Frustrated, upset, and disappointed don’t event start to explain how you feel right now. It has been six months and very little of what you hoped your leadership team would accomplish is done. You’re not as far along as you wanted to be with regard to revenue forecasts and it seems as though everyone spends more time fighting fires than making progress on strategic initiatives. You have some great individuals who have the right skills, so what is going on?
This is a common scenario I hear about when I talk to executive leaders, and the secret many don’t know is their frustration is shared all the way around. Their leadership team also feels as though they are spinning their wheels and not getting as far as they want. The problem then trickles down throughout the organization and the whole team.
Whether you are a startup making your first leadership hire or a high-growth organization, here are a few tips to help your leadership team operate like a finely tuned machine.
Let Them Lead the Way
Jim Collins said it best in his book, “Good to Great,” when he talked about getting the right people on the bus first, then letting them determine where the bus would go. This approach allows for adaptability and productivity in a number of ways. One of the biggest deterrents to productivity, both with individuals and organizations, is the unknown or change.
Generally, the more familiar an individual is with the situation at hand or the elements surrounding the situation, the more quickly it will get done. Unexpected changes with the situation can cause a major slow down when the leadership team is unfamiliar with the situation since they had no input into the direction. Significant resources are lost due to a lost leadership team spinning their wheels while trying to figure it all out.
When the leadership team has help set the course, they are more familiar with the elements and are able to more quickly address any curves in the road. They can more quickly adapt to changes and adjust as needed. The entire leadership team should be able to answer the “why” of the direction. This basic understanding will give them a blueprint for the tools they need to make the needed adjustments.
Let your leadership team be driven by outcomes rather than job descriptions, work weeks, and meeting schedules. Each of those tactics can play a role but should not be the strategic focus of the team. The star of the show is always the desired outcome. This keeps everyone focused on where they should end up rather than stuck, unproductively, on the wrong path. Focusing on outcomes also aids quicker decision-making with one question: “Does this contribute to the desired outcome?”
I once worked in retail, and we had thousands of employees spread across the United States working in hundreds of locations. We directed their daily routines, provided tasks, and had them complete paperwork. The problem was, our direction was based on the sterile environment of the corporate office or a “perfect store” situation. But employees in retail locations would run into numerous situations every day that challenged their time constraints. We ultimately gave them one piece of guidance that not only increased compliance but also coincidently increased sales (go figure): When unsure, ask yourself, “Does this increase sales?”
We made the outcome clear and repetitive and gave employees some guidance for decision-making in a non-perfect work environment. There were subsequently able to accomplish more and stay focused on the destination rather than getting stopped by the obstacles along the way.
Everything is a Project
Nothing impacts productivity more than a project-based thought process. With the outcome set, have everyone work backwards from there and lay out what it will take to achieve the vision. Next, break that into smaller projects.
A project-based approach is one of the most powerful tools you can use with your leadership team. Projects have a clear scope, a beginning, and an end. Projects provide the end state, the path to get there, and timelines for doing so.
I’ve talked to a number of leaders who say they’ve always wanted to put an employee rewards and recognition program in place but never get around to it. There’s a couple of failure points that halt the forward progress. The first is the starting point. How do we get it started? The next failure point becomes keeping the program going. Knowing that a program of this magnitude should have no end can be daunting for any leadership team. Look at it as a series of projects. First project is putting it together and setting up the guidelines for the program. The next project is communicating it throughout the company. The third project ends with the presentation of the first reward and so on.
At its core, the project-based approach forces everyone to break it up into manageable pieces, make a plan, and put it in writing. Take anything you want to accomplish, and there is no doubt it can be done more quickly when put into the framework of a project. Be clear on the deliverable or end state, who needs to do what, and by when. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amount accomplished by your leadership team using this approach.
The Basics – Roles, Responsibilities, Accountability
I walked into a client’s office one day and looked at her white board encompassing her critical Daily To-Do list. As I scanned down the list, I started questioning why she had a number of items on her list, because they were someone else’s responsibility. Her response: “I want to make sure they get done.”
My question; “Why does the CEO of the company have To-Do List items that should be on her leadership team’s list, not hers?”
There had been a number of issues with critical tasks being missed. Instead of working with her leadership team to be clear on who was accountable for the activities, the CEO added it to her list. In the end, the leadership team was unsure of who on the team was responsible for those tasks since three different employees had stepped in to do them over the past six months.
Uncertainty regarding who is doing what and who is ultimately accountable is one of the biggest productivity killers at the leadership level. As basic as it is, executive leaders need to sit down and put in writing what each of your leadership team is responsible for, what his or her role in the company is, and how team members support each other. Once you have that, hold them accountable for it.
The role-and-responsibility clarification process is especially necessary when you are bringing in your first leadership team member. The transition from sole to shared leadership is a big shift. Understand each of your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. Make it clear what each of you is responsible for and communicate it to all. This sets the stage for improved productivity for both the leadership team and those they lead.
Yes, it takes time and effort to improve. The first initial steps are always the hardest. A good place to start is getting everyone thinking and aware. In your next meeting, start asking questions such as:
- “What do you expect as an outcome of x, y, z activity?”
- “What are your expected timelines?”
- “Let’s put that in writing.”
Make note of what has been accomplished and what is left to be done. Set the stage for progress and productivity will follow.
Kristen McAlister is President/COO and Co-Owner of Cerius Executives. She has extensive experience in leading major acquisitions, sales and operations initiatives with small and large privately-held companies to publicly-held international companies. Kristen has spent the last ten years facilitating companies on how to market, sell, present and execute their goals with clients and adding value through operations, sales, marketing and entrepreneur coaching.
Learn More About Kristen at : Ceriusexecutives.com
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