How Aurecon selects its leaders: “We hire for potential rather than track record”

How Aurecon selects great leaders

There are a number of critical elements that Aurecon looks for in its future business leaders, according to its head of HR, who explained that some of the most important qualities include the ability to embrace disruption and build diverse and inclusive teams.

Liam Hayes, chief people officer for the global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, observed that no one leader will bring the same set of experiences or strengths, but what is important is identifying what type of leader is needed for a particular context within Aurecon.

“For example, sometimes you need a leader who is strong in fixing an underperforming business, but that may not necessarily be the best person to grow a new business,” he said.

“What’s important is understanding and playing to leaders’ different strengths and giving them the right development and experiences to grow and demonstrate these strengths.”

Hayes observed that disruption is occurring within every industry and is a critical factor which cannot be ignored.

“You need leaders who embrace it and can be agile enough to change course where needed and most importantly have the followership of their people,” he said.

“Because of the speed of change in business today we have concluded that all our leaders must demonstrate that they are agile enough to anticipate and lead change.

“Over the past few years we have worked hard at teaching leaders that it is easier leading change if you are capable of being ‘playful with serious intent’.”

Hayes said another critical element of successful leadership within the business is the demonstrated ability to build and lead a diverse and inclusive team.

“We believe an inclusive culture is essential to drive the innovation required to be a disruptor in the market,” he said.

“We hire for potential rather than track record”

Aurecon, which employs more than 7500 people across 28 countries around Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, has developed a leadership development program which is reviewed annually to ensure it aligns with specific issues its leaders are facing.

“We regularly look to bring in thought leaders around specific topics important to us and our industry in order to create meaningful impact,” said Hayes, who emphasised the importance of collaboration and leaders learning from each other.

Aurecon’s L40 leadership group comprises the business’ 50 most influential leaders in the business globally, and this group meets together in person three times a year.

Hayes said these leaders must earn the right to be part of this group by having followership and continually demonstrating how they are implementing Aurecon’s strategic blueprint.

Of the three annual meetings, one of these has a specific focus on leadership development.

“To remain in the L40 all of us must demonstrate that we can lead to achieve great outcomes,” said Hayes.

Aurecon has a clear strategic blueprint on where it wants to go as a business, so ensures that it evolves its candidate selection criteria in light of future strategic direction.

“Our hiring and promotion are based on the profile of people we need, given our priorities in the years ahead,” Hayes said.

“We hire for potential rather than track record.”

“You will only outperform your competitors if you have the superior leadership team”

The L40 process is one of the key ways Aurecon assesses its leadership talent, and Hayes said this provides an opportunity to see potential leaders in action through presenting initiatives they are leading, which are aligned to the strategic blueprint and also during leadership development sessions.

“Our executive team also regularly reviews our leadership talent, in a very structured approach, to align on the areas that we are strong and the areas requiring us to invest effort,” he said.

A view from the top on selecting leadership talent
Giam Swiegers, former global CEO for Aurecon, explained that there are a number of challenges in selecting and developing the right leadership talent in the business.

One challenge for the Board in selecting Aurecon’s new leadership was the assessment of potential, rather than just an evaluation of track record, he said.

“Those qualities are not technical or managerial but rather human and character-related,” he said.

“A lesson learnt from the process was the value of having an appropriately qualified independent adviser who could bring useful insights to the committee that we may not have picked up on ourselves.”

Swiegers also observed that succession planning is an ongoing process and stressed the importance of keeping it alive and active within the business.

“From the day I joined Aurecon I was working with the board on my succession plan,” said Swiegers.

“Succession planning can’t be a one-off event, it must be a multi-year structured process tied to individually tailored leadership development.”

“It’s about ensuring the conversation around talent never stops”

Swiegers followed the same process with its top 50 global leaders, all of who had a succession plan in place which the executive team and Swiegers reviewed on a regular basis against strategic plans. “Where we did not have the right people internally we went external and recruited new talent to fill any gaps,” he said.

“You will only outperform your competitors if you have the superior leadership team.”

The process of selecting a successor to replace Swiegers formally began seven months prior to his retirement.

The board led the rigorous process, with input from Swiegers and others, and he said Aurecon also engaged an independent expert in the field of leadership to assist with deliberations and the selection process.

“We are proud that we were able to promote internally at Aurecon for the new CEO appointment, reflecting the high quality of current leadership,” he said.

Hayes said that the role of HR in the process is to work closely with the CEO and leadership team to understand what talent the business has today, versus what it needs in the future to achieve its strategic goals.

“It is then about supporting the business to proactively develop the existing talent in the organisation or finding new talent to bring into the business where gaps exist,” he said.

“I believe it is HR’s responsibility to ensure our leaders have those ‘uncomfortable discussions’ when people are considered to lack the potential for progression.

“Finally, it’s about ensuring the conversation around talent never stops.”