Dorota Serwińska from our office in Warsaw, spoke with Beata Stelmach, Chair of The Supervisory Board, of The Polish Association of the Listed Companies

Beata, as a person closely related to the market of listed companies, you are a great supporter of the value of corporate governance. Why is this so important?

Not so long ago, corporate governance meant the proper organization of relations with shareholders, paying particular attention to the organization of mutual relations between the leading shareholder and the group of minority shareholders. Another important issue was the presence of independent members of the supervisory board. Moreover, great importance was attached to the quality and transparency of communication with the market. This is still very important, but it is no longer enough. We look at the impact of the company's activities on the environment and how its presence affects all stakeholders with whom the company has relations. In short, we evaluate a long-term sustainability strategy. This is a much more serious responsibility for the organization and management of the company, taking into account environmental, social and corporate governance aspects.

In short, we are talking about ESG standards, and all these areas are jointly assessed by shareholders or rating agencies, which consequently translates directly into the company's value. Therefore, today a code of good practice is not enough.

Okay, but if we were to think about it practically, why is it so important?

The world's economies have been growing at a breakneck pace over the years, and we have been content with growth and progress, but we have paid little attention to the environmental damage that this development has brought with it. Air and water pollution, gas emissions contributing to global warming - all this has gone too far not to react decisively and stop the environmental devastation. Therefore, business has been tasked with protecting our planet. Regardless of whether we are dealing with production, services, trade or heavy industry we need to look at the entire chain of events to ensure appropriate standards of operation.

Beata, you say that until now corporate governance was a matter of soft requirements, and now hard regulations are being introduced. What do they concern?

One of the most important regulations that should be mentioned is the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) - these are EU regulations regulating the scope of mandatory reporting in the area of ​​sustainable development. The regulations require company management to place ESG issues at the center of business planning and short and long-term strategies.

In addition to taking care of the above-mentioned environmental issues, companies are expected to take even greater care of their relationships with stakeholders. The rights of investors and shareholders have today been supported by tough regulations to not only standardize the method of communication, but also to lead to even greater transparency. Other regulations also appeared along the way, including: guaranteeing transparency of remuneration in public entities, which is aimed primarily at eliminating the pay gap between women and men in similar positions, or ensuring equal representation of various groups at the level of company authorities.

The "Women on Boards" directive aims to increase the representation of those groups that are underrepresented on company boards. In practice, it is expected that more women will be invited to the group of managers. The first moment when entities will be obliged to publicly submit an appropriate report is 2026, so shareholders should take care to ensure the diversity of the bodies appointed for the new term of office today during general meetings.

It is expected that modern enterprises will ensure diversity in the workplace, in particular among management and supervisory bodies, respect minority rights, introduce mechanisms that guarantee an inclusive environment and open to diversity, encourage teamwork, and ensure the education and improvement of competences of their employees.

So we're not just talking about the consequences of the new directives for the external market, it also applies to employees?

Of course. The main point is to create a work environment that will respond to new challenges and expectations of employees. The workplace is our second home, but this also means appropriate balance of activity and division of time into work and rest. Therefore, another directive worth mentioning concerns "work-life-balance". It is not only about respecting private time, but also about taking care of the physical and mental health of our employees. It must be admitted that the pandemic and remote work have opened our eyes to a number of new needs. Today, hybrid work is a standard, but there are new risks: loneliness, the unnoticed problem of burnout, depression... it is a big challenge for companies to take care of their employees.

A motivated, well-coordinated team means better well-being at work, but also greater commitment, identification with the company, and in turn, greater responsibility and a proactive attitude.

And back to corporate governance itself, the last component of ESG…

Let's look at the Polish Stock Exchange. Among the largest WIG-20 companies, half are companies with State Treasury shareholding. Corporate governance has been in great "disarray" over recent years. Meanwhile, listed companies should be a model for all other entities on the market; by definition, they should be the best organized, respecting market laws, treating all shareholders equally, caring for their image, and respecting public market standards. They also include competent management and supervisory boards composed of independent members, but there are also many listed companies where the majority of shares are still in the hands of the founder. As long as corporate governance is respected, stock investors entrust their funds to the company's development. However, it sometimes happens that it is difficult to accept public market standards, the desire for manual control prevails, and independent and competent specialists are reluctant to hire - and this destroys the trust of financial investors.

