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


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


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!  

5 Essential “To Dos” for Every CEO’s Summer Plan

By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

CEOs, as you kick off that glorious time of year known as summer, here are five things to do to make sure you are set up for success, both for the business and for yourself.

1) Pay attention to and celebrate employee vacation plans - Employees want to know that their leadership team cares about both their career and overall well-being. Many employees take a summer holiday. Make sure to ask them what they are planning and encourage a great trip. Give your support to their absence. Share their excitement. I know it’s tough to lose somebody for a week or two, but, it’s important to rise above and put employee health first. And remember, when they come back, they will be rested and ready to jump back in!

2) Make sure “OOO” protocols are in place - When I first heard OOO- I didn’t know what it meant.  What does that tell you?  Out of office protocols are key. One way to improve your peace of mind when employees are on holiday is to put solid protocols in place for stakeholders (internal and external), making it clear both when they going and how they will delegate work to others. Other visible reminders, like email auto replies and calendar blocking are a must and should be added to the protocol list. Emphasize to your people that advance planning is important for the business, their colleagues and customers. You don’t want to realize you missed an important knowledge transfer for a big release when your top engineer is on safari in Africa.

3) Engage in “full-on” prep for your strategic planning offsite - If you haven’t started it already, now is the time to plan for your C-suite strategic planning offsite. This includes rethinking your overall leadership team strategy and who should attend, clearly articulating your planning objectives, developing pre-work for attendees, designing the agenda, and most importantly, working through your CEO vision and presentation. And of course, I suggest you consider a facilitator versed in strategy for your session.

4) Build a summer networking plan - Summer is a great time to grab a coffee or a drink. Whether it’s with a partner, talent who you have been passively recruiting, a key customer, or a mentor. Make a short summer coffee/cocktail list and find some great spots to meet up.

5) Take a break, and if you can, travel - With the increasing demands on all humans, “disconnecting” is not only more necessary, but more understood and embraced. Make a commitment to disconnect. It can be alone, with friends, family or your significant other. It can be for two days or three weeks. Just commit to something. It will not only be good for you (read my article about why CEOs should travel here), but will set an example for others. If you are up for an extra challenge, go longer and see how your C-suite leadership team does without you. Make it a test to see if you truly are leveraged!  

Preparation Makes Perfect: 5 Tips for Preparing for Your Strategic Planning Session


By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

It’s time for your annual offsite planning session – a costly event. Hotel fees, dinner bills and the greatest expense — eight executives out of the office for one, two, maybe three days! The key is to get it right. This is the time to get your team aligned, set clear goals and figure out who is going to do what to ensure a killer year. Here are some tips to make the session highly effective and worth the expense…

1) Make sure the session objectives are crystal clear and tied to documented deliverables. When I interview executive teams prior to leadership team off-sites, I always start by asking them what they know about the meeting agenda and objectives. Their answers range from, “We are going to define a 10-year vision” to, “We are going to restructure.” I often hear these vague expectations even after an agenda has been set out in advance. That’s because everyone is skimming the agenda and has their own ideas of what would make the meeting suit their individual needs. Given this dynamic of human nature, it’s incredibly important to level set with your executive team on the meeting objectives and agenda BEFORE the session. This will ensure that the meeting is not thrown off track and that everyone leaves satisfied and fired up about what’s ahead.

Start and end the meeting with the objectives and the agenda. At the end of the session, your deliverables should clearly map back to the objectives. If the goal of the day is to identify key strategic goals, make sure they are documented. If your goal is to review your leadership governance plan, get it on paper. Note: Consider using last year’s forms or create templates advance.

2) Use pre-work to make your life easier and the meeting 10x more effective. If you can get the team to complete pre-work questionnaires in advance, it will have a big impact of your meetings effectiveness. Ideally, find someone skilled to compile the data. Yes, compiling is challenging but it forces the wordsmithing and summarization up front. It also gives executives draft documents to work from versus starting from scratch. Additionally, it minimizes much of the “getting things of the chest” chatter and creates more time for meaningful discussion. And lastly, it ensures everyone is heard in the written document.

3) Commit to governance. Set up a cadence of regular full-day strategy meetings. For years experts have said that one of the main failures of leadership teams is the execution of strategy. A mantra of many CEOs is that they don’t spend enough time working on the business, but rather deep in it. Loads of complex methodologies have been created to cascade goals, mange projects, track metrics, and the like. My advice is simple: at a minimum, set clear strategic goals and insist on a regular cadence of dedicated strategy meetings – ideally taking up a full day. If the meeting is on the calendar, you will create a “Oh #$@&, I have to present!” urgency in the team, forcing them to think about important topics that require them to step out of every day activities. This clever technique forces them to work on the business.

