Jean Martin’s infectious enthusiasm coupled with her deep knowledge of human resources lead Chief Human Resources Officers at some of the world’s top organizations to look to her and CEB for guidance on the critical problems keeping them up at night.
As executive director of CEB’s HR Practice, Jean directs the research, business practices, and operations and together with the leadership team, sets the strategic direction for CEB’s HR research. Her areas of expertise span the HR spectrum and range from the future of the HR function to leadership to labor market trends. Specifically, Jean spends time working on issues relating to employee engagement, how companies can attract and keep the best employees, and how companies can seek out top talent globally and build out their global leadership bench.
Jean is often asked to share her knowledge in larger forums and has spoken at venues such as the Gathering of Leaders, Wharton Women in Business Conference and the European Union. Jean also regularly presents to executive teams including Bombardier, Intel, Cisco, BBVA and Eskrom among others. In addition, her work has appeared in publications such as the Associated Press, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek and Human Resources Executive Magazine.
Prior to CEB, Jean served as a special assistant to President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council. Additionally, Jean was a Presidential Management Fellow serving as a Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President for small business/community development banking at Bank of America. Also during her time as a PMF she was project manager for microfinance and microenterprise development at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Jean received a Masters of Public Policy with a concentration in Economics and Finance from the Kennedy School at Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts with highest distinction from the University of Virginia.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up as the daughter of a social worker and a teacher, I learned very early that leading successfully requires leading through the success of others. My leadership approach focuses heavily on inspiring and supporting talented people and then getting out of the way. By not “helicoptering” I have seen talented people rise to new heights and it ties up more time for my own creative contributions – the things that only I can do for the business. Working for former President Bill Clinton I learned similarly that if you give people full information about the context for the work and the goal you are trying to achieve, they will use their own smarts and initiative to get to better solutions than those you could engineer. Whether they be welfare program administrators or hospital workers or prison guards, when each person knew what we as leaders wanted to do, communities carried the ball further toward the finish line. In my career at CEB, I’ve learned to plant the flag of achievement on the most aggressive targets possible – as one of our executives put it, if you, as a leader, don’t frame real truly aggressive goals for yourself, everyone working for you will be less aggressive, causing the organization’s real potential to be undergunned. Key as a leader is to inspire, empower and direct, and-only if absolutely needed, dive in.
How have your previous employment experiences aided your position at CEB?
My previous work in consulting, government and non-profits has assisted me in several ways:
1) Previous employment has provided me with an ability to work across boundaries with many different types of people with differing priorities – being “multi-lingual” in this way is crucial in serving the thousands of organizations we serve at CEB;
2) My prior work has allowed me to hone an analytic and operations skillset that means I can get quickly to the root-cause of problems and identify the underlying issues and work quickly and efficiently resolve them; and
3) My work has always revolved around persuading and influencing extremely senior executives whether they be heads of companies or Heads of State – therefore, excellence in articulating ideas, building business cases and communications is something I have focused on throughout my career and has been a key to my success.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CEB?
Highlights during my time as an executive director at CEB include:
1) Publishing groundbreaking studies in the areas of performance management, leadership development, succession management and employee engagement;
2) Growing our offices from to two to 12 globally;
3) Contributing to the launch of our services for small and medium-sized enterprises – now one of our fastest-growing businesses; and
4) Witnessing many of my staff rise up into other senior roles within the company.
Challenges have included creating new information platforms for regions like Asia, Latin America and the Middle East where cultures and histories make management very unique, and growing our sales and service capabilities to now include more hands-on application of tools and knowledge. Both efforts were highly rewarding in the end, but required fundamentally rethinking how we do business.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For both men and women, I believe that work/life balance emerges first from having a strong definition and understanding of the values one plans to live by – for each person, these values and priorities can be different, but knowing and defining for yourself the full life you want to live and then living it is key to being truly successful. Knowing that family is a top value for me, I prioritize separating my time with my husband and three young children from my work time. Office work ends at 6:00 p.m. and dinner and bedtime are “no work” zones during which all calls and emails are deferred. When I am on the road, I FaceTime with the kids every day or show them pictures of where I am when I am traveling – they like seeing the sites through the photos I send and hearing my stories about what I am eating or doing and what the weather is where I am. During periods where travel and work is heavy, I try to make sure to reserve special time with each of my kids, my husband and my extended family where we can do things for just us and make sure that I am investing deeply in my relationships with the people closest to me. I think of it as “making deposits in a bank” ensuring that the balance of my time stays high enough even when work forces me to “make withdrawals” against my time with them. As with most working parents, for me caring for my family and myself means every day is its own journey and there is no magic formula. That said, how I spend each hour is a choice and I try to be extremely mindful of each choice I make since, with a family, the tradeoffs are high. I have found that being a working parent is the greatest management challenge I have ever faced and I have learned the most from it as a result.
What research has CEB been recently working on?
