For Mature CEOs Only: Ask Yourself These 12 Probing Questions as You Close Out the Year

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO of The Raffoni Group

As we approach goal setting and planning for the new year, The Raffoni Group team asks CEO members hard, somewhat personal questions we think few people ask. Asking the tough questions and answering them honestly takes maturity. You ready?

Ask These 12 Questions:

  1. How do you want next year to look different for you and for your company?

  2. Are you happy with how you are spending your time, both at work and personally?

  3. How is your health?

  4. How is your family coping with the demands put on you as CEO? If negative, what are you doing to address their concerns?

  5. What was the biggest mistake you made this year?

  6. What is your biggest weakness as CEO?

  7. How much personal compensation did you take home this year and are you happy with that?

  8. Do you like having investors? Would you do it differently next time?

  9. Is there someone you need to fire?

  10. Is there someone you need to hire to compensate for your weaknesses?

  11. Do you like being a CEO?

  12. What do you want to do next?

Just today, a CEO of a 300+ million dollar company told me that the CEO Collective has been invaluable, as there is no other forum where he can share and get input on these topics. These comments remind me of how lucky I am to have this job and how much I enjoy what I do. We are privileged to have these conversations with our members.

In my conversations with hundreds of CEOs like you during the past 20 years, questions like the ones above have uncovered some anxiety points that they are generally hesitant to admit. My goal is not to “expose” anyone, but to shed light on the fact that you have a hard job with many demands, externally and internally. You are naturally driven and as a result, take on superhero level responsibilities. You are a leader who holds your head up high, puts your worries in your pocket and charges full speed ahead with what appears to be grace and ease. But, the truth is, you are often carrying a heavy load.   

If you feel you are doing everything in your business, then you’ve got the wrong team. If you make excuses for not exercising or eating well, your priorities are wrong. If your family is begging for your attention, give it to them. Use the questions above to hold up the mirror and change some things for the new year. Life is short and one thing CEOs are good at is driving change. Make sure you are driving change in your own life to make it all you want to be.

@melissaraffoni on Twitter
mraffoni@raffonigroup.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEO Brief: Take a Self-Assessment Based on The 6 Critical Success Factors for Building an Aligned, Highly Functioning and Strategic Leadership Team

For years we have encouraged our CEO colleagues to think beyond the off-site agenda and to embrace the concept of building a strategic planning process that ensures follow through. Now, we are encouraging you to take that thinking one step further.  

Ask these key questions:

1. What can and must I do to deliver on my CEO responsibility of building an aligned, highly functioning strategic leadership team?   

2. How can our strategic planning activities contribute to the achievement of this goal?

The Raffoni Group's Strategic Leaders Program is built on Six Critical Success Factors that should be considered as you thoughtfully craft your strategic planning activities.

  1. A Visibly Engaged CEO Champion

  2. A Leadership Team with Highly Functioning Executive Skills

  3. The Separate Treatment of Strategy and Operations

  4. A Set of Clear and Measurable Strategic Goals

  5. An Effective Leadership Governance Plan

  6. An Aligned and Motivated Organization

If you want a smart strategy and an exceptional team to lead the execution of such a game plan we challenge you to hold up the mirror and ask yourself the 20 CEO reflection questions in our CEO Brief The Six Critical Factors for Building an Aligned, High Functioning Strategy Leadership Team.

Click here to DOWNLOAD the Brief.

 

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES

Are You a Graceful CEO?

Graceful.jpg

The best CEOs are those who figure out the right levers to pull, choose great people to be on the team and motivate great behaviors through an inspiring environment that respects and generally cares for the well-being of its employees.

Unfortunately, being a CEO is a bit of a grind. Well, actually, it’s a lot of a grind. You have a million things to do, planes to catch, people with problems, products you can never sell enough of, and why, for the love of god, do things continue to get more and more complex? And let us not forget that you are meant to emerge as the one who fosters inspiration, sees the way and brings clarity to complexity!

Old school CEOs resemble the famous visual of a chicken with their head cut off. They are always pushing, creating a sense of urgency, trying to get more and more done, seeing all the gaps and are, frankly, worn out. They burn out and they burn people out. Sometimes it works. Most times it fizzles.