And what could be the consequences of this?

Research shows that over 80% of professional investors take into account how corporate governance rules and ESG requirements are met. Professional investors, funds and asset management entities directly adopt investment strategies aimed at entities and their instruments guaranteeing a sustainable development strategy. The application of these principles translates directly into the valuation of companies, image, recognition and attractiveness for business partners.

Do you have any golden advice for the management boards of large companies regarding corporate governance, or ESG more broadly?

Complying with ESG standards simply pays off. At the same time, by taking care of the environment and the community gathered around the company, we create a culture and values ​​that attract investors, business partners and loyal employees who identify with the workplace. By operating according to transparent rules, companies become attractive to shareholders for many years, which guarantees further development.

We are grateful to Beata Stelmach for taking the time to speak with us about such an important subject.

When engaging in Executive Search, the main goal for most is to find the right employee for your team. However, throughout the Executive Search process many advantages evolve as a result of the thorough market survey / market analysis that takes place.

Insights are obtained through a deep dive into the market's talent pool as well as interviewing and engaging with key executives and leaders within the industries. This provides the client and the firm with extensive information about salary levels, employment conditions, company reputation, DEI, competitor analysis, and much more. The knowledge, information and insights that are discovered during the process prove to be highly valuable.

Five advantages of Market Analysis in Executive Search

One of the primary benefits of conducting a market analysis is obtaining up-to-date information on salary levels and employment conditions within the industry for specific profiles. This data ensures that your compensation packages are competitive, which is crucial for attracting and retaining top talent.

By engaging with market opinion leaders and senior management, we can gauge the reputation of the client company. This feedback is invaluable for assessing the company’s attractiveness as an employer and informs the employer branding strategy. For instance, if a company is perceived negatively, strategic measures can be taken to improve its image.

A thorough market analysis provides insights into the diversity of profiles in the market. This helps in understanding the current state of diversity within the industry and aids in formulating effective DEI strategies. Companies can then position themselves as inclusive and equitable workplaces, enhancing their appeal to a broader range of candidates.

The information gathered during a market analysis can be leveraged for future internal recruitment. Understanding the talent landscape helps in anticipating recruitment needs and hereby understanding how to increase retention rate, improve and promote career development etc.

By analyzing competitors, you can understand what they are doing to retain their best employees. This includes their retention strategies, career development opportunities, and overall job satisfaction levels. Armed with this information, your company can develop superior strategies to attract and retain top talent. This also includes identifying what motivates or dissatisfies employees in similar roles elsewhere can help in crafting more appealing job roles and work environments.

In 2024, organizations are increasingly recognizing that attracting and retaining top-tier talent is crucial for sustaining competitive advantage and driving innovation.

As the market for senior executives becomes more dynamic, we advise companies must adopt smart hiring strategies to ensure they secure the best leaders who can navigate the complexities of today’s business environment.

Understanding the New Senior-Level Talent Market

The senior-level talent market in 2024 is characterized by a blend of traditional leadership qualities and modern competencies. The rapid pace of technological advancement, the increasing importance of sustainability, and the need for diversity and inclusion have reshaped the expectations from senior executives. Today’s leaders must be agile, forward-thinking, and adept at managing cross-functional teams in a hybrid work environment.

Key Strategies for Hiring Smart at the Senior Level

Redefine Leadership Competencies: Modern senior leaders must possess a unique blend of skills. Beyond traditional competencies like strategic vision and financial acumen, they need to excel in areas such as digital literacy, change management, and emotional intelligence. Organizations should redefine their leadership competencies to align with the current and future needs of their business.

Leverage Advanced Analytics: Data-driven decision-making is revolutionizing the hiring process. Utilizing advanced analytics can help identify the characteristics and experiences that correlate with successful leadership within a specific organization. Predictive analytics can also forecast a candidate’s potential for growth and adaptability, ensuring a better cultural fit.

Enhance Employer Branding: In a competitive talent market, a strong employer brand is essential. Companies need to communicate their values, culture, and vision effectively to attract high-caliber candidates. Highlighting commitment to innovation, diversity, and employee well-being can make an organization more attractive to senior executives who are seeking purposeful and impactful roles.

