How to Improve Your Strategic Scorecard

By The Raffoni Group Team

In the article, What Is a Strategic Scorecard and Why Should You Care? we discussed the importance of having a strategic scorecard. They are an essential way to track the progress made in achieving strategic goals and help teams focus effort and improve problem solving. Keep in mind that strategic scorecards are not the same as operational dashboards — tools to manage operational/functional goals — although they do have some of the same elements. To have an effective strategic scorecard requires clarity regarding four essential elements: goals, measures, targets and actions.  

1) Goals: Goals are quite simply singular statements of "what" is to be accomplished. Most executives understand goals well; they have scorecards containing goals such as "Grow Revenue", "Reduce Costs", "Improve Teamwork" to name a few. In addition to those high-level phrases, it's also useful to support each of them with a few statements that provide direction on how this goal can be achieved. In the case of "Improve Teamwork", it's also useful to have description illustrations such as, "spend more time collaborating on group problem solving" and "establish employee-led group to identify ways to enhance morale." A few well-thought-out goals, supported by goal statements, help clarify what the real intent of the goals are.

 2) Measures: Measures quantify the efficiency and effectiveness of an action. For every goal, there should be one, maybe two, measures to provide a metric that enables managers to understand if the goal is being accomplished. In the case of "Improve Teamwork" a simple measure might be "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork." The thinking here is that if employee satisfaction with teamwork is increasing, the goal of improving teamwork must be getting accomplished. Be careful to avoid using measures that are easy to collect but don’t provide a good gauge of performance with respect to the goal. While “Employee Turnover” might be readily available, it isn’t a good proxy for teamwork.

 3) Targets: Targets specify the level of performance improvement that needs to be achieved. A simple rule is where there is a measure, there must be a target. Targets can be challenging to set but the process is eased when they are set based upon business demands (e.g. Costs must be reduced 10% to maintain margin) or competitive benchmarks (e.g. 50% of our top competitors revenue is to repeat customers). Sometimes getting the baseline or the starting point can be the most difficult. In order to "Improve Teamwork" it's essential to know what the "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork" score is at the outset. A survey of the work section might indicate that "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork" is 5.5 out of 10. This initial reading provides a baseline to set the target that over the short-term—a year for example—might be a score of 7 but over the longer term, such as three years, might be 9.

4) Actions: Actions are the specific steps or projects that will drive performance from the baseline to the target. They may be quick hit steps or longer term initiatives, but either way they scope what needs to be done and they provide accountability. Through regular action plan reviews it's possible to determine if the actions are driving results not just effort. Looking back at the goal definition helps to identify the actions that could be implemented. With the example, "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork," say the number needs to reach 7 in one year and 9 within three years. A quick action might be, "Establish employee-led group to identify ways to enhance morale." This would only take a short amount of time to set up and might prove enough to move teamwork performance from the baseline of 5.5 to the target of 7. Reaching the longer term goals of 9 might require a longer term action such as, "Set up and deploy a company-wide problem-solving process." This wouldn't be a quick hit program, but if done correctly might have a major impact on "Improving Teamwork" as well as overall company performance.

5) Owners/Teams: These are the individuals and groups that serve as accountable executives in driving strategic progress. Typically goal/action plan ownership is given to the executives or those in the areas of the organization most aligned with the content of the goal or action plan. Assigning ownership is critical because it clarifies and improves accountability. In our example, the goal of, "Improve Teamwork", the measure, "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section" and the action, "Establish employee-led group to identify ways to enhance morale" are probably well aligned with Human Resource leadership. They would constitute the owners and teams needed to drive progress in this area. 

This approach might seem highly structured and to be fair, it is. But the process has been proven time and time again and, if followed, works very well. Be sure to set goals, measures, targets and actions as a set, being as careful as possible to design them in direct support of the most pressing business needs. You’ll find that your focus, problem-solving abilities and overall results will measurably improve.



What Is a Strategic Scorecard and Why Should You Care?

