A stock-listed company was very slow in responding to customer requests. Customer complaints were taken care of only after enormous internal discussion over email. R&D decisions and important issues raised to C-level or top management took ages to resolve, potentially causing problems in short-term cash out-flows. Planning was lackluster and poor execution wasn’t providing any improvement.
Customers would have to remind the company multiple times about their missing order confirmations, and production did not communicate important changes in schedules or materials to sales and product management. Various internal inquiries took sometimes four weeks to get a reply from a colleague or supervisor.
Clearly the whole team was performing poorly, to say the least.
These kinds of companies are very common. Sounds harsh, but it is the reality of my experience when I get called in as an interim manager.
The interesting thing is that in most of these cases, the CEO thinks that things are working pretty well, and that they can focus with other C-level managers to execute the “strategy” to get closer to company “vision."
All nonsense without a great-performing team. Hence, we see so many companies struggling year after year to get strategies executed. These strategies stay in the drawer—or in the best case, on flip charts in board room.
Now what does the CEO do when we address this untapped potential issue of poorly performing teams? They usually react like, “Yes, you are right … this is what I am talking to my team about. I can only say to you, try to make the employees understand timeliness and commitment to deadlines.”
At the same time, the CEO’s C-level team constantly misses deadlines and even ignores very valid requests for information.
Changing team performance does not work like this. It requires more from the CEO.
The behavior of an organization changes as soon as the CEO gets down to details. Not micromanaging, but making sure with all the CEO’s behavior that details matter. The most important details are accountability and timeliness.
Just as CEOs expect from others that decided actions are executed within an agreed time frame, CEOs must also be very clear and demonstrate to all that they demand this behavior of themselves.
As soon as the team, however it is defined, starts working in an accountable manner and keeping promises, team performance starts to grow. This is no different from C-level teams.
Unfortunately, they seem to take quite many liberties for themselves, and it shows in lower team performance in the company.
In one case, after an important discussion about how to handle a complex and new R&D project stretching the resources, the CEO just said in the end, “Yes, we need to do it,” pointing to a proposal on the table on how to execute the project. Only after one of his C- level colleagues insisted the CEO to be more specific on who was to take ownership: “ What do you mean with, ‘We need to do it?’” did the CEO acknowledge that he (the CEO himself) would pick up the task.
Not being detailed and specific enough can just lead to another decision that doesn’t go anywhere. The frustration within the team only grows.
A CEO can make a huge positive difference in company performance by being very engaged in actions and decision-making and following through—and, most importantly, being the role model for accountability and timeliness.
R. Paul Vuolle, CEO of Bellevue SME Advisors GmbH in Switzerland and Germany, works actively with small -and medium-sized manufacturing companies (SMEs) in Europe in SCM/Outsourcing, logistics, turnaround and restructuring, market expansion, as well as succession planning and financing. He is the author of Lead Now, Manage Later: The Straight Shooter's Guide to Business Success.