DEVELOP ONE TEAM
Succeeding in today’s disruptively competitive world is exceptionally difficult.
To win, you must have a high-performance executive team.
Unfortunately, in most organizations, the executive team is running on fumes.
In fact, when asked, “What are you doing to develop your executive team?” the number one answer is, “nothing.”
In contrast, high-performers have the discipline to develop their leaders into the Number One Team in the industry.
Fast Lane CEOs must shift their priority from building the business to developing the leadership team. Developing the Number One Team in the industry will take an investment of both time and money, but it will yield an incredible return.
Jay Lorsch and Tom Tierney capture this thought well, “Outstanding firms are consistently able to identify, attract, and retain star performers; to get stars committed to the firm’s strategy; to manage stars across geographic distance, business lines, and generations; to govern and lead so that both the organization and the stars prosper and feel rewarded. These capabilities are what give great firms their competitive advantage.”
In high-performance organizations, the CEO sets the bar for development. The CEO’s unwavering commitment to developing the executives into the Number One Team let’s everyone know that “we are in the people business.” They invest a significant percentage of their time developing, coaching, and aligning their leaders.
The rest of senior executives must also demonstrate this same level of commitment to developing their teams.
Jim Collins made “getting the right people on the bus” part of our lexicon. But the real issue is aligning all the bus drivers to drive in One Direction. Fragmentation and infighting among the leadership team is one of the most caustic problems an organization can face. Yet, it is far too common.
Teamwork, alignment, and trust start at the top. The organization is never more aligned than the leadership team.
But addressing alignment issues will take courage. Skeletons will have to come out of the closet. Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships will need an intervention. Organizations will have to address the conflicts they have been avoiding.
Someone will have to tell the emperor that he—or she—has no clothes.
High-performance organizations confront these issues. They apply the Discipline of Leadership to build their leaders into the Number One Team in the industry, and they have the trophies to show for it.
If your executive team is running on fumes, perhaps The Pit Stop Program is for you.
GMC Trucks has a slogan, “We are professional grade.” (A great brand position, by the way.)
High-performance organizations are led by people who are “executive grade.”
These executives demonstrate a rare mix of skills, abilities, and behaviors. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Executive-grade results. First and foremost, executives deliver executive-grade results. They sign up for “the big number” and then build organizations to deliver it. They earn the organization’s respect … not because of their position, but because of their results.
- Executive-grade strategic thinking. It has been said that, “leaders are readers.” Executive-grade strategic thinking is driven by continuous learning, reading, seminars, etc. The best executives are humble enough to know that they don’t know everything … and that humility fuels their quest for knowledge.
- Executive-grade perspective. Executives have a breadth of perspective that extends beyond their departmental responsibility. They understand the interdependencies of all elements of the organization, and understand that the needs of the organization supersede the needs of their own department.
- Executive-grade expertise. Executives have functional expertise developed at the highest level. They are truly one of the best-in-the-world at their function. This deep expertise allows them to recruit top talent for their departments … because the best want to work for the best.
- Executive-grade communications. Executives are polished communicators. They know what to say, and how to say it. They have a mastery of language which allows them to paint compelling word-pictures to inspire followers to charge the hill.
- Executive-grade energy. Being an executive is not a 40 hour / week job. Executives must set the example, working long and hard. They must attend social functions on nights and weekends. They travel, often extensively. Therefore, they must have high energy levels and a “big tank.”
- Executive-grade decorum. Executives realize that they are always “on-stage.” Therefore, they conduct themselves with decorum. They dress appropriately. They use appropriate language. They only discuss things that are appropriate … with the appropriate people.
- Executive-grade networking. Executives build relationships with other senior executives. They have a unique ability to connect and leverage those connections to create value for their organizations. This deep, executive-grade rolodex is one of their greatest assets.