4) Use “cases” to make your strategy meetings count. We recommend the use of a format for strategy meetings that is similar to what we do in our CEO Collective peer groups. The presenting executives are responsible for writing and reading a “case” to the team about a specific challenge they are facing. They then invite clarifying questions and finally, accept concise feedback from each team member. Using this process ensures adequate preparation, problem solving vs. status reporting, and equitable contribution by all. Additionally, it drives ownership, accountability and feedback, and helps leaders to improve their communications skills.

5) Bring a strategic facilitator onboard to prep the CEO for the meeting. A fatal flaw of many CEOs is this: They attend their off-sites unprepared, only armed with the plan of brainstorming with their team. Before entering that room, every CEO should know where they want to take the team AND – here’s the catch – also remain truly open to changing their minds. A well thought-out CEO presentation makes all the difference (see my recent blog post on this topic). CEOs who brainstorm without an agenda, often confuse their team who are craving direction. A strategic facilitator can do the obvious by running the meeting, but the work leading up to that time is equally valuable. An outside expert can help the CEO to answer the questions he or she needs to before the strategy session helping him or her to set direction, motivate, create urgency, bring clarity, challenge, make decisions and thoughtfully guide the team through the session.



Strategic Planning: Why Start with A CEO Presentation?

By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

When I work with a CEO to prepare for a company’s strategic planning session, I ask him or her to create a presentation to share a vision and plan for the next cycle. The question that I’m often asked is, “Why am I presenting my views at the start of planning session? Won’t that inhibit the creativity and alignment of my senior team?”

A great question, and yes, I see how this practice could seem counter-intuitive when you are trying align your team, but I take a strong position on this approach and here’s why: 

1. It’s the CEO's role to set direction. An effective CEO is in the best position to look across the landscape, both internally and externally, to see the forest from the trees. CEOs should have a point of view that is unique and at the highest level, and ideally, the most relevant.

 2. The best leadership teams know and appreciate that it’s the CEO's role to set direction. Team members already know and believe that their CEOs have a point of view—so, why hide it? Senior teams appreciate directness, transparency and the strategic education and insight. I always circle around with teams after the CEO presentation and ask if they appreciated the talk or if they found it constraining. Without fail, 100% of the time they thank us for taking this approach.

3. Senior leadership teams love CEOs who are clear and transparent communicators. The best executives want to know what is a stake in the ground (must haves) and what is up for grabs. If they know the boundaries and are inspired, the results of the meeting will be substantially more effective. Hidden agendas are counter-productive and disheartening. They cause hesitancy and can lead to decision-turning after a team has worked hard at a recommendation or plan.

How to make the CEO Presentation most effective:

 1. Good strategy meetings require prep work from all members, including the CEO. For strategic planning to work, all members need to come to the session prepared. The CEO Presentation forces the CEO to think through important questions and find clarity around issues so he or she can speak directly about his/her vision and goals to the team. The same is expected from other team members. One of the benefits of having a strategic facilitator is that he or she can organize, gather and compile this critical prep work prior to the meeting, including assisting the CEO with his/her presentation. This gives the leadership team a “strawman” or draft to work from on the actual planning day(s). It saves precious meeting time to prepare in advance.

 2. Set the right tone. It sounds like this, “Here is my point of view. I feel strongly about these points, I’m open on these points, and I’m looking for input on these points.”  This temperament is honest, true and appreciated. It sends a message that the CEO takes his/her direction-setting job seriously, is respectful of people’s time and open to diverse opinions. 

3. Live by the tone. If you lead with the statements above, make sure you stay true to them. Integrity is everything. Be careful not to be so collaborative that you are perceived as indecisive and be careful not to be so directorial that you are perceived as not open. It’s a balancing act, but the best CEOs know this to be true and carefully plan their words to convey this effective leadership style.

 The CEO Presentation is a key element of the strategic planning offsite. It sets direction, minimizes confusion and energizes the team. When putting it together, take the time, and get it right.

Learn more about The Raffoni Group's Strategic Leaders Program.



CEO, Do You Know What Makes You Happy?

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

Sorry to start things on on a heavy note, but it's what's on my mind. In the last few months, I have become aware of three suicides of middle age professionals in my extended circle — two c-suite colleagues and one college friend. Simultaneously, I've witnessed at least three executives go through what I would call severe burnout.

