C-Suite Unity: As CEO, are your leaders on your side of the rope pulling with you?

When engaging with top executives, Tug of war is an elephant in the room we want to call out. Tug of war in business is a self-inflicted weakness. Are we fighting ourselves? Do we tackle ourselves on the goal line? Is there an ongoing culture war? Do we have an old guard and a new guard, and if so, have they aligned or are they in a tug of war? When we set goals and time frames, does everyone pull together, or do we have fiefdoms trying to jungle trap each other at the behest of efficiency and profits? Who are the leaders on the other side of the rope pulling against you? Who follows them? We need to know this. We should diagnose and correct it for the good of the clients, the team members, and the ownership.

I like to paint pictures with words in hopes of getting complex points across in a fun manner. In last week’s blog post we referenced that when people are clearly communicating, are totally aligned in unison, and set their collective minds to something, there is almost nothing they cannot achieve. This is a two-edged sword in business. We want that power aligned with the company leadership, vision and core values. We do not want that power to go rogue and play tug of war with us.

This alignment of core values, brand, vision, dedication, and loyalty that translates into operational unity is very important. It is like a fine orchestra. Getting it all aligned and the people united with you is the goldmine. This is what we mean by being on the same side of the rope.

Here are some of the proven ways to align the team and get everyone on the same side of the rope:

1. Resistance is futile. Everyone on my side of the rope, and let’s pull together. We need to make this clear. The C-Suite is aligned with the CEO. Each C-level executive’s direct reports are aligned with him/her in alignment with the CEO. In order to lead in this company, each leader must be on our side of the rope pulling with us. They can choose not to, but that choice is an exit package. It is neutral in one sense, but it is nonnegotiable in the other sense. It does not mean that leader or player is bad. It means they are misaligned. For the top executive, he or she should have the 100% support and loyalty of his/her direct reports aligned together on his/her side of the rope. Period.

2. Unity will happen, for us or against us. People will unite. Our role as the top executive is to have the right plan, the right structure, the right people in those right seats. Then we proliferate the right vision and the right leadership to pull it off. All of us who have sat atop an enterprise know how scary it can be. We delegate and entrust massive power and decision making. The buck stops at the top. Part of our role as top executive is to get it right, build the unity at the C-Suite level, and then lead, manage, and hold accountable those senior leaders to also get it right. This alignment of core values, brand, vision, dedication, and loyalty that translates into operational unity is very important. It is like a fine orchestra. Getting it all aligned and the people united with you is the goldmine. This is what we mean by being on the same side of the rope.

Talk to each other, not about each other. Do not be passive aggressive. Get the elephants in the room on the table. Have the tough conversations. Solve the people problems.

3. Embrace a healthy meeting cadence at the top and down into all departments that systematically forces issues to be identified, discussed and solved, weekly. Obviously, we must allow dissension, debate, disagreement and eventual realignment to occur between peers and bosses. This is solid. I reference EOS below. If you want to know more about it reach out to me. It is a game-changer. Here are some keys to creating a healthy culture and meeting environment:

  • Get a solid Annual Meeting in place where the senior team follows a proven model like EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) to create the annual plan.
  • Meet quarterly to true up the big goals (called rocks in EOS) to lead, manage and hold accountable the senior table to hitting those goals.
  • Meet weekly, without fail. Meet the same time weekly, starting and ending on time, and following the agenda. Make sure 60% of the meeting time is dedicated to IDS (EOS methodology – Identify, Discuss, Solve). Why? Because this is where the friction is channeled. This is where we debate what issues and problems are top priority this week. This is where the disagreements and debates occur on high priority matters. This is how we assign the to-dos to each other to remove obstacles. These discussions are now channeled at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place, and behind closed doors. I have seen this work wonders for every business in which I have led, advised, and engaged.
  • Set some ground rules for your meetings: Stay on agenda. Be open and honest. Talk to each other, not about each other. Do not be passive aggressive. Get the elephants in the room on the table. Have the tough conversations.
  • At some point the top executive or leader of the meeting is going to make a decision. Well run businesses are not a democracy. Not everyone may agree with the final decision. But this is where everyone must accept it and get on the same side of the rope. I have seen this take down some really good teams. We must debate, state our case, and be willing for the leader to ultimately make a decision. We stand behind the leader, we unite, and we walk out of the room supportive, on his/her side of the rope. That is a very mature thing, and it is not easy to lead. We need to require it though. Otherwise, we will be in a tug of war.

“Let’s make sure we are not paying people to get on the other side of the rope and pull against us.” I have had great success tweaking compensation plans annually to align them with my side of the rope.

4. Align compensation, recognition and the fun stuff with your side of the rope. This seems like a given, but in reality, it is misaligned in some of the biggest and most successful companies. It is almost always misaligned in situations where the top executive has key players on the other side of the rope. Remember, people are freaky about their money. So be smart here. Compensation is neutral at best and gets negative really fast. What I am suggesting is a simple assessment of whether incentives and goals in your direct reports’ compensation plans are actually incentivizing them to fight you. Hang the carrots on your side of the rope. If you are prizing top line growth, then it is logical to hang some attractive carrots on revenue. If you are hawkish on profits, then align some carrots on profitability as it relates to that person’s specific role and how he/she may positively or negatively impact it. If you are seeing poor customer service from a really good player, then maybe they are not being compensated for the experience of the customer. What is motivating them? What drives the behavior? These are intricate scenarios, but we can take a simple approach that says, “Let’s make sure we are not paying people to get on the other side of the rope and pull against us.” I have had great success tweaking compensation plans annually to align them with my side of the rope.

5. Hire, assess, promote and fire based on the brand, culture, core values and GWC. Many top executives get confused when there are culture battles and opposing forces blaming each other. My advice is to focus on how aligned the people are with the items below and avoid personality contests. When we see a company pulling together in unison, it has been my experience that they systematically hire, promote and remove people based on their fit with the following:

  • Brand Alignment: As an entity we have an identity known as our brand. We want to hire, train, promote and remove people based on their representation and alignment with our brand. This is a long subject. It is one way we can see if people fit within our culture.
  • Culture: Culture is like the aquarium we sustain because it provides the sustenance to what we desire, and it provides a barrier of protection from what we do not desire. The culture also attracts the right clients and partners. It is a big deal. This is a long subject as well.
  • Core Values: When dialed in, core values become a tangible description of who we aspire to be, and how we behave. If we get these simplified and proliferated, it becomes a measuring stick for performance, fit and probability for success. Core values also allow team members a fair chance to align with us.
  • Structure First, People Second: If we have structured our business wisely and staffed it with the right people in the right seats, then we are a long way down the right trail. Business is dynamic, though. Not much stays static.
  • GWC simply means Get it? Want it? Has the Capacity to do it? When we assess people, we look at their role and we ask these three questions. We also ask if they embody our core values. It provides consistency and predictability.

In closing, a unified team is such a beautiful thing to behold. Being unified does not suggest some utopian dream of complete harmony. In fact, it suggests that healthy friction, debate and disagreement exist at the appropriate times and places to reach a decision. Then the unity takes over and the team supports the top executive/leader and the decision. If we are meeting in a weekly cadence, then adjustments can occur in a healthy pattern to prevent bad decisions living too long before being adjusted. A unified team that communicates effectively and pulls together on the same side of the rope can do almost anything to which they set their minds.

Until next week, cheers!

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