“Give your people opportunities to learn.” With Steve Butler

Give your people opportunities to learn. Keep your team constantly learning, growing and developing new skills: the jobs they do now may soon be obsolete, but you’ll still want them in your business. As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had […]

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Give your people opportunities to learn. Keep your team constantly learning, growing and developing new skills: the jobs they do now may soon be obsolete, but you’ll still want them in your business.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Steve Butler.

Steve is a Chartered Manager and Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute. He gained his master’s in business administration from Southampton, Solent University and is currently researching for his doctorate in business administration at Winchester University, Centre for Responsible Management. He is a regular writer and speaker on intergenerational working, retirement and older worker business management issues.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the New Forest, a rural national park on the south coast of England. I had a happy childhood attending a local village state school in the 1970s. Neither my parent or grandparents had a university education and my elder brother was the first in the family to go to university. I spent my teenage years enjoying rock climbing and mountaineering and after some very dismal exam results started my career at 18 as an office junior in a life assurance company. As a newly promoted manager at the age of 26, I was put in charge of my first team of eight investment specialists, where I experienced first-hand the challenges of managing older, more experienced workers and the complexities of managing remote team members based across the UK.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an age of longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott professors of management practice and economics at the London Business School. The book explores the ways in which people and companies have to adjust as the average lifespan increases. In the modern era, we have all structured our lives the same way, in three stages: childhood, work and then retirement. That made sense when people were lucky to live to 70 or 75, but when you have an extra 25 or 30 years to fill, it is no longer adequate. Gratton and Scott argue that middle stage, of work, cannot stretch to 60 or even 70 years, instead, life will become multi-staged.

It hit me hard that with no fixed retirement age in mind, I may have 20 or even 25 years of some kind of work ahead of me. And, it occurred to me that if I wasn’t careful or rather, if I just carried on doing what I always did, I could easily wake up in 10 or 15 years’ time on a trajectory I didn’t like, without the skills I needed to pivot my career in new directions.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

It was Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who said, “Change is the only constant in life.”

For my own perspective, before I reached 30, I sold life insurance at the dockside in Portsmouth to soldiers embarking for the first Gulf War, convinced flip-flop factory owners in Nairobi to sign over their profits for Scottish Widows to invest on their behalf, cold-called Uruguay’s finance minister for a meeting (I got it) and set out on my first attempt to climb (part of) Mt Everest.

Before I was 40, the investment performance assessment company I founded was bought by one of the UK’s best-known institutional pension investment specialists. I now lead more than a hundred and fifty people in a multi-million turnover pensions and investments business overseeing £4bn of assets.

I am married for the second time, father to four and stepdad to three nearly all grown up children. I think my life definitely reflects Heraticus’s words.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many different types of leadership which can be used to suit the various types of organization or situations. But, the skill of a leader is adapting their leadership style to suit the situation and get the best out of people. Leadership is really all about helping others to succeed. Difficult or new situations may require more direction and reassurance whereas business as usual may be about taking the time to coach and mentor people to be successful in their challenges, however small they may be. Ultimately, the skill of a good leader is to deeply understand their team or business and know how they will react to different situations, as well as to be able to step back and see the big picture so they can help everyone navigate successful through the business landscape.

Personally, my business is a knowledge business, where we are always looking for innovation, so I am generally very collaborative and supportive, encouraging individuals to think for themselves and I only provide input when its needed. It’s important for me to take time to understand everyone’s perspective and facilitate the environment for everyone to succeed. My role involves a lot of personal reflection to enable me to set the right strategy for the business and recognise when it is wrong so it can be corrected. However, the current Coronavirus has required me to flex because staff have been scared and anxious and they have needed steady reassurance from me, as well as much quicker and clearer direction to the changing situation. I have had to increase my communication to the business significantly to achieve this.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

For me, its all in the preparation. Well in advance, I will run through various scenarios for the meeting or decision and write down my answers, drawing on past similar events that have achieved both good and bad outcomes. I will then reflect for several days adjusting the answers or scenarios in my notes. The night before I am able to sleep well in knowledge that I am well prepared and it is just another ordinary meeting or decision.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move on to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

I believe we in a period of rapid social change, it is no coincident that the Black Lives Matter Campaign sparked by the death of George Floyd has followed the successes of the MeToo Campaign. The world has experienced a technological revolution over the last few decades and we are now experiencing social change as society adjusts to our new lived experience of the world and we question our past behaviors.