By Melissa Raffoni

Ask any CEO, “What is your company's strategy?" and I bet you’ll get a variety of answers depending on that person's definition of the word strategy – ranging from Michael Porter’s classic teachings on the barriers to entry, differentiation, and focused Webster's basic definition of simply having a plan to achieve a particular goal.   

Define it as you will, my intent in this post is to encourage you to go beyond the definition and understand the importance of building a Strategic Scorecard to support your strategy.

What is a Strategic Scorecard? It's a document—a communication tool —that clearly lists carefully articulated strategic goals with associated measures of success and accountable owners. 

 A Strategic Scorecard is:

  • On one page

  • Built through the collaboration of the company's leadership

  • Focused on strategy not the day-to-day business operations or "business as usual" activities

  • Clever, unique and grounded in solid strategic principals aimed at helping the company to succeed in the market

  • Worked on with regular cadence during a dedicated strategy meeting

What can it do for you? A Strategic Scorecard accomplishes a lot of objectives, but three important ones include:

1)  It acts as one of the tools for building alignment and agreement among your company's leadership and appropriate level of staff.

2)  It provides a basis for communication, reflection and problem solving, inspiring questions like…Did we get the strategic goal right? Are we on track? What do we need to do differently to get on track? Should we double down? 

3)  It brings rigor and discipline to teams, helping them to focus on "working on the business" in the midst of their busy day-to-day work lives.

Creating a strong Strategic Scorecard can be a challenge for teams, but it is well worth the effort. It's key to remember that the use of the Scorecard is just one piece of building in an on-going and evolving planning, communication, and accountability process that will help your team to be more effective.  

If the effort you put in to create your Scorecard is solid, your outcome will be a clearly aligned and motivated team, a higher probability of execution success, and most importantly—stronger business results. 

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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!  

Ready for Next Level Biz Dev? Try Some Positive Psychology


By Caroline Ren
Partner Program Director, The Raffoni Group

When you hear the term business development, it’s easy to think of cold calls to lists of people who, for the most part, don’t want to talk to you or sales pitches that don’t always get the desired response from your audience. While these realities of biz dev can feel daunting, it’s what’s at the heart of the work that makes it exciting and rewarding. It’s all about building relationships and making positive psychology a differentiating factor.

It’s connecting with an individual who has a name, not just a title…to a personality, not just a business role…to someone who has an expertise and a need, not just a conduit for meeting your numbers. It boils down to one word: Trust. Trust allows you to build something greater together than you could have as individuals, turning a transaction into a long-term, high-value relationship.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Daly, a Vice President at Optum Health, UnitedHealth Group’s business focused on helping organizations improve the health of their workforce. That evening, he shared his views of business development in three letters: KTL. He boiled it down very simply, “…you work with people you know, you work with people you trust, and you work with people you like.” We had just met and within the course of the evening we hit it off so well that we decided to explore ways to collaborate to broaden our collective reach in the Boston area.

Successful business development certainly begins this way, but has to be followed by the right actions that can be linked to positive psychology. In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, coined the acronym PERMA to describe the five elements of this positive psychology theory: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.

Ask yourself how your business development efforts measure up to these critical success factors:

  1. Positive emotions - Do you make it your goal when building business relationships to generate positive emotions not only in yourself, but also for your clients and/or partners? Generating excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe in what your company does and what you have to offer is paramount to generating trust in your skillset and that of your colleagues. Equally important is your enthusiasm for the client/partner and the services they offer, which goes a long way toward building a positive relationship.

  2. Engagement - How are you engaging your prospective clients or partners? Are you making connections through activities that draw and build upon their interests? It could be as simple as inviting them to a sporting event of their favorite team, to a dinner with others in their industry, or just meeting them for coffee. On a deeper level, it is truly understanding their objectives and priorities, and creating mutual goals and a plan for how to measure the impact of what you are proposing, whether it be a partnership, service or a product. The level of engagement is often directly related to the depth and longevity of your connection.

