Many is a time when I have heard a leader say, “I just can’t get that executive to do the job I hired them to do!”
If you find you continue to complain about the performance of one or more of your own executive team members, it’s time to look in the mirror for the answer.
Because the key lies in one of three areas that you own.
You are responsible for setting the direction.
Jim, president of a large financial services organization, was frustrated.
“We are a tired company, Patti,” Jim told me. “And it really shows up in the executive team.”
“Tell me more, Jim,” I said. “What are you seeing on the team that tells you they are tired?”
“Samantha isn’t staying on top of the performance of her department. She keeps telling me that they are doing the best they can. Marc doesn’t meet deadlines anymore. He says his workload is heavy and that we need to reevaluate – or get him an assistant. I don’t know. It seems like people are distracted and disengaged.”
“So, when was the last time that you called a meeting to review your vision and direction?”
“Patti, we do strategic planning with the board every year,” Jim answered. “It’s not like we aren’t on top of where we need to be in 3-5 years.”
“That’s a great start,” I said. “But what do you do from there? I’m thinking your team may have lost their sense of purpose. By what you describe, the direction is either not exciting enough, or they don’t see how it relates to their work.”
“I don’t understand,” said Jim.
“Well, you may have a strategic plan, but your team needs to understand how this will make impact on your community, on the world. And then, they need to understand how their part in this plan will contribute to that success. Otherwise, you will have a group of people who will not recognize the relevance of their work to the bigger picture. You’ll wind up with a bunch of executives that have lost their purpose.”
Jim and I met with the team for some discussions and it did indeed become clear that they needed to reanimate their sense of purpose. Over the following days, we worked to do this and came away with a stellar action plan for the next 12 months that excited and inspired the team.
Some months later it was good to see that this had helped reignite the team. The organization went on to capture additional market share, which motivated the team to author an aggressive growth plan.
As a leader, be sure you are setting direction for your team and helping them to see the relevancy of their roles and responsibilities to this larger picture.
You are responsible for determining the norms.
Team norms are the rules or operating principles that shape team members’ interaction. It’s the agreed-upon way that team relates, gets the work done, and what team members can expect of one another.
Doug called me after their company had just lost a huge government contract.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with this team,” he said. “We are making poor decisions because we get into the weed so quickly. I get cut off at the pass when I mention a new idea. These are talented people – but we need to do something different or we will keep losing contracts with this kind of mess.”
“Doug, it sounds like you could benefit from determining a better process for making decisions – an agreement on the way you go about this. We would call that a team norm around decision-making.”
“I don’t care what you call it,” Doug shot back. “I just need for them to be open-minded about new ideas.”
“Go on,” I responded. “What else?”
“Well, I’d like for them to stay in the conversation at a strategic level until we agree on a direction. We can get into the tactics and details after that.”
“You just described two team norms around decision-making,” I answered. “Sounds like we need to have a meeting with your executives.”
We actually worked with the executives all morning to identify several key team norms. Decision-making was first, and it seemed to be welcome. But we then hit a major nerve around trust. We spent a couple of hours on this, determining what the team members needed in order to trust each other at a greater level. Not surprising – this is where I spend a lot of my time when rebuilding or reigniting team. We dealt with things like holding confidences, listening to understand, managing conflict, and more.
The morning was emotional but rewarding. The task was then to incorporate these norms or behaviors, which was something we worked on over the ensuing months.
Doug called me the year following to report that they had increased their revenue significantly due to the team’s new ability to innovate and their heightened trust.
“I didn’t know trust had an ROI,” he joked. “But I am a believer, now!”
As a leader, it’s your job to lead identifying and integrating norms for your team.
You are responsible for holding your team members accountable.
Diane reached out to me when she was ready to terminate two executives.
“I’ve had it, Patti,” she said. “They are at each other all the time. It’s not always apparent, because they are passive-aggressive. But they undermine each other in subtle ways, and actively try to downplay each other’s part in our success. The problem is, they are both so talented. And it’s hard to retain great talent.”
“You are right, Diane,” I said. “Finding and retaining top talent is challenging. And you are looking at many costs – overt and hidden – to the company, if you have to terminate them.”
“They wear me out,” said Diane. “I’m embarrassed to tell you that I’ve lately begun to tune them out whenever one of them begins to speak. I’m sure it shows.”
“Well, let’s talk about what we can do,” I responded. “When was the last time you held them accountable for their actions?”
“I met with them separately about 6 months ago and told them flat out that I expected them to get along.”
“Did that work?” I asked.
“No,” Diane answered. “It calmed down for a bit, then began to flare back up about 6 weeks ago.”
“So what did you do when that happened?” I asked.
“Frankly, I ignored it. I was so frustrated that I just didn’t want to think about it.”
“Diane, I know it’s frustrating. In fact, you must be pretty upset by now. If you think about it, their misconduct requiring your focused attention has cost the team an inordinate amount of revenue.”
“What?” she queried.
“Well, yes,” I answered. “Think about the cost of their conflict – of not doing their jobs properly, of having their teams feel the effects of this, and of your having to devote energy to the problem. Conflict has already cost your company wasted time, motivation, and I’m guessing that turnover in their respective areas might be headed upward.”
“So what do I do, Patti?” she asked.
“You own this, Diane. You confront it. The cost of allowing their misconduct has already decreased your company’s productivity and revenue. You hold them accountable.”
Diane admitted that she didn’t like confrontation, but she also realized that it was time to take things in hand.
The result was that one executive decided to leave. The other stayed on and Diane worked with him until he had shifted his behaviors to be supportive and positive of team contributions.
As a leader, you are responsible for holding your people accountable.
Is your team under-performing?
If your team is under-performing, it is probably due to one of these three areas. I invite you to make these areas part of your team discussions to discover your own growth opportunities.
DO OTHERS REALLY TRUST YOU?
Learn the two vital parts to trust and how they can help you become a more highly effective leader.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.