What is the work of the senior team?

“The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”    – Donald Kendall, former CEO, Pepsi Co.

In numerous team alignment, strategy and performance improvement workshops over the past two decades I have asked a simple question:  What is the work of the senior executive team? 

As you can imagine, the answer very much depends on the audience in the room.   If the audience is the senior team themselves, the answers come back quickly and with some indignation in their voices:  develop strategy, control risks, determine budgets, allocate capital to worthy projects, manage talent, maximize profits … and the list goes on and on.  We’re accountable for everything!

It seems like this group does a huge amount and is no doubt critical to the success of the organization.  And when asked where most of this work takes place, a single answer is predominant – in meetings!  Then it tends to dawn on the group – if most of our work is conducted in meetings, and we all know meetings are full of wasted time, then how effective is our work?  As you can imagine, the next several hours in the seminar room are taken up by reflection, lively debate and in many cases, useful insights.

death-by-meeting

What is the Work of the Senior Team?

However, if the audience is a group of middle managers or direct reports to the senior team, the answers to that same question, What is the work of the senior executive team?, tend to be very different.  First there is characteristically a long pause…you can literally hear the cogs and wheels turning round – a few even snicker under their breath.  Then people begin to nervously look around the room, almost urging someone to go first; to throw out the first salvo.  It’s not infrequent that the silence is broken when someone at the back of the room pipes up:  “Hell if I know!”

It’s not that the middle managers don’t like or respect the senior team as individuals (although that is the case in some companies), it’s more that they are confused by the lack of standardisation, documentation and inconsistency of senior team work processes.  As an example, it’s not uncommon for direct reports and second level managers to lament that a great deal of their time is taken up chasing data suddenly requested by the senior team.  And once the data goes upstairs, “it’s the last we ever hear of it!”

During our workshop discussions on business improvement and organization effectiveness the topic of reorganizations frequently comes up and the frustration seems to be the same in company after company.  In the words of one very concerned second level executive:

When my company experiences performance or delivery problems, instead of looking for root causes and doing a thorough performance review and process analysis, the senior team decides to reorganize!  New boxes, a couple of new faces, different reporting lines; but the organization still underperforms.”

Here we see a clear example of the erroneous belief that business issues can be solved by getting someone with better leadership (skills and/or behaviors) to own the problem, ignoring the possibility that it might not be a personal leadership defect at all, but rather the result of ineffective business processes at the top.

It’s time to review and rethink leadership processes.

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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One Response to What is the work of the senior team?

  1. Pingback: Total Quality Leadership . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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