[tweetmeme]I was inspired today to hear Roger Ferguson, President and CEO, TIAA-CREF, describe how companies must transform themselves to succeed in this new world and how he’s working to ensure that his company stays relevant. Some business leaders, he said, are adopting the burning platform approach that emphasizes immediate and radical change, or “getting out of their comfort zone.” He calls the process in his company continuous improvement.
While TIAA-CREF is not exactly a household name, unless you happen to work in academia, this Fortune 100 financial services organization has $453 billion under management, providing retirement planning for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields. So it’s a very big player in asset management.
Mr. Ferguson is one of the growing number of CEOs who are actively engaging employees in the transformation process to give them “a sense of ownership and what processes they want to see improved.” He’s started a program to train managers to be great coaches and to create what he calls “huddles” in which teams engage in problem solving and paint a picture of the company’s future. He calls it “leading from the middle.” It’s being rolled out gradually throughout the 7,500 employee organization.
At the breakfast meeting sponsored by my professional organization, The Financial Women’s Association, Mr. Ferguson discussed how professionals shouldn’t think about a career ladder but rather a “climbing wall.” It’s rare these days for a person to have a perfect upward trajectory with specified steps. Instead, most of us are moving between seemingly unrelated jobs. What we need to do, he said, is be willing to take risks, and learn the “bridging steps” to our next job. Figure out how to leverage our previous experience and build the skills for our next opportunity.
His Own Skills
Mr. Ferguson was refreshingly candid about what he considers to be his strengths and where he feels he could improve. I was pleased to learn he believes his communications skills are his greatest strength: the ability to synthesize disparate views into major messages. I personally feel this is where many CEOs are weak. As I wrote in an earlier post, entitled CEO as Chief Communications Officer, “This is the essence of the CEO’s job.” He feels he could improve his coaching skills with his senior team. Several were at the meeting and I didn’t get that feeling based on their guffaws. His personality came through as someone with empathy and I don’t think you can make this up for your “public persona,” as he calls his requirement to speak for the company.
TIAA-CREF is a 93-year-old “start-up,” he said. Sounds like the company is doing all the right things to be around for a long, long time.