The CEO Job

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 bodonnell@raffonigroup.com

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.

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

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO of The Raffoni Group

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

Ask These 12 Questions:

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

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

  3. How is your health?

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

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

  6. What is your biggest weakness as CEO?

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

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

  9. Is there someone you need to fire?

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

  11. Do you like being a CEO?

  12. What do you want to do next?

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

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

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

@melissaraffoni on Twitter
mraffoni@raffonigroup.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You a Graceful CEO?

Graceful.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  6. Are you giving kudos and positive vibes?

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

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES

Top 7 CEO Personal Development Goals for the New Year

Pro Develop.JPG

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

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

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

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

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

  1. My goal is to shift my work so that I am less mired in day-to-day operations and spending more time working on strategy.

  2. My goal is to help my leadership team to be less silo-oriented and caught up in the day-to-day.

  3. My goal is to be disciplined about setting up a good governance structure that includes highly effective strategy meetings at a regular cadence, separate from the operational meetings.

  4. My goal is to to be more strategically involved in sales. If I am pulled into a sales call, it should be for strategic reasons.

  5. My goal is to be more involved in sales, period. I have drifted from the sales process. I need to apply urgency and figure out what we are doing right and where we can improve. I need to get closer to the customer.

  6. My goal is to make better decisions about people, more quickly. My regrets always revolve around putting the wrong people in the wrong boxes.

  7. My goal is to take a vacation. I’m not sure when, but, I know I need it. My team needs me to take a vacation.

As you think of your own personal CEO development goals for 2019, I encourage you to ask the following questions of yourself:

  1. What’s the breakdown of how I spend my time? What percentage do I spend on strategy, operations, leadership team development, sales, culture and PR?

  2. Do I want to shift how I allocate my time?

  3. What do I want to do more of, and, why?

  4. What do I want to do less of, and, why?

  5. What energizes me to be the best leader I can be?

  6. What do I do well and not so well?

  7. What is my highest and best use?

  8. Am I acting as a bottleneck to my company’s growth in any way?

  9. Can the company scale properly as is or do I need to adjust the way I work to facilitate growth?

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

Email Melissa at mraffoni at raffonigroup.com

 

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES

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

Steering wheel Ship stock photo.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!  

CEO, Do You Know What Makes You Happy?

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4)      Vacations and Traveling

5)      Volunteering (mentoring and coaching)

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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