As the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone International Group and the President of Cornerstone in China, Simon Wan has built a vast arsenal of tools and skills in developing executive leaders and finding the right CXO fit. Prior to Cornerstone, Wan worked as the General Manager of China/East Asia at Philips Lighting and in the capacity of a General Manager at Carnation Foods, General Manager. Moreover, he has amassed regulatory experience in his role as Trade Director for China & South Pacific region for the Government of Canada.
Wan shed some light on ways to build a leadership team in a company and the hiring trends that talent leaders across the board can keep in mind going forward in the digital age, in an exclusive interaction with People Matters.
What are the three pillars of Cornerstone’s key offerings? How was your journey in diversifying the company’s services?
The history of Cornerstone has always come from executive search. Back in 1989 executive search was a business of secrecy and headhunters acted as secret agents who hire executives. Even in the 90s people did not understand the concept of a headhunter but as the market evolved the concept became more known. Today CEOs are looking at not just retaining employees but moulding them into becoming a value addition to the organization asking us to provide mentorship.
In the year 2005 the whole market changed, The International Coach Federation became more prominent. In the past, executive coaches had something unique to offer but post 2005 we realized that it was becoming a knowledge based profession and many business managers started learning the skill of coaching. Coaching is all about asking questions and helping the candidate to reflect on what changes they can bring about in themselves rather than going through another MBA. So in 2005 within Cornerstone we created a business chapter where we asked all our senior consultants to master coaching and then spread ourselves into the regional and international market.
In the last three years we have expanded into the Board Advisory Business. This happened when our clients who are mostly CEOs started asking us questions about how to find the right fit. A lot of companies do not need a full-time professional in the board and it gets very expensive, so hiring few executives who come maybe 3-4 times a year is a better alternative. At Cornerstone we evolved by starting with executive search, then executive coaching and then board advisory, that became our three core services.
What are some of the methodologies that you believe talent leaders and hiring managers can use to conduct executive research?
The methodology has changed or rather evolved over the years, from finding the right candidate from our own databases to now relying on the social media databases to determine whether a person is fit for the company. And this puts us in demand, because companies don’t just hire people with experience but they want to understand the compatibility of the person and the firm. Other than that, database and tunnel mapping are the main methodologies which are now also combined with an analysis of what an individual does after work.
What are some of the best practices to follow to find the right talent you need?
The model we follow at Cornerstone includes taking a look at what competencies the companies require and then interviewing the candidate based on our analysis of our internal capabilities. Apart from assessing the skills we also understand how this person would fit into the company. It is easy to get a grasp on whether a candidate is the right fit by looking at their values, priorities, intelligence, integrity, motivation, and experience.
When it comes to finding the perfect leader, integrity plays a big role. When we are looking for leaders, we also try to find out what she or he wants out of their lives in the next three years. If the answer is money, then that attitude might not be what the firm is looking for. However, if the candidate views this opportunity as a platform to build himself, then they can become a “Cornerstone” of the firm. So the general analysis is that the market is changing so rapidly that no matter the amount of experience you have, you may have to unlearn and relearn some things.
As millennials are climbing up the ladder within organizations to move into more senior roles, how do you think the dynamics of a multigenerational workforce impact the organizational structure--especially when it comes to finding the right leader?
It depends largely on the area of business they are involved in. They can be self-employed entrepreneurs or young people who joined corporate giants at an early age and now handle a leading position. In the industrial side usually experience is more important but there are exceptions. For example the digital industry does not rely on a lot of experience. So age is relative in this context where a 25 year old can be seen as a senior staff member in a technological company.
Compared to other workforce, do the millennials require extra maintenance in the context of leadership team building?
The first thing to understand is that the millennials are here to stay and from my experience, they learn really fast. And the senior executives should learn to work with them. The other major workforce who is 45+ should learn to cope with the working style of the millennials. And with the millennials being a rising workforce, the management should be able to find the right mix to take the firm forward. This mix being made from a millennial, most fitting for the role and a similar 45+ employee even though they might be on different job scripts.
What are some tips that you usually follow in building a leadership team for a firm?
Whenever we take up an assignment, we first interview the hiring manager. This is done to correlate the philosophy that when a person leaves a company, he/she leaves because of the leader not because of the company. Getting to know the existing leaders right from the beginning is crucial for a comprehensive procedure. This also gives us the required information about the reasons behind why someone chooses to leave a particular organization. This is of importance when it comes to hiring managers who should be a part of the firm for at least 2-3 years.