Now, maybe as a result of my old age, I’m ready to take it up a level. My mantra is be a GRACEFUL and SKILLED CEO. Why? Because the chicken with its head cut off may cover a lot of ground, but it is really not a good leader. Very few little chicks follow this crazy bird around. 

The reality is that IP and cash can only take us so far in today’s economy. What is increasingly and seriously driving the success of today’s top companies is its people --  innovative, motivated, smart-working and “great-to-work-with” people. And, those companies have great CEO leaders.

As you strive to be the best kind of CEO, ask yourself these hard questions:

  1. Are you demonstrating the characteristics that you want your people to emulate?

  2. Are you taking care of your health? Not just your physical health, but your mental health and well being as well?

  3. Are you giving yourself opportunities to think clearly about the business?

  4. Are you being clever about choosing the things that matter – as opposed to advocating doing everything at once?

  5. Are you rewarding innovation, creativity and trying new things?

  6. Are you giving kudos and positive vibes?

Look in the mirror. Are you the chicken with its head cut off or the graceful, skillful CEO?

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES

9 Steps for an Eye-Opening Assessment of Your Leadership Team, Strategy, and Strategic Planning Process

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

The year is coming to a close. Your offsite is over, the new goals are set, and the budget is finally done. Now it’s time to execute!

CEOs, before you head into the new year with your leadership team and plan in place, reflect on the topics below to be fully locked and loaded for a successful year of business.

  1. Closely examine financial results and trends. Now that the results are in (or close to it), look back and see if your team’s actual performance met budgeted expectations, especially in areas that may not be typically measured, such as customer mix, sales growth for selected products or services, and ROI. A few key slides are in order to plot the trends over time

  2. Ensure that your team’s SWOT has a real external view. A solid SWOT lists externally driven opportunities that include macro trends such as shifts in the market, customer needs, competitors and regulations. Not a list of “this product” or “that market” or the opportunity to "improve on our internal weaknesses." To be effective, your list needs to be comprised of a concise evaluation of each area.

  3. Grade the goals from last year. List the goals from 2015 and grade them A, B, C, D and even F, followed with a narrative of what was done well and not so well. Warren Buffet does a nice job of this in the Berkshire Hathaway annual report in the section entitled, “The Year at Berkshire.” Refer to the defined success metrics and the original words of the goal—did you make progress against the goal as defined by the team last year?

  4. Ask if last year’s goals were truly strategic? Goals including hitting your numbers, taking care of your customers, investing in great talent aren’t strategic. Are your strategic goals really strategic or just “business as usual”? Will the goals drive true strategic change aimed at increasing the value and position of the company?

  5. Refer back to your three-year business direction. Are you on track? In our methodology, we call this the long-term direction. In our Strategic Leaders presentation we illustrate in a single slide a three-year forecast of CEO financials, what you sell, to whom you sell it, and your key differentiator. Is it the same as what you laid out last year? Did you execute on the plan?

  6. Take a hard look at your C-suite and organizational structure. Is it set up to support the organization for the future? Do you have the right seats on the bus and do you have the right people in the rights seats? CEO success is strongly linked to the capability of the supporting team.

  7. Have your team answer the question, “What did our leadership team do well and not so well?” and review their responses. Probe on areas such as meeting management, problem-solving, decision-making, collaboration, open/honest/direct communication, humor, follow through, commitment, understanding of the business, clear accountability, inter-departmental collaboration, adequate time “on” vs. “in” the business,

  8. Have your team answer the question, “How well is the organization (underneath executive leadership) aligned?” and review their answers. Probe on questions regarding the alignment and involvement of the organization in achieving the company’s strategic objectives and goals. Find out if employees understand the relevant strategic priorities, if they are committed and involved in helping to execute the goals, and if they see where they are relevant in the organization.

  9. List the critical success factors for your leadership team for this past year. Ask yourself if they were truly integral to your success and then, raise the bar for the upcoming year.

A CEO presentation with the findings these questions uncover is an important part of getting the whole team onboard with the vision for the upcoming year.

Want more information on how to build an effective CEO presentation to share with your team? Contact us to get our CEO Presentation guidelines for annual offsite strategic Planning. We are happy to share.