At this same time, I see books on happiness and positive psychology taking over the shelves (both actual and virtual). Search Amazon on happiness and you'll see the new releases, like 10% Happier, The Happiness Project, The Secret of Happiness, The Gratitude Journal, etc. A common theme: How burnout in themselves or others led the authors to re-evaluate and find some new strategies for balancing their lives.

As an advocate and driver of CEOs and their success, I would be remiss in this day and age to not take the topic of life balance and stress management seriously. Even when I put on my "let's build a high performing, kick-ass company" hat, I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that good talent, and in particular, millennial talent is asking for the same thing -- a balanced, happy life not over consumed by work and stress.

Bruce Pfau, in his HBR.org blog post, What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Dosites "The ability to manage my work life balance" as number six on the list of millennial long term goals and notes that Gen X and Baby Boomers rank this desire high as well.

I took the opportunity to ask our CEO and C-Suite clients to share what makes them happiest and/or puts them in "a state of flow." 

A state of flow defined: A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full of involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
— wikipedia

Here are the top six activities (in rank order) that give the CEO and C-Suite Execs in The Raffoni Group CEO Collective program a sense of happiness and flow:

1)      Active Outdoor Activities (favorites include skiing, hiking, biking, boating and running)

2)      Time with Family (with spouse, with kids "when well-behaved, happy or succeeding", home projects, etc)

3)      Socializing (cooking, eating, drinking and laughing with friends)

4)      Vacations and Traveling

5)      Volunteering (mentoring and coaching)

6)      Music (watching it live, performing, or watching kids play)

My guess is that if you are a CEO or C-suite exec, at least one of your top five favorites is on this list. If you can't list anything that doesn't have to do with your career, you need to work on that immediately.

"How do I get the right balance between life and work?" Commit yourself. Commit to finding balance and take the appropriate action. Start by making a list of the top three to five things that put you in a state of flow. Now, open up your calendar and mark off time to make your happy/flow activities happen. And if one activity isn't that happy because you had a cranky child or fell off your bike, then schedule another as make up. Make it a priority. It's got to be ongoing too, not something you did last quarter. You work it into your schedule, commit and give yourself fully.

"I have to push through the next six months, THEN I will add some 'happy' activities in." Wrong answer. Two of the CEOs primary roles are 1) to set compelling, clear direction and 2) to build an aligned, productive leadership team. If you are fried, you are not able to set a clear direction. You will spin your wheels, be less effective and lose talent. 

"This stuff is too soft, next blog please." I get it. Research my past articles. Come to a CEO Collective meeting. I talk about ROI all day long. But, you know that I'm on to something here...and it's still warm out! So, go be a better leader and go play. Everyone in your life will thank you for it. And guess what? You’ll be happier (maybe even more than 10%) for doing it. 

6 Reasons Why Traveling for Pleasure Will Make You a Better CEO

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

I travel for pleasure a lot more than most Americans. Some say I'm spoiled. I explain to them, "It's my thing." The fact of the matter is, I get a lot out of it and when I don't do it, it shows. 

An important note before we move forward: Traveling for pleasure is not the same as traveling for business, even if you are going somewhere international or new. The type of travel I'm encouraging here takes you completely out of your regular patterns and most definitely out of work mode. I do very little work while abroad, and often times none at all, but some of my very best business clarity comes when I'm traveling. 

Here are six reasons why I believe traveling for pleasure makes us better CEOs:

1) It forces the practice of being present and in the moment. If you travel to a far away land and do active, new things once you arrive you are forced to be present. CEOs are rarely in the present. They aren't living in the moment, because their nature is to think ahead, to have vision, to anticipate problems, and to plan. When you are figuring out how to speak Japanese to find a temple on the streets of Kyoto, there is little time to think about plausible new pricing strategies. You are present.

2) It challenges your thinking paradigms and potentially opens your eyes to new business ideas and insights. CEOs analyze. It's what they do. What's the effect of people working different hours? How do labor laws impact culture? What can we learn from the aggressive carpet dealer in Turkey about good old closing strategies? Why aren't there yogurt shops on every corner in Spain? Who knows, you may find a great new business idea, it happens all the time! Since the process is not forced, what you often get are insights that are hard to uncover when you work with the same people in the same environment, day after day. 

3) It allows you to slow down without guilt.  Look, if you just summited Mount Kilimanjaro or trekked across the Sahara desert or volunteered in Haiti, trust me, you won't think, "Damn, I'm behind on my email." It will help you reset your mind, body and dare I say, soul's, pace. Even if only temporarily: it's worth it.

