Unlearning -The key to wisely navigating in times of great upheaval

When the context abruptly and massively changes, such as the one we’ve been going through since the spring of 2020, the blueprint and practices of the past became out of place.

To move themselves and their organisations forward, leaders became aware of the need to adapt, so they continued to learn, but most of them started to unlearn.  Otherwise, how can we make room for something new? How can we be open to new approaches and practices unless we conscientiously decide to give up the old, unnecessary ones? How can we be permanently on our toes, ready to change direction and inspire trust and commitment?  Lots of questions that still need answers.

In the light of our upcoming webinar on June 15th: Transforming HR: What do Leaders need to Unlearn to Succeed in the New Normal we, at Signium – Stein & Partner, considered this a favourable moment to take a breather and sit down with our speakers Mrs. Melania Jaravete, HR Director at Cargus Romania, Mrs. Adina Vidroiu, HR Director at Microsoft Romania, Greece, Malta & Cyprus and Mr. Dragos Barbulescu, Deputy General Director and Group CFO at E.ON Romania, and collect some reflections from them, in an attempt to warm up the spirits before we go live with a new engaging concept of an interactive webinar.

What was the most valuable take away for you as Leader from the past 12 months?

Melania Jaravete: As the entire world shifted gears due to the pandemic, it became clearer and clearer that the HR function should evolve into the natural next step, HR needing to become Chief People Officer instead of a paperwork-based department, to re-acquaint itself with people, their needs, their concerns, and become the main communication channel guiding the team through this period and providing security, reassurance, and a stable context. 

Adina Vidroiu: The past 12 months helped us learn more about ourselves and the importance of human connection. Believing in our people and showing care about what matters to them, namely their passions, purpose, and strengths, is strongly embedded in our culture. We made sure that we kept an open and constant communication with our employees, which contributed tremendously to creating clarity and trust. I’ve been amazed by the strength shown by our team and our community and impressed by the stretches in adaptability people demonstrate when they’re set up to succeed. Trust, communication, and a focus on output do wonders in a remote workforce, and having supported flexible ways of working, the past year has proven it can all work out. 

Dragos Barbulescu: I have learned that although we cannot accurately predict the future, it is important to react calmly and resolutely to the unknown. Contingency plans and a resilient organization will always allow us to respond effectively and efficiently to difficult situations.

I also learned that any crisis brings with it several opportunities and that it is in our power, as leaders, to take advantage of them and keep our people close, connected and engaged to the realities of the business.

The Covid-19 pandemic was an accelerator of the digital transition, which remains a priority for us in all areas of the organization, being a method of streamlining the business and improving the experience of our customers. On the other hand, we cannot talk about the future, about technology and the development of innovative digital solutions without motivated employees and adapted to the new reality. We must continue our cultural transformation, to invest in our people and thus to attract diversity in terms of abilities and personalities, so that team members can amplify each other’s results.

The performance comes out from resilience, agility, independence (given by the team’s abilities and the vote of confidence won from the organization), curiosity, and the ability to see the full spectrum. These are also the ingredients we aim to develop through our team members

What has helped you personally keep the balance through this uncertain context?

Melania Jaravete: Despite the challenging context, my anchors are the family, friends and work content that makes me feel I can contribute. These have kept me grounded, reminded me that we are supported, understood, and accepted in our journey and that we can remain true to ourselves even in a shifting environment.

Adina Vidroiu: Living in a pandemic this past year and a half has posed immense challenges for everyone and a steep learning curve. When uncertainty became the only sure thing, we refused to stay under the pressure of disruption and instead became stronger, leaning on soft skills like empathy, motivation, and collaboration to support each other. Personally, spending more time with my family and friends, as well as focus more on my own wellbeing, helped me maintain balance.

Dragos Barbulescu: Before being leaders, we are human beings, so difficult situations are influencing us emotionally too. Accepting the situation and looking for solutions are the first things you can do.

I could say that I’ve created a new, beneficial routine for myself, for things which in the past I didn’t have time for or paid insufficient attention to, and I’ve realized how important are these for my balance.

As a person, keeping the balance meant a combination of several factors: family, social connectivity with friends and colleagues, physical activity, allocating time to relax and reset.

As a business, times of crisis require adaptability. The new technologies have helped us to stay connected and ensure the functioning of the companies and the services at an optimal level. All this time, we kept the team close, and we did our best to communicate even more with each other to stimulate the involvement in the new projects and thus to have all the highest possible morale and motivation.

The days when the responsibility of the CFOs and the financial executives was limited to financial reporting, compliance, audits, and the presentation of annual accounts are gone. The current context forces us to look up from the spreadsheet and quickly find solutions to adapt and, where possible, reinvent ourselves.

Today’s CFO must be able to see the “big picture” and play a key role in strategic capital allocation and corporate governance decisions. Currently, we are talking about some basic pillars in leadership: on the one hand the development of self-control, problem solving and decision making; then strategic agility and business acumen. To these is added the management of relations with all those involved. From this point of view, the open and empathic communication, the optimistic approach to the new situations have helped both at team level and individually, to overcome the pandemic period, and all the lessons learned will certainly be seen in future progress.

For more reflections on people and organisational practices, join us on Tuesday, 15th of June, at 14:00 EET, for our second online event in the Transforming HR series: https://steinandpartner.com/events/.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

C-Level Recruitment


Romanian managers are more oriented towards respecting the rules than on communication and creativity, a recent study shows, and they tend to be promoted based on technical skills and specialisation. In order to choose the right person for a leadership position, especially in the context of working in a pandemic, a candidate must also demonstrate coaching and mentorship skills, explained the guests of the show Gandul Financiar.