Here's to a successful and prosperous 2019!

mraffoni@raffonigroup.com/ twitter @melissaraffoni

Are You Tracking Projects or Tracking Results? Tell the Truth.

I love process. I love project management. I love organization. I love communication. But, I’m a little down on some of the more sophisticated planning processes that I keep bumping into when we are asked to assess strategic planning that is already underway.

I sincerely don’t mean to sound flippant, because I am all for aligning the front line and have all due respect for Hoshin Planning and the Balanced Scorecard (both of which have greatly influenced my thinking and methodologies), but I have to ask where the strategy is in the following objectives...

  1. Meet our financial targets

  2. Take care of our customers

  3. Launch great products

  4. Improve our processes

  5. Take care of our workforce

When we knock down 18 various projects with 50 tasks in each and feel awesome about our progress, can we always point to the actual business results and/or significant shifts in the business strategy that have resulted in an increased company value?

I want to be very clear. If you have a planning process that makes employees feel productive and helps them to see the connection between their everyday work and the bigger picture, by all means, consider that a win, because it’s VERY HARD to do that. But, as a CEO or an executive leader, the question to ask is whether or not the development of true strategic goals and the accountability to real measures (not just tasks and dates) is happening?

If you are questioning this, then I encourage you to rethink your planning approach and leadership governance. It may call for simplification and/or a separate treatment of strategy from operations, which is our strong point of view.  

Here are a few tried and true tips to follow:

1. Don’t create your strategic goals with the question, "How am I going to communicate this to the organization?" floating around in your head. If the strategic goal is to shut down a business unit or anything else that is uncomfortable, so be it.

2. Separate your strategic goal discussions from your operational objectives discussions. One way to view strategic goals is that they are "non-business-as-usual," in other words, things that require collaborative or out-of-the-box thinking because they haven’t been tackled before. If you do this, your conversation will switch from, "Did we get it done? Okay, check the box," to, "How can we make this happen?" That's an entirely different tone and way of collaborating.

3. Focus on result measures first and tasks second. Here's a simple example: Don't measure the successful launch of a product by the accomplishment of building, testing, and taking the product to market. Instead, measure the number of successful rankings from beta testers, the number of initial customers who agree to purchase at launch, and of course, revenue. I'm not saying to neglect the important tasks listed above, but rather am suggesting that you avoid being mired in them and keep your eyes on the real prize. 

Getting things done, aligning the organization, and year-over-year functional improvements are clearly necessary for running a good business. The challenge is figuring out how to keep this engine going and also allow time to focus on new strategic business drivers that can change the game for your company and keep you ahead of the pack.

Does Your Leadership Team have High Executive Function?

The Raffoni Group

Anyone with young kids has probably heard of the term “executive function.” It refers to the management of cognitive processes that includes things like working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, as well as planning and execution. You don’t need to be a psychologist to observe that kids who have strong executive function skills have an easier time in school than those who don’t.  

Kids who lack executive function skills have real trouble focusing on their work, curbing impulses, and completing tasks they start, in addition to a host of other challenges that make basic activities very challenging.  And the problem doesn’t go away as they get older; adults with weak executive function skills struggle at work and in their personal lives. If your starting to wonder if this piece is about you personally, don’t worry, it isn’t. The executive functioning we're discussing here is the kind that applies to top management teams as a whole. 

How does executive function apply to a management team? What’s interesting about the definition above is that it includes three aspects of individual cognitive ability that are equally important to any successful top team: Planning, Execution and Problem Solving.  What we’re finding more and more as we engage with clients inside and outside of the CEO Collective is that these three skills—which together comprise our concept of execution function—vary widely across organizations.

What we see is that senior teams with well-developed executive functioning skills seem to do better, a lot better, than those that lack them. The good news is that each of these subordinate skills can be developed if the top team commits to doing so. It’s not easy and there’s no quick fix. Over time however, execution functioning can be developed.  If you’re wondering how strong your team’s executive function skills are, we’ve created a series of questions within each of the three categories that leaders can use to assess their team’s overall executive function.