- Executive-grade decision making. Executives are forced to make tough decisions. In fact, if the decision is easy, it probably should have been made by someone lower in the organization. To make the tough decisions, executives apply wisdom to gather information, evaluate the options, and make the call.
- Executive-grade development. Executives must be developers of people. They must have an innate ability to spot talent and potential in others, and then invest themselves in helping people develop to the maximum of their potential. Often, they see developing people as their greatest achievement.
To win, your organization must develop leaders who are truly “executive grade.”
The Develop One Team module is a key component of many Pit Stop Programs.
THE TWELVE DISCIPLINES
Every organization has an executive team.
The question is whether they are a “high-performance” one.
High-performance executive teams demonstrate twelve disciplines:
#1: THE DISCIPLINE OF VALUES
Every organization has values.
Unfortunately, most executive teams do not live by them.
In contrast, high-performance executive teams are fully devoted to their values. To high-performers, values are much more than words on posters in the break room or in a booklet on the brochure wall.
High-performance executive teams use their values to guide their decisions and never tolerate behaviors that are inconsistent with their values.
Far too many companies tolerate executives who do not personify their values because they are “making their numbers” or “have been here since the beginning.”
Here are a few CHECKPOINTS for your consideration:
- Which of your executives most personifies your core values?
- Should “value personification” be a criterion for executive bonuses?
- Are there any executives whose behavior is so counter to your values that it is time for them to go?
#2: THE DISCIPLINE OF VISION
Every organization has a vision.
But most of them are pretty blurry.
In contrast, high-performance executive teams have a crystal-clear definition of where they are going. Ultimately, developing a clear and compelling vision is a key responsibility of the executive team.
In addition, the vision is far more than a traditional vision statement, most of which are just meaningless blah-blah-blah. A great vision is much more dynamic.
Finally, we recommend that executive teams develop what a “SMART Vision,” which is specific enough to provide direction and inspiring enough to provide the motivation to achieve it. Many are captured in catchy, memorable phrases, such as “$25M by 2025.”
Here are a few CHECKPOINTS to consider:
- Does your vision forecast the market trends and potential discontinuities?
- Have you tested your vision against current and potential competitors?
- Can every member of the executive team articulate the vision with “energizing clarity?”
#3: THE DISCIPLINE OF PURPOSE
Every team has a purpose.
But most executive teams have never taken the time to clarify what theirs is.
In contrast, high-performance executive teams have a clear – and unique – sense of purpose.
This seems like it should be obvious, but there are many different kinds of executive teams. In the same way that each company should have a unique purpose, the executive team running that company should have a unique purpose as well.
(A church’s executive team has a very different purpose than a construction company’s executive team.)
To clarify your executive team’s unique purpose, consider three factors: decisions, outputs, and outcomes.
Decisions are the unique things that your executives decide as a team. (Like approve bonuses.) In some companies, this list is actually quite small, since most of the decisions are made by individual executives without bringing the issue to the entire executive team.
Outputs are the unique deliverables produced by your executives as a team. These include things like corporate strategy documents, annual budgets, or organizational goals.
Outcomes are the unique results that your executive team is responsible for as a team. These include things like financial results, or employee engagement.
Once you know your executive team’s unique purpose, you can design the team to accomplish it.
#4: THE DISCIPLINE OF DESIGN
Every team has people.
But most executive teams struggle to get the right people in the right roles.
As we discussed in The Discipline of Purpose, clarity of purpose is a prerequisite to building a high-performance executive team.
Once the purpose is clear, you must apply The Discipline of Design. Answering a few questions can accelerate the process:
- What are the skills, strengths, and experiences required to accomplish your executive team’s unique purpose?
- What are the skills, strengths, and experiences of the existing executive team? What are your gaps? How can you close them?
- What roles are required? Which executives are best positioned to fill those roles? (Note: these roles do not have to be linked to the executive’s title. For example, if the CFO is the person with the most experience with employee engagement, perhaps they should lead that initiative, not the VP of HR.)