What are the selection criteria for a top manager? 

The recruitment of the right person for a manager role is based not only on the professional and technical competencies, explained for Gandul Financiar Alexandra Ene, consultant at Signium – Stein & Partner, a consulting company specialised in executive search.

“Customers often come to us with a few written lines – we want someone who knows this and this. And it’s never just about that. It is about understanding the business as a whole, about aligning the stakeholders- with whom the respective person will work, what the teams look like, what are the directions of the business itself “, explained Alexandra Ene. Thus, executive search specialists take into account the skills, abilities, personality, motivation, energy but also the coaching and mentoring skills of the potential future managers.

Last year especially, the need for team guidance, communication and coaching skills was noticed. “Suddenly, managers found themselves unable to stop by employees computers to see what people were doing, therefore they had to be coaches and mentors and keep their teams close and motivate them and find other ways to engage them,” Alexandra Ene explained.

An example of a wake-up call for the need to change the management approach given by Alexandra Ene is an online team building, organized at the beginning of the pandemic, in which the employees were just looking at each other and at the clock, waiting for the allotted time to end.

“That’s why, when we look at a recruitment, we look at a very complex picture of how that person should be, in order to be able to give the right direction to the business she/he will manage, to fit in, to have these essential leadership skills, not only strategic and not only technical abilities”, Alexandra Ene underlined.

The recruitment grid for top managers is constantly adapted, and specialists work with various tools to help them complete the ideal profile. “Things change from day to day, from year to year. We do not have a competency matrix for a marketing role that we use in 2000, in 2020, and in 2040. We work customized on each project. We are very optimistic about the labour market and future managers and the collaboration between young managers and senior managers, because they have a lot to learn from each other “, says Alexandra Ene.

Trends in the recruitment market 

“What we can observe, when referring to the new generation of managers, is that they are prepared, our experience with them is favourable, we see more and more young managers, who study abroad, at top universities, MBAs, EMBAs, who invest in education, either personally or the companies that they work for, they are very competitive and very determined “, says Alexandra Ene. 

Regarding foreign companies, beyond the professional competencies, nationality plays a role in deciding to choose the managers. There are still several multinationals that are very keen on bringing managers of the company’s nationality, as Alexandra Ene explains, with the aim of ​​probably instilling in local employees a certain type of culture that is also in the parent company, and not because they are better prepared. “But indeed, we see this trend of looking for international experience, but local understanding, and we do have customers, both in services, as well as production, who are looking for local people who understand very well the local culture and who are able to bring together the teams “, the consultant specified.

In addition, choosing an outsider or, on the contrary, promoting one’s own employee is a decision directly correlated with the company’s objectives and typology. “Of course, people from the inside aspire, but if that company is at a time when it needs a fresh approach, then they can choose to bring in a manager from outside the company. Maybe when the manager withdraws due to retirement and the company wants to maintain the status-quo, they may think of promoting someone from the inside. Depending on the objectives, they can think of promoting someone from finance, sales or marketing, because, in general, the top manager obviously sets the tone for everything that happens in the rest of the company “, detailed Alexandra Ene. 

If you would like to read more and watch the filmed interview (in Romanian), please click here.

Recruiting CEOs during the pandemic

Stela Ciupercea, Signium – Stein & Partner Consultant, interviewed by Wall-Street.ro


Recruiting CEOs during the pandemic. What a head-hunter is paying attention to

The external context generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged leaders around the world. The pressure on their shoulders has increased because they have had to deal with a myriad of situations, some of them new, that require quick fixes. They must not forget to be close to people, to show empathy, to communicate transparently and to be flexible both with their teams, as well as with their partners and collaborators.

Although they are accustomed to the lack of predictability characteristic of the business environment, this situation was different, starting as a health crisis which subsequently affected society and the global economy. Among the things leaders should not lack can be named clarity, a permanent and specific communication, as well as a long-term vision, even when we are referring to online collaborations. For this reason, the approach to an executive search process is extremely important for a company that is looking for a suitable head for the organisation’s profile. Managers, through their role, are also the ones who must prove their responsibility, both for themselves and for the teams they lead. Therefore, a recruitment process for a CEO is essential for a company.

What does a recruitment process mean for a CEO? 

We discussed with Stela Ciupercea, Consultant at Signium – Stein & Partner, a German company with over 25 years of experience in Executive Search and Human Capital Advisory to see what a recruitment process means for a CEO in Romania and in Central and South-Eastern Europe, what is taken into account, what criteria does the company have in achieving the profiling of a good candidate.

 The recruitment process for a top management position (executive search) is a complex one, because we are talking about roles that have a direct impact on the long-term performance of their employees and companies. Regardless of the country, the approach for an executive search process is more or less similar, says the representative of Signium – Stein & Partner for Wall-street.ro.

“To begin with, we need to understand very well the client’s need, to sketch together the most suitable profile. This depends a lot not only on their expectations, but also on the internal strategic challenges, the external context, the entrepreneurial or corporate environment of the company and what stage the organization is in when hiring a new CEO – maybe it’s a mature company, which is strengthening its market position or one going through a transformation process, and the examples can continue (…) There is no pre-established “recipe”. – Stela Ciupercea, Signium – Stein & Partner Consultant 

How recruitment processes have changed during the pandemic 

Recruiting a CEO can be a real challenge, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic commenced and all the selection processes moved online. However, adjusting to the remote working and continuing the activity in the digital environment was not foreign to the specialists with experience in the labour market. In an executive search process, Signium – Stein & Partner’s experts rely both on directly contacting candidates considered suitable for a management role, and on a solid database, built over the years, which they can access from anywhere, as well as on their personal network, aspects that have not suffered since the beginning of the pandemic.