 1.  Does your leadership team plan effectively?

Research shows that about 60% of small to mid-sized organizations engage in formal strategic planning.  That number grows to 90% for large organizations. Moreover, most companies who engage in strategic planning do it annually, even if the planning horizon is longer than that. The annual planning process has become a key vehicle for a top team to think through important issues, set goals and actions, and chart a comprehensive course for the future. It’s vital to overall direction and alignment, which is why so many organizations do it. If your organization does engage in strategic planning ask yourself if the leadership team is effective when doing so. 

Is your leadership team highly functioning in the area of planning? Does your team:

  • Adequately prepare for planning meetings by collecting background data and supporting information?

  • Use a structured process that guides them in a way that addresses the most significant challenges facing the organization?

  • Actively engage with each other and participate in a meaningful way?

  • Challenge one another so that the very best thinking is brought to bear on the issues the company is facing?

  • Make key decisions during the process?

  • Produce an actionable plan that everyone is committed to and able to support going forward?

NOTE:  When assessing your team’s performance, it’s useful to apply a simple four-point scale:  0-poor; 1-fair; 2-good; 3-excellent.  We’ve included a summary assessment at the end of this article. 

2.  Does your leadership team execute effectively?

Planning strategy is important but getting the strategy executed is the sine qua non of high executive function leadership teams.  Some might argue that planning strategy is relatively easy and set aside a few days with a top team, engage a facilitator to guide the process, set goals and measures, align key projects, and develop a schedule for periodic review and follow up.  Completing projects, making measurable progress and ultimately achieving the documented goals is much more difficult. 

Strategy execution requires teamwork, discipline, flexibility and almost a singular focus on task completion.  When we ask top executives how may strategies fail to get implemented most respond with answers well over 50%. Not great odds but clearly odds that call for a leadership team with strong executive function skills.

Is your leadership team high functioning in the area of execution?  Does your team:

  • Possess a sense of urgency regarding accomplishing the organization’s most essential priorities?

  • Have clear roles and responsibilities relating to strategy execution?

  • Fully accept accountability for completing their strategy projects and strategic goals?

  • Align the actions of their subordinate organizations to the overall strategy?

  • Take the appropriate initiative to drive the strategy through to completion?

3. Does your leadership team effectively solve problems?

Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernard Gar Von Moltke is probably not someone you know, but his advice should be. As the architect of Germany’s Wars of Unification he is credited with saying, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force” or, as we say today, “No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” This same can be said of strategic plans, which invariably encounter problems as soon as execution begins. It is for this reason that problem solving rounds out our set of key execution function skills. Each and every leadership team encounters problems and, if they are not looming on the horizon at present, they soon will be. High functioning executives must be able to detect problems, frame them appropriately, analyze them for purposes of generating realistic courses of action, and then choose the best one among the set of alternatives. Doing this well calls for the very best of any executive team’s abilities. 

 Can your top team effectively solve complex problems? Does your team:

  • Agree on what the biggest challenges facing the business are today?

  • Actively use business cases to analyze and communicate the specifics of major issues?

  • Think both critically and creatively in generating novel solutions to big problems?

  • Know how to analyze possible courses of action and effectively reach decisions regarding what to do?

  • Scan the operating environment regularly looking for signals that indicate disruption may be taking place?

Definitions aside, executive function is really the highest order skill that any executive team can have.  As is the case with a youngster in school, deficiencies in three areas presented above will lead to the top team creating performance issues throughout the organization. The good news is these skills can be developed if the time and investment is taken to do so. The sixteen questions below in the Executive Function Team Assessment Tool provide a good starting point.  Great leadership teams have great execution function.  There’s no reason your team shouldn’t have it as well.

>> CLICK HERE FOR A TEAM ASSESSMENT TOOL

 

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES

5 Signs It's Time to Make a Change to Your Exec Team

By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

Strong CEOs regularly assess the strength of their leadership team. As your company grows and evolves, it's inevitable that your team will need to change to support the next chapter. While these decisions are often hard to make, they are the ones that many CEOs repeatedly say they wish they'd made sooner.

It can be very difficult to dismiss self doubt, trust your instincts and make a change on the leadership team. But the longer you wait, the more the misalignment impacts the organization. There is a good chance that you’ve known for some time that this person is not a good fit for the role. It's best to listen to your gut and get the right person.