  3. Relationships - How is your relationship with your prospective clients/partners? Going back to KTL, do they feel they know you, can trust you, and genuinely like you? Not quite there yet? Ask questions, listen to them, and really hear their needs and priorities. Show you can be trusted by doing what you say you’re going to do in a timely fashion and not promising more than you or your product or service can deliver. Make yourself indispensable by creating a relationship in which your clients or partners benefit from not only knowing you, but also by knowing your ecosystem.

  4. Meaning - Are you clear on what makes your work relationships meaningful beyond meeting your numbers or earning a commission? Identify a clear purpose for your efforts by asking the question, “Why?” until you have a clear perspective. Oftentimes, finding meaning translates to understanding the viewpoints and business needs of your clients/partners and finding ways to support those. Despite potential challenges, working with a clear purpose drives us to continue striving for a mutually desirable goal.

  5. Accomplishments - Are you experiencing mutual success with your clients/partners? In the case of biz dev, accomplishment is really what happens as the result of putting everything discussed above into practice. It is the success that you and your clients/partners can find together. By drawing on collective strengths, you can accomplish greater goals together than as individuals or individual organizations.

Overall, successful business development requires the ability to look beyond your own needs, and to make heartfelt efforts to understand the personalities, interests, goals and business objectives of those with whom you hope to do business. Why is biz dev a great place to be? Because you get to make meaningful connections with real people and work together to deliver mutual success—precisely what your business needs to thrive. When it all comes together, there’s nothing more satisfying.

7 Things Every New CEO Should Do Out of the Gate


By Melissa Raffoni
Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

Welcome to the seat of CEO, a position you’ve undoubtedly worked hard to get to. I imagine you are excited and perhaps a little fearful (if you are in your right mind) about what is ahead. This is a BIG job that can be thankless, but it also has so much possibility. It’s not going to be easy and you might lose a little hair and some sleep in the process, but the rewards of seeing your company grow and prosper, can make the challenges worthwhile.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve worked with a lot of new CEOs at the Raffoni Group. I can tell you that the ones who do these seven things below, right out of the gate, have more early-on success, which helps set the stage for a long and meaningful career as CEO.

  1. Don’t be afraid to have a voice and a strong point of view – Yes, you want to build consensus and make those on your team feel valued, but first and foremost your job is to set direction. Many new CEOs are afraid to rock the boat. They seek a great deal of input upfront before making decisions. While input is key to engaging your team and building trust, don’t wait too long to deliver your CEO message. Having a new sheriff in town can and should be exciting for the team. You have an opportunity to lay out a new inspirational vision. Take this chance to talk about the company values that matter to you and what your expectations are. It is possible to do this while keeping in mind what is important to them, why they are here and what motivates them. The best CEOs balance team engagement with clear direction setting.

  2. Work swiftly to get the right team in place...and trust your gut – Moving slowly in a time of change is a guaranteed way to lose momentum. You take a risk if you wait too long to make changes to your leadership team. It’s important that you trust your judgement on what a great team looks like and listen to your gut as you determine who best aligns with your values and leadership style. You want to make sure you have a team in place that can succeed working with you. Part of this process is evaluating each team member’s skills, intellect and fit for the role and company. When and if you decide to make changes, be swift so you don’t create a frightened environment where people are waiting for the next ball to drop. If you choose the alternative of waiting a bit before shuffling the deck, give yourself a deadline, for example, “Within 6 months I will build a plan and execute on it.”

  3. Get into the numbers immediately and ask the hard questions – You need to know your numbers inside and out so you have a true understanding of where the business is at before you can be confident about where it needs to go. Key questions to ask yourself are: Is this model viable? Can you see a way to a compelling three-year proforma? Are margins where they should be? Are costs in line? Are customers segmented and managed appropriately? It’s possible that some of the answers to these questions will not be what you want to hear, but that’s where the adventure of the CEO role begins – working with your vetted and trusted exec team to navigate and make the changes required to get all the drivers of success where they need to be.

