C-Suite Q&A: Jeremy Blain, CEO of PerformanceWorks Int’l
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I help organisations and leaders transform for the modern, digitally enabled workplace. That incorporates digital transformation and the workforce (human) transformation that is required in parallel. This has of course been accelerated by the pandemic and sorted out those who are making progress from those who are still struggling. So I’m keeping busy!
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe strongly in the broader capabilities within people and therefore have a very empowering style. I provide direction, expectation and support and allow my teams to lead, at any level, as they go beyond their job description. This comes with some risks of course but allowing people to make mistakes, experiment and try new ideas – in a way that is somewhat contained – can bring out gold in my experience. It allows me as a leader to navigate the future direction through keeping my ‘eye to sky’ while supporting the teams with my ‘feet on the ground’. It’s a strategic and operational blend that is fundamental to modern day leadership.
What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself and don't pretend to be anyone else. Those people that know me well, will tell you that I embody authentic leadership, empathetic leadership and a more human-centred approach. This more personal leadership approach is achieved when we are not trying to be what we are not... or just focused on the numbers. Business is about people. Internally and our customers. We are entering a time when many leaders are realising this and trying to balance the triple Ps more effectively – Purpose, profit and people. I have practiced this from my first leadership roles and it has most certainly prepared ever changing leadership demands and requirements today. From both a business and human perspective.
How do you see the leadership role changing in a COVID world?
The pandemic meant there was no place to hide for traditional leaders who were resisting the transformations critical for the modern day workplace. This was manifested graphically in the shift to remote working. Those more enlightened and digitally savvy leaders pivoted better than those leaders who were trying to replicate what they did in the office online. This is where leadership and management failed itself and its people. A lack of understanding what the move meant and how different work structure, support, wellbeing lenses and more needed to be.
For me it is the difference between a 20th century leadership mindset versus a 21st century mindset. If leaders aren't on that journey attitudinally, then the pace of change, empowerment and business growth will get slower and slower.
What have been the biggest challenges of your role to date?
The pace of change means that as a business we have needed to continually evolve our products and services so they are relevant, practical and meaningful for today’s workplace challenges and opportunities. This includes working differently as a leader and ‘learning again’ to develop even better digital skills, close human ties with my workforce and customers, while adding value in the moment. It embodies Agile working methods and requires a personal learning journey. But I love that and continue to learn. It fuels me and helps me help other leaders who are struggling to accelerate their own transformation.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see for your company, your team?
I have been lucky as I built the business on a very different, more modern structure that embraced the Gig economy and the blended workforce (combination of permanent, independent, office-based and remote workers). From the beginning we have worked remotely and found the most appropriate digital tech and tools that have enabled productive working, high levels of collaboration across borders and streamlined communication. It’s what I now teach to other leaders in some of my virtual classes actually.
Our opportunity is to build on this early momentum, consider ourselves more globally than locally and engage better on a human level, as we continue to refine the tech / touch tools that are most relevant for our business and our customer journeys. I feel like this past year has sharpened our skills in these areas and we would be ready to respond to other crises more even more rapidly next time. And next time will come...
What does success look like to you?
Being a force for good as much as being a leader focused on the bottom line. The blend of human, business and community-centred leadership is the foundation of how we operate as a business and what I commit to as a leader. My reward for this is simply that I am happier, my team is happier, the communities within which we serve are happier and my customers are happier. This of course links to the business health and growth. If happiness were the measure, that would be it for me. Maybe that is unfashionable to say so, but for modern-day leadership the dials are shifting back to the human component and human endeavour. I’m all for that.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Don't worry about making mistakes, embrace and learn from those failures, learn from your successes and don't forget that it is people that make the real difference. Not your product, your service, your brand, your image. Your people. So be a manager and a leader who recognises that and be ready to socialise success. It’s not a one-person journey.
About the author
Jeremy Blain is the Chief Executive of PerformanceWorks International (PWI), a company that helps organisations, executive boards, leaders and teams succeed in the digital climate and to embed the required skills for successful modernisation. Jeremy combines leadership know-how as an international CEO and executive board officer in the UK and Asia with his experience as a learning and human capital professional of over 20 years. For seven years Jeremy was CEO for an international consultancy company based in Singapore, operating from India to the Pacific. Jeremy was named International GameChanger© of the year for 2020 in the ACQ5 Global Awards for his work on digital transformation, HR transformation and workforce transformation. Jeremy is the author of “The Inner CEO: Unleashing Leaders At All Levels” (Panoma Press, 2021).
