Most small business owners/CEOs have a desire to grow and become successful notwithstanding the challenges. In my recent blog of October 8, 2020 talking about the 4 Stages of Growth for Small Businesses, I set out a framework on what the path forward could look like. Leadership plays a greater and greater role as you progress through the stages.
In the Development Stage, progress is a lot about you and perhaps a handful of people that are trying to build a sustainable business. As the business grows, more and more people become involved. In previous blogs, we have been building a leadership model based on the 3 Ps of People, Planning, and Performance.
On the Planning side of Leadership blog, we advocated your envisioning the direction and engaging your people to form a common purpose. We described the planning process and how your leadership impacts each activity. Setting specific plans that are critical for the business’s success follows your key strategies that provide your differentiated value proposition for your targeted customers. This too will have a major impact on Performance and the motivation of your people to achieve these plans. Finally, the performance review and adjustment process will also have a huge impact on performance of the business. Plans are the catalyst to bring performance from your people.
This leads to today’s blog. Without successful execution of the plans that leads to positive performance, it can all become rather futile. Most plans that fail do so because of poor execution. Don’t be deceived by thinking when the plan is done it will magically happen.
Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan in their book Execution The Discipline of Getting Things Done, say that “Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously following through and ensuring accountability.” (p. 22) This is one of the few books written on execution compared to strategy and leadership that are overabundant.
What does matter on the Performance side of Leadership?
Many leadership authors expound on the importance of communication. That ought to tell you something about its central role in achieving performance. Most will say it needs to be clear, concise, simple, and executable. Almost all recommend the leader being a good listener and soliciting feedback.
You might recall in my blog on the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership that one of the strength domains under Proficiencies is Executing. Rath and Conchie in their book on Strength Based Leadership, further delineate this domain into strengths described as the arranger, consistency, deliberative, focus, responsibility, and so forth. Under the Influencing Domain, key subsets are activator, communication, significance, etc. Their book is worth your while to take a read and the test.
George Bernard Shaw had a profound quote that gets to a key point, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” You cannot overcommunicate as long as its purposeful. Beyond regularly scheduled meetings, my recommendation is that you plan for your key communication interactions every week and modify daily. That planning coupled with your listening skills ensures communication happens rather than an illusion in your mind.
Ask yourself these kinds of questions. Have I set aside time to talk with my people on how things are going? Have I reinforced our company values? When is the last time we talked about how the company is performing? Does everyone understand our value proposition?
Systems and Processes Matter
As Vice President of Business Services for Shell Oil, I led some big process redesigns as that was the era of business process reengineering. There are numerous books on the subject if you are at that point to redesign your processes. Often, these books are geared towards larger companies. A simpler approach if you are just starting to think about processes is to view the Silver Fox Education Series (September 21, 2020) under Process & Systems. It is a basic primer for those not familiar with systems and processes.
In the 4 Stage Growth Model, the effectiveness and efficiency of business systems and processes improves as a company moves through the stages of growth. No surprise as they represent how things get done.
When you first start your business usually processes are rather ad hoc and rarely written down. As one progresses to the Growth stage, processes are often charted out and specified so people know what to do. Then, with time the processes are continuously improved. There may even be work on the bigger system on how the processes work together utilizing software programs. At the Take Off stage, processes become an opportunity to really differentiate from the competitors. Rethinking, simplifying, innovating, computerization, and so forth can make a difference. By the Expansion stage, the processes and system architecture may require a further revamp to fit the volume and various new localities.
Organizational Roles Matter
The follow up to processes is organizational roles that outline who is responsible and accountable for getting things done. Organizational structures have gotten a bad rap with many people suggesting for small companies you don’t need one. There is no doubt that overly bureaucratic structures can become an impediment particularly in this fast-paced world. However, without role definitions of who is responsible and accountable there will be a lot of chaos and finger pointing on why things didn’t happen as planned. These roles can be charted within your systems and processes because interfaces among roles can be the real goblin in the works. This leads directly to the next subject on teamwork.
But before that, let us go back to the 4 inner Ps of leadership model and talk about Proficiencies that make a difference in considering organizational roles. Strength-based leadership along with technical proficiencies should play a key role in deciding who plays what roles. In other words, leadership capabilities are important for those having responsibility and accountability.
In my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader, I say that “teamwork is a state of mind. It’s a cooperative attitude…” There are lots of books and articles on teamwork for those who want to go in depth. John C Maxwell has several. Patrick Lencioni’s book entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable is still a good read
My Silver Fox Advisor colleague Doug Thorpe has given you a roadmap with his blog of October 8, 2020 on 6 Steps to Build Better Teams.
To sum it up, I love the quote in my book from Chief of Staff General Sullivan on his rule Leadership is a Team Sport. “Effective leaders forge alliances and build teams. They break down walls, floors, and ceilings distributing leadership throughout the extended organization. Team building empowers people with a sense of responsibility…Effective leadership …is about unleashing the power of people.”
Capability Development Matters
As one progresses through the 4 Stage Growth model, the focus on developing your people’s capability grows on multiple fronts. Training on specific job duties and activities takes on more formality. More attention is focused on developing people’s leadership capabilities through increased responsibility, accountability, and role expansion. A high priority is placed on learning and coaching one another as the organization vitality increases.
In the Silver Fox Advisors’ CEO Education Series of August 11, 2020 on Organization Effectiveness, I used these areas below as considerations for Capability Development. Some are values to reinforce in the organization such Self-accountability, Achievement focused, Execution excellence, Process innovation, Outward looking, Forward-facing, and Performance driven. Others are leadership activities such as Strategic Thinking, Coaching contagion, Relationship building, Organizational flexibility, and Learning culture. Then there are those areas requiring knowledge and skill development such as Market knowledge, Leadership skills, and proficiencies in Execution excellence. All these builds organizational capability.
Effective Direction Efficient Coordination
Market knowledge Relationship building
Strategic thinking Execution excellence
Leadership skills Process innovation
High Motivation Ongoing Results
Self-accountability Outward looking
Achievement focused Learning culture
Coaching contagion Forward Facing Performance driven
As some offer, a business culture spans your vision, values, beliefs, norms, working style, tradition, and habits. You can see from the value list in Capability development above; culture has a huge influence on the Performance of your company. Being the leader, what you say and what you do matters. It is always amazing to me the things people pick up on watching you and your behavior.
This is a big topic and rather amorphous to describe what you need to think of in building a positive culture as there are so many dimensions and nuances. One thing is for sure—a bad culture kills performance. Virtually everything we have discussed in my blogs has an impact.
My only two recommendations here are first, think about the elements you want in pursuing the vision and values, plus when communicating, exhibit a sense of heart and purpose for your people. Secondly, in this world of accelerating and chaotic change, try to create a learning culture. That will be a subject of a later blog.
Success comes from high performance. The organization must have an uncanny focus on results. In my 3 P vernacular, Performance comes from rich communications, highly functional systems & processes, clear organizational roles, powerful teamwork, significant capability development, and a positive culture synchronized with your emphasis on those things that matter to your People and your inspiring vision with executable plans and goals to get there.
Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.