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|Friday, July 27, 2012|
BY TOM COX
CEOs often have senior leaders who don’t “get a seat at the strategy table.” These are usually Directors or VPs who oversee support functions — this happens most notoriously with directors of HR and IT. It’s a tremendous lost opportunity, and it’s almost entirely the fault of the CEO.
Fortunately, most non-strategic top leaders are actually capable of providing strategic impact — if you push them correctly.
What does a “non-strategic” leader look like?
Well, consider Carol. She came up through the ranks of HR, first as a generalist, then as a team leader. When her boss unexpectedly left, she became HR Director. Carol spends her time micromanaging her staff, and badgering her peers about HR paperwork. Carol complains that she doesn't have a seat at the strategy table. In reality, nobody in senior leadership thinks she’s capable of contributing to strategy.
To Carol, a good month is a month when all of the hiring paperwork is done correctly, when payroll runs smoothly, and nobody needs to get disciplined.
Contrast Carol with another HR Director, Randy. Randy had identical career path to Carol but at a different firm, where Randy does sit on the strategy team.
To Randy, a good month is a month when all new hires are a 90% or better fit to the job- and personality-profiles of the opening, when payroll is done perfectly and at a slightly lower cost than the month before, and every front-line supervisor gets high ranks in their leadership assessments.
A good CEO can turn a Carol into a Randy in three steps.
Step One – Require Strategic Awareness
You will learn two interesting things. First, you’ll discover all of the things that you were not thinking about, that other people think are strategic. Second, you’ll discover how badly you've been communicating your strategic vision.
Go out and re-communicate your strategic vision. Keep quizzing people until they get it right.
Step Two – Require Understanding of Strategic Impact
Now you’ll discover whether or not each member of your leadership team considers themselves to be engaged in supporting the strategy. Many of them will think they are addressing a strategic need, but are doing so in a way that may be ineffective, or at cross purposes with other team members.
This will also reveal to you how well you've been leading over the past year. The results here are normally quite ugly, so be gentle on yourself.
This is the stage where Randy and Carol are completely different. Nothing carol was worried about was strategic. Everything Randy was worried about was strategic.
Discipline and Leadership
Step Three – Require Strategic Engagement
At your next leadership meeting, assign each direct report to give you a one-page summary of how their department is going to impact each of the top three strategic needs of the company. In some cases, the correct answer will be “we won’t” but in most cases there will be some way they can move the ball forward.
If they have an existing program, tell them to come up with metrics for measuring its effectiveness. If they don’t have an existing program, have them come up with three suggestions and one recommendation, and once you've agreed on one, have them come up with metrics.
At this point, you may need to get them some training, outside support, or other help. The one thing you must not do is let them off the hook.
If, with encouragement, they can step up to this expectation, you just turned your Carol into a Randy. (If they cannot, you've hired the wrong person, and you need to replace them.)
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