“On the other hand, the interview stage was different, as well as the presentation of the candidates to the decision-makers within the employing company. These were organized almost entirely online, compared to previous years, when direct interaction and face-to-face meetings were indispensable. – Stela Ciupercea, Signium – Stein & Partner Consultant

Stela Ciupercea says that although these processes were easily facilitated by technology, she noticed a greater reluctance from the candidates regarding the positions that involved travel or even relocation.

How should a CEO’s resume look like? 

Regardless of the position for which one applies, the CV represents the candidate’s photo, which ends up in the hands of a recruiter, to be read and evaluated. The situation is the same for a CEO. She/He must carefully write her/his CV, note down the information related to the experience gained, professional skills, qualifications, and studies, to create an image that is authentic and as clear as possible for the person reading and evaluating it.

“The focus should be on the responsibilities, but especially on the achievements she/he had at each stage of her/his professional career and show the direct contribution to the performance of the teams and companies which she/he worked with or for. If a CEO wants to take a step towards another industry, it is important to list details about previous companies, for example the business model, number of employees, level of responsibility, direct reporting, the evolution of the organisation during the period in which she/he was in charge of the company “, notes Stela Ciupercea.

As for the appendix of a CV, it does not have to be a long one because the large number of pages will not make the CV more interesting, the relevance of the content being what matters.

The domains in Romania with the most applications on top management positions

From the application perspective for top management positions, in Romania, the most dynamic industries are currently IT&C, FMCG, Retail and Logistics. At the same time, the Real Estate and Construction sectors were attractive from this point of view, especially because the local market created more opportunities for transactions during this period.

“Most executive search projects have been conducted in areas such as FMCG, Production, Private Equity and Technology, and at the level of positions, there has been a significant increase in recruitment projects for CFO (Chief Financial Officer) roles, compared with previous years”, explained Stela Ciupercea, Signium – Stein & Partner Consultant

The specialist also says that although 2020 was an unpredictable year, the demand for executive search services in Romania remained at a similar level compared to previous years. Last year, about 20 companies appointed new executives to lead companies in sectors such as FMCG, Pharma and IT&C.

If you would like to read the full version from Wall-Street, click here.

Webinar: How to translate Purpose into People Strategies

We are delighted to have hosted on the 23rd of March the first event of our Transforming HR series: How to Translate Purpose into People Strategies having as guest speakers: Mrs. Andreea Mihnea – Chief People Officer at First Bank, Mr. Daniel Reisenauer, Managing Director at Visma Software Romania & Ireland and Mr. Sorin Banulescu – People & Culture Director at Heineken Romania.

We wanted to challenge different perspectives, therefore we invited three speakers from diverse industries, namely Banking, IT&C and FMCG. Read the summary below to find out how the past year has been for them, what challenges they faced with redefining organizational purpose and how this impacted the people strategies in the companies they work for.



“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


The concept of organisational purpose has never been more prevalent than now, even one year into the pandemic, and leaders around the world have been confronted with countless challenges. Businesses have become so engaged in redefining their direction because this period demanded of them a moment of contemplation: What is our mission as a company? Why do we do the work we do?

Re-evaluating the people strategies is, to say the least, as critical as addressing other business areas such as marketing, sales, financial, etc. People have been through the biggest disruption to their employment since the previous 2008 crisis, and most employers have implemented more changes to their organisation in 2020 than they had in the past years, cumulatively. The challenge is to see this as a huge opportunity to step forward.

We live in the future now

In order to stay competitive in the new business and economic environment, most leaders recognise technology’s strategic value. Digitalisation has been a hot topic over the years, but it has taken a global event to trigger changes that were only ideas in the last decade. The pandemic has launched all of us into the digital future and practically overnight, remote working and many other online processes have become realities. A good number of employees have rapidly embraced the digital era, in some cases leading to more engagement and productivity.

For some industries, especially in the IT&C, the changes were embraced faster, as Daniel Reisenauer states about his company: “Even before the pandemic, it was easier for employees to carry out their activities digitally, as we are an international software company, and we use a lot of tech’ applications to interact across teams and cultures, so, this helped a lot from a mindset perspective to transition into the digital era”. 

But what happens in other sectors and especially if we talk about a more traditional kind of organization as opposed to a digital native one? Do I make my employees climb the stairs of digitalisation or is it something they can do for themselves? And especially if we are referring to an organisation not accustomed to technology, then the process is massive and messy and it’s usually in the hands of HRs and Managers. People need to understand the “why’s” and the “what’s” behind these, and also to receive the most support, so as not to get stuck on the way because they did not have trainings or IT support” challenged Andreea Mihnea.

Further on, we would like to tackle some drivers to better prepare for digitalization1:

  • Mobilisation which needs shared ownership, accountability and responsibility
  • Clarity of commitment on the digital transformation
  • Sufficient resources devoted to it as a core organisational priority
  • Investment in the technical talent
  • Flexibility & Agility

1 – McKinsey Global Institute “Twenty-five years of digitization”, May 2019

“Despite being a great promotor of technology, which I genuinely think is necessary and it can get us far, if we don’t get it right and are forcing it into people’s lives, we could hit a wall. Although we communicate virtually a lot, life should not be just a screen. The feeling of belongingness is not the same” – continued Andreea Mihnea.

Daniel Reisenauer shared with us about the initiative of completely changing  the purpose of Visma Software from the organisational growth to the safety of the people. One of the examples he highlighted was related to promoting people’s health and networking, by adopting a new concept on meetings while “walking in nature” to take a break from the digital environment.