Of course, there are many other questions that impact the design of the executive team. The key point is that great executive teams don’t just happen. They are designed.
#5: THE DISCIPLINE OF EXCELLENCE
Every executive performs.
But most executive teams have at least one member who is not meeting expectations.
In contrast, high-performance executive teams optimize the performance of every member of team.
This starts with high—and continuously elevating—expectations of performance. High-performance executive teams are constantly raising the bar.
They set high targets and challenge each other to get better.
Thus, every executive must commit to both individual excellence and continuous improvement. (I’m astonished by how many reach the executive level and then stop growing and learning.)
In addition, as companies grow and evolve, the executive team must also grow and evolve.
Sports teams are great examples of the relentless quest for excellence. They trade for players who can upgrade the team. They are constantly evaluating performance. Raising the bar is just part of the process.
Here are a few CHECKPOINTS for your consideration:
- Is every executive on the team really performing up to your standards?
- Does your executive team have a culture of challenging each other to “raise the bar?”
- What are your doing to help each executive develop their professional skills?
#6: THE DISCIPLINE OF TEAMWORK
In theory, every executive team is a team.
But in reality, most executive teams struggle with teamwork.
There are many reasons for this. Executive teams have unique dynamics that make them unlike any other team in the organization. (More on this in the weeks to come.) Most function like a golf team, where everyone is playing their own individual game.
In contrast, high-performance executive teams operate more like a basketball team. They have a high degree of interdependency. They model unselfishness and demonstrate a “we before me” attitude.
You don’t develop this kind of teamwork by sitting in a conference room presenting PowerPoint slides to each other. You must spend time as a team working together to solve your company’s most pressing problems. You must also take time celebrate your company’s biggest victories.
A few CHECKPOINTS for your consideration:
- Does your executive team have a strong foundation of trust?
- How much of executive compensation is based on overall corporate performance?
- Are you tolerating any executive behaviors that undermine teamwork?
#7: THE DISCIPLINE OF CANDOR
Every executive team has discussions.
Unfortunately, most discussions never really get to the heart of the issue.
Why? Because executives are afraid to speak their minds. Their need for self-preservation kicks in. They decide that telling the emperor that they have no clothes would be a career limiting move.
We see this all the time. We can tell that executives are “holding something back.” We can see their discomfort with the discussion or the decision that is about to be made. Yet, they are afraid to speak up.
Google just did a fascinating study about teams. They concluded that “psychological safety” was a key component of high-performance teams. It is this psychological safety that creates the environment for executive teams to have vigorous and candid debates about the company.
Psychological safety is the prerequisite to candor. And candor is the key to productive debates.
Creating psychological safety starts at the top. CEOs must create an environment where candor is valued and opinions can be expressed without retribution.
Many CEOs struggle with this. Having an outside consultant – such as a SHIFTPOINTS strategy coach – can help.
#8: THE DISCIPLINE OF PERSEVERANCE
When I started SHIFTPOINTS, I came across a great quote. “The defining trait of a successful entrepreneur is… irrational perseverance.”
It is also the defining trait of high-performance executive teams.
Most companies go through tough times. The loss of a big customer. The failure of a new product. The disruption of their market.
High-performance executive teams come together to persevere through tough times. They galvanize the company with a compelling new vision. They energize the company with an intensely focused strategy. They identify a new source of differentiation and competitive advantage.
And most importantly, high-performance executive teams simply refuse to quit.
So, if your company is going through a tough time, I hope this article inspires you to persevere.
#9: THE DISCIPLINE OF PRIORITIZATION
For seventeen years, Ford used an incredible tagline.
Quality is Job One.
The Ford executive team had the courage to admit that their cars had quality problems, and fixing them was critical to the company’s survival.
So critical that the Ford executive team made it Job One.
Every organization has a multitude of issue. They have a multitude of opportunities. All of them are important.
But only one of them can be Job One!