You are the highest leverage point in the organization. Not only is your energy important, but the message you send to your team is as well. If you are being dragged down by this team member, chances are, your top players are feeling the same way.

Making a change might mean letting a person go or switching the exec to report one level down where a change in expectations can sometimes salvage the relationship -- and everyone is happier for it.

Here are the telltale signs it's time to make a change on your team:

1. You consistently find yourself dissatisfied with the same person and issues.
It’s very telling if you have to address the same issues with an individual over and over. Of course, there's room for mistakes, and when someone is new, it takes time to ramp up. It's great to be empathetic and most great CEOs are, but once the grace period is over, if you are regularly dissatisfied with the work and not seeing the level of improvement required, the person is not right for the role.

2. You begin to question your ability to clearly communicate direction to the team. When a good CEO is experiencing challenges with an exec, he or she can easily question whether or not they are clear in their communications with the team. The answer is in the numbers. If three out of four members of your team think you are being clear, you are not the problem.

3. You find yourself questioning what the team member is doing with his or her time. The fact that you are having to ask this question shows that the exec does not have a basic skill required to be in their role -- the ability to manage up. They are responsible for making sure you have visibility into what they and their team are focused on and where they are at in the process of getting it done. If you feel in the dark, that’s clear evidence that this exec is not doing his or her job.

4. You feel frustrated versus energized coming out of 1:1 and team meetings.  Meeting with and leading your team should be one of the fun parts of your job. You get to pick the handful of people you want to work with. If your relationship with one or more of your execs if painful, you will not be your best as a leader, period. Chances are, this pain will end up on your sleeve, or be the elephant in the room in team meetings, and will not serve in helping the person in question (or other team members) be the best they can be.

5. There is a clear distinction on your team between who you see as a partner in the work vs. a subordinate. When our clients are looking to make changes on their exec team, I ask them to reflect on the relationships they have with the CEOs in their trusted peer group. They should experience the same level of communication, as well as pace and quality of work on their exec team as they do with their CEO peers. You should find your team members to be true partners in the work, each within their area of expertise. If you feel that an exec is a clear subordinate, they are your weak link.

Building and aligning a strong leadership team is in your top echelon of priorities as CEO. If you’ve taken a look in the mirror and asked yourself if you are doing everything you can, and your answer is, "Yes," you've got the wrong person in the wrong role. Bite the bullet and make a change. Ultimately, you’ll be glad you did.

Finding the Sweet Spot Between Inspirational and Operational Leadership

Inspiration.jpg

By The Raffoni Group CEO in Residence, Mark Hatton

It’s early Q1 as I write this, and if you are a CEO, you and your management team are in the process of rolling out this year's plan. Most likely, your plan has been discussed, debated, and adjusted with the input of your board and investors. Your exec team has looked the successes and failures from last year and adjusted accordingly to set this year’s more realistic, yet ambitious, goals. Management feels good and the feedback they’ve received is that the team is well aligned.

Well done. You got a great plan in place. Now as you roll it out, let’s talk about the other important part of your job that has a huge impact on what kind of year the company is going to have: Your attitude. People want to be inspired about the new plan and what’s on the horizon, and you are the only one in your company who has the role and expectation to do that for them.

Inspirational leadership is a topic that has been written about many times, and the method of inspiration will vary based on your personality. That’s all good. But however it happens, the start of a new year is the one unique and perishable time to effectively deliver this message and then hit it home over the next 12 months.

Operational leadership is hugely important to set proper goals, define tactical measurements and track the performance against the goals. But the tactical focus for a new year becomes more effective if it’s coupled with the real reason that your company is in business, and the clear vision of what is possible. It’s important that we CEOs consistently share the WHY of of what we do, in additional to the WHAT we needs to get done.

Most employees I’ve spoken with through the years, come to a company to perform their role with a desire to do their job well, get rewarded, and at some point become recognized for their value to the company. But what inspires them, and what can be the fuel for growth, is to tap into the real reason all employees are there and what they are working towards as a collective goal...they want to feel like they are a part of something important, and that their work makes a difference to the company and its customers.

