Summer, February 2014

Warning for CPOs

Steve Vamos - Asia-Pacific CPO Forum Speaker Preview

Steve Vamos has a warning for CPOs: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

The former CEO of ninemsn, non-executive Director of Telstra and Medibank Private and President of the Society for Knowledge Economics, says most leaders and organisations fail because of an inability to have tough conversations. 

Speaking ahead of his address to the 7th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum in May 2014, featuring a long list of accomplished speakers, including:  Professor Geoffrey Garrett, Dean of the Australian School of Business, UNSW, Steve believes most leaders grossly underestimate the challenges of the super-connected and fast changing economy in which we work today.

Entering its seventh consecutive year, The Asia-Pacific CPO Forum is the longest-running CPO event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership in the region. Tackling the theme ‘Tough Love’, delegates will consider what it takes be tough enough to deliver results and tender enough to drive performance, optimise relationships and retain talented staff.  To view the full CPO Forum program, click here.

Here, we provide a sneak peek into the Tough Love leadership philosophy for which Steve is famed: 

On the importance of mastering the art of Tough Love
A champion of the Tough Love philosophy, Steve believes that to improve our workplaces, we need to embark on a campaign to change the way we communicate.

“The core difference between organisational cultures that inspire remarkable results and the rest, is how they talk to each other.  Being able to deliver – and receive – honest, authentic feedback is key.”

Steve recommends confronting problems such as underperformance head-on:  "Conversations are a catalyst for change - The more often you have difficult discussions that deal with reality, the more you limit the potential for pain, underperformance and catastrophe down the track.” 

On how the digital age has impacted traditional models of good leadership
For Steve, the dichotomy of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ economy is redundant – the pace at which we operate and our level of connection has fundamentally and irrevocably altered the world in which we operate. 

“The real problem is that our institutions, mindsets and styles of management have done little to evolve from our industrial past which was fractured, siloed and hierarchical. 

“Today, we're incredibly connected and that's why things are changing quickly. New opportunities are opening up but there's also a lot of volatility that we have to deal with.”

In this turbulent environment, Steve’s advice is to set a vision, zealously prioritise and learn to make decisions under pressure.  “There are times you won’t have access to all the information you’d like and inevitably, there are times when you’ll make the wrong call,” says Steve. 

“The key is to accept this constant state of flux, do the best you can with the information available and learn from your mistakes - fast.” 

On what skills will be needed of leaders in the digital here-and-now and into the future
According to Steve, if you want to succeed as a leader, particularly if you’re of the Baby Boomer or Generation X era, the question is more about developing new mindsets, rather than new skills.

Traditional skills and behaviours that once lead to promotion - the ability to exert control; cover up mistakes; and always knowing the answer – are no longer helpful in an environment characterised by constant change and uncertainty.

In this new era, Steve believes career success will come from demonstrating a willingness to help and sponsor others; a preparedness to be brave and try new things…..and sometime fail; and most importantly, a desire to continuously learn and grow.

On driving change and becoming better enablers
“If you’re serious about creating change, you have to be obsessive about proliferating those mindsets and confronting the examples, people and processes that stifle it.

“Everything needs to be grounded in the bigger picture – people want to be lead with meaningful purpose and treated with respect,” explains Steve.  

As a starting point, Steve recommends getting clear about where the business is going and ensuring that people understand how they contribute to that goal as individuals.

To hear more from Steve Vamos, make sure you are registered to attend the 2014 Asia-Pacific CPO Forum. 

Register here, or for more information on the Forum, contact Event Manager, Belinda Toohey on +61 3 9654 4900 or via