SME Strategy is a strategy consulting company that specializes in aligning teams around their vision, mission, values, goals and action plans. Learn more about how we can help align your team with our strategic planning and implementation services.
Anthony: Welcome, folks to today's episode of the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. My guest today is Brian Hartzer. Brian, how are you today?
Brian: I'm well, Anthony. Thanks for having me.
Anthony: Excellent. I appreciate you. You know, you're on the other side of the world today, at least for me, I don't know about our listeners. But I'm really excited to be able to chat with you and learn about your experience and what you're working on right now. So for our audience, Brian is the Chairman of BeforePay. He's also the former CEO of Westpac Banking Group and ANZ. Then you're also involved with several other companies, if I've understood that as well.
Brian: Yeah, that's right. I'm spending a lot of time in the startup world. But I also do a bit of consulting to larger companies, as well here and there. I'm really interested in data, FinTech and things like that.
Anthony: And you just wrote a book as well?
Brian: I did. I tried to share the one thing I thought I learned that might be useful to other leaders, which is a book called The Leadership Star: A Practical Guide to Building Engagement. It's all about staff engagement. What does an individual leader need to do, as opposed to relying on the HR department to work on staff engagement issues?
Anthony: Cool, awesome. So I guess we could start there. Why did you write the book? What are some of the most exciting parts about it as you went through that process of distilling, you know, 20/30 years experience into a practical guide? What were some of those big takeaways?
Writing The Leadership Star
Brian: Yeah, sure. Well, I don't have an MBA. I started out as a management consultant, and 10 years in, one of my clients hired me to run the credit card business of this bank in Australia. I suddenly found myself managing 1000 people and thinking, "oh, I need to figure out how to do this". At the time, we used to do a lot of staff engagement surveys, and then once a year the HR department would come and take me through the results. They'd say "communications is up this year, and your overall score is this and satisfaction with pay is this" and so on.
After a couple of years, I said, "Okay, but what do I personally need to do?" And they couldn't help me. That just bothered me. So over the next few years, I started really paying attention to leaders who were successful at driving engagement. I had a basic belief that if you could get people emotionally committed to their work, then you were more than likely going to do better and outperform. So I started focusing on it, and it worked.
Over the years, we started getting really good engagement scores, we started seeing our business performance or market share go up dramatically. So one of my colleagues in another part of the bank one year said, "can you come talk to my team about what it is you're doing?" So I went along, and being a good consultant, I made this big long list and said "Well, you can't have more than five things on it". So I boiled it down to five things and shared that with with the team. They said, "Oh gee, that's pretty helpful". So I turned it into a PowerPoint presentation, I started giving it to my managers and my businesses, and they found it really helpful.
Then years later, one of my communications advisors said, "you really ought to put this in a book" and I said "I'm busy". But then, I left Westpac, and lockdown happened. I thought, "well, maybe now's the time to write all this down". I just tried to think of it as the book I wish I had had 20 years ago, when I was starting out. When I was trying to figure out, "how do I actually do this leadership thing? What do I do on Monday?" I read all these leadership books, and that's really interesting, but had forgotten what it said by the end, and I didn't really know how to put it into practice.
So I tried to think about, "okay, what can I share that's actually going to be useful to people?" That's what the book is.
We can help you align your team around a clear vision, mission, values, goals and action plans,
so you can lead your organization more effectively and get better results.
Anthony: Cool. What do you think people get wrong about it? I ask that because some CEOs that I talked to, they're just so in the trenches. The nice thing about consultants, is you're kind of able to have that strategic mind to step away. But what do people get wrong about it? Then how do you balance that? Working on the business and in the business as a CEO. So I'll let you take either of those, however you want to take it.
Balancing day-to-day with strategic work
Brian: Yeah, sure. Well, I think people tend to go to one of two extremes. I think, in a way you've highlighted the point in the way you ask the question. Either they get so into the detail and making micro decisions and focusing on what's going on that they're not focusing on the people and the emotional engagement of those people. They're not demonstrating care for people as individuals and taking the time to really make people feel valued, like you've got their best interests at heart, because you're so focused on the business.
Or the other extreme, they get to conceptual. There's a lot of talk that, "oh, you've got to empower your people, you've got to delegate", which, of course is true. But I personally think that's a bit overdone. In the advice business - what it causes people to do is become disconnected from what their people are actually dealing with day to day. The barriers that they're running into, the lack of clarity on what good looks like and what great looks like, and their role. In the lack of context, they don't necessarily understand how their role links to some broader purpose.