  4. Meet your customers - Your customers are the life blood of the organization. Meet them, understand their needs and what brings them to you. Hear it in their words. Part of your job as CEO is to ensure a solid value proposition so that you stand out from your competitors. Hearing the voices of your customers will help you to learn how strong that position is, as well as teach you a great deal about the company itself.

  5. If board governance is unclear, now is the time to set it – As the CEO, it’s important that you control the agenda and get what you need from the board. The purpose of board, agenda and decision-making authority must be clear or else you’ll waste cycles. Keep the meeting agenda tight and make sure you are presenting a plan that is both challenging and realistic, so you can see some real success and build strong credibility in your first year.

  6. Over communicate to rally the culture – You have a window to reset expectations and to drive change, which requires clear and frequent communication. Messages that are important need to be hit home to the team multiple times to stick. Make sure that your voice and point of view (discussed early in the article) is heard loud and clear…and consistently. Depending on the size of your organization, company meetings can be a great way to communicate. It’s also important that your exec team is on board and echoing these communications with those on their teams, allowing the messages to make their way down through the whole company.

  7. Build or find a trusted team of advisors that have nothing at stake in the business – We all need people to call for input. And now, more than ever, in the role of CEO, your decisions will have a major impact on the success of the company, the lives of your employees, and the future of your career. Who do you call? While relying on a few CEO colleagues may work for the short term, better to seek out a more formalized CEO peer group of true peers with a structured time to meet and a formal agenda to help each other succeed. With the power of a network of peers behind you, you can avoid some of the pitfalls that many new CEOs experience. Leaning on the collective wisdom of your peers can help you make better decisions, faster.

Do You Have Restless CEO Syndrome?

By Brian O’Donnell
CEO-in-Residence and Strategic Facilitator

Restless CEO Syndrome (RCS) is a fairly common condition. Symptoms can include frustration and impatience with your company as a whole, discomfort with the direction it’s taking, and aggravation due to misalignment with your vision. You may especially experience this restlessness when dealing with company performance, as well as the overall culture and attitude of your team.

This condition stems mostly from a deeply felt responsibility to guide your company and to make the difficult shifts as your products, customer base and markets change.

All kidding aside, being restless is a challenge for many CEOs, no matter what their situation. In a recent discussion with a group of 10 CEOs, the challenges varied: One was planning for a business sale while another had just completed his...another was in the midst of a merger and one is starting a complete shift in business model...two were scaling up aggressively, while revamping their sales approach. Very different scenarios, but what they all had in common was a feeling of restlessness with the current state of their company.

What are some of the causes of RCS?

This condition stems mostly from a deeply felt responsibility to guide your company and to make the difficult shifts as your products, customer base and markets change.

As I was talking with the CEOs I mentioned above, one commented that, “Thirty years ago, CEOs were rewarded to ‘stay the course’ on steady and long-term plans, but now there’s a hyper focus on information, and seismic forces moving and changing market needs at unprecedented speed.” The group agreed that these factors put higher pressure on them to shift their businesses more quickly. All great causes for restlessness.

Two other causes that can’t be overlooked are hard-wiring and conditioning. Many CEOs by nature are hard driving towards goals and progress. They are always looking for ways to shake things up and move in new directions. And then there is the conditioning of early business experiences along their career path. As one CEO said, “The DNA of many CEOs is entrepreneurial early in their careers, and the muscle that develops from those early experiences is always there and drives a need for constant stimulation and movement.”

Is RCS a good or bad thing?

The Pros: The group of CEOs all agreed that having the impetus and energy to drive necessary change in the organization is critical. When things are going well, someone needs to look outward to understand what is changing in the marketplace and with the competition, and make the necessary pivots. That could be in terms of how they interact with customers, bring new offerings to the marketplace, enter new geographies – or make a significant shift in their business model.  The CEO is the one who can get the attention of the organization and rally it to the difficult changes that may need to be made. That restlessness is what drives CEOs to take the necessary risks to move ahead in today’s business world.

