Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Executive Factor

Ever wondered how it’s possible to add value through the work you do to an organisation, another person or indeed yourself?  Whether we’re permanent staff or have a bit more flexibility in our employment options it can be frustrating to watch as our ability to create and deliver valuable work is inhibited or stopped by the barriers erected or entrenched positions taken by others. It’s one thing for an organisation to have an appetite for getting things done, it’s quite another for them to actually enable it.

Which is how a recent conversation with a colleague of mine in the USofA kicked off.  Rob Schachter, of RBS Consulting, and I first connected on LinkedIn, as you do, and have been volleying our theories and experiences across the Atlantic for some months. The one significant thing we agree on is that Executives who give a damn make the difference to the work of change agents and whether that work will be a success or failure. Yes that’s right, they give a damn. They give a damn about getting stuff done. They get out of the way so others can do what they do best, and they care about how that stuff fits in to the bigger picture.

This post is a snapshot of our conversation. It shows how working with and for an Executive (sponsor or otherwise) who gives a damn makes for a positive work experience where value is palpable. Following are some of the lessons, principles and good (what’s best today may not be valid tomorrow) practices we derived from our experiences for the benefit of others seeking to succeed with their initiatives.

Q: What is it about the Executive who gives a damn that makes such a difference?
  • They have a future for themselves. A clear sense of what they’re doing, where they want to go and how they’re going to get there. Yet they don’t forget where they are and what they’re responsible for doing now.
  • An attention to the long view is as important as the short view.
  • They have an ability to see things on many levels. This is systemic in them as individuals and emanates out to those in their inner and outer circles.
  • They’re willing to take a risk; go out on a limb for the greater good and the longer term rewards.
  • They know where they stand and are not afraid to communicate it.
  • They are willing to do and continue doing the ground work necessary with other executives and staff in a practical tangible way where everyone comprehends the method behind the, supposed, madness.
  • This Executive is willing to use/exercise their position of authority on behalf of the initiative. Bring it forward, defer or stop it if necessary.
  • Leads versus controls.
  • This Executive is consistent with messages and people, always.
  • They trust people to do the right thing. Connects with them, wants to know what they need when and gives it to them when it makes sense to do so. They don’t interfere or get caught up in the detail though equally want to know how things are tracking and where support or intervention will be needed.
  • They often have a fairly short attention span purely because they’re ready and want to get on with stuff. 
Q: What difference does this make to the organization?
  • Lowers costs through increased efficiencies.
  • Drives for greater ownership and holds business accountable.
  • Helps shift silo mentality thereby exposing opportunities to streamline cross-functionally and generate cost savings for possible re-investment in new initiatives.
  • Business has a mandate without being given an explicit mandate. Refer to the points above regarding clear direction and trusting people to do the right thing.
  • Meetings are focused and open (they talk to the elephant in the room) versus posturing or over interpreting in order to satisfy individual agendas.
Q: What difference does this make to the employee, contractor or change agent and their role?
  • Free things up from the beginning. Liberates people to do what needs to be done rather than seeking permission or having to filter for clarity. This isn’t easy for those used to hierarchy and bureaucracy or where expectations may be different depending on the culture.
  • It sets a tone and changes the way work and projects are governed. Output increases.
  • Creates fertile ground for systemic change.

Share your experiences of working with Executives that give a damn versus those that don’t. What difference did it make to you and your work?

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