Nevine El-Warraky of Accenture Song: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

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Nevine El-Warraky of Accenture Song: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Deepen the understanding of your external environment — while growth is always the imperative for companies, being and staying relevant is now harder than ever. Your products and services will only last for a fixed period of time with your consumers but building long-lasting consumer loyalty and trust transcends what you’re offering them into something bigger and more profound.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nevine El-Warraky.

Nevine is the Accenture Song Global Consumer Goods Lead and specialises in Growth Strategies, Digital Transformation, Commerce Evolution & Marketing Operating Models. Nevine has over 30 years marketing and consultancy experience having spent the first 10 years of her career as an operational marketer at Unilever working across categories and geographies followed by a period at RB running their home portfolio in the UK. She later became the co-CEO of Brand Learning which was acquired by Accenture.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After graduating from The American University in Cairo, I started my career at Unilever in marketing, spending about a decade working in different countries worldwide. From there, I never left the consumer goods business! I joined my former colleague who, at the time, was launching the company Brand Learning, a marketing and sales capability consultancy. I ultimately became the co-CEO of the organization, which Accenture acquired in 2017!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m unable to pinpoint one particular person, as there have been many who have shaped my path to where I am today! However, I’m grateful for my time at Unilever and the nurturing and inspiring environment where they continuously addressed our needs. In this role, I made lifetime friendships and partners, including my marketing manager at the time, who I followed along the road, and we built Brand Learning together.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

From all the research we’ve published, we know people’s priorities and values have continued to evolve since the pandemic. They must be seen or treated more than just as consumers of a brand or service. With this in mind, brands need to consider what they are offering and how they can deliver differently to align with people’s values. To do this, brands must truly understand their consumers’ identities, beliefs, and priorities.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

Leadership Plain and Simple by Steve Radcliffe is one of the books that transformed my perspective as a leader. I enjoyed it for many reasons, one of which is its focus on committing to each other’s success and the importance of a shared destination and journey toward success. There is a chapter in the book about whether we are playing to win or playing not to lose. I have found myself in many conversations with colleagues where I think, “are we here playing not to lose?” This is a powerful saying, and it’s something I think about frequently.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

One of the essential principles to remember is how critically important it is today to fully understand the stakeholders that matter most to you — your consumers, the markets in which you operate, and of course, your employees. As we’ve seen, the world we operate in is continuously evolving. Stakeholders’ lives are being shaped by intense life forces, including global economic, social, environmental, and political instability, leading to unpredictable, often paradoxical, behavior.

Companies must gain a profound understanding of people: in fact, research from Accenture Song shows that high-growth companies are utilizing data, human ingenuity, and machine intelligence to understand people’s multi-dimensional lives more intimately, finding new opportunities to add value.