Expand Search Horizons: The talent pool for senior-level positions is global. Organizations should look beyond local markets and consider candidates from diverse geographical and industry backgrounds. This approach not only widens the talent pool but also brings in varied perspectives that can drive innovation and growth.

Emphasize Cultural Fit: Cultural alignment is critical at the senior level, where leadership decisions significantly impact organizational culture. During the hiring process, it’s important to assess whether candidates’ values and management styles align with the company’s culture. This can be achieved through comprehensive behavioral interviews and cultural fit assessments.

Prioritize Diversity and Inclusion: Diverse leadership teams are proven to enhance decision-making and drive better business outcomes. Organizations must prioritize diversity and inclusion by actively seeking candidates from underrepresented groups. Implementing unbiased recruitment practices and ensuring diverse interview panels can help mitigate unconscious biases.

Utilize Executive Search Firms: Executive search firms can be valuable partners in the hiring process. These firms have extensive networks and expertise in identifying and attracting top talent. Collaborating with a reputable search firm can streamline the process and provide access to candidates who might not be actively seeking new opportunities.

Offer Competitive Compensation Packages: Attracting top senior talent requires competitive and comprehensive compensation packages. Beyond salary, candidates are looking for benefits that support work-life balance, such as flexible working arrangements, opportunities for continuous learning, and long-term incentives like equity options.

Conclusion

As the market evolves, staying ahead with these smart hiring strategies will be key to organizational success.

The Silent Struggle of Loneliness Among Business Leaders

Loneliness among business leaders, including CEOs, is a significant issue that often goes unnoticed. Despite being surrounded by teams and employees, many leaders can experience feelings of isolation due to the unique pressures and responsibilities of their roles.

I have spoken with many CEOs on this subject, and these are some factors contributing to feelings of isolation:

Decision-Making Burden

CEOs and other leaders often bear the weight of making tough decisions that can impact the company, employees, and stakeholders. This burden can lead to feelings of isolation, as they may feel they have few peers with whom they can discuss these decisions openly and candidly.

Lack of Peer Support

While leaders may have colleagues and peers within the organization, they may hesitate to open up about their challenges and vulnerabilities due to concerns about appearing weak or incompetent. This can create a sense of isolation and loneliness, as they may feel they have few people in who they can truly confide.

Work-Life Imbalance

The demanding nature of leadership roles can result in work-life imbalance, leaving leaders with little time for personal relationships and social activities outside of work. This can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation, as they may struggle to find time to connect with friends and loved ones.

High Expectations

Leaders are often held to high standards by their employees, board members, shareholders, and other stakeholders. The pressure to meet these expectations can be overwhelming and can contribute to feelings of loneliness, as leaders may feel they have to project an image of strength and confidence at all times.

Public Perception

CEOs are often seen as figures of power and success, and there's a common perception that they lead glamorous and fulfilling lives. Discussing feelings of loneliness can challenge this perception and may not align with the public image they want to maintain.

Perceived Stigma

There's often a stigma attached to admitting feelings of loneliness or vulnerability, particularly in leadership positions. CEOs may fear that acknowledging their loneliness could be interpreted as a sign of weakness or incompetence, so they may be hesitant to discuss it openly.

The Need To Talk

The silence surrounding CEO loneliness highlights the need for greater awareness and understanding of the mental health challenges faced by business leaders. Encouraging open dialogue and providing support for CEOs to address their feelings of loneliness can help create a healthier and more supportive work environment.

We spoke with Małgorzata Kulis VP, Managing Director and Katarzyna Skorupka-Podziewska, People & Culture Director at Volvo Trucks, Poland.

Volvo Trucks is a world-leading truck manufacturer, committed to drive progress and shape the future landscape of sustainable transports. 

Małgorzata, it has been almost 12 years since you joined Volvo Trucks Poland as a Managing Director. Has the company changed during that time?

Małgorzata: Completely! 12 years is a long time, and today we are totally different. I joined an organization managed in a directive manner, organized in silos, where information was treated as an asset to build an advantage to maneuver within the company. Few people understood why I, a woman, with no technical knowledge of trucks, suddenly became the Managing Director. I had to deal with some problems and the reluctance of others, who did not believe that a woman in a truck business could survive in the long -term, but I managed. Let me remind you that the concept of diversity was not that strongly promoted at that time, and I joined what was a very macho business.

