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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.

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

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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.

 
 

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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. 

Top 6 Signs of Burnout for CEOs and the C-Suite

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

Throughout my life, when people have suggested that I may be "burnt out" from a certain activity, I have shrugged it off. I have disregarded the comment because I've always been very driven and unless I was completely passed out and unable to move, I couldn’t possibly imagine that expression could apply to me. "Burnout" conjured up images of somebody who couldn't get out of bed in the morning, was uninspired, rundown, unproductive and maybe even grumpy.

Burnout is not a dirty word.

But the longer I’ve run my own business and the more I’ve worked directly with CEOs, I’ve come to realize, that driven executives who are heading toward burnout don’t actually see it's happening, until it does. The good news is that burnout is treatable and when we tend to it in ourselves and our colleagues, everyone will be happier and more productive.

Based on my experience working with CEOs dealing with burnout, here are six warning signs:  

  1. The “I’m So Busy/Taxed and I Must Push Through” Syndrome. I get that some people are busier than others. Asian travel, acquisition, the loss of a key employee, a start-up situation -- these all create hyper-busy and very taxing schedules. But the "must push through" piece doesn’t scale. It's not backed by wisdom and does not connote a graceful leader. At some point, the physical and mental signs creep in and worse off, a "martyr" type of attitude can instill itself, if not at work, then at home.  For most high-performing execs, this attitude often comes from a place of very good intent. It comes from execs who want to do the right thing, who, without batting an eye, embrace responsibility. They believe you are rewarded in life by "pushing through." These street fighter/survivor types need to step back and find a new way. 
     
  2. The Wake Up Hour is 4 AM.  If you took a poll of high-performing execs, I would guess that at least 25% will note a non-planned 4 AM wake up time or that they have issues sleeping more than seven hours. Not being able to sleep is a sure sign of stress and certainly can indicate burnout is on the horizon. 
     
  3. The "Stressor" Behaviors Are Unveiled. Many personality assessments (such as Hogan) tell you that when you are stressed, you are more likely to demonstrate your "go to" negative behavior. Maybe it's anger, lack of patience, extreme testiness, going "dark," or talking a lot. When you see this behavior in yourself or your colleagues, it's a good indicator of the need to course correct. 
     
  4. The "Repetitive Problem Treadmill" Doesn't Stop. This is when the same issues come up over and over and over, without resolution. Examples can range from, “I’m not getting my job done right...to this employee is not right for this role...to our model is not working.”  If the same problem or question comes up over and over, the individual just may not have the space, stamina or concentration to clearly resolve and act on the issue. 
     
  5. Physical Appearance Changes. The obvious signs are weight gain, bad posture, dry facial skin, puffy eyes and rapidly graying hair. What we can’t see or predict is what can come next, such as shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, fainting, headaches or a generally weak immune system that can cause nagging coughs or colds.
     
  6. The Failure of the "What Are you Doing for Exercise?" or "What are You Doing for Fun?"  Most execs I know, even when stressed, find time to exercise because they started the habit early in life. But when exercise falls off the cliff for a normally active individual, it's time to pay attention. Other burnout candidates may still be exercising, but fun, laughter, joy and happiness has been pushed to the side. In these cases, the activities that drive these emotions need to be identified, resurrected and, as cold as it may sound, "put on the calendar." 

Other warning signs may include blaming others, forgetfulness, impaired concentration, and things piling up. Many C-suite execs have systems to keep these behaviors in-check, but these warning symptoms could apply to family members, friends or other levels of staff.

When our CEO Collective peer groups spot a CEO on the path to burnout, we call it out and then move to emphasize sleep, healthy life practices (exercise, food, etc.) and a reflection on what activities provide happiness. Just calling it out can make a difference. For some, extra mental health support may be needed.   

In working with CEOs who may have direct reports suffering from burn out, we also discuss the CEOs responsibility in setting clear job expectations that map to the employee's strengths and values.

Burnout is not a dirty word. It doesn't mean that we are weak or not doing our best. It just happens sometimes as a result of a situation or lack of change in our jobs. For many highly driven, productive execs, it's a bit "par for the course" at some point in their career. What’s most important is recognizing it, not letting it go too far and putting in a course correction plan that, in almost all cases, will put the individual on a better track to being personally healthier and more productive.

Additional resources:  

Refueling Your Engine: Strategies to Reduce Stress and Avoid Burnout

The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout ... Do You Have Them?

Job Burnout: How to Spot It and Take Action

Top 7 CEO Personal Development Goals for the New Year

Have you set your goals yet? Here’s what your peers are thinking about.

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

We always work with CEOs within our Collective to develop strategic plans for their organizations prior to their leadership team offsites. We strongly encourage these CEOs to vet their thoughts about business direction and strategic goals with their peers prior to going live with the executive team.

During our CEO Collective meetings, we encourage our CEO members to challenge each other, to expose the truth, and to band together in helping to improve the collective performance of everyone around the table. As a result, a part of this exercise also includes having the CEO articulate their personal development goals.  

Here are the seven recurring themes we hear from our CEO members who generally have five or more years of experience in the role and are running growing, profitable companies.

  1. My goal is to shift my work so that I am less mired in day-to-day operations and spending more time working on strategy.
  2. My goal is to help my leadership team to be less silo-oriented and caught up in the day-to-day.
  3. My goal is to be disciplined about setting up a good governance structure that includes highly effective strategy meetings at a regular cadence, separate from the operational meetings.
  4. My goal is to to be more strategically involved in sales. If I am pulled into a sales call, it should be for strategic reasons.
  5. My goal is to be more involved in sales, period. I have drifted from the sales process. I need to apply urgency and figure out what we are doing right and where we can improve. I need to get closer to the customer.
  6. My goal is to make better decisions about people, more quickly. My regrets always revolve around putting the wrong people in the wrong boxes.
  7. My goal is to take a vacation. I’m not sure when, but, I know I need it. My team needs me to take a vacation.

As you think of your own personal CEO development goals for 2016, I encourage you to ask the following questions of yourself:

  1. What’s the breakdown of how I spend my time? What percentage do I spend on strategy, operations, leadership team development, sales, culture and PR?  
  2. Do I want to shift how I allocate my time?  
  3. What do I want to do more of, and, why?
  4. What do I want to do less of, and, why?
  5. What energizes me to be the best leader I can be?
  6. What do I do well and not so well?
  7. What is my highest and best use?
  8. Am I acting as a bottleneck to my company’s growth in any way?
  9. Can the company scale properly as is or do I need to adjust the way I work to facilitate growth?

As CEO, you are the highest leverage point in the organization. The way you spend your time and the talent you surround yourself with will make or break your company. I encourage you to look in the mirror and commit one or two personal CEO development goals for the coming year. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by both the personal joy you receive from your CEO job, as well as the results of the company. Just do it.

Email Melissa at mraffoni at raffonigroup.com

 

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