Setting a vision of what a company can become over a three to five year period can build great alignment for a team on why they come to work, but also inspire them on how the business can become truly great.

A well-outlined tactical focus becomes more effective when coupled with the real reason the company is in business… the soul of the company... and the clear vision of what is possible. The effective balance of these messages, operational and inspirational, will allow a CEO to unleash his or her team to achieve greater things in the coming year.

Smoother Sailing Ahead for CEOs Who Stay at the Helm of these 5 Core Responsibilities

Steering wheel Ship stock photo.jpg

By Brian O'Donnell, CEO-in-Residence, The Raffoni Group

Delegation is absolutely necessary for any CEO to be successful, but there are a number of core responsibilities that shouldn’t be be passed on to another. Like a sea captain is fully in charge of the ship's most important functions, as CEO, you own these responsibilities.   

1) Set the Course – “A ship in the harbor is safe…but that’s not what ships were made for.” – J. A.  Shedd. One of the most important roles of any CEO is to set the direction for their organization, as well as drive the organization forward to achieve its mission. Developing the right strategies for the business sets the stage for everything else. While you should certainly involve your key leaders in the development and refinement of company strategy, you must be the one to set guidelines and objectives, formulate and drive the process, and separate out individual opinions from the elements of strategy that will make sense for the overall business. Setting the course and successfully implementing the plan is your most important job.

2) Hand-Select Your Officers – You know that having the right people on your executive team is critical to the success and wellbeing of both yourself and your company. Building a senior leadership team is your job and should not be delegated. The team must be structured correctly with appropriately designed roles and responsibilities, and the people in those roles must have the competencies and capabilities required. Individuals must align with company culture and, most importantly, be able to work effectively with other members of the team.

Your selection process must be rigorous not just based on personality and “good feelings.” Today, the most successful companies are using objective tools and interviewing techniques to dig beyond the surface persona and uncover more about a candidate, including leadership style, company culture requirements, reactions under pressure, and abilities to develop and mentor. As CEO, this probing approach is up to you. When you hire a team of people who are each excellent in their role, work together well, and have the ability to both be successful in their area of expertise, as well as step up and add value to the overall company success, you have done your job.

3) Manage Your Cargo Wisely - There is a line across the the hull a boat called the Plimsoll Line which “indicates the maximum depth a vessel can be safely immersed when loaded with cargo.” (National Ocean Service). The depth varies with dimensions, cargo, time of year, and the water densities. The success of the voyage depends on paying close attention to the Plimsoll Line and all of the external and internal factors that impact the ship...an excellent analogy for the tricky business of managing your company's finite resources.

You are operating an organization that has complexities, opportunities and limitations, and your surroundings are ever changing. As CEO, you must take all of this into account and allocate resources skillfully. Without your careful attention, your ship could go down or, reversely, miss out on maximizing its potential. You have the final say on critical decisions with respect to capital, people, and other assets in the business. And to stay on track, you need very focused objectives that come from your strategic plan. The key is to hammer the list of potential goals and objectives down to the most critically important, and make sure that the key resources are allocated to help you reach these goals. Given the many choices and tradeoffs that are a reality in all businesses (and all the various functions clamoring for more resources), it is your job to make sure the resources are allocated correctly.

4) Steer the Boat through Shifting Winds – “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward. It is rare that everything goes to plan and it is your job to make adjustments when needed to stay on course. External occurrences, as well as unforeseen internal changes, impact business plans. Course corrections must be made and that is the job of the CEO. As we learn that certain objectives are just not going to pan out, or the obstacles are higher than we planned for, it is far better to face up to these issues as soon as possible, and modify (or even abandon) objectives to adjust to the new realities. The same holds true for external influences – a result of market, competitive, economic, disruptive or other short- or long-term changes. As CEO, only you can “adjust the sails.” It’s imperative that you remain alert and take action quickly!

5) Be the Best Captain You Can, for the Sake of Your Ship... and Yourself  – No one said being CEO would be easy, because it’s not. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the right perspective of what the end game really is. As Yogi Bera once said “If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

There are two things to keep in mind when thinking about the longer-term outcomes: First, you will probably never be able to achieve all the goals you set for your business or personal life, but if you seek to do your personal best along the way, you will have greater success as you move towards achieving those goals.