So it's working through things like that, and making sure that you're willing to operate at a high level to give people that context. But also from time to time, to dig into the individuals, to their specific experience, taking steps to make their lives easier, and help them be successful on whatever terms matter to them.
Anthony: Did you have a set of practices that in your time as CEO of these multiple organizations that you said, "you know, here's what I need to do over a week". Or, how did you operationalize that high engagement and make yourself a plan to action that?
5 C's leadership framework
Brian: Yeah, well, that's actually one of the key things I recommend in the book. You do need to actually plan ahead a bit. So the way I think about this is a five point framework, which is five things that start with 'C'. I call it the Leadership Star, because there's five points on a star and I hope people can remember a star then go, "Okay, five star, five points, five C's".
So the five C's are care, context, clarity, clearing the way and celebrate. If you want, I can talk about any of those. But the idea is that you think about over the course of a year, in my case, I used to plan my years out in advance. I'd ask myself, for each of my stakeholder groups, how am I going to demonstrate those five C's, at some point through the year? How frequently do I need to do it? How am I going to do it? It didn't mean that I had every moment of every day scheduled. But I would use that as a checklist to make sure that I was actually getting out and doing those broad things.
At some point, I would plan out how often I want to do this. I'd do that planning at the beginning of each year, usually in January, and then that would become a framework for actually scheduling the activities that I would go and do. I found that really helped, because you get busy, right? I mean, it's hard to keep all these things in your head. If you don't plan out a bit, it's really easy to forget to get daily recognition going on, or making sure that you're talking to people at different levels and reminding them about why their role is important. Those sorts of things.
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. So you know, one of the ways that we look at it is from a stakeholder engagement perspective, meets communication plan, and making sure that you're starting with that. I think a lot of CEOs and leaders get so worked up with the details of their plan. They think "I've got a plan, and I've got to do all this operational stuff", but they forget the environment around it.
Brian, what I'm hearing is that for you to be successful, and how you've been successful, is making sure not just your internal environment - your direct team members, but everybody that's involved in the ecosystem or solar system has that connection. Everyone has to be on the same page for you to be able to move such big things like banking and finance, that have so many different requirements. In order to move an industry like that forward and a company like that forward, you need to make sure that everybody from a micro to a macro level is on the same page and bought it. Does that make sense?
Brian: That's so right. You could almost have written the book because there's this whole chapter on communications in there, and talking about how you plan that out. You're exactly right. One of the things I used to think about a lot is I had 40,000 in some cases 50,000 people working for me. How do you have an impact beyond the eight or 10 people that are your direct reports, the 20 people you deal with every day? So actually thinking strategically about what are the symbolic acts I can do? What are the things that are going to allow the broader organization to connect to the messages that I'm trying to get out there? And to make sure that they're feeling the same sort of connection, that the people I can directly affect are feeling?
Anthony: Yeah, cool. I love that. So this might not be in the book. Are there any times in your career that you got your butt handed to you? And there was a reflection where you said, "how do I avoid this happening again"? Some really key learnings that shaped you as a person, but also as a leader.
Learning from failures
Brian: Absolutely. We don't have time for it now, but I did a whole presentation at one point called 'how my failures created my success'. So I think the reality is you do learn from those things that go wrong. I mean, there's one thing that is not related to the topic we were just talking about, but which I think is one of the main lessons I'd like to share with people.
About five years into my my leadership career, we had a big accounting error in a business I was running. Nothing my fault, but it happened on my watch. We had to take a big write down. My boss at the time, the CEO or the company, was pretty upset. He tore me a new one in public, in one of our analysts meetings about it. I felt pretty miserable for a couple of months. One day, one of my colleagues said to me, "look, I get that you feel bad, and it's good that you feel bad. But I'd like to see a little less feeling bad and a little more focused on fixing it". Then someone else said to me, "the problem here is that when things are going well, you thought you were great. And now that things aren't going well, you think you're terrible. Actually, neither of those is true.
You need to separate how you feel about yourself from how you feel about the business success". That was a profound bit of advice for me, because it's so easy when you're ambitious to get caught up in "we've had a great month, we've had a great quarter, I must be a terrific leader". Then all of a sudden you have a bad one. Then you feel miserable. You get on this emotional roller coaster. I found that by actually saying "well, no, there's a lot of randomness that happens in business and in life. There's things that can go wrong, that you can't control".
