Trusted Executive Foundation Interview with Ciaran Bird, UK Managing Director, CBRE

Ciaran was appointed UK Managing Director of CBRE in January 2013. CBRE offers a broad range of integrated services, including facilities, transaction and project management. Ciaran played rugby for London Irish for ten years as a back row and professionally for three years. In this interview, Ciaran talks about his beliefs about trust as a sportsman and as a business leader, and the importance of “teamship” in developing high trust cultures.

On the importance of trust:

‘Trust is incredibly important. My sporting background, and love of being part of teams, is in my DNA and plays a big part in the success of my leadership. In a team, trust is critical. When I came into the corporate world I never liked the words ‘values’ and ‘behaviours’, simply because they are so corporate. I’ve felt for many years that too many businesses have values and behaviours as a “tick-box” exercise. Right from the start of my business career, in the brilliant entrepreneurial, niche business, we had a set of rules. These rules included the basics of attire and how you present yourself, to never letting the phone ring more than three times, timekeeping, the quality of a report etc. Our general behaviour played a big part.  We respected and trusted our colleagues and clients.  If you ever did step out of line, you were letting others down and you were pulled up for it immediately. You didn’t do it again because Malcolm Dalgleish (MD) who I still work with today, was just “on it”.’

‘We were eventually acquired by CBRE, the immediate challenge was to double the size of the business and, at a young age, I was asked to run that business. My challenge was, “Can we run a substantially bigger business in the corporate environment with the same values and behaviours (or rules) that had been so successful in our smaller business?” To find the answer, I went back to my rugby days and reconnected with my former coach Sir Clive Woodward and his “teamship” rules. This was about the people themselves debating how they should treat each other, how they should look to the outside world, and then signing up to a number of self-generated rules. Clive helped me to implement teamship in CBRE. Trust was a very important part of that journey. If you’re not trusted as a leader you can’t even start to ask your colleagues to behave in certain ways.’

On building a high trust culture:

 ‘Every team at CBRE has their own teamship rules that they live by. Some are better at updating and living them, than others, but right at the very top I insist that as a board we live and breathe them, and that we lead by example. We also arrange for an independent company to interview our clients on our performance, throughout the year. We ask them to score us, we need to know if we’re not hitting the mark. Sometimes you hear things you don’t want to, but there’s nothing better than a reminder of this to motivate you to do better. We also undertake regular global and local surveys where we allow our people to share their views on whatever they want.  Such an environment builds trust.’

On measuring trust:

‘We have a discretionary bonus system which takes into account how well we live our values. We‘ve created an environment where I hope everybody feels that they would be letting someone else down if they didn’t behave in the way we expect them to. I also expect that anybody can pull anyone else up, (including me), if they step out of line. So, we’re measuring it through our appraisal and reward structure.  I’m a big believer that if you are honest with such actions, your clients see and feel it, then business comes to you, and the profit and loss account speaks for itself.  Ultimately, that’s measuring’.

The Nine Habits of Trust:

nine habits model of trust

Integrity, and an unshakable commitment to being a role-model leader, shines through about Ciaran’s personal journey. He is an evangelist (Habit No. 7), constantly talking to people about teamship because he believes in it so passionately. He is also a big believer in “rebooting” habits every 6 to 12 months, never ever assuming that they will automatically stick.

Like all businesses, the leadership team at CBRE is constantly adapting to new challenges, and new ways of leading their Generation Y workforce. Many senior leaders find this difficult. However, CBRE’s example proves that it can be done if leaders have a strong sense of purpose and a willingness to embrace a two-way contract with their young talent that builds trust and mutual learning. (Habit no. 5, being open, and Habit no. 6 being humble). The pace of change and the disruption it is causing is transforming the way we work. As a result, Habit no. 2, coaching, has never been more important.

Our thanks to Ciaran for his time and for allowing us to share his insights from the interview.

For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video


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