Much time has now passed, and we have made many collective changes to become a great organization today, balancing experience with new generations, more women, as well as activating engagement of individuals to fight jointly for the company goals.

What has been most important in this transformation?

Małgorzata: Building a culture of open communication and trust. It's a long process, but it has paid off in many ways. I didn't know about the technicalities of the trucks, but I knew how to deal with people. Today, we are all proud of the community Volvo Trucks Poland creates, and some of our solutions are inspirational, not only for other Volvo Group entities, but also for our competitors. I have to say proudly that we created and still create many talents.  

And what are these solutions that allowed you to build this community?

Katarzyna: One of the assumptions of our strategy is the slogan: #Inspired by Your Needs. It means that we are inspired by the needs of our customers, our employees and our business partners. Our company employs 500 people in 13 distributed branches. This is not the easiest structure to manage, so we need to be close to people, genuinely listen to their needs and address them appropriately. People feel cared for, they feel our concern for them (the “care” factor increased from 60% to 90% in the last 3 years), it's not a slogan, but our everyday life.

Małgorzata: This approach strongly impacts the company's results. Last year we achieved our highest result and we believe we are doing so because we listen to people - I mean all people: our customers, our business partners and of course our employees, who are definitely the biggest assets of our organization, as well as the creators of our common achievements.  As a Management Team we travel around our locations, give space to ask questions and listen to ideas, analyze and address what people say, no matter whether it concerns basic or more sophisticated issues. We don't sweep anything under the rug. Maybe sometimes we don't have an answer immediately, but we acknowledge the issue and come back with answers encouraging local colleagues to propose solutions, improve processes, and to make constant small improvements.

Is this openness to listening to the voice of employees specific only to the Polish organization?

Małgorzata: Volvo Group is an organization that appreciates people feedback, but what we do is that we create “Local WHY” with everything we do in Poland. Today Poland is the 4th Volvo Trucks market in Europe and 6th in the world, so we are an important player, and we need to be strong for our customers, who act in an extremely difficult and competitive international environment.  

Sales of the trucks as such, is not enough. In Volvo Trucks we want to be the best and the most desired transport solution provider. It means that what we do must have a measurable value for our customers and our approach must be effective and focused on premium services. We also need to have a very professional and transparent dialogue with our customers to build relations for good and bad times.

By building open communication and trust, you gain knowledge about what people expect and know what they want. Are there other benefits?

Katarzyna: Employees feel listened to and cared for. They consciously work for innovative solutions. We believe that our customers can feel that we have a unique culture and that employees are stronger, dedicated, engaged and want to work with us.

Employees are ambassadors, they feel a unique sense of belonging here to our Volvo community, and this attracts customers. This energy transfers from people to people. This is what distinguishes us from the competition.

We are the market leader in many fields and have very high customer satisfaction which is measured systematically either in the area of trucks sales and delivery, or service market and retail services or financing provided by our sister company Volvo Financial Services. We care a lot about how our customers assess us and what can we still improve.

You say that this is what sets you apart in the market, that your employees are authentic brand ambassadors. Does this affect results and performance?

Małgorzata: Absolutely YES!!! People returned to working back in the office within two weeks after the first lockdown during Covid. Many other companies are still struggling to have people back in their offices. Our people are genuinely committed, have lots of new ideas and feel connected to the company and the Volvo Family we create. I believe that is why we have such a phenomenal performance.

Katarzyna: We have decreased the number of voluntary leavers twice to 4%. It is very difficult for our competition to encourage our people to leave Volvo Trucks. People go beyond their area and emphasize their strong bond with the company. Every year we organize the Health Challenge and other programs to take care of both the physical and mental health of our employees - but we never do it without checking what they really need. People organize it themselves, take an active part in it, fuel and motivate each other.

Also regarding additional benefits, we decided to introduce a pre-paid Volvo card system because people need different things. We have 25% of each generation in terms of age, it is a very well-balanced organization, and we need to accept that people have different needs. We do understand it and we care about it.

