The New Pack Leader: A Modern Business Fable, Part Three

(If you are new to the challenges facing Sue CEO, check out Part One and Part Two)

Continuing their dinner conversation:

Sue CEO, challenged with infighting among her senior team and declining company performance, is finishing dinner with an expert in leadership processes and business performance. Sue  wants to learn more about a specific leadership process mentioned during the entree course.

“Okay, tell me more about this leadership process that can help improve strategy implementation and business execution.”

He companion replies, putting down his coffee cup.  “There are numerous approaches to strategy development (SWOT Analysis, Scenario Planning, Disruptive Strategies, Value Analytics, etc.) but not for strategy execution.  As Jack Welch likes to say:

The key isn’t having a strategy, it’s getting it implemented!’

Most CEOs believe if they have good people and a good strategy, then the strategy will be delivered. The team will each deliver their own part of the strategy and and it will all add up to effective strategy delivery.”

Sue nodded and urged him on. “However, the fact is most companies are organised functionally (each runs a separate department) and senior executives spend more time working on departmental objectives than strategic objectives.  Research shows less than 5% of a senior team’s time together is spent on strategic objectives.”

Sue sat back abruptly. “Boy, is that true.  I have a quarterly strategy review meeting and it quickly devolves into discussions about pressing functional problems like late shipments, HR issues or a quality complaint from a major customer.  We never have time to really work together on the strategy.”

“That’s where a robust leadership process comes in,” remarked her companion, picking up his coffee cup again.  He took a sip, smiled and continued.  “It took me a long time to understand why the statistics on strategy execution were so poor.  Several research studies across multiple industries confirm that less than 50% of strategic objectives get successfully implemented.  In real terms that adds up to billions of unrealised revenue and lost competitive advantage.  And what’s even more real, 70% of all CEOs who get fired are terminated for failing to deliver on the strategy they sold to the Board.”

Sue CEO suddenly paled, then put down her fork, leaving her dessert untouched.  “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite for dessert, but not for your ideas.  Tell me, what are “leadership processes”?  I know all about business processes but I’ve never heard of leadership processes before.”

“Well, look at it this way.  It is well understood that the senior leadership team is an influential group and their collective activities drive the organization.  What’s not so well understood is that the senior team can have a negative impact on overall company performance, in numerous ways, many of which they themselves are not even aware of.”

“You see, the leadership team does a certain amount of work, usually in the form of planning, decision making, risk assessment, hiring and promoting, to name a few.  This work should be delivered through robust, well developed processes that have been specially designed to be effective, eliminate waste and deliver a high quality product.  But most senior teams never really design their own processes (what I call leadership processes) but rather use ways of working they picked up years ago when they were learning the tasks of management. In fact, the work processes of the senior team have rarely been studied for the purpose of documentation and improvement.  It’s queer, but executives and academics have focused on process improvement in most areas of modern business; supply chain processes, manufacturing processes, service delivery processes, and process in all functions.  Everywhere we have been improving business processes, except the leadership processes!”

“And poor leadership processes can actually destroy economic value through redundant, inefficient, wasteful and time consuming work activities at the top, which then magnify as their negative impact moves down through organizational layers.  What we have termed the “shadow of the leaders“.

Sue was stunned. It all made so much sense to her now that she could see her situation objectively.  She smiled at her dining companion.  “You’ve given me a lot to think about.  I can see now that I really haven’t established very many robust processes for my senior team to work with.  We just work on the problem without any real rules, limitations and boundaries.”

They both laughed.  “Well, you do have a lot to think about.  I suggest we meet at your office in a couple of weeks to see how you have put into practice what we have been talking about and then I will show you the template we have developed for effective strategy execution.  It’s a robust leadership process that will get your entire company aligned on delivering your business objectives.”

“I look forward to our next discussion.”

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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