Refining the talent search

Telcos can benefit from broadening the parameters of their search for C-level staff
Richard Guest says telcos should broaden their horizons when recruiting directors.
Richard Guest says telcos should broaden their horizons when recruiting directors.


The international expansion of emerging markets telecoms operators in the last five years has seen a proliferation of new group level leadership structures. With many of the leading groups in the Middle East, Africa & Asia now having operations across a significant number of countries, a new breed of group level executives has become necessary – yet they are increasingly sparse in the market.

Successfully recruiting at group level requires a different approach to talent acquisition, particularly in terms of the scoping of requirements, identifying, attracting and assessing candidates. It also necessitates an open minded approach and a willingness to hire on the basis of competencies and talent more so than purely on prior responsibilities, employers and titles. Limiting searches exclusively to individuals with prior group experience is not only severely restrictive but rules out highly suitable and capable candidates.

A common misconception is that individuals within OpCo leadership roles lack the necessary skills to quickly and successfully adapt to group roles. The capacity to identify and assess them is the differentiating factor to broadening the pool of relevant talent.

Leading clusters of countries or functional teams across a multitude of operations provides unique challenges and therefore requires a specific set of competencies and interpersonal skills. In most cases the competencies that underpin success are those of a less tangible nature.

The first step to hiring fit for purpose individuals at group level is a clear understanding of the foremost responsibilities and stakeholders of each position, which in turn allows a thorough definition of which competencies are paramount. Given the strategic nature of the roles, the small direct teams and the breadth of stakeholders, it is interpersonal skills and character traits that will in the majority of cases differentiate high achievers.

Relationship management, communication skills and the ability to influence are of the utmost importance in working at such a level within an organisation.

With the corporate board of directors, investors, strategic partners, group level C-suite peers, OpCo Boards, CEOs and functional leaders and vendors to deal with, it is these skills that will be the root of success. Such a matrix of stakeholders determines the need for a carrot rather than stick approach to leadership. Being accomplished in communicating, negotiating and influencing throughout the hierarchy are fundamental to gaining buy-in from all quarters. In some ways the role is more akin to a corporate ambassador or diplomat relying on lobbying capabilities than a commanding leader.

While group level executives are, in terms of hierarchy and title, leaders, the key to their success is their ability to utilise the aforementioned competencies and characteristics to foster teamwork and collaboration. In most group positions, whether it is a regional CEO or group CCO, CFO or CTO, the focus is on setting a strategy, communicating this vision, getting buy-in and therefore inspiring execution from the operational teams on the ground.

Furthermore, cultural awareness and flexibility are vital in achieving success in such a medley of workplace, regulatory and political environments.

Once an understanding of the necessary core competencies has been achieved it is the identification, attraction and assessment of the highest calibre candidates that comes to the fore. Given that individuals with group level experience in prominent international telecoms groups with an aptitude and appetite for emerging markets are few in number and highly sought after, it is important to consider the cumulative experience of both seasoned and progressive candidates gained throughout their career to date.

Once the target audience is mapped and high priority candidates identified the courtship and assessment process must be executed. It is often assumed that a group level role is the pinnacle within the sector. However it must be considered that such roles are by no means attractive to all. Many perceive the roles to lack genuine ownership. As such they can be deemed to be indirect leadership mandates with high level accountability but an absence of true authority and autonomy. To overcome any such resistance it is crucial to present a robust and consistent value proposition throughout the process.

From an assessment perspective investment must be made in conducting a rigorous and methodical interview process based on competencies and therefore anecdotal evidence of success in synergistic scenarios irrespective of the OpCo or group environments. Prior employers and titles must not be the primary factor.

By clearly understanding and defining the expertise required in group level remits highly positive factors are likely to be achieved. The talent pool is significantly expanded allowing a fuller due diligence and, most importantly, the focus is upon identifying and hiring executives with the skills and traits to truly succeed in such a complex working environment.

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