The Cons: On the other hand, restlessness can result in impulsive, ineffective and demotivating language and behaviors that have the potential to drive defensiveness, divisiveness and fear within your organization. We have all seen (or been part of) examples of companies where the CEO was constantly shifting goals, priorities and direction, leading to confusion in the organization, and an inability to make progress.  

I once worked for an extremely restless CEO in a publicly traded company who separated a large part of the business and deemed it a ‘non-going concern’ and put it up for sale...only to reverse his decision nine months later. The result was that the stock price went from $27 per share to under $1 per share in a period of three years. He was charismatic, outspoken, and well-educated. However, he created a work environment where people struggled to keep up with his constantly changing perspectives, and could never make any real progress.

How to make RCS work for you? It’s all about balance.

Making the internal drive created by restlessness work positively for you takes careful thought and process. As a CEO said to the group, “It’s a balance thing. You have to balance it out with patience, making sure the desire for change and shifts in the business are driven by key strategic reasons and given enough time.” Amen.

In our Strategic Leaders program, we specifically focus on engaging, developing and enlisting the support of the key leadership team so that they can participate and provide feedback on the changes the CEO wants to see (the reason for the restlessness). As a CEO, understanding what is making you restless when it comes to your vision for the company and the needed strategy is critical. You have to be able to clearly articulate the reasons and rationale for the organization to be able to support you.

If you feel the company direction needs to change, you don’t have the right people in the right places, or that the marketplace is shifting and you need to pivot your business model, then don’t just be restless, drive action. Just make sure you ground your action in a clear and compelling vision, and the logical strategies to get there. Also, articulate it in such a way that you can enlist the support of your staff and employees. You don’t want to be the CEO “charging the hill” with nobody following you.

While it may need to be dialed back a bit and tempered with patience, using some of your restlessness as a CEO can be the key to an organization's success. It’s your role to shine a light on needed strategy shifts and to lead needed change efforts in your company.

It’s okay if you have a case of just need to find the best ways to put it to work for you.

Contact Brian O’Donnell at

CEO, How Good is Your Sales Organization? Take this 6-Point Test

Blog Sales Org - 6 Points.png

By Roger Keene
Strategic Facilitor, The Raffoni Group

Is your sales organization perfect? Do you have all the necessary elements so dialed in that there’s little room for improvement? Smart CEOs understand there is always room to improve, and that sales strategies need to be dynamic and adjusted often as the business grows and changes. When adding new products, or targeting new markets and geographies, companies must be continuously working to optimize their sales process in order to drive both new customer and organic growth. What areas are you hitting home runs in and where do you have some room to improve? Let’s find out...

Take the 6-Point Test:

Even in a great sales organization, there’s always room for improvement.

1) Is your sales approach aligned with your overall growth strategy? Back in 1962, Alfred Chandler said that “structure follows strategy.” This is particularly true in sales organizations, which must be aligned with the company’s overall growth strategy. You first must know where the growth is. Is it in new products, Geos, new markets, new positioning? Once that’s clear, you have the foundation you need to map the sales organization to your strategy.

It’s harder to change structure than it is to change strategy. It’s a lot of work, but it’s got to happen. In today’s business environment, strategies are changing often as companies fight to be progressive and competitive. If the sales organization and process stays the same, sales becomes increasingly misaligned and disconnected, resulting in inefficiencies and ultimately failure to reach those growth goals.

2) Does your compensation plan match your sales strategy? I don’t have to tell you that most sales people are driven by compensation. They are going to work harder for any deal that results in a larger paycheck. For that reason, it’s imperative that your compensation model rewards the results that are driving your strategy forward. Is your goal to find new accounts? That’s a lot harder to do than growing existing accounts. If you want new named accounts, you have to reward that business at a higher level than you would business from an existing account. An effective option is to build a comp structure based on bonuses rather than straight commission. That way you can structure the bonus to reflect how the sales team should be spending their time, and adjust it from year to year as your strategy changes.