Second, as a CEO you are responsible for thinking of your long-term personal objectives, including what comes after your current position. With the average lifespan of a CEO being between three to seven years with one company, it’s important you think about what you would like to do next, and start to set the stage. That includes preparing the organization (discretely, of course) by developing good succession plans and setting an excellent long-term course, as well as making sure that you also are personally prepared, both financially and mentally, in terms of what you may want to do next. While you may be overwhelmed with the day-to-day whirlwind of your role of CEO, now is the time to start thinking and planning for your future – as it will be here before you know it!

Serving as CEO is both complex and rewarding. Success is not guaranteed, but it is far more likely if you are clear on what must be done by you, and not by others, to keep the ship asail and to reach as satisfactory completion of your journey as the Captain of this ship.

Why You Should STOP Thinking about Cascading Goals to Your Organization

cascading-waterfall.jpg

By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

Ok, now that I have your attention, I am not advocating that you stop cascading goals. What I am advocating is to not think about cascading goals when you have your yearly strategic planning session with your C-suite team.  At least not during the part where your objective is to agree on the "go forward" strategy for the business.

Here are the reasons why:

1) A cascading mindset often leads to watered down strategic goals which, in truth, are operational drivers. I applaud Kaplan and Norton on their Balanced Scorecard work. It refocused organizations on execution, it brought result measuring to the forefront, and the intent of educating, aligning and engaging employees was right on. My beef with the Balanced Scorecard is, in my humble opinion, that the end result doesn't always represent a new strategy, but instead, represents a framework for understanding what drives operational performance in the business.  Awesome for employee alignment, not so awesome for making true "non-business as usual" or working on versus in business strategies. In reality, most all companies want to achieve their financial targets, offer great products, provide great customer satisfaction, improve their processes and care for their talent—so, where is the strategy in that?  

2) Strategy sessions are meant to talk about strategy, not operations. If you are continually thinking about what you are going to say to employees, it will limit your true strategic thinking.  For example, if your strategy is to close a plant, or lay off employees, or acquire a company do you want to cascade that? Probably not or, at least, not yet. Focus on developing the right strategy, not on alignment. Alignment is a different objective and you can tackle how and when to do that after the strategy is developed.

3) There might be some things you do not want to cascade. I was recently in a meeting in which the C-suite team felt it was critical to improve productivity to free up resources to invest in innovation. Their guiding metric was revenue per employee. Right or wrong, the team spent far too many cycles discussing whether or not to put the metric on their Strategic Scorecard because of the potentially negative message it sends to employees. My point, create the right Strategic Scorecard for the C-suite and decide what you will and cascade later. Don’t not measure something that is critical because you are too concerned with employee perception. Again, alignment is a different objective.

4) Operational drivers should fundamentally stay the same, with tweaks where appropriate. Generally, if you prescribe to the balanced scorecard type of approach, the drivers or pillars or operating principles of the business (choose your term) should stay fundamentally the same, barring an overall business model change. If your operational drivers stay the same, it will be much easier for your organization to remember year after year.  Envision yourself on the podium talking to the organization and fill in the blanks:  “For our company to be successful we need to always focus on 4 (or 5) things...”  Statements around financial results, products, customers, processes and talent will most likely make the forefront, but they should not change much year to year.  Develop good ones that you believe in and are relatively unique. The cascading each year will then be easier as you simply tweak or reset the KPIs, leaving you more time to work on true strategy!                

Whether you call it working "on the business" versus "in the business", or you call it "making hard choices about what you will do or won’t do", or you call it "big bet thinking"-- it needs to be done. Your strategic planning session is critical to your on-going success as a company. Challenge your team to look at the external landscape. Challenge your team to hold up the mirror on your potentially crippling internal weaknesses and be honest about true core competencies that drive your competitive position. Challenge your team to be clever about how you can approach the market in a unique, differentiated way that will make your company stand out above the rest. So, stop thinking about cascading when you are with your C-suite team that you have invested so much time and effort into building, and focus the session on a strategy that is potentially game changing and that you are excited to brag about!