Be honest. Is your exec team as good as it could be? Are they tight-knit, collaborative and honest? Do they understand and support each other? Is everyone working towards the same goal? If the answer’s no, I’d suggest you have some work to do.
In my role as a business coach, I focus on supporting the whole leadership team. That’s how you get the best results. Everything comes from the top and if your team aren’t functioning as well as they could be, you’ve no hope of any meaningful cultural change in the rest of the organisation.
It’s simple. To grow your business, you need a high performing leadership team. I’ve seen the transformation with my own eyes – with the right approach and strong commitment you really can achieve great things. But what is the right approach? How do you supercharge your executive team?
First stop – everyone needs to write their own one-page personal plan. When I’m working with a new client, I guide every member of the leadership team through this. It’s not unusual for people to have worked together for years but know very little about each other. What you uncover is often quite staggering. Stories of childhood poverty, health issues, failure at school, aspirations for their own children – any number of things that have shaped the person they’ve become. The exercise delves into the legacy they’d like to leave and their motivations in their job. Sometimes it’s the first time they’ve had to reflect in this way and it brings immediate clarity to how team members are thinking and feeling.
This builds vulnerability and trust – two essential characteristics of high functioning teams. It’s so important that work, family and health are in alignment for everyone. If they’re not, then this is the opportunity to decide together what you’re going to do to make sure everyone feels in balance. For example, if someone on the team is working harder than the others, this is the time to get them some help or re-distribute the work. You don’t want any bitterness in your team.
Next step is to nail down your behaviours towards each other. You need to agree as a team how you’re going to treat one another and the ways you’re going to work together. Small example – committing to being on time for meetings (a real bugbear of mine – it’s just not respectful to be late!)
It can take time to get this right. My advice is, don’t share it with the rest of the company until it’s working and you’re living and breathing it. When I was MD at Peer 1, our executive team charter ended up becoming a leadership development framework which was rolled out across the whole company. But we needed to be living the behaviours fully before we did this.
Increasingly, as your business grows and scales, you’ll need to focus on customer value creation. Because your customers experience your service or product by moving through multiple departments, it’s vital that this cross-functional process is owned at the executive level. Every member of your leadership team needs to accept new challenges outside the functional remit of their role.
This accountability is so important. With my clients, we look at core capabilities needed to reach their three-year goal – the things they need to get better at to hit their financial target. This might be recruitment, or middle management development, or better purchasing – whatever they are, someone needs to pick them up and own them. Often, we’ll look at the balance sheet and assign each line to one of the executives. Every team member is taking cross-functional ownership for shared goals.
I’m a great one for rhythms. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly – model these at exec level first and they can then be rolled out across your company.
Make sure cycles are quarterly with clear horizons. Introduce kick-offs where your 90-day theme is clearly communicated and linked to the longer-term vision. Ensure OKRs support this and executive time is put aside for skip meetings and one-to-ones with direct reports.
It’s important the leadership team commits to daily huddles – short 15-minute check-ins to ensure everyone’s on track. You can’t mandate this in the rest of the company if you’re not doing it at the top.
How often do your leadership team communicate with people outside their functional area? This is vital to gaining understanding about issues in other parts of the business.
Your exec team charter needs to include a commitment to talking to at least one member of staff from a different team per week, as well as a customer. Say there’s six of you in the SLT. It means every time you get together for your weekly executive team meeting, you’ll be able to share six conversations with employees and six with customers – a much more informed executive meeting! If an incident happens, you’ll have a pulse on staff and customer impact.
Conversations with customers can be linked back to your NPS® (Net Promoter Score) so that the executive team is part of the follow-up mechanism.
Your executive team needs to decide it will not accept any negativity or triangulation. Ideally, do this ahead of the rest of the company and commit to it for six months before you try to roll it out anywhere else. Agree that you won’t have any negative conversations about anyone else unless they’re in the room. Decide how you are going to behave towards each other and commit to open, honest communication.
This can be particularly hard for us Anglo-Saxons. We’re programmed to avoid candid conversations that make us uncomfortable yet it’s so important to tackle things honestly as they crop up and directly to the person’s face (rather than behind their back). Monitor each other and don’t introduce this approach anywhere else until you’ve all agreed you’re doing it correctly. You’ll be amazed how it starts to filter out naturally to the rest of the organisation if you’re modelling it well. It will become the way you operate, every day.
I’ve seen the power of this first hand, when I was MD of Rackspace and Peer 1. It’s transformational – truly. It’s been a theme of many of the talks I’ve given as a business coach and I’ve had some great feedback as a result. In one conversation, Brendan O’Keefe, MD of Epic CIC, told me ‘no triangulation’ had been one of his main takeaways after hearing me speak.
Formerly part of a council, Epic CIC was in the middle of transitioning to a mutual, with all the cultural implications this entailed – a big challenge! He only wanted people who were up for the mission, with the right attitude. When he returned from hearing me speak, he started first with his exec team, telling them they needed to commit to a new way of working together. He then rolled it out to the rest of the company and managed to eliminate all the gossip and negativity that had been a feature of the old organisation. Great stuff! This is why I love my job!
One final thing – if someone in your SLT can’t commit to zero triangulation, they have no place in your company. You’re trying to drive behavioural change to create a high performing team. You need total buy-in.
To my mind, 90% of strategic failure in businesses is down to execution and that’s the lens I take when I’m coaching clients. Often, this failure is down to cultural rather than operational issues, so you need to put time and effort into sorting out any problems at the executive level. Build trust and understanding alongside clear boundaries for behaviour and you’ll find barriers melt away. Your business will now be ready for rapid and sustainable growth.
Dominic has spent 14 years working in sales, marketing and business management within the IT sector. He has held executive positions at Peer 1 Hosting, IT Lab and Rackspace. At Peer 1 he built the UK business to £30m run rate in 5 years. He won many awards for creating a great place to work. At Rackspace Dominic built the UK company from four to 150 staff, and increased annual revenues from £595,000 to £25 million in just four years. Under his management, Rackspace was recognised as one of the most outstanding workplaces in Europe, and won several service awards for its Fanatical Support TM. Dominic has a BSc in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle and a MBA from Sheffield Business School. Dominic is also a regular public speaker on creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction and an assessor on the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.