3) Does your sales approach match your culture? You’ve probably spent a good deal of time and energy creating a culture, but does your sales team reflect it? Typically the first interaction that customers and prospects have with your company is with sales, making it essential to hire and train a sales team that is aligned with your culture. For example, if your culture is one where you want customers to see you as a partner, you can’t have an aggressive sales team that will do anything to get business. Instead, your salespeople have to be consultative and build long-term relationships, sometimes at the expense of short-term results. No matter how good a salesperson is, if they don’t line up with your overall culture and your desired customer experience, it’s probably not worth having them on the team in the long run.

4) Do you really know what your sales people are doing with their time? Sales people do what you inspect, not what you expect. It’s a must that you are monitoring the right metrics and not just hoping they are “doing the right thing." This starts by being clear on what the right metrics are. Are you in a growing market where the more calls an inside sales person makes, the more business you get? Or are you trying to get into a new market where you need to balance that activity with growth in an existing market? The right measures will let you know where a salesperson is at and what they need to tweak.  

Knowing the metrics is only half the battle. You’ve got to get the whole team on board and up to speed. Communication is key. Have a discussion, get their buy-in, and make it clear that you’ll be monitoring them. Regular reviews are an important part of the ongoing accountability.

And if you want everyone to be on board (and you do), you’ve got to make sure your leading salespeople, who may be exceeding their quotas but not meeting other metrics, are stepping it up. No one gets a pass.

5) Do you have a repeatable sales process? Do you know the best way to sell your product? Do all your salespeople know? This isn’t based on how you think the process should go, but on what you’ve learned is most successful in closing deals. Do you know the milestones and what information the prospective client needs at each point of the sales cycle? Does your team have confidence on their next move based on what the client is saying and the questions they are asking?

Identifying what’s working, creating a process around that, and making sure the sales team is in sync, will help to streamline the sales cycle and move prospects through the funnel more quickly. Keep in mind that a repeatable sales process can still be flexible, adaptable and open to new learnings. Ideally, there is a mechanism in place to get feedback that can help you and your sales managers identify how to constantly improve the way you sell your product.

6) Do you have a highly effective sales hiring and training process? It’s pretty standard for a company to have a few good legacy salespeople with strong customer relationships and a winning pipeline, but if you want to grow the business, you can’t just rely on the rockstars. You need a highly effective process to recruit, train and on-board new salespeople.

Effective training is consistent, thorough and provides salespeople with the knowledge and the tools they need to be successful. Time spent developing a training curriculum, creating materials, and delivering the training is well spent. The better you train your salespeople in those first days and weeks, the faster their ramp to productivity will be.

Equally important is ongoing training for the entire sales team. Your products, competition and market dynamics are always changing and salespeople can tend to stay with what they know. They need continued information, support and accountability to make sure they are changing what and how they sell as the company and the market shifts.

Even in a great sales organization, there’s always room for improvement. It starts by choosing an area to focus on and then putting in the time and energy to make it better. Thoughtful and smart efforts to improve will pay dividends.

Contact Roger at

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 this employee is not right for this 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 their 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

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 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 CEO’s primary roles are 1) to set a 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. So, go be a better leader and 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. 

Are You An Engaged CEO Champion? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

Melissa Raffoni, The Raffoni Group

Recently, a CEO in one of my groups came to me with this dilemma. He said, “Since I’ve gotten the scorecard installed and the right people and processes in place, things are starting to really hum. We’ve got our management system functioning, people know what they’re supposed to be doing and we’re meeting our targets. Honestly, I feel like things are finally moving in the right direction. Now I have a different problem. With things working so well, I don’t feel like I’m needed. To be honest, I’m not sure what I should be focusing on as the CEO. How should I being using my time?”

I was struck by the sincerity of his question and wondered if other CEOs sometimes felt the same way. With that in mind, he used this challenge as the basis for a case study that led to a great discussion with the rest of the group on how CEOs should spend their time. It was clear that there are many things a CEO should be doing on a day-to-day basis and many varying views on exactly what those things should be.

At Raffoni Group, we see one overarching role that must be filled by CEOs at all times and at all costs: The role of the Engaged CEO Champion. 