CEB is focusing on several topics of great interest to the C-suite and business leaders:
1) How to accurately identify and engage high-potential employees and how to drive high levels of employee performance – this work leverages insights from neuroscience and organizational design to understand what are the most effective innovations in driving employee productivity;
2) Building leaders in New Work Environment – given the way in which work has become more dispersed, virtual, horizontal, this work studies how leaders need to behave differently to be effective; and
3) The Future of the Corporate Functions – given our privileged position managing the largest networks of C-suite executives, we have been able to study the continuum of practice within each function and map the overall direction we believe Finance, IT, HR, Marketing, Sales and other functions will take in the coming decade.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest issue for women in the workplace today is the fact that many workplaces and many jobs – especially senior jobs are not designed in a way that is attractive to women. A recent CEB study showed no difference in women’s abilities to handle senior roles, there were dramatic differences in whether women wanted these roles, with as many as 30 percent saying they did not aspire to the roles of senior executives above them. Part of this is the work-life balance question and the fact that many of the senior roles are not dual-career or family friendly. Also interesting was the study’s conclusion that women prefer more collaborative and constructive work environments and that their perception is that many senior positions exist within senior teams that do not support constructive collaboration. Because these senior roles are the stepping stones to Board positions, we will not solve for the dearth of women on Boards until we make senior leadership roles in corporations more appealing to women. Until more women are in senior roles and can contribute to changing these roles to make them more attractive to a broad group of candidates, we will struggle to attract women to top jobs.
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?
I am appreciative that Sheryl has raised women’s issues again and energized the discussion around women in the workplace – she has ensured women and men of all generations are reflecting deeply on the progress of gender integration in the workplace. In particular, her book is a terrific rallying cry for the soon-to-graduate cohort of women who will benefit from setting the highest possible aspiration for their careers and as Sandberg suggests, “going for it.” Her “Ban Bossy” campaign is vital to keep attention on places where double standards may exist for the acceptable behaviors of boys and girls. My argument with the book is only that I think the answer of “Lean In” oversimplifies the reality of the profession-life challenge women face. Those of us who have been in the workforce for decades know that in most organizations it is never just a question of leaning out or leaning in, but rather a subtle mix of activities and attitudes that may vary day to day or even hour to hour. We may lean in at a CEO/ Board presentation in the morning – only to lean out in the afternoon at a child’s doctor appointment or school event. We may have weeks or even years where the focus needs to be on an aging parent or a soon-to-graduate teen and work hours must taper, followed by years when the balance is such that a full-throttle lean in is possible and desirable. The other critical side of the Lean In need is also the need of organizations and societies to “Lean In” to meet women (and men) half way as they seek to support complex, multi-dimensional values-driven lives. The smartest companies are realizing that when they design programs and careers in a way that dedicates this kind of flexibility and lifetime commitment to top performers, they can attract and motivate a very different level of talent and keep that talent contributing longer to their mission. Yes, women need to lean in, but organizations and societies are also responsible for creating environments that allow men and women the resources to “go for it” at work even as they make positive contributions outside of work. I do not believe an employee’s outside life should be thought of as “Leaning Out,” but rather as living a full life and in a way that can often amplify their capabilities at work.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring has been essential to me in my professional and personal life. Mentoring relationship perhaps because they are driven by more personal, less structured interactions have contributed more to my learning than any other experience. My mentors have been and are men and women, professors and business leaders, experts and friends. Borrowing an approach created at GE, I have recruited and maintain a “Personal Board of Directors” that meets with me off-line to help me guide my investments in myself and in my career. This diverse group has been invaluable at challenging my thinking and pushing me to the question of “Why not you? Why can’t you accomplish your wildest dreams?” Their real-world experience has also helped me with innumerable lessons in work-life balance, creative problem solving, team management and persuasive skills. All of the key transitions in my career were driven by mentors who saw an opportunity and encouraged me to reach for it. In my view, there is nothing more important, regardless of one’s profession or aspiration, than cultivating a terrific set of mentors to serve as guides through work and life. Notably, for rising female leaders, I do not think these mentors need to be women.
Instead most important is that they are people with networks and experience that extend beyond your own in the fields that you care about and that they have an energetic and long-term commitment to you and your advancement.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Hillary Clinton for her willingness to really do the work to master a subject and maintain an exceptionally high bar for the quality of her own and her teams’ work. I admire Christine Lagarde of the IMF for her superb yet subtle ability to frame a national or international agenda. Finally, Melinda Gates is an inspiration for the way in which she quietly reframes countless health, development and education challenges by asking simply “What works in addressing this problem and how can we rapidly scale that solution?” In general, I admire women who ask those fresh, tough questions that go furthest to advancing dialogue and understanding and then have the operational skills and discipline to inspire teams and organizations to deliver a fresh approach
What are your hopes for the future of CEB?
CEB has an exciting future ahead. We are committed to unlocking and progressing the science and practice of management and my team specifically is focused on unlocking and progressing the science of talent management. This is particularly significant in that the dramatic changes in the work environment mean that many of the talent management solutions that worked a decade ago are no longer effective. At the same time, the market of providers – largely consultants and technology firms – has not kept pace with advances in employee behavior and organizational management. CEB sees a better way forward against the challenge of talent management and is assembling a suite of services grounded in the principles of economics and organizational behavior. We are committed to ensuring that every organization does not just have effective talent management, but rather the right talent management for its specific objectives. We are beginning to see breakthrough results from this business-specific approach and look forward to taking that to all of our operating regions and the thousands of organizations we serve. We continue to be energized by the mission of improving executives’ ability to harness both their personal and their organizations’ full potential during these challenging times.