So my mantra has become "all I can do is all I can do". It'll be what it'll be. So my sense of how I evaluate myself is, am I conducting myself in accordance with what I think are my values? Am I treating people well? Am I working hard? Am I working smart? Am I emotionally available to my family, my friends? Am I looking after myself physically? Am I, am I, am I. If all those things are true, then I'm okay. I want it to go well, I care. I care about it going well. But I recognize particularly as you get into a more senior position, there's just stuff that can happen that you can't control. It doesn't make sense to let that knock your world over. You know, you just have to keep going and do your best. And that was hugely helpful to me.
Because in the roles I was in, we had so many crises and so many stresses and so many issues to deal with, that you could easily become completely dysfunctional as a human, if you allowed yourself to be buffeted around by that. So hopefully that's helpful to some people.
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a really great point to reflect and re listen to folks. I think sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the work that we're doing, and the person that we are. It might be humbling to imagine that if you weren't there, somebody would replace you. But your family, friends and yourself, like couldn't replace you. So making sure that you look at yourself completely and do your best.
Brian: Well, I just think it's such a natural thing. When you're ambitious, and you're working hard. It's a really easy trap to fall into. Because you know, you're evaluating early on in your career. It's "am I any good? Am I going to be successful?" Your measure of that is "am I getting promoted? Am I getting a bonus? Am I getting new responsibilities? Is my title improved"? All those sorts of things. It's really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that's what matters. I just think it's really important to keep that kind of emotional distance.
Anthony: One of the things that I found in my career that was a big turning point for me, I realized I had high highs and low lows. Neither of them was helpful because I would get too high on myself, which would put me in a low and then I'd have to like pull myself back up. So I really worked on kind of being more consistent.
Brian: So true. So true. I completely agree. I used to have this habit when my CFO would come into my office every month. He'd say "boss, we had a great month". And I would say "Well, that's good. You know what happened? What drove it? Do we need to learn anything? Do we need to do anything different?"
And then sometimes he'd walk in and say "boss we had a shocker - a terrible month" and I'd say "okay, well that's a shame what what happened? What do we need to learn?" I found making sure I didn't get overly excited about the good stuff helped me be more resilient to the bad stuff.
Anthony: Cool. So going back to not the mistakes piece of it, but I've talked to a lot of senior leaders and CEOs, they have so much on their plate, they take a lot on. You have to manage your stakeholders, manage a team, deliver on that communication, all the stuff you talked about earlier, sometimes your plate gets full. How have you managed in the past having more stuff to do than time and energy? How do you manage expectations? I guess, how do you manage expectations when you're working with such large and various groups like that?
Need help with your strategic planning process? A facilitator can help:
Managing expectations leading large teams
Brian: Yeah, well, I think a couple things. One is you have to acknowledge that's always going to be true. I think people go around looking for some magic secret to make their life be completely organized and disciplined. And there's a reality that there's always going to be this morass of stuff that you have to deal with, that's just reality. But what you can do is you can say I have some discretionary time. I have some perception of what's really going to matter over the medium term. And so let me make sure that I spend at least a good portion of my discretionary time on things that are going to move the needle long term, and try and carve that out.
Then frankly, you just do your best with everything else. I found that if people understand that, that's what you're doing, and you feel like you're moving the needle on the big agenda, then other things can fall off the plate a bit. It's not the end of the world, and you don't feel like you're not getting anywhere. I think one other trick that I found, it's a funny little specific thing. But there's lots of good ideas.
The world of business has no lack of good initiatives or good ideas. The debate often in a company becomes people think, is this a good idea or a bad idea? You have this whole debate about the business case for this project or that project. What I found it's helpful to say is, "that's a really good idea. And we're going to do it in phase two". So the discussion becomes not a binary yes, if we need to do it, we need to do it now. We can say, "that's a really good idea. I'm going to deal with that next month, or I'm going to deal with that next quarter". I found, it's a weird little thing psychologically that people can deal with.
Versus feeling that if you're saying no, or you don't have time to do something, that somehow that's a judgment that their idea isn't good, or not important. It's a funny little thing, but it's a useful way to navigate some of these things.
Anthony: Otherwise, if all of these inputs are coming at you, or if you have to go out, it's impossible to manage. When you were talking about engaging with everyone around you, you're saying, "I have to do this over the year". So you're not front loading, saying, "I need to do everything for everybody in the first quarter, just make sure I tick these boxes progressively".
I heard that one of the things that's made you successful as a CEO, is making sure that your perception is right, your time is managed, you have a good balance. Then really, you've got a line of sight into a lot of those things so that it's manageable, and so that you can actually make sure everything gets done. That's what I'm hearing. I don't know if that's how you have seen.