The next step is to understand what is important for the next three years and align the leader’s goals with the company’s objectives. Also, it is important to motivate this leadership team by conducting monthly meetings to discuss data that measures success in achieving those goals.Promotions, special events and creation of a familial feeling in the leadership team will contribute to the motivation.
These are some ways to keep an employee motivated to achieve a particular goal. It is also a measurement tool to understand her or his expertise instead of assuming that six-months experience in a particular field makes them an expert. In this perspective we see ourselves as the small guiding boat that guides a ship into the sea as it embarks from the docks.
Can you share how the five star process of Cornerstone works?
The process that we follow as a whole cannot be tagged as unique but our experience in the field makes us unique. Our researchers and trainers will be trained in this process and the strong business backgrounds like mine and that of other board members helps us in determining accurately whether a candidate is fit for a firm. We use questions that are deeper with easily discernible responses to get what we want. These questions also help us in finding what inspires the candidate, her/his level of motivation, and if that fits the requirement of the firm. Even though the process as a whole has not changed for the last 30 years, the competencies have changed a lot.
When you talk about Cornerstone on a global level, how is your consultant strategy different from Asia to Europe?
To us the process and the steps are similar or actually the same but the consultants and their requirements are different. For example in the USA they have AI or other technological industries but those are not as demanding as the technological companies in China, India etc and the base reason may be that these countries are charged more in the global market. The difference in the nature of markets plays a key role. And this makes the experience of consulting different and especially our work in China and India has seen significant growth and has given us a varied experience.
While hiring talent for different companies of different markets, what are the methodologies you have observed and used to adapt to the needs of the market?
As we value integrity, experience and set priorities of an individual in hiring, it may not be the case of the principles of the hiring managers who will have a set of skills he would want from the selected candidate. So to find a person who fits the profile of these managers, coaching the selected candidates is essential. Once the talent map is provided to these managers, sometimes their expectations are diminished, so it also our duty to match expectations to the talent map provided by going outside the industry because the industry background does not affect the leadership level of an individual.
What are the different features that leaders can inculcate to become an effective leader?
The most important aspect is to be yourself and not to fake anything. There are two kinds of leaders and the first one is the owner of the firm who should walk the talk and settle for nothing less. The owners should be able to uphold the company’s values and display them to the employees who must understand the company is not just for making money. Values becomes crucial in engaging the millennial workforce as most members of this generation seek for a higher purpose from their work. But if they are not able to display these values then they are in no place to speak about the integrity of their employees and their leadership skills.
So an effective leader will require talent and integrity to bring in the desired results to the firm. But the second kind, which are the managers, can bring in results easily because in markets like Asia’s, the CEOs or the owners coach their employees on the values and objectives as the firm grows from a moderate one to a large corporation. Because without this coaching the attractiveness of the company is reduced and any employee lost that way is a loss to the company and the problem has to be rectified no matter the size of the company. So programs should always be done so that they themselves know that they are on track with their coaching.
How does a brand develop higher value performance goals?
There are different kinds of brands that attract a candidate to work in a company. A company brand is successful if it has a sustainable business excellence and good track records. The company brand will differ regionally as it will intake people who join and leave the company for different reasons. The second is the product brand and the third is the personal brand of the supervisors who should be able to inspire and motivate employees to keep moving forward. And the image and the brand is important because it could attract the right candidate even when the company performance is low.
Could you share your views on how CEOs can work towards bringing about tangible results and help employees perform better?
Today there is no shortage of content given the plethora of online platforms available. Something we especially do at Cornerstone is create a connection between 8-10 CEOs who are not competitors or suppliers under the name CCC (Cornerstone CEO Connection). And these CEOs talk about their issues and help each other. With the liability that whenever someone comes up with an issue the CEO should have a solution and peer help is the best support which can be provided because a CEO cannot go and talk to anyone for advice and each problem has its own unique demographics. So using this connection, a CEO will be able to contact another to get advice on how to deal with the problem. This creation of an advisory network is what sets Cornerstone apart from any other consultancy. And to bring about the objectivity, it is important that the firm works in an open culture and not in a closed culture with its own agenda. So we prefer to work with firms with open culture who look at things in a critical manner so that objectivity is attained.