Service to others as driver of motivation

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation” – Aristotle

Now, more than ever, businesses also have an opportunity, and a duty, to engage in the needs of the planet. The potential is extraordinary for organisations to serve for the greater good and initiatives such as giving back to the community, remain a powerful force.

Daniel Reisenauer and Sorin Banulescu shared a few examples on how they’ve organized the teams to pursue higher goals.

In Visma Software the team identified an opportunity to use existing equipment for a different purpose and decided to use their companies’ 3D printers to build medical equipment. They were also involved in numerous activities to help the environment.

Sometimes the biggest impact comes under the form of a small change, as Sorin told us. During his HR Director mandate in Heineken Haiti, he established a medical centre to compensate for the poor medical services available in the location and facilitated the instalment of an ATM machine on site to ease the living conditions of his colleagues.

The above represents a wonderful depiction of how we can bridge a purpose gap between people’s desire at work versus what they actually experience. But how do we connect people to purpose?

We, as individuals are increasingly looking for meaning and the workplace should be one of the sources where we derive it from.

As a conclusion of the insights collected from our speakers, we should begin by  taking a close look at the relationship between our social and environmental impact and our strategy and purpose, and then connecting this with our tremendous employee potential. This will unleash and boost motivation, helping organizations to implement effective people strategies.

“My people have been involved in helping the environment and the population, not because it was part of their performance objectives, but because they understood that giving back to their community was what made them tick and it was also something they could do on a daily basis in their personal life as well” – mentioned Daniel Reisenauer.

Connecting people’s individual purpose with the organisational one is the missing puzzle piece and although we may not yet have all the answers on how to do this, we’ve collected some recommendations from the speakers:

  • Adapt your perspectives and your references to the new reality (don’t complain about why things are happening in a certain way but rather ask yourself what you can do to understand the bigger scheme of things)
  • Never start by judging – be mindful of the context
  • First give and then expect to receive – in this way you, as a leader, become credible and earn genuine respect
  • Engage, help, enjoy people and cultural connections
  • Create community cohesion and promote external activities for a better engagement
  • Use technology wisely and don’t force it into your people’s lives
  • Listen to your colleagues, be transparent and ask for feedback
  • Make the mental health of the employees a top priority as well
  • Let your people go out as often as possible

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Can artificial intelligence replace executive search consultants?


This month marks one year since our lives we­­re completely transformed, both professionally as well as personally. Although we all faced the same common threat, each of us lived this experience differently, learned certain lessons, and perhaps reconsidered the priorities and path. From a professional point of view, for me this year implied a reconfiguration of the way I manage my activity, as I work in recruitment of senior management and I previously relied extensively on face-to-face interaction with clients and candidates. Whereas before the pandemic we only had online discussions with candidates from other countries (and even in that situation we always saw them in person before proposing them on the shortlist to the client), digital recruitment suddenly became the standard, the only viable option for us to continue to exist in the market. This change came with a number of challenges varying from technical issues to interviews with cats or children in the background. We moved from the formal environment of an office, to the personal space of our houses, the time spent in traffic was eliminated, and the overall dynamics changed completely. At the same time, the screen does not allow the recruiter to see the candidates as a whole, to get a real sense of them, making it much more difficult to outline a full picture.

Thus, even though digital activity has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives and we have adapted, and recruitments will certainly look different in the future from the way they were conducted before the pandemic, I wonder how it would be for the whole recruitment process to be completely replaced by technology or, more specifically, by artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a topic on everyone’s lips, a promise of a simpler future, based on increased efficiency and profitability. At the same time, it is a concept that generates fear – how will things change in the coming years? Will the labour market require the same jobs, the same people, the same skills? What happens to the professions we have prepared for at a time when no one anticipated the extraordinary evolution of technology?

AI is represented by the system or machines that mimic cognitive functions generally found only in humans, such as learning and problem solving. From the Automotive sector to Retail, Medical and Manufacturing, artificial intelligence is used in countless forms – speech recognition (e.g., Siri and Alexa), self-driving cars, customer profiling, predictive technology, or chat bots. But what happens in the area of ​​professional services, such as audit, law, consulting, recruitment? How much can you make use of technology in industries in which the capabilities and experience of employees have always determined the quality of services provided by the company?

How artificial intelligence is used in recruitment 

As companies progressively understood the value that smart recruitment and good employee retention bring to the organization, technology has found its place in human resources as well. Investments in the development of talent management tools have increased over the years, so today we see smart systems that automate significant parts of the flow being used in recruitment, such as CV screening, searching for candidates on various channels, matching candidates experience with job descriptions by using keywords, contacting them and even conducting the initial interviews.

Recruiters can use tools that analyse the job description of the open role and search the database for candidates who have applied for similar positions. They can automate reports for clients / employers, use chatbots to interact with candidates and virtual reality in simulating work situations, as well as tools which analyse in video interviews elements such as facial expressions, voice, tone, and micro-expressions.

All these and more are used in the hope that the volume of employment will increase in the labour market, the process will be simplified for all parties and there will be less administrative / routine responsibilities for recruiters. However, the risk is that, exactly in those initial stages, the company loses sight of valuable candidates.

Why artificial intelligence cannot replace people in executive search 

Before anything else, a distinction should be made between recruitment and executive search. Although both have as their ultimate goal finding the right person for a particular role, there are considerable differences in the business model, methodology and level.

Recruitment is suitable for roles from junior to mid-level managers and is based on promoting the position through different channels and targeting candidates who are actively looking for a job. The recruitment service for top level managers (executive search) represents the process of placing candidates in Board, top or middle management roles (GMs, financial directors, COOs, marketing directors, etc.), namely strategic placements in executive positions and proactive search for potentially suitable professionals. In executive search, the activity is more complex and nuanced than in recruitment and often we do not even use CVs in the first phase, because we approach people we identify through a variety of channels (using the company’s or the consultant’s network, recommendations, references from previous projects, the database, but also various platforms).

