities who talk about being avatars in the public eye and then going home and being very different. So, we know a lot about the psychology of being on publicly and being off privately. So, I think this is a part of psychology that needs to be brought together and then for us to think about the implications of all these different ways of interacting in the workspace. But I don’t think we’re there yet actually, Gillian. I think it’s a very fertile ground for new thinking.

Gillian (25:39):
Yeah, for sure. I could probably go talking about it for another 20 minutes but we’re nearly on time. It’s been so amazing to talk to you. I have just a couple of questions, they’re quickfire questions, they shouldn’t take too long. I’d love you to share with our audience what is your favorite book?

Hamira (25:58):
I don’t have one, but anything by Thomas Hardy I will go back to again and again. Complex portrait of very beautiful women, very strong, beautiful women. Psychological agony of the key characters as they fall in and out of love with each other. The role of destiny, dark fatalism, and then all against that backdrop that only Hardy does, that luminous natural world that we all take for granted because we think we’re the dominant species. So Thomas Hardy, every day of the week.

Gillian (26:28):
Amazing. If you had all the global leaders in the room, because it’s an interesting time for global leadership, I certainly think so anyway when I look around with all the different challenges, if you had them in the room for five minutes, what piece of advice would you give them?

Hamira (26:42):
I would start and end with the same statement. Future leaders will not be in your image. And so, I’d want them to start there when they think about identifying potential and growing leaders internally, I’d want them to start there when they start to recruit people to bring into the company, to strengthen their talent slate. I’d want them to start when they think about leadership development, the kind of investment they want to make in leadership development. The leaders of the future will not be in your image.

Gillian (27:09):
Amazing. I don’t think we could finish on any better statement than that. So, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. I think you’ve given our listeners some really, really interesting insights today. Thank you.

Hamira (27:34):
Thank you, Gillian

The people behind the voices

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Employee Experience Officer

Gillian French is a veteran people leader and organizational behaviorist with over 10 years of experience as Chief People Strategist.

She is passionate about coaching, strategy, building resilient and sustainable organisational culture, and improving global employee experience. She has also contributed to Forbes and is a regular panelist on the future of work.

Gillian is also the founder and CEO of SISU consulting, a business that specializes in organisation development and design.

Hamira Riaz

Executive Talent & Assessment Director at Lloyds Banking Group

Dr Hamira Riaz is a chartered clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of clinical and business psychology experience in the public, private and non-for-profit sectors in western and eastern cultures.

She is passionate about the psyche of success and takes a wide-lens, integrative approach to leadership challenges at the most senior levels of organizations. She also works with artists, creatives, and politicians. 

Hamira’s specialities include personal brand building, conflict mediation, mid-life transition coaching, and people strategy, among other areas.