Jeremy Andrulis, chief executive officer of Aon Hewitt, South East Asia tells us the invaluable advice he has received, key qualities of a successful leader, and how companies can engage their top performers.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve received and how has that shaped your career approach?

During one of my first roles as a project manager, the recommendations in our final report were rejected by the client. I was dejected. A senior consultant pulled me aside and asked a simple question: “Will your recommendations add value to the client?” I answered “Yes, absolutely” to which she replied: “Well, then what are you worried about?”

The senior consultant proceeded to give me an invaluable client engagement. She said, “If your recommendations are always accepted, you are not doing your job as a consultant. There are times when the client will not be open to receiving your messages. Your job is to provide objective recommendations based on rigorous analysis and insights, even if the client doesn’t accept the advice.”

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You started off as an analyst over 20 years ago. What advice do you have for others wishing to emulate your success?

A few things come to mind:

  • Find ways, big or small, to add value to each assignment. I’ve observed that people appreciate, recognise and definitely remember when you do more than is expected
  • Ask “why” more than “how” — having understood the ultimate objective of the work (“why”), I can be creative on delivering the solution (“how”)
  • Be flexible in your approach to ever-changing client and internal situations. Stay focused on the end objectives
  • Be open to new opportunities, wherever they may come from. I say “yes” to many things — probably too many — but this has led me to grow in directions I have never imagined
  • Keep an open mind and agree to work on things that are out of your comfort zone. I find myself being more engaged and energised when there is a bit of pressure to do something not in my field of expertise
  • Ask for help when you need it — it is a sign of strength, not weakness

Describe the challenges you’ve faced in getting to the top of your profession and how you overcame them

The biggest challenges continue to be managing expectations between work and family – effective planning and clear communications are critical. I’ve also learnt to let go of the jobs I am adept at – delegating and empowering are keys to long-term success.

What are key qualities of a successful leader?

He or she should:

  • Provide and articulate a compelling story to help employees achieve the organisation’s vision
  • Demonstrate character and integrity by embodying organisational values and defined leadership behaviour
  • Appreciate and inspire multi-generational employees to strive towards long-term aspirational growth
  • Leverage and enhance employees’ core competencies for greater business value proposition
  • Seek and seize opportunities from challenges under a volatile and ambiguous environment
  • Treat employees like a valued asset of the organisation and engage them to deliver better business results

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How do you engage and retain your top performers?

Our actions echo the insights from Aon Hewitt Best Employers research, focusing on three factors to engage and retain top performers — namely visibility, opportunity and rewards.

Visibility: Create visibility for top performers by giving them access to senior leaders. Leaders can help to mentor these employees and navigate them through taking risks.

Opportunity: Engage top performers through not only structured development programmes but also diversified career opportunities and work experiences to cater to their need for challenge and diversity.

Rewards: Best employers retain their top performers by providing differentiated rewards programmes to recognise outstanding accomplishments. This way, the organisations’ top talent will have a better understanding and appreciation of their compensation packages.

At Aon Hewitt, our leaders play a vital role in implementing these actions and continuously engaging our talent pool. This has reduced the gaps among the Aon promise, colleague experience and company transparency.

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What is your favourite question to ask candidates in an interview and why?

I have a few favourite questions. First, I ask scenario-based questions that are aligned to the role. For example, if a candidate is interviewing for a practice lead role, I’ll think of three to four different events that have happened before and ask “how would you address these situations?”

My second favourite question is, “what behaviour do you think makes a consultant successful?”

Thirdly, I will ask “what type of work culture do you like?”

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What are the key challenges facing South East Asia in the next few years?

Most chief executive officers are facing critical human resource challenges. There is a growing need to balance rising salaries and the limited skilled talent pool without compromising business growth.

Succession planning is also now more challenging because of the competitive talent market and ageing working population. Organisations also need to attract and retain young talent who have the right skills to drive a company’s business vision.

Finally, the demand for skilled talent who have in-depth knowledge on technology and data analytics is increasing. Such talent are often valued because they are able to provide innovative business solutions to organisations.

You’ve worked extensively across organisational and business change projects. Which stands out as the most challenging and why?

It is often the people that are the most challenging. Driving people to change – and sustain that change in terms of behaviour and actions – can be the hardest thing to do. It is much harder than designing a new IT system, organisation structure or process.