Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading
7 Questions with Kashif Naqshbandi
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Kashif Naqshbandi
Name: Kashif Naqshbandi
Current title: Chief Marketing Officer
Current organization: Tenth Revolution Group
Kashif is our Chief Marketing Officer and has over two decades of recruitment experience. Kashif cut his teeth in marketing after launching his own start-up during the dot com boom. Here, he learned all the tricks of the trade through a combination of practical experience and taking calculated risks.
Kashif, who is a graduate of Imperial College London, joined the business in 2012 and has since taken the lead on product brand marketing strategies. His work on market focus and identifying fresh, feasible opportunities for expansion has been crucial to our ongoing international success.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Getting everyone to stick to the knitting, without stifling innovation or tempering enthusiasm! Our ‘not so secret sauce’ has been to align our staffing services with niche software products that exhibit both high growth and high demand for hard-to-find skilled IT professionals and ensure we are the best in the world at delivering these people to our customers. It’s a surprisingly unique business model for a staffing business to adopt at scale, but it’s what has made us successful and will continue to do so. Our belief in the market opportunity within our specialty is so great, we don’t want to diversify unnecessarily. So, in short the most challenging piece is not only to get everyone aligned on our big audacious goals, but also to not succumb to ‘shiny penny’ syndrome and try to go too broad too quickly with our portfolio of services or brands.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you briefly tell the story?
I’ve worked in sales and marketing for nearly 30 years (!), 24 of which have been in the recruitment sector. During this time, I was lucky enough to work for really fast-growingbusinesses and launch a couple of startups, which, coupled with natural curiosity and thirst for learning, meant I picked up some invaluable skills really quickly. In 2012, I joined Nigel Frank (Tenth Revolution Group’s first brand), then a 200-person business. Fast forward 9 years, 2 private equity deals and a remarkable growth story later, we’re now over 2000 staff strong, across 11 market-leading brandswhich means I’ve learnt a ton along the way.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
In my role, every single day is different so it can get quite tricky trying to structure my days or weeks. With so many brands and office across 4 continents and multiple time zones to contend with, you can imagine I do spenda good proportion of my week in meetings. This means I need a rough plan of what I’ll get through, to make sure I’m not completely overloaded with things at the end of the week.
One thing I’m quite strict about is to keep the first half hour of every morning free from meetings or any other commitment to allow me to go through my emails and adjust my plan if needed. My five weekly one-to-one sessions with my direct reports are immutable, andI plan these on consecutive afternoons, as once a month the entire managementteam(including those in the US) jump on these calls where we run through the reporting and planning for each department. This way, the reports actually get read and discussed and other members of the team are able to feedback and hold each other accountable in order to achieve our common goals.
Finally, I’ve implemented a rule whereby my meetings are scheduled in 25-minute increments so I can have at least a five-to-10-minute breather between them.
I try to get everything on my to-do list done before the end of the week, even if it means I have to work late on a Friday, because I think it’s really important to use the weekend to declutter my mind and give me the best chance of getting prepared for the Monday ahead.
4. What’s the most recent significant leadership lesson you’ve learnt?
Although it isn’t something I learned recently, the pandemic highlighted just how true it is that people are your biggest asset. You really need to look after your people, and their wellbeing and mental health should be the top priority. So, checking in with people regularly or finding a way get to an idea of how everyone is feeling, given some may be confident enough to share their struggles up front with you, whilst others might be dealing with things in silence, is paramount. So, it’s crucial that you’re asking the questions and really taking the time to listen to your staff..
5. What’s one book that’s had a profound on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I read Good to Great by Jim Collins about 10 years ago now, but the lessons in it have stood the test of time and really helped me in my career journey. I’d recommend it to anybody.
I think a lot of leaders believe they must have their fingers in all the pies, but what Good to Great teaches you is that it’s so much better to be great at just one thing and how to make that your specialism through some key principles which are discussed consistently throughout the book.
For example, there’s the concept of needing to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off it, which sets out to highlight just how important it is to have great people on board. That lesson has rung true for my whole career, and I like to think of it as “if there’s doubt, there’s no doubt”, so if you’re unsure about someone, they’re probably not right for that specific role. Everybody you have working for you need to be inspired and with you, and that’s something that’ll never change in business.
On being great at one thing, the book describes something called “the hedgehog concept” which discusses how to be successful you need to have three things: something you’re passionate about, something you can be the best at, and something you can make money from. You need to focus all your energies to where these things cross over, and work and repeat until you reach where you want to be.
For example, with our brands, whenever we start new product lines, it takes a lot of graft, a lot of investment and we work at them for years at a time to get the proposition just right. By having all the infrastructure in place and everything well-orchestrated, we see really good results ourselves and it would be very difficult for other organizations to replicate in a short time period to react to market trends.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Leadership capacity is all about your ability to build effective teams and organizations, and lead people to be their best selves. I believe there are two things that can happen; either you recruit someone who is already operating at a higher level and the job grows into them, or you hire someone who can grow with the job.
Regardless of which way you hire your staff, as a leader, you need to set an example that others will be inspired by. I like to embody five core principles which I believe is exactly what I’d look for in my current and future staff.
First up is curiosity. It’s my absolute number one priority, particularly if you’re a marketeer. You need to be driven to learn and be looking for opportunities for self-improvement all the time, given marketing changes so quickly. Secondly, you need to be passionate about what you’re doing and get excited about it rather than seeing it as something that just pays the bills. We spend more than one third of our lives at work, so you have to enjoy it or find another job that you do!
Expertise is another important principle to live by because by acknowledging that you can’t be good at everything, you really step into your power. Organizations aren’t looking for people that excel in every bit of marketing, but rather they want people who are really good at their bit of marketing and who want to push themselves to be the very best in that niche.
Last of the key principles is pride. It goes without saying that we all love being recognized for good work, and that’s exactly what, as a leader, you want to encourage your workers to work towards becoming the gold standard for their line of work.
To build leadership capacity is all about selecting the right people with the right potential and proactively working with them to be the very best they can be (and to be much better than I am in their chosen specialty).
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
One story I can vividly remember is having a conversation with a key client of ours to learn more about the evolving value proposition of their organization and I ended up learning more in that hour-long conversation with them than I had previously.
Thisreally resonated with me and made me realize the importance of not losing touch with customers and highlighted just how valuable it is to continue to speak to your customers and have those conversations with them, whether they’re good or bad. This really feeds into the messaging from the Good to Great book I spoke about previously. You have to know the brutal truth about what’s in your business before you fix it.
Since learning that lesson, I make sure everyone on the management team has at least two customer calls a month to allow them to get closer to the customer and keep that line of communication open.