What's really important?
Brian: Yeah, it is. I've evolved into it. You learn to adjust by just finding yourself overwhelmed and learning to cope. I guess where I've landed is, in a way, some of that stuff that's in the great Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's putting first things first, asking myself, "what's really important here? What's the thing that's really going to matter? What's the thing that's really going to move the needle?"
You know, in some of the businesses I ran, I noticed one year that looking back on the financial success of our business, we did loads of stuff, but typically, it was one or two big decisions that really made the difference. So I got into the habit at the start of every year asking myself, what do I think the big decisions are, that are going to really matter this year. And let's try and bring those decisions forward, rather than let them just emerge through the course of the year, because the sooner you make a decision, the sooner it has an impact on your financials or whatever it is you're trying to achieve. I guess it's a mental discipline around what's the big thing?
What's the thing that really, really matters here? And trying to make sure that you carve out time to deal with that, and then do your best on everything else.
Anthony: Awesome. I got that. So shifting gears a little bit, with any of the organizations that you're working with now, what are some of the things that excite you about the businesses you're involved in? What are some of the things that are challenging you? Then if you want to without spilling any secret sauce, you know, what are the things that you want to work on and tackle in the next couple years in your roles?
What he's challenged with now
Brian: Yeah, well, in financial services, it's such an interesting time where consumer needs are changing, and expectations are changing. I mean, everyone's been talking about the impact of digital, for example, during lockdowns and the rest of it. And so that's changing how people want to receive services. You've got the aging of the baby boomer cohort, which is starting to have a real major impact on spending across western economies, then what services people want, and so on. So I think that's really interesting.
Then technology has become so much cheaper, easier to deploy and modularize, that the ability to create new businesses that solve old problems or anticipate new needs, I just think is really, really interesting. And so I've spent a lot of my time on startups that are doing that. So BeforePay is a pay in advance business that allows people who are living paycheck to paycheck to access their pay before, before it comes in.
I'm involved with an HR technology business that allows large companies to build profiles of all the employees that work there, and identify the skills and experiences that they have, so that they can more easily tap into the latent talent potential. The mantra of the company is 'zero wasted potential'. A big problem in big companies is you hire someone and a year later, you've forgotten everything they've done before. They just become the person who's doing X today. So companies are missing out on taking advantage of the talent that's embedded in in them. And technology creates a way to solve that, which I think is really interesting.
Then I'm working on a startup that's still in so called stealth mode at the moment, which is looking at helping affluent baby boomers help their kids buy homes. So I just think that there's a bunch of demand and a bunch of capabilities that are really, really interesting. You don't have to tackle it in a large corporate environment. I'm just really enjoying the creative process of being involved in these in these startups. It's just a lot of fun. I have enjoyed my time in big banks, but I'm loving my time in startups, too.
Anthony: Well I look forward to your next book about all the things that you learned in startup land coming from big established financial CEO, because it's definitely different. It's a different game, for sure. What I think is really cool, out of all the organizations you're involved with, you're solving new problems, problems that I don't think were at the forefront 10, 20, 30 years ago. I think it'll be really interesting how the world moves into solving those problems, but using your experience and expertise as a CEO to be able to move those forward. So I'm super excited for that.
Also excited for your book, you know, Leadership Star. I think it's a great pickup for anybody, I can totally plug people's books. So that's what I'm gonna do. Yeah, but really, in my experience, dealing working with senior leaders and CEOs, any framework you can have to structure communication, get buy-in, drive change is going to be critical. Listeners, I know it's something that you're going to take in for the rest of your career. So having two or three tools in your pocket can make a big difference there. So Brian, where can people connect with you, where can they learn more about the organizations that you're involved.
Brian: Well, I'm on LinkedIn, easy to find there. There's a website called www.theleadershipstar.com, which, if you sign up there, you can get a free chapter of the book, which gives you the basic framework. But LinkedIn is easy as well.
Anthony: Fantastic. Well, I appreciate you coming on to share because I know what you shared was simple. But to be able to make something complex, simple, takes years of experience. I'm grateful that you came on to chat with me and chat with our audience today.
Brian: Thanks, Anthony. I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.
Anthony: Likewise. My guest today, Brian Hartzer, who is the Chairman of Bay and the author of Leadership Star, go check out his book. Like I said, take the tool, connect with him, learn more about what they're doing.
This is the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. My name is Anthony Taylor.
Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time!