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This recent article by Ted Bililies caught my eye, because I frequently see (and work with) CEOs who are challenged by getting their senior teams right. The following article has been re-posted here verbatim, with the addition of my comments after each of the author’s four steps. Enjoy!

It is a CEO’s critical responsibility to drive organizational performance through a high-performing leadership team, not only through managing and leading the team, but also through carefully, deliberately choosing the best individual leaders.

Choosing the right leadership team is as important to an organization’s success as setting strategy and operations.

Recently, Marty Hughes, the CEO of HUB International, a leading insurance brokerage company, wanted to assess HUB’s leadership team’s capabilities in light of a new, more-formalized business strategy and value creation plan. He wanted to clarify roles and bring in new blood to his already high-performing team to improve succession planning. He used these 4 steps to lay the foundation for his high-performance leadership team.

1. Get the Structure Right. Align the senior team structure to the structure of the organization. This involves determining which tasks the team needs to accomplish together (e.g., related to information sharing, decision making, financials, products, brand, projects, work coordination) vs. those tasks each leader achieves alone.

Kevin’s comments: See my recent post “Have You Hugged Your Org Chart Today” for more regarding organization and team structure. Lack of structural alignment can have a significant impact on the company and on the senior team’s ability to meet its objectives.

2. Get the Roles Right. Create an accountability matrix for each leadership role, i.e., what specific outcomes will each executive be held accountable for in the next 1-3 years? (Think financial targets, operational goals, talent, culture building, senior team contribution, etc.) This sets the stage for a clear-sighted evaluation of an individual against criteria that defines success in the given context.

Kevin’s comments: Often senior teams “wing it” when connecting their own goals with the company’s strategy and objectives. This allows for poor individual accountability which leads to less than optimal results.

3. Get the People Right. With role outcomes well-defined, a rigorous assessment of the executives themselves can then take place-one that encompasses personality, motivation, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, business acumen, learning agility, and potential for growth within the future environment. This can be conducted by a skilled HR leader or outside consultant trained in behavioral and psychometric assessment and relevant analyses. Beyond “yes or no,” an in-depth assessment provides important guidance for ensuring a selected leader’s future success.

Kevin’s comments: Too often CEOs hope or assume that they already have the right senior team members in place, without performing a comprehensive assessment. And then the CEOs wonder why they aren’t getting the results that they expect.

4. Get the Sum of the Parts Right. Being a productive member of a management team means more than simply serving as a strong functional contributor. It means adding value to the shared, enterprise leadership work. This requires: (1) aligning with the vision and values set by the CEO and board, (2) behaving in accordance with agreed upon standards (norms), and (3) contributing significant, unique value to the tasks and to the team processes (e.g., coordinating work, seeking and providing feedback, managing conflict). This is what it means to be a high performing team: its impact is greater than the sum of the individual contributions, and the team gets better together over time. This does not happen on its own; it requires intentional, continual leadership and cultivation.

Kevin’s comments: Is there trust between the members of the senior team? Do passionate and unguarded discussions about the issues take place? Is each senior team member committed to the “greater good” and not merely their own objectives? Don’t underestimate the negative impact that a non-cohesive senior team can have on customers, other employees, vendors, company results, etc.

Talent-first CEOs design the right structure; clarify the role requirements; assess, select, and motivate the right people; and lead them to coalesce into a well-oiled machine. CEOs that nail the first stages of putting a leadership team are ahead of the game in terms of success.

For Hub International, following this approach translated into a reconfigured team structure, sharpened team norms, and ultimately, revenue and growth figures that exceeded expectations.

It also led to some unanticipated benefits, such as the identification and emergence of a group of young executives who are now positioned to take on more senior-level responsibilities; and an increase in M&A activity for the firm.


The original article was posted October 3, 2015 on ChiefExecutive.net by Ted Bililies, Ph.D., Managing Director at AlixPartners