4) It pulls you out of the race, allows you to mix with the rest of the population and reflect. Most of the word is not focused on driving strategic goals and metrics. They are living day-by-day and simply. While it might not be my DNA to live this way, being around others who do sure as hell makes me rethink my life, relationships and how I spend my time. I'm always grateful for the level-setting I find from from jumping out of "the race" for a bit.

5) It makes you more educated, worldly and relationship savvy. Travel touches on history, sociology, economics, art, religion, math and science. It's applied learning. Doing business in China suddenly becomes more realistic after you've visited and experienced the culture. Also, not surprisingly, as a result of your global education, you'll be better able to communicate and connect with people in most all situations.

6) You'll learn how to travel often and NOT break the bank. If you travel for pleasure often enough, you'll realize you don't have to spend $20,000 to have an amazing trip. My combined airline fare for a recent trip to Tokyo with my daughter was under $1500 for both of us and our AirBnB apartment was about $100 per night. Day-to-day living was about the same as I would spend at home. We don't fly business class or stay in all 5-star hotels. We travel and absorb the culture. It takes a bit of research, but if you're willing to sacrifice a few high-end consumer products or double up on work hours pre-or post-trip, it's totally doable. 

A dear friend of mine who is an exec for a major global consulting firm in Madrid, annually organizes a four-week trip for a group of 10-20 of her friends and their families to some far off adventure during August when Spain shuts down for holiday. 

She explains, "Let's face it, what we remember, laugh about and cherish the most are the traveling holidays and memories that come with them." I couldn't agree with her more.

Coming off of summer, I'm sure some of you traveled. Go anywhere interesting? How did it make you a better CEO? Please leave a comment below or send me an email at mraffon@raffonigroup.com and we'll post it for you!

The CEO's Role in Managing Culture: Do What You Believe in Most

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

My first job post-business school was as an organizational change management consultant with Oracle. I was a part of the business unit charged with successfully implementing large scale ERP systems. I read everything I could on managing change, driving cultural shifts and effective communication. And what I learned, was at the Fortune 500 level, implementing change was a slow slog at best. 

Now, I have the privilege of working directly with middle-market CEOs of growth companies. We make fast decisions. We barely talk about politics. We help each other make things happen. 

For a while, in my role of CEO strategic facilitator, I actually dismissed the idea of culture management, taking a strong stance that happy leaders make a happy company and that leaders are happiest with clear goals that they achieve and feel good about. End of story. 

While I do still believe in my original point of view, there are two additional perspectives I now hold to be true.

Number one: Changing a bad culture is really hard. This lesson has been learned over and over from our CEOs who adopt company cultures when taking on a new position.

Number two: Finding and keeping good talent is a heightened challenge at the moment. As a result, culture management is back on my radar.

With that in mind, here's a true story...  

Mr. Three-Time CEO is a great guy. He's hard-working and very successful by all definitions, yet to his peers, he admits the culture aspect of business always gets him down. His attempts at establishing values, providing bagels and offering ping pong tables has never produced the change he was looking for. 

This past year, at a CEO Collective peer group meeting, he presented a case to his fellow CEOs on his desire to change his current company's culture. He felt his engineering-based organization was not as passionate, positive or as enthused as he would like. The company was also moving facilities, providing a perfect opportunity to give culture change another go. He presented a lengthy plan to his peer group full of initiatives and they told him, "Hey, of all these, why don't you pick three or four that you are most excited about. Go with the ones you believe in most." And that’s what he did.  

He chose to initiate small group and company-wide community service projects, host cookouts on Friday, and run a photo contest where employees could submit their own photos aligned with the company's mission to decorate the office. He put a culture committee in charge of employee surveys and communicating results and planned changes based on learnings.

The CEO and leadership must believe in what they are implementing.

After making these efforts, Mr. CEO came back to his peer group singing a new tune, "I’m now a believer that change can happen. The culture is better, the people are more engaged, and I am more energized."

My takeaway here was as much as we want initiatives and values to come from the bottom, they really should come from the top. If we believe the real differentiator of culture change is leadership "walking the talk," then it makes perfect sense that they should believe in the "talk." 

Yes, employee involvement drives buy-in, but directionally, the CEO and leadership team must believe in what they are implementing. If not, employees see through it and aren’t motivated. In return, results aren’t much more than feel-good words on a poster, an occasional ping pong game, and a few extra pounds from all of those bagels.