Ultimately, we must have the humility and courage to accept this evolution and invest in the mechanics and technology to understand this environment.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  • Complacency with historical success — companies often put too much stock in historical performance to indicate future success. They make the mistake of assuming that what led to their market domination and track record of successful performance will ultimately translate into future endeavors. That isn’t always the case. By failing to understand the shifts in priorities and beliefs in the markets in which they operate, these once first-movers and early adopters risk becoming out-of-date and out-of-touch.
  • Not evolving their internal operations and systems — it’s abundantly clear that companies that use human and machine teams to empower talent, unify workflow systems and platforms, as well as design agile organizations, are increasingly more likely to achieve the highest levels of revenue and profitability growth. We routinely see companies making the mistake of only focusing on their external strategies, while not considering the ramifications of not also shining the light internally to assess if they’re built to succeed.
  • Not fully comprehending that your employees are your biggest assets — not only have consumer expectations and priorities shifted, but also those of the global workforce. Companies must fully comprehend that employees are seeking to live fuller lives beyond their “day job,” and within the careers they invest their time in, they are increasingly vocal about ensuring that it’s aligned with their personal values and beliefs. By tapping into this, companies can maximize talent and unleash the full potential of their global workforce.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Deepen the understanding of your external environment — while growth is always the imperative for companies, being and staying relevant is now harder than ever. Your products and services will only last for a fixed period of time with your consumers but building long-lasting consumer loyalty and trust transcends what you’re offering them into something bigger and more profound.
  • Demonstrate professional courage — leaders must understand that decisions that were once considered safe in the past may need to be reassessed and reevaluated in today’s environment. They must have the courage to explore and expand beyond what’s best done in the past. Research shows that companies that creatively apply their technology and talent in new contexts, expanding beyond the structure of their industry, are more likely to achieve the highest levels of revenue growth from new ventures and the highest levels of speed-to-market.
  • Willing to make the difficult decisions during turbulent times — there are moments in every leader’s career when they’re required to make a business decision that may run counter to their current (and historical) feelings and priorities. This may come in the form of ending a long-term partnership with a trusted organization, reducing investment in a potentially successful geographical region due to societal circumstances or setting away from a supplemental side project that you ultimately know isn’t serving you or your company anymore.
  • Bring the right energy to every conversation — whether that’s spiritual, physical, or intellectual energy, I believe firmly in the shadow of a leader. Your teams can feel it — knowingly or unknowingly — and it reverberates within every facet of the organization. Your teams should know that you’re committed to the journey you’re on as a collective, and they can trust your leadership and guidance on the path ahead. In short, be aware of your own shadow.
  • Show vulnerability — with today’s hybrid working environment, we aren’t as privy to the powerful (and necessary) intangible and nonverbal components of communications that exist within in-person working environments. Leaders should make a conscious effort to demonstrate their humanity and vulnerability to continue fostering deep, trusted connections across teams.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

People always joke (I think?!) that on my gravestone, it will read, “we will cross that bridge when we get to it.” They’re referencing the fact that I’m a pragmatist and am continuously focused on achieving results and what’s in front of us to address within our control today. What’s most important is that you have the destination in mind, and you understand where you’re headed. Today is today, and I will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I learned an important lesson on humility while working for a global brand earlier in my career. I was helping launch a brand, and we rolled it out in one of our key test markets. We found out shortly after that the name of our product translated into something somewhat offensive in the market’s native language. We were able to course-correct and pull the product to adjust the naming before its global launch. It certainly wasn’t funny in the moment, but looking back on it, I can’t believe my younger self wouldn’t have thought to understand those critical cultural considerations.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Remind them that you’re collectively aligned around a common purpose. Teams will not only celebrate the peaks and moments of success you have but ultimately can thrive during difficult periods when they believe in the value of what they are delivering. So, during challenging times, teams rally around each other in pursuit of something bigger and push forward toward the destination you’ve collectively built as a team.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I’ve certainly felt frustrated, but I’ve never given up on the idea that we can do something amazing in our role as marketers. I started in this profession about 30 years ago and feel proud and honored to have the chance to stay connected to consumers in a profound and powerful way. I firmly believe that the marketing discipline has the ability — and perhaps the responsibility — to help change the future in a meaningful way.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Honestly, transparency and in as timely of a manner as possible. People — internal or external stakeholders — aren’t looking to you as just a goods or services provider. As you can tell from this article, companies are much more than that in today’s society. They seek purpose, connection, and trust; one way to demonstrate that is by being willing to communicate hard news appropriately.

Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

I think the best example might be from my experience as a client, and it was during a time when we were about to deliver a brand launch. We were competing with a large company to launch within the U.K., and 48 hours before the launch, we were notified that they were planning a 50% price reduction going to market. Our team — having been working on this day and night — felt almost defeated. We knew we had to recognize the effort our team had put into this effort, so we put a call to the CEO to help address the situation. We outlined that the company had to match the pricing if we wanted the launch to be successful. By demonstrating care for our team and understanding they put their hearts and souls into this, they felt seen by leadership within the situation.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can read more about our work here.

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

Nevine El-Warraky of Accenture Song: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.