Małgorzata: As in every corporation we are a results driven company, there is high time pressure and results pressure, so we try to monitor the stress associated with it so that our people feel taken care of. We do what we do for real, we don't provide KPIs - because that's a corporate requirement, but we use them to Keep People Inspired, to Keep People Interested, and to Keep People Innovative. We don't follow fashion, but we do something for people in a real way and it pays off so well.

Our people increase our competitive advantage, optimize our activities and make us busy with so many great ideas and initiatives. And by this our Performance KPIs are also outstanding.  We have a great Management Team, where we are also very gender, age and personality balanced: 4 Women +  4 Men, isn’t it great?

Katarzyna: We both have great pleasure and satisfaction in working for such organization, and I am more than sure that most of our employees feel the same way.

volvo pink

This is all very inspiring - thank you both!

We are looking forward to our Friisberg Spring Conference in The Hague and what will be an incredibly busy few days.

Maarten van de Sande and his team, from our office in The Netherlands, are hosting this conference with Partners from our local offices are travelling from all over the world to participate in the event.

Our Conference is not only about learning and development, but also about reflecting on what we have all, individually and collectively, achieved over the past 6 months, and taking some time to enjoy the experience, socialise with friends and meet new ones.

It is fabulous to be a part of the FPI team.

Are you ready to capitalize on it?

The workforce now consists of three generations of employees which is something previously unseen in the corporate world.

Older generations are impacted by increasing pension age, oftentimes delaying retirement, meanwhile the millennials continue to enter the workforce; in fact, they already make up a significant chunk of it. To make things more complex, COVID made its mark on values and expectations of different generations - not to mention the technology-centric environment that is here to stay.

This 'new normal' affects recruitment options and opens new opportunities to capitalize on age diversity.

Various studies have noted that leaders of different ages bring different skill sets and know-how to the table. Diversity helps to improve discussions, foster innovation and facilitate creative problem solving. And it's not just skills but also networks and viewpoints that are complementary. As a result, age diverse teams can better reflect the needs of larger consumer segments.   

The strengths and weaknesses of different generations clearly offset each other.  

Perceived receptiveness towards innovation, high energy and eagerness to learn mean younger leaders often prevail over the perceived lower energy, often fixed attitudes and questionable technological literacy of their older counterparts.  

It seems obvious that knowledge of experienced generations combined with a fresh take of younger ones produces better results. But how to get the mix right?

Different attitudes towards remote work, preferred styles of communication, respect of hierarchy (or absence of it) are the key pitfalls faced by the age diverse teams.  It can lead to serious trust, collaboration and miscommunication issues which then result in lower productivity.

Inclusive leadership is the future.

Every organization is unique, so are the markets in which the organizations operate. For example, Central and Eastern European companies usually have rather young management boards and need to attract older talent from the West.

The way forward may lie in embracing the culture which celebrates the strengths of different generations. The challenge is to find a formula that employs generational differences for the benefit of the organization. For example, adopting a decision making approach where the preference for very fast and reactive decisions is combined with well thought, double checked, experience based attitude.  Also, embedding training and mentorship programs to ensure the knowledge transfer becomes a necessity.  

Friisberg & Partners can help your company by encouraging age diversity through implementing inclusive hiring practices.

We work with you to create an environment where individuals of all ages feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and experiences.

“Decision making is the specific executive task”

Peter Drucker

Timely and effective decision-making on management level is a key factor driving the performance of a business organization.

Deciding about strategic choices, or solving operational challenges, is a complex skill relying on data analysis capacity, sound judgement, logical thinking, ability to trust one's own intuition as a distillation of previous experience and last, but not least, a strength of character enabling one to take risks and responsibility.

The management consulting firm Bain, performing a survey of more than 750 companies, found a clear correlation of 95% between the corporation`s financial results and their effectiveness in terms of decision-making. Another insight of the survey showed business organizations that are especially good at making and executing strategic decisions report returns nearly 6% higher than their competitors.

Research by consulting firm McKinsey, with more than thousand managers from global companies, gave clear indications of increasing levels of frustration from broken decision-making processes, with the slow pace of decision-making and with the inconsistent quality of the results from the decision-making. Less than half of the survey participants reported that decisions are timely, and more than 60% say that at least half the time spent making them is ineffective.