For this reason, human interaction in C-level recruitment, at top management level, is essential; people are always approached directly by consultants on the basis of a prior assessment taking into account the experience and professional skills of the candidates, the industry in which they operate, the business models to which they have been exposed and the potential fit of all these elements in the ongoing recruitment project. Thus, a human mind is needed to understand beyond titles and responsibilities – someone who knows the market and the context in which the respective candidates worked, who can read between the lines, who understands the challenges, opportunities, and trends in the industry.

As an executive search consultant, I coordinate placement projects for top and middle level managers, both in Romania and in the Eastern Europe region. Preparing for such a role takes years, and it is done through study, but especially through the contact with hundreds of clients and thousands of candidates. We are discussing an educated ability to understand the strategic impact that a person will have in the organization based on detailed knowledge of the industry and the customer, and the ability to assess the potential fit of a person in a new company, beyond skills. Because at this level we are transcending professional abilities: we evaluate alignment in terms of vision, values, ​​and culture, but also the ability to solve problems or critical thinking.

During the interview, we correlate all these aspects with the candidate’s personality, energy, and motivation, as well as with other interpersonal skills (empathy, emotional intelligence), analysing previous performances and evaluating his/her potential, so as to ensure long-term strategic collaboration between the employer and the placed candidate.

The usefulness of technology 

Artificial intelligence, as a selection tool in executive search, can be extremely useful, but only as a support for the work of consultants and the improvement of the recruitment process, not to replace the human interaction, which will always be the epicentre of our work.

For example, we use systems such as ATS (Applicant Tracking System), which helps us monitor the correspondence with our candidates, the stage of recruitment processes, but also to record details about the professionals we interview. This type of tool allows us to provide better services and manage data efficiently, without diluting the essence of our business, namely the important knowledge about the market, the relationships we develop with candidates and customers, and the vast experience in working with people for people.

I estimate that the future of top management recruitment will include an important component of technology, but the most important input will remain that of the consultant, who can put in context all the elements, from the candidates’ experience, to their skills and personality, to the overall matching with the role and organisation of the future employer.

© Alexandra Ene

Webinar – Transformational Leadership

We are delighted to have hosted the webinar “Transformational Leadership in Central Eastern Europe” on the 15th of September. Having as guest speakers Mrs. Friederike Rissing, HR Director DACH & NORDICS of Reckitt Benckiser, Mr. Ron Egli, Phd. in Transformational Leadership, Mr. Peter Muller, CEO of Heidi Chocolate Romania, Mr. Markus Wirth, former CEO of Holcim and Ameropa Grains Romania and Mr. Frank Hajdinjak, former CEO of E.ON Romania, we emphasized the principles and challenges of Transformational Leadership, especially during times of change.

If you are interested in finding out more, please find below some learnings from the speakers:


Transformational Leadership in Central Eastern Europe

“The job of the management is to design and run the systems that support the company in achieving its purpose” – Dave Gray, The Connected Company


Principles of Transformational Leadership

In 1985, the concept of Transformational Leadership was the first time introduced in organizations. Ideally, this approach creates valuable and positive change in individuals and social systems, with the main goal of creating great leaders who are able to inspire, motivate and encourage their teams.

There are four main components positively correlated to individual and organizational performance:

  • Individualized Consideration
  • Intellectual Stimulation
  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Idealized Influence

But more important are the five key principles of Leadership:

  • Self-esteem
  • Planning
  • Motivation
  • Delegation
  • Empowerment

Also, communication plays a huge role, because without it all the other aspects may not meet their purpose. Communication needs to capture hearts and minds. During times of change, many of us may be wrongly focusing on the speaking part of the communication and wholly neglecting the listening part of the equation. Communication is both ways and active listening should be done to understand and not to say something back in return.

Taking into account that sometimes people do not see a reason for change, especially when there are risks involved, it is important for them to be shown the purpose and motives of the changing strategy, so that they can understand the bigger picture and therefore support the vision.

Followers in transformation respond to:

  • Trust
  • Admiration
  • Loyalty
  • Respect

Currently, 70% of Transformational Leadership projects fail, because we deal with human beings, with emotions, with followers and blockers. When there is a consensus for changes in an organization, all managers and employees must be engaged on different processes with full transparency and by active involvement, with leaders setting up workshops or other development initiatives and guide the teams with compassion. People need to understand the sense of urgency and the need for change, so that they can understand the issue and consequences associated with it, making it easier for everyone to respond with full understanding and not out of fear.


Leadership Challenges during times of change

“If you don’t deliver on your culture in a crisis, then your culture meant nothing to start with. And when you stand on the other side, your culture will be why.” – Didier Elzinger, Culture AMP CEO.

This basically means that especially during tough times, it is important to live up to your culture, your values of the company, your behaviors. Feedback is also a key component, because we have to give it to our people in order for them to develop and the same applies vice versa: we can learn from the employees by listening to them and by giving them accountability.

Transformational Leadership in times of uncertainty:

  • Listen to and encourage feedback
  • Guidance through facilitation
  • Inspiration & motivation
  • Serving leadership

Implementation is the key, but in Central European countries, additional challenges, such as the cultural differences and employees not being used to the concept of development, need to be considered. Also, no real exchange of opinions has been observed and managers are used to making the decisions themselves.

Command-oriented, low-freedom management is common because it’s profitable. It requires less effort, and most managers are terrified of the alternative.” – Laszlo Bock, Work Rules!

