“I need your coaching on working with my management team,” John told me during a recent phone call. “As we plan and strategize our future, we’ve got some tough decisions to make on our priorities and where we want to allocate resources. Of course, there will be some trade-offs and choices to make, so I really need to know where each person stands. Problem is, I’m not sure I’ll get that in a meeting with our senior management.”
John Martin was a smart CEO. Well respected by his employees for his leadership and understanding of the business, John wanted to do better although the results of the company were good — just not great…and, given the challenging economic trends his industry was experiencing, John wanted to know where his team stood, individually, on a number of issues.
The Challenge: John recognized that getting the degree of depth he wanted in a senior team meeting wouldn’t be easy. Typically, a few people spoke their minds but others nodded their heads in agreement or compliance. There were very few times John could remember when robust discussions occurred and everything was laid on the table.
The Strategy: Together, we decided on four steps to facilitate in-depth discussions:
- Individual interviews — designed to set the context for a more in-depth analysis. Team members were informed about the need for deep strategic discussions, expectations were set for their role in the process and data, regarding their views about where the company should be going, were collected.
- Strategic Alignment Survey* — with a twofold purpose:
(*To learn more about the tools mentioned in this leadership tip, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-437-6527)
- Assist the Executive Team in deciding priorities and where to allocate resources.
- Identify areas of alignment and differences of opinion among members of the Executive Team.
- Survey Design: Executives were asked about the degree of attention, focus and resources they felt should be allocated in a variety of areas, such as: competitive differentiators (e.g., operation excellence, customer service, product leadership, innovation), growth strategy (e.g., organic growth, acquisitions) and internal focus (e.g., structure, capability development).
- Analysis — of the degree of alignment within the Executive Team and between John and his Executive Team. Comparisons indicated that, in some areas, there was a high degree of alignment. These included the need for improved operational efficiency and the importance of creating customer experience as a differentiator. On the other hand, there were some clear areas of misalignment. One of these, as an example, was product leadership.
Survey Question #12: Strive to be the first to market with innovative products and/or services
(1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Neutral, 4=Agree, 5=Strongly Agree)
Responder Average Executive Team 3.36 CEO 2.00 NuCorp (combined sample) 3.25
The results suggested: (1) there was strong disagreement between the executive team and the CEO, and (2) there were significant differences of opinion within the executive team, itself, excluding the CEO.
- Powerful Executive Discussions — using the data from the interviews and survey, John was able to have in-depth discussions to clarify perceptions, evaluate the thinking and assumptions behind differing positions, determine what was best for the business and its customers and then develop an action-oriented, one-team mindset.
Having authentic, far-reaching discussions and executive alignment is critical for successful strategic execution. They never happen by themselves. However, a well-crafted process and data-based tools can make the critical difference between superficial compliance and passionate performance.