How can business leaders improve their decision-making capacity and performance?

Decision-making is not a eureka moment of revelation. It is a process, and assuming a structured step-by-step approach could help gain control and ensuring its effectiveness and efficiency:

According to Schlesinger it is critical to ensure the pieces are in place for implementation. An effective team decision-making process encompasses:

By following a structured, multi-step process, you can make well informed, effective decisions and achieve the desired outcome. But even the not so perfect decision is often far better than no decision at all. 

As  Gordon Graham wisely pointed out, “Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clean and straight; indecision, a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it.

In the realm of leadership, technical skills and strategic thinking often take center stage. However, there's a crucial yet often overlooked aspect that separates good leaders from great ones: Emotional Intelligence (EQ). In this article, we explore why EQ is indispensable for effective leadership and how it can transform workplace dynamics.

At its core, EQ encompasses the ability to recognize, understand, and manage both our own emotions and those of others. In a professional setting, this translates into improved communication, stronger relationships, and better decision-making.

Here's why EQ matters:

In conclusion, Emotional Intelligence is not just a nice-to-have skill for leaders—it's a must-have. It underpins effective communication, builds trust and rapport, facilitates conflict resolution, cultivates resilience, and empowers others to thrive. As we navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, let's remember that true leadership begins with understanding ourselves and others on a deeper emotional level.

At Friisberg & Partners, we emphasize EQ while evaluating the leadership qualities of our candidates. We never forget to look beyond the CV, and consider the power of Emotional Intelligence. It could be the difference between a candidate who merely manages a team and a candidate who inspires greatness.

Thirty-three years ago I spent two years in the middle of my studies sailing in the Whitbread Round the World race on s/y UBF. It was a great experience. Then came work, family and all other priorities and duties. My friends often asked, if I would do the circumnavigating or an ocean racing leg again, should the opportunity arise? Hell yeah! I always answered but continued that no one would take a 58 year-old, grey haired and bearded office guy on-board... so not a chance.

But then luck kicked in the form of The Ocean Globe Race, a fully crewed retro race in the spirit of the 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race. There it was, my chance to relive my great adventure.

Sailing the Leg 3, from Auckland of New Zealand via Cape Horn to Punta Del Este of Uruguay, on a Nautor Swan 651, s/y Spirit of Helsinki was beyond great - as well as the team. 

One special element of this race is that no communication to and/or from the boat was allowed except some tweets to the organizers or in case of an emergency. So we were really 100 % offline for five weeks: no emails, no social media, no WhatsApp, no sms, no phone calls - totally disconnected from work and from families. 

During those five weeks, our universe was the boat, the ocean, the sky and the 14 team members - and being offline is inspirational.

It is possible.

You can actually live without emails, calls, news and social media for five weeks, no problem! I suppose we aren’t irreplaceable after all. My only concern was my family: was everything OK with them. That bothered me quite a lot. It was such a relief to get the phone from the sealed bag in in Punta del Este, to call home straight away and to hear that everyone was OK!

Should you have a job or a business, thorough preparation is required.

Planning of projects, managing the hand-overs to colleagues (a big thank you to my fellow colleagues at Friisberg!) and making sure that all administration eg. billing, taxes etc. are all well-planned beforehand. Nonetheless I was feeling a bit shaky when I opened my email after the five weeks offline, but fortunately there were no crisis, no big issues waiting there. My projects had gone well during and despite my absence and I had few calls from new clients waiting for my return.

Onboard we had our daily jobs and roles.

We hardly ever talked about our land based professional lives during the five weeks. The talk was around sailing, watch systems (work-schedule on board), competition, sail-trim, strategy, maneuvers, food, weather or sleep - not work. It was a time for something else for everyone. On the boat we were helmsmen, sail-trimmers, not CEOs or Executive Search Consultants. Thirty year-old Hilla, the only female on board was our most accurate and by far the fastest in celestial navigation with the traditional sextant. And our excellent second mate, 22 years old Aaro, told the four CEO's aboard what to do in the sail change.  And that worked well. Should we change our roles more often in the office work as well?

Now that I’m back online I challenge you to try being offline. Try it for a week or two at first - like on your next holiday.

The first step is to decide, then plan, and finally just to do it.

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