But what do managers actually have to do in order to engage, motivate or inspire especially through a change process?

How the concepts of Leadership and Management evolved in time:

Management 1.0

For many organizations, a common practice is that they are managed like machines. In this style of management, leaders assume that improvement of the whole requires monitoring, repairing, and replacing the parts.

Management 2.0

In a Management 2.0 organization, everyone recognizes that “people are the most valuable asset” and that managers have to become “servant leaders”. But, at the same time, managers prefer to stick to the hierarchy.

Agile Leadership

Some people think of an organization as a community or a city. We can do what we want, as long as we allow the community to benefit from our work.


What is Leadership about then?

Energize people:

People are the most important part of an organization and managers must do all they can to keep people active, creative, and motivated.

Empower Teams:

Teams can self-organize, and this requires empowerment, authorization and trust from management.

Align Constraints:

Self-organization can lead to anything, and it is therefore necessary to protect people and shared resources and to give people clear purpose and defined goals.

Develop Competence:

Teams cannot achieve their goals if team members are not capable enough; managers must therefore contribute to the development of competences and skills.

Grow Structure:

Many teams operate within the context of a complex organization, and thus it is important to consider structures that enhance communication

Improve Everything:

People, teams, and organizations need to improve continuously to avoid failure as much as possible.


Furthermore, the role of HR is changing with an emphasis on the following competences:

Commercial Acumen – understanding of the business and applying knowledge effectively, the need to support decisions or getting involved;

Coach – listening and asking, challenging leaders;

Courage – the need to stand up or take unpopular stands, have a different opinion or give feedback;

Connection – connecting and bringing people together to achieve a common goal;

Creating a movement – communication is the key especially if we talk about creating a movement, understanding the behavior or the stages of change, uniting people under a common purpose, storytelling (how the message is brought across), and inspiring them.


Key learnings

  • If we want a change in our organization, we have to take into consideration the employee behavior and the organizational culture;
  • Communication with full transparency and by active listening enables understanding and support of the vision;
  • Listen to understand and actively ask for feedback;
  • The processes in Change Management have to be fair! The employees have to be satisfied with the outcome and it’s the leader’s job to make them aware of it, even when it’s a negative outcome, although the messages have to be passed on;
  • Leadership is not management, the latter being more of a coordinating style focused on figures;
  • Awareness of the business, generating profit and making strong decisions especially in complex situations are necessary prerequisites in leadership and prove personal commitment;
  • The leader has to act as a role model by inspiring, motivating, influencing and serving people in their professional and personal development in order to achieve great results;
  • People follow leaders they can trust and who have the practical skills and the understanding of the business. Competence builds confidence;
  • We have to leave behind the misconception that the leader has to know everything;
  • Most creative workers don’t realize that they are also responsible for management stuff. Management is too important to put it only in the managers’ hands; it belongs to everyone;
  • We have to strive for performance and try to understand what the problems in an organization are;
  • Building the team around means supporting and learning together on the solution and implementation;
  • Transformational Leadership encounters blockers! People need to be shown the purpose and motives of the changing strategy;
  • During crises it is necessary for leaders to provide guidance, even more than before;
  • Give more accountability to the people so that everyone in the organization is also a leader;
  • We have to remember that in the end we deal with human emotions, with different attitudes and different egos! Empathy and sympathy are desired attributes;
  • The wellbeing of the employees plays a huge role in transformation, so it’s important for people to actually have fun while navigating through change.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Interview with Werner Stein : Navigating amidst Uncertainty- Endings & Rebirth


Rethinking the purpose during times of great turmoil

In an analogy with the song “The wind of change” from the Scorpions, which for me represents the leitmotif of times immemorial, we are now entering a phase where the wind is coming and is starting as a storm. And the corona story is inviting us to heighten our awareness that we have to change the world, by first and foremost transforming ourselves, because otherwise the planet will be more doomed.

In addition to the need for change, another question emerges dramatically, and it relates to the purpose. How can we change if we don’t have a clear purpose? What is the mission of our lives, of our doing, of a company? The answer might not come easy, but both on a collective and individual level we cannot ignore the feeling that something has to transmute. We may ask ourselves every hour of everyday what is our direction, but only a long-term answer will be profoundly meaningful. Eventually, it’s an individual journey, something we need to seek to answer for ourselves by shifting the perspective inward in order to manifest change outward.

And the same applies with the economy and companies today, which need to reevaluate their purpose, culture, values, mission and this moment should bring more clarity, because we cannot go further with the same old habits, causing harm to our planet.

We’ve seen that the quarantine time period, which put the economic activity to a halt, restored the nature’s equilibrium, with bluer skies, less pollution and animals returning to their natural environment.

Indeed, it is normal to want to go back to how things used to be before, to our comfort, to our jobs, to our money, but at the same time how can we go back without a new healthy purpose for the future?

Even before this period, I had experienced many cases where very successful people in their 40s or 50s came to our consulting firm looking for a new purpose in life, and not a new job. It seems that material abundance and status are not a condition for that sense of fulfillment we are all longing for.

From a business point of view, I would like to outline some key points which I deem as being mandatory for a new way of life.

Quality over Quantity

First of all, we need to discard the idea that financial growth is a long-term condition and that it should be regarded as the sole purpose. Why do we have to grow as a company every year? Who tells us that? Sure, growth is important in the first stages to lay the foundation, but a company needs to grow in values, in character, in quality, in supporting the people and only then the material abundance is implicit.

Healthy Motivation

Why do we do something? What is our motivation as organizations, as individuals?

Now, more than ever, companies need to reflect on that. Our incentive should strive towards supporting the community, the people, the employees, with a focus on quality. Industries also need to think in terms of ecosystems, adapting their production methods and locking in practices in respect to a more sustainable environment.