High performance executive teams apply the discipline of prioritization to make one thing Job One.
Providing this kind of specificity requires what Jim Collins calls "piercing clarity." Most executive teams lack the courage or discipline to do it. They have twenty-seven priorities… and wonder why the organization is confused about what is important.
So, what is your organization’s Job One? Profitability? Sales? Customer service? Employee engagement? Cost control? Quality?
In addition, Ford made quality their Job One for seventeen years! Most executive teams can’t stay on one thing for seventeen minutes.
High-performance executive teams know that it takes a long time for organizational performance to improve. Pick One Thing. Make it Job One. Stay with it… for seventeen years – or as long as it takes.
#10: THE DISCIPLINE OF A SINGLE METRIC
Executive teams track and evaluate many metrics to get a complete view of performance, but high-performers identify One Number as the main one.
Because you can’t win if your team doesn’t know how you keep score.
The problem with most dashboards is that they are too complex. They present a mind-numbing array of information.
Many numbers are important, but it is the job of the executive team to decide which One Number is the most important one.
Revenue. Revenue Growth. Profitability. Market Share. Customer Satisfaction. Net Promoter. Employee Engagement. Human Sigma. Economic Value Added. Return on Assets. Earnings per Share. Share Price.
All of these metrics (and more) are important.
Which one is the most important? That depends on how you define success.
Ideally, find One Number that is simple to measure and simple to communicate. Something that is a leading indicator, rather than a look in the rear-view mirror. Something that drives your economic engine, fuels your growth, and ignites your passion.
#11: THE DISCIPLINE OF DECISIVENESS
One of the most dysfunctional and destructive organizational pathologies is undermining, especially at executive levels.
Unfortunately, we see this all the time.
Issues are discussed at the executive meeting. Alternatives are debated. And eventually, a decision about the best course of action is made.
Far too often, what happens next is that executives who did not get there way undermine the decision. Sometimes, their undermining is overt, blatant, and public such as when executives say, “They made a dumb decision.”
Most of the time, however, the undermining is much more covert. Whispering at the watercooler. Backstabbing in the bathroom. Sniping at Starbucks.
This kind of behavior, especially at executive levels, must never be tolerated.
In contrast, high-performance executive teams debate, decide, and align.
First, there is an open and candid debate. The CEO—or the most senior leader in the group—plays a critical role in creating the environment that facilitates this. Far too often, decisions are made by a CEO who is in monologue mode.
Second, there is a decision. There are many ways that executive teams make decisions. Sometimes, the CEO decides unilaterally. Sometimes, there is a group consensus. Sometimes, one executive makes a recommendation and the team endorses it.
Finally, once a decision is made, everyone aligns behind it, even it if wasn’t their preferred course of action.
A few CHECKPOINTS for your executive team to consider:
- Does your team have productive debates about strategically important issues?
- Does your team make effective decisions in a timely manner?
- Is your team suffering from undermining?
#12: THE DISCIPLINE OF INSPIRATION
Good executive teams manage the business. Great executive teams lead the business.
But world-class executive teams inspire the business.
For me, Holy Week is always the most inspiring week of the year.
And it was a good reminder of how important it is for executive teams to inspire.
I think it is too easy for executive teams to get caught up in goals, plans, KPIs, and ops reviews, and lose sight of their ultimate responsibility.
Which is to inspire your company.
In addition, far too many executive teams have money as their ultimate definition of success. It has been said that money is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.
Making money is a good thing. Shareholders expect a return, and employees expect a paycheck.
But your company needs a higher purpose. Your company needs to make the world a better place. Your vision needs to articulate these things in an inspiring way.
Virtually every company has a mission, vision, and values. Candidly, most are the kind of corporate blah-blah-blah that everyone tunes out.
So, my challenge to executive teams is to write a corporate purpose statement. A corporate purpose statement answers a very simple question.
Why do you exist?
And, if you want to inspire your team, the answer better not be, “to make money.”