The reality is that the socio-economic situation in which many UK-born black people find themselves is very different from my own. UK Black-Caribbean and Black-African individuals experience higher rates of unemployment and are more likely to become victims of crime. In the investment and savings industry if these individuals achieve a good education, they are less likely to be successful in securing their preferred roles. When they do break into the industry, they typically end up in support functions, have higher rates of attrition and rarely progress to leadership or revenue-generating positions. There are only thirteen black investment managers, three heads of distribution and only two black professionals in C-Suite positions in an industry employing 100,000 individuals. There is no question that this is wrong, and we must all act to change this.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

I am an Advisory Council Member & Smart Working Workstream Executive Sponsor for the Diversity Project, a cross-company initiative championing a more inclusive culture within the Savings and Investment profession. We believe that we have an extraordinary opportunity to press the re-set button in our industry: to recruit, nurture and retain the first truly diverse generation of Savings and Investment professionals. That generation will themselves perpetuate diversity in our industry; we are looking to break one cycle and create another.

I am currently writing a management book about the Diversity Project which is designed for middle and senior managers to help them understand all the diversity issues in the industry and act as a guidebook to direct changes they can make. However, I’m am finding that trying to represent a key issue such as ethnicity in a single chapter a real challenge, if I am able to do it justice. The plan is to publish the book early next year, but that feels like a long way off at the moment.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

As a long-standing season ticket holder at Fulham Football Club in London, I’ve seen a lot of great sides over the years. Sadly, most of them went away from Craven Cottage with a win. But that’s another story. The point that any football fan will appreciate is that a manager never puts his eleven best players on the pitch. Because five of those best players might be strikers, wingers or goalkeepers. He puts out the team that between them have the mix of skills to deliver the best result. It’s not just a team of eleven players, but eleven team players. And there’s a very big difference between the two.

Teams in the workplace are no different. You want a blend of abilities to win the game. A fusion of different ways of thinking, varying life experiences and a range of perspectives to enrich the workplace. A more diverse team will be able to solve more complex problems and be more creative in their solutions, which is ultimately the difference between winning and losing in a competitive market. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

In my book Manage the Gap: Achieving Success with Intergenerational Teams which explores the demographic changes currently happening in the workplace and how business leaders and managers can successfully build and support a multigenerational to do their best work, I conclude with my thoughts to build a sustainable intergenerational workforce;

  1. Age diversity is a strength. All the research shows that having a mixed-age workforce makes for a more successful business. To make that happen, you need to build in working practices that accommodate different ethics and outlooks
  2. Life’s not just about work. From the employee’s perspective, these days it’s all about work-life balance — for younger cohorts especially, but also for older workers whom you hope to retain. There’s plenty you can do to make your company more attractive for a generation of people who work to live rather than live to work.
  3. There’s no ‘one size fits all’. Old-style, broad-brush management techniques are no longer fit for purpose. Everyone is an individual — with different personal needs and aspirations — and it’s up to you to know what these are and develop a rewards and benefits structure that works for them.
  4. Don’t assume. To recruit the best people, don’t make assumptions about who can bring something special to your business. Age should never be a barrier — at either end of the spectrum — and neither should work gaps or experience in different spheres.
  5. Give your people opportunities to learn. Keep your team constantly learning, growing and developing new skills: the jobs they do now may soon be obsolete, but you’ll still want them in your business.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I am very optimistic. I have seven children and stepchildren, aged between seventeen 18 and 23, who provide me with a vast array of perspectives on how they as individuals in the upcoming Generation Z see the world and how they want to change it. They have far more vision and passion than my generation and I genuinely believe they will not tolerate the injustice that we have learned to live with.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I recently read a book called Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do by Claude M Steele. Claude describes his research journey as a black American Harvard Professor over a large part of his career. Throughout the book he covers his motivations, work situation, colleagues, research methods, doubts, and details of several research experiments and studies. I found this book fascinating because he introduced me to a new perspective. You need to read the book to understand the title but it’s very clever. Lunch with Claude to hear more of his stories would be great.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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