Cancer is one of the most spread illnesses in the world, and businesses do create cancer in a metaphorical way, which only serves as a mirror which reflects back a dysfunctional growth pattern. Growing and motivation go hand in hand, as long as the intention and impact are aligned with a healthy core set of values.

Competition vs. Collaboration

Then, another key aspect is competition. We need to find ways to work together as a whole, rather than separate units, during and after times of crisis, developing relationships built on trust, not only on transactions. The adaptability for the future lies in cooperation, not competition and the best model to find solutions for our planet, for our organizations, for ourselves is to support one another, laying out the design of a new mindset for the future.

So, without the need for materialistic growth, without competition and with the right kind of motivation we can build the foundation.

Every cloud has a silver lining

With all the unemployment that keeps on rising, we also need to reconsider adaptability when it comes to achieving financial security. The situation is a critical one and it will not be easy to find solutions for unemployment – but the possibility of considering non-traditional collaborations, as well as embracing a more digitalized approach, could generate a new outcome.

We should also start focusing on leadership, a new type of leader needs to arise, a leader with courage to approach things differently, a leader who takes responsibility, who can reassess the targets of a company and who knows how to create social value as opposed to generating financial value. But this implies qualities such as character, ethics, empathy, compassion, flexibility.

Consumer habits need to change, by addressing them more in green terms, embedding sustainability and making environmental management a core business/individual strategy. By setting targets to reduce the use of natural resources we could end up saving significant amounts of money.

Businesses with a strong culture, a shared sensed of purpose, with a clear set of values that work together to be good individuals create superior value and they can weather the storm better than most. The focus is on collaboration, flexibility and accountability and the massive change associated with the COVID-19 crisis should accelerate changes that foster these attributes.

This is my message, and it is not something new, it’s something that I have been already discussing with people for a very long time.

Finally, my last piece of advice would be to reflect on the interconnectedness of all that is, because everything is spiritual and we have a responsibility towards nature, and maybe when we would stop letting fear guide our choices, we would truly manifest a new consciousness.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Key learnings: Webinar

The Importance of Organizational Feedback during Times of Change

If you don’t deliver on your culture in a crisis, then your culture meant nothing to start with. And when you stand successful on the other side, your culture will be why” – Didier Elzinga, Culture AMP CEO

We are delighted to have hosted the webinar “The Importance of Organizational Feedback During Times of Change” on the 24th of June. Having as guest speakers Mrs. Charlotte Burt, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp UK and Mrs. Friederike Rissing, HR Director DACH & NORDICS of Reckitt Benckiser, we emphasized the importance of gathering feedback, especially during times of change and we also analyzed the impact the crisis had on leadership and culture.

If you are interested in finding out more, please find below some learnings from the speakers:

Employee experience and long-term success

It is in these very challenging times that companies are finding out what their culture really is and what kind of environment they created for their employees and leaders, as well.

Successful businesses know the impact of gathering people data and putting their culture first when making important decisions. Typically, when we think about surveying through organizational change, we consider it to be the most crucial time to gather on employee feedback, but if we are being really honest, we usually feel that these moments are not the ones when we are putting culture first. Many companies fear that now is not the right time to ask for feedback, especially when there is a tendency in times of crisis to focus on more pressing issues.

Why are we so reluctant to seek feedback? Mostly because there is a concern at management level that engagement scores will decline during times of change, or that results will be unfavorable, or even that by the time the results of the surveys arrive, line managers would have already changed. This is also due to:

  • Lack of growth mindset: this means the organization misses the chance to hear honest feedback from which it can learn and adapt;
  • Learned helplessness: companies perceive they do not have control to influence a situation. This belief can lead organizations to consider they cannot influence how employees feel about a change; hence, this undermines their willingness to gain a true picture of their employee sentiment.

The key thing to know here is that our organizational behavior may be influenced by the same kind of thinking that hijacks our individual emotions, influencing our behavior and willingness to seek out employee feedback.

1. The principles of why you should continue to gather feedback

Closing the loop is crucial

Communication should be done even more in times of crisis, by being able to address all issues and perceptions clearly and absorb the fear of your team, so that they can drive towards a plan in the face of uncertainty.  This is a two-way process, and the focus should not be on the speaking part, neglecting the crucial component that is listening. As a leader you do not always need to have the answer, but you should always pay attention.

Feedback can drive the change

Gathering feedback pre-change to understand the readiness of the employees, but also gathering it during a crisis, can be immensely valuable and can help organizations to better direct resources and understand where employees may need more support. Knowing what they are going through, we can then learn and develop, and consequently improve the performance.

Understand what employees are actually hearing

Management often communicates the business rationale and the corporate strategy, but people really want to hear the story and not an explanation of the business.

None of us know what it is like for others in very different circumstances during change, and as much as we try to put ourselves in others’ shoes, the best way of knowing how people interpret our messages is by asking them.

2. The importance of gathering feedback

Company reputations are fragile

Employees keep track of how they are treated and are not afraid to share that information publicly.

Commitment is easily lost

When employees don’t feel well treated during times of crisis or uncertainty, employee commitment can also be damaged.

Retaining top talent is crucial

Even before COVID-19, top talent could be scarce and in high demand. COVID-19 marks a whole new era on the wall of talent; therefore, it is important to demonstrate a culture which values employees and takes the steps required to maintain quality staff.

Sometimes, leaders feel they know how to do things. But they need to listen. If they want to attract, engage and retain talent, they need to create a great environment and a great employee experience. So why not ask those they are doing this for? Ask what they think, feel, need. Then it can be so easy to adapt.

