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.



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.

6 Key Practices of Companies with Award-Winning Cultures

By Brian O’Donnell, CEO-in-Residence & Strategic Facilitator

When you think about your role as CEO in creating a culture where employees want to work and believe they can make an impact, it’s smart to look at companies that are rated “Best Places to Work” and learn what they are doing right. I recently did a bit of this myself by reviewing 1) several companies who have conducted detailed research 2) a number of surveys on employee satisfaction and 3) results from our own CEO Collectives members’ efforts to evaluate their company cultures.

Here are the key practices that stood out (and, spoiler, it’s not just about ping-pong tables and free beer on Friday afternoons):

You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.
— Walt Disney

1) Strong Investment in Employee Development – While many companies think they are doing a good job in terms of employee development, the best companies show us that there is more to be done to both help employees to take ownership in their self-development and to give them easier access to learning and experiential activities to further their growth. The best companies make sure that employees have the right skills to accomplish their current jobs, while learning new skills to prepare for future roles. They put their employees into situations where they can get real experience, like leading projects and participating in initiatives. Research shows that learning from actual experience has the greatest impact – and reward.

They may not remember what you said, or even what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
— Carl W. Buehner.

2) Giving Extra Support in Challenging Times  Employees remember and appreciate how they are treated in challenging times, even more than during the good times. The leaders in company culture know the importance of showing a positive outlook for the business and a commitment to employees during downturns. In these times, it’s paramount to protect jobs and the longer-term investment in people (instead of layoffs) and improve benefits (instead of cutting them). Companies that show this level of support in the hard times, create deeper loyalty that drives a stronger, more engaged workforce, resulting in better long-term business performance. And remember, as the CEO, you must lead the charge in this area. It can’t be delegated.

3) Providing Flexibility and Opportunities for Work/Life Balance – Companies that score the highest in employee surveys not only provide ways for their employees to have a good work/life balance, but they really “walk the talk” in terms of modeling it. While that can be more challenging in certain types of businesses, I have even witnessed traditional manufacturing companies coming up with ways to provide greater work flexibility. Flex time, PTO, work from home programs, and half-day Fridays are all examples of ways in which employees can gain flexibility. When you find ways to create flexibility for employees, you’ll find that they reciprocate. To put this model in place, it requires that you to step back and think outside historical company norms and policies. As hard as it may be to give the inch without being worried it will be taken as a mile, just remember that all the top companies do it and get great results.

4) Maintaining a “Small Company” Culture – That wonderful small company culture is hard to hold onto as a company grows larger, but employees want to feel that they are part of a group where they are known and appreciated. There are many ways the most successful companies create this culture, including free lunches once a week, employee disaster funds, mentoring programs, even rotating people on planning committees and giving them a “seat at the table” and the ability to engage at a higher level. The challenge is to keep the organizational structure as flat as you can and effectively grouped. New employee lunches, performance or service recognition events are also ways to provide that personal touch. As CEO, it is most important that you find ways to be transparent and communicate directly to employees – they need (and want) to hear from you.

5) Making Time and Space for Fun – Okay, here’s the part about the ping pong table. Yes, the most successful companies also find ways to add some fun into the mix, whether through structured activities and events (parties, sports, hiking, groups), or just creating a normal culture of “this is what we do here” (for example, open kitchens, breakfasts and lunches, special celebrations and treats, “living rooms”, and places for people to interact and engage). Fun diversions can really make a difference and help people feel they are a part of something special. But note, that simply adding some “fun” areas doesn’t create a fun culture. Again, this is a top down thing. As CEO, it’s important you are are able to have fun at the office. Employees need to see that in you to believe it’s a true value of the company.

6) Being a Great CEO – And last, but not least, research by GlassDoor, the web employee rating portal, suggests that there is a strong correlation between how highly employees rate their CEO and “Best Place to Work” ratings. 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, first and foremost, and not by others, in order to lead the effort to help create an excellent culture that retains talented team members.

Contact Brian at

How to Make Sure Q1 Doesn't Get You Down: Focus First on Yourself, then on Your Company Culture

I just had three CEO one-on-one calls in a row and every person was a bit in the dumps, including me. I felt like I was talking people off cliffs, coaching them to get their energy up and mount to the top, all while I was hanging on by two fingers in a crevice on the side of the rock face. I chuckled a bit at this and decided to explore what was going on. Here is what I came up with...

Q1 Can Be a Bit of a Downer Because:

  1. It’s Dark. At least in Boston, it's dark when I wake my kids up and it's dark when they come home. Let's not fool ourselves, cold weather and darkness is a bit of a bummer.

  2. The Projections Are Lofty. Q1 numbers are set and, of course, we set them high—now reality sets in. The holidays are over and we have a lot to do.

  3. Some of Our Best People Are Gone. Lots of employees wait until year-end to decide to move on. Losing just a few good ones can take the wind out of our sails.

  4. The Grind Factor. Sometimes, just sometimes, the job can be a grind. Let's face it, we are up early, we are up late, and we have been doing this for five to 10 years, maybe longer. There's no getting around it. Sometimes it's just a grind.

There's a good chance you aren't the only one feeling this way. Your team may be too. And they are looking to you, as their CEO and fearless leader. They look to you for tone, inspiration, energy, and clarity. And as humble as you and I are, we sometimes forget that. Have I gotten your attention?

Here are Three Things to Focus on to Have a Good Q1:

1. Find Your Energy. As you should always do, take the beginning of the year to reassess the way you use your time. Break it into categories: Strategy, Leadership Team, Day-to-Day Ops, Culture, and Sales—then ask yourself, "Is this where I should be spending my time?" Historically, I have always said to assess this with the company's strategic goals in mind, challenging CEOs to look at the best leverage for their most precious commodity, time. But, if you are feeling a bit ragged, ask yourself where you get energy from and where you don't. You are best in places where you have "flow" or energy, so, re-allocate accordingly. Don't burn out. There is zero leverage in that. Here's a Harvard Business Review article I wrote with more info to help you assess how you are spending your time. No time to read? Listen to this brief podcast.

2. Assess Your Personal Leadership. What is your personal approach to leadership? How strong are your leadership skills? Some ideas for continued assessment and growth include reading a book or article on leadership (here are a few of mine to check out) as well as committing to take some time to listen to your staff, your customers, and even your family. Q4 and Jan Q1 require the CEO to do a lot of talking. Normally, we reset the vision, articulate the goals, get people on board—now, it's March, and maybe you should just stop talking for a bit and listen and/or ask questions.

3. Review Your Culture Plan. Hiring and human capital management are becoming increasingly more important as differentiators. Ten years ago I would have said something different. And, as a reminder, I grew up as an Organizational Development consultant. Now, culture is more important than ever. Have you done an employee satisfaction survey recently? Do you have the right HR initiatives? Are you branding internally, as well as externally? Do you like the vibe in your organization? If you have answered "no" to more than one of these questions, I’m going to remind you that as CEO, a big piece of your job is building a sustainable, high-performing culture where people feel good about coming to work and are likely to spread the word as such—whether it be glass door or to refer friends. Your employees provide some of your best PR. Make the investment into that asset.

“They are all good days, just with some bad moments. Luckily, the moments go away and we are left with all good days”
— Ken Dryer, Former Vistage Chair, Former CEO of Eliassen, a CEO Collective Member company and mentor of Melissa Raffoni.