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a champion as “someone who fights or speaks publicly in support of a person, belief or cause.” The cause in question here—which is specifically the CEO’s job to champion—is strategy and the execution of it. In order to help maintain the focus on strategy, we’ve identified three simple questions CEOs can ask themselves that will lead to better engagement as strategy champions.

1.)  Are you adequately prepared for your strategic off-site meetings?

For many organizations, the watershed event in the life of a strategy is the annual strategic offsite. It is at this meeting where the most important issues regarding the company’s future are discussed and decisions are made about goals for the future. Resource commitments are typically part of this activity, as well the output of a strategic plan — the document that will guide executive action. But too often the offsite is conducted with only a cursory look at past performance void of meaningful analysis and preparation for discussion. As Bob Frisch and Logan Chandler note in their article Off-Sites That Work, “The greater expectations, the higher stakes, and the unique nature of strategy discussions require special planning to ensure that meaningful and constructive conversations happen.”

Here is where engaged CEO champions set the bar considerably higher. In advance of the offsite, the CEO should mandate a comprehensive analysis of financial performance. Also, each leader participating in the session should complete a SWOT analysis to help identify major issues to be discussed. As a rule, no more that three to five major issues should be identified for the sessions.

This background information—coupled with an honest evaluation of the top team’s performance in the areas of alignment and effectiveness—should be complied in the form of pre-work and circulated in advance of the session. Preparing in this way ensures that the team arrives at the meeting engaged, informed and ready to tackle the most pressing issues of the organization. 

2.) Do you hold your leadership team to an agreed upon strategic planning process that ensures accountability and follow through?

An effective offsite and a well-crafted strategic plan provide an excellent foundation for focus and execution.  Sadly, many CEOs let their teams stop strategy work with production of the plan itself. Once that task is complete, the plan is neither reviewed nor revisited until the next strategy offsite. Here is where CEO champions can earn their pay by implementing a strategy execution process that maintains focus on the strategy long after the plan has been set on a shelf.  

What is strategy execution? It’s typically a set of activities that when taken as a whole enable a company to achieve its most critical objectives. Accountability and follow-through come from scheduling regular meetings to review the performance measures that gauge whether or not adequate progress is being made. Further, it’s the frequent review of the action plans and milestones that are directly linked to achieving critical goals. Strategy execution also incorporates the decisions that have to be made when the strategy begins drifting off course. Regardless of how well defined, strategy execution will not happen unless the CEO holds his team accountable to the strategic process AND the results that the strategy is designed to produce. The CEO is the one person responsible for making execution happen.

3.) Do you generally stay the course or are you prone to chasing shiny objects?

In an ideal world, a sound strategic plan and an effective execution process delivers results. The problem is executive teams don’t live in ideal worlds. The world around most leaders is rife with change, with some of it bringing genuine business opportunities. More often than not these so-called opportunities are little more than distractions, or as we at the Raffoni Group like to call them, “shiny objects.” There’s even a name for this behavior: Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS). 

As author and motivational speaker, Jack Canfield wrote in a blog post on the topic, “It’s easy to get distracted from the goals and commitments you’ve already made. Rather than seeing things through to completion, you abandon the goals and projects you’ve started to chase whatever new thing has just caught your eye.” If strategy execution is predicated by accomplishing goals and projects, a case of SOS is cause for an immediate distress signal for getting the strategy back on track.

Again, it’s the engaged CEO that must toss out the lifeline and reel in the team in order to refocus them toward the original course. A clear strategy and a well-oiled execution process can help in this regard, but effective CEOs have to have an innate compass that drives the efforts of the entire organization toward relentless achievement of the company’s most critical goals.

Most CEOs will tell you and the old adage is true:  it's lonely at the top. It’s lonelier still when the CEO questions what his best and highest value is to the company on a daily basis. Engaged CEOs don’t struggle with this question—they know the questions to ask as well as the answers they need to guide their teams toward their ultimate destination.