Avoid the recovery collapse

There are times that define the character of a company, and those that want to stay on top, prioritize the employee experience, because they know that people want to work for an employer that cares.

Key Learnings

  • Putting culture first can be difficult for change
  • The culture you build day to day, especially the culture you build in good times, will help you through the bad ones
  • Everyone has the accountability to form culture, not just leaders
  • Many of us can be guilty during times of change, only focusing on the speaking part of the communication and ignoring the active listening. Communication is both ways
  • If you work in Europe and you start conducting surveys, always have the privacy aspect in mind
  • Leaders should have a service to others mindset
  • Leaders need to create an environment where employees can really develop
  • Leaders don’t need to know everything, they can actually learn from the employees, developing collective learning- the entire organization needs to identify the way forward
  • Don’t shy away from conducting surveys
  • Listen before, during and after change, and also keep the dialogue
  • Feedback is not only about surveys, but also about face-to-face interaction
  • Everyone needs to be opened to and prepared for sincere feedback
  • Feedback should be neither positive nor negative- don’t confuse it with criticism
  • Employees will keep on completing surveys if they understand where their feedback goes to and if they have seen some kind of tangible action
  • It is important to address fear and acknowledge that there is also power in vulnerability
  • Leaders should enable, remove road blockers, give space and create an environment where their employees/ colleagues can thrive and achieve the desired success

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Digitalization of Executive Search

Every executive search team wants to deliver value to its business clients. But the way to achieve that goal is changing as the use of technology grows.

This may come as a surprise because we all know that executive search depends on person-to-person contact and assessment. Indeed, here at Stein & Partner, our main focus is and always will be direct human contact.

Supporting, not replacing, human contact

We cannot emphasize enough how important personal interactions are in our business. They really are fundamental to the service we provide. Besides, it seems unlikely that machines will ever be able to replicate the intricacies of human communication and the high levels of expertise needed for successful strategic appointments.

Nevertheless, we are embracing new technologies that enable us to spend more time on direct contact with our candidates by automating ‘back office’ processes.

This is why we have started working with Osterus, an exciting new start-up based in Berlin. We believe that the cutting-edge solutions this new company is developing could revolutionise international executive search.

Osterus technologies are helping to break down barriers between cultures and countries. This means that talent from any country can be truly recognised and understood anywhere in the world.

We spoke with Julian Herzog, a founding partner of Osterus, for this blog – the first in our series on the digitalization of executive search. He explains the Osterus technologies below, and we hope you find them as interesting as we do!

But before we get into the detail, do be aware that at Stein & Partner we are working with Osterus on tailored solutions for senior positions, rather than ‘off-the-shelf’ tools, based on our vast search experience.

Challenges of cross-border search

Barriers to international executive search tend to start at the university level. “There are so many universities all over the world that people just don’t understand how to assess them,” Julian explains.

By collecting several sources of data into one, Osterus is able to identify certain trends, career trajectories and salary trajectories to help firms find the right people. Interestingly, the sources of data are open platforms such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor and the H-1B visa, the US work permit for foreigners. The German network Xing is also under consideration.

“Many Western companies are blinded and confused when somebody from Asia applies for a role,” says Julian. “They have a hard time making an assessment. So we have a tool where we showcase the career trajectory of a person studying at that university, and which universities it can be compared to in the Western world.”

The benefits that come from this unique analysis of academia around the world are numerous. It can considerably widen the talent pool, lead to more cost effective hires and raise the level of diversity.

The benefits of diversity are well documented and widely considered to include greater creativity, greater productivity and better decision making through a wider range of perspectives. When it comes to a lack of diversity, Julian asks, “There’s always the question: is it really bias or just a lack of understanding?”

The example of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlights this issue. “If you look at his CV, it’s not prestigious,” Julian points out.  “His university in India, Manipal Institute of Technology is phenomenally good, but nobody knows it!”

Interestingly, the data on academia that Osterus is developing can also be developed for prospective students. Given the high levels of debt associated with studying abroad, it can help them judge which universities will give them the best value over the long term.

Cost of living comparison

Another useful database that Osterus is working on is a cost of living comparison tool, which will compare every city in Europe, Asia and North America. This will enable HR managers to quickly establish whether they can afford a particular candidate, how competitive they really need to be with salaries, and how to tailor-make salaries and benefits packages.

This data may be particularly useful to smaller companies that do not have access to this type of data internally.

Artificial intelligence to score résumés

Osterus is also developing a résumé scoring tool. As you might expect, this evaluates résumés many times faster than a human and without any bias. What’s different about it is that it also tries to understand the probability of an individual fitting into the company on the basis of the quality of their education. It also makes a quick assessment of how long the candidate is likely to be in the company, based on the probability of them performing too high or too low.

“We’re not interested in the ‘best’ candidate, we’re interested in the candidate that does a good job, and will stay for a long time” explains Julian. “This was something that was never really considered, but something that we can now get data and information on. Then, using data on other platforms, such as LinkedIn, we can assess whether they are at risk of moving on too soon.”

Firmly focused on human contact

With the three main areas of technology described above being developed by Osterus, here at Stein & Partner we’re working on customized solutions for senior hires.

We’re looking at new ways to analyse résumés and give predictions, while also developing custom tools for certain clients. Another development will be to offer due diligence services to build up a database of people who can quickly be authenticated.

Human interaction will always be at the heart of what we do and technology will never be able to replace that. But we do see the potential of technology to enhance our services and hope to develop long and rewarding partnerships with other tech pioneers for the benefit of our clients.

To find out how your company could benefit from new technologies by working with Stein & Partner, please contact: dan.gataiantu@steinandpartner.com