5 Minutes With PwC's Amanda Line on Digital Leadership
1. Define digital leadership, and what it means to be a digital leader?
Leadership has always required a specialised set of skills, such as curiosity, empathy, and decisive action. In today’s world, there is an urgent need for a new type of leader – one who has a digital mindset and has the skills to drive transformation. With the ever-expanding spectrum of new technologies, we need a new wave of digital leaders who not only understand the application of intelligent technologies in the workplace, but also know how to enable and empower their teams - and that comes from frequent upskilling. Digital leaders are represented across numerous sectors and industries, with a common goal to drive a culture of innovation and transformation.
2. What do you believe are the essential traits of a digital leader?
Knowledge of digital and data literacy is a given essential to have a strong command of the future economy. In my opinion, what’s even more important are human-centric skills. It is the soft skills such as communication, resilience, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurial thinking that are pivotal in this new-age digital world.
Despite the demand for future skillsets, we’re currently facing the biggest skills shortage of our lifetime. PwC’s Middle East CEO survey highlighted that 80% of CEOs believe that a shortage of skills in the workforce is one of the key threats to their organisation’s growth prospects.
Part of our drive at PwC’s Academy Middle East in leading the upskilling revolution in the region is to facilitate lasting change. We deliver innovative and practical training, that includes both digital and soft skills components, for individuals and organisations across industries to create a truly future-ready workforce in the Middle East.
3. How have these traits changed since the outbreak of COVID-19, or have they remained the same but their significance has grown?
Prior to the pandemic, the World Economic Forum set an ambitious target to upskill one billion people by 2030. This was initiated to tackle the 75 million jobs expected to be displaced by automation and AI by 2022. Since Covid-19, the window of opportunity to reskill has become shorter in the newly constrained labour market.
The way we live, work and learn has changed drastically, placing digital technologies at the forefront. The pace of change has accelerated the need for upskilling and reskilling. In many organisations and economies, this crisis has highlighted the discrepancy between the skills people have and those needed for jobs in the digital world.
4. What was the role of a digital leader when the initial outbreak happened?
The need for digital leadership was brought to the forefront by the pandemic. With the huge transition to work from home (WFH), strong leadership has helped guide and steady employees, and ensure continued productivity. Leaders who understand the application of technologies in the workplace have been able to create new drivers for success, including streamlining operational systems, mindful connection of their employees and improved agility in the workplace.
5. How has that role evolved and what are the next steps for digital leaders going forward in 2021 and beyond?
Eighty-four percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalise working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely. This is a very significant change towards a digital future. Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and having digital skills is no longer a ‘good to have’, it is critical to business success. Leaders and employees alike must adapt to a cycle of constant learning and upskilling to remain competitive.
6. How do these roles mentioned compare to pre-COVID?
Digital leaders were in demand before the pandemic, but now there is an additional urgency for a pipeline of talent with the skills to implement new technologies in the workplace. In order to create sustainable success, digital technologies must be adopted as a core business strategy – and upskilling is key. In 2020, PwC’s Academy introduced a number of qualifications in the region to support training for the digital economy, including the region’s first qualification for AI, the Certified Artificial Intelligence Practitioner (CAIP).
7. Whilst the initial strategy for digital leaders was to survive the outbreak, what is the strategy for digital leaders as they look to thrive going forward?
We will see more sophisticated technologies being integrated into the workplace, driven by digital leaders. To support these transformations, we will need to close the existing skills gap, and ensure that younger generations are prepared for the future workplace.
Young professionals will need huge investment in education and skills development. This requires a collaborative effort from governments, private organisations and education providers. In the Middle East for example, PwC’s Academy is working with the regional governments to upskill the national talent for future leadership roles. We also work with the private and public sector for upskilling solutions in finance, tax, HR, marketing, leadership and management, graduate development, digital transformation to name a few. It is this multi
faceted approach to upskilling that will help our region to thrive.