The "Secret Sauce" of a High-Performing C-Suite
I often describe the effective functioning of an executive team within a company as its "secret sauce."
When the executive team of the C-Suite is firing on all cylinders, there is no challenge too large, nor problem too insurmountable. A strong team of leaders helps to steer an entity in the right direction, at the right times, and through the right methods. The rest of the company takes notice, and that leadership clarity becomes wonderfully infectious.
These leaders have their individual fingers on the pulse of the internal and external environments. Collectively, they operate in a state of rhythm and precision, giving their precious time and attention to the right priorities. While not perfect, they are steadfast. They have the ability to iterate and adjust, calling out their mistakes as necessary opportunities for the growth and development of the company and its employees.
So, what are some of the ingredients of these types of teams?
They have mastered: MMOSA. You may be tempted to place an ‘i’ after the first letter of this acronym in your quest to arrive at the perfect solution. But, alas, the formula has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with tested formulas for successful leadership during volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times - so, read on.
Top People leaders must have the skill and will to partner with executive leaders in ways that help them and the entire organization to align and take the company to higher heights. These strategic HR business partners play a pivotal role with their internal clients. They should be customizing HR business plans based on the unique dynamics of each function at the department – or ground–level. Further, People leaders who are part of the executive team and around those C-Suite tables should be adept facilitators and translators. They are required to synthesize disparate data to help leaders drive relentlessly toward the right business outcomes.
Having done this strategic-level HR work for the better part of my 25-year career, this level of support is both an art and a science. It has required me to leverage an array of tools from my professional toolkit and has garnered measurable results.
MMOSA, when practiced with excellence, will cause an executive team – and the entire company – to soar:
Successful executive teams have a clear mandate – a charter that outlines the ‘meat’ of their purpose and focus. This needn’t be a manifesto. Rather, it should be an articulation of where this team’s focus will be. There will always be a host of smaller, routine decisions which must be made daily. However, an executive team must be sure that, once they’ve hired skilled next-level leaders, they are not using their standing team meetings to make decisions at those lower levels. The bigger, thornier issues of the day, month, and year must be the consistent focus of an executive team. Otherwise, the team will become distracted, having their attention diverted from the more strategic business areas.
Who exactly is on the C-Suite team? Is it the head of each functional area? Or is it a subset of that group? Does that group include individuals from the next tier of leadership? Or are those additional members determined based on the agenda?
These are all questions that must be thoughtfully considered and clearly communicated. Failure to provide this level of clarity around membership leads to discontentment. It can also result in an incredibly negative impact on the culture, as people will believe that leadership involvement is decided arbitrarily.
Highly skilled and talented leaders will not guarantee smooth operations and quick decisions among an executive team. Strong decision-making tools, such as RAPID, not only speed decision-making but they improve the team’s health and increase good faith among its members. The lack of these tools creates confusion and wastes time, which is something that an executive team can ill-afford in today’s business climates.
Operating norms, which define how each team member will work with each other to reach common goals, are indispensable. Many teams may expend efforts to construct these norms during offsite retreats, then completely forget that they are needed in their interactions back at the ranch. Shaping norms and holding each other accountable for adhering to them is the responsibility of every executive team member.
The Social Element
Team members need to make personal connections with each other in order for relationships to be built and for trust to be cemented. While social interactions shouldn’t be contrived or forced, the opportunity for members to get together outside the office - even the virtual office - is part of creating that team’s secret sauce. The human resources leader may be able to partner in orchestrating activities. However, a team shouldn’t seek to outsource these activities to HR and must acknowledge their importance.
Executive teams need to be active and highly engaged as leaders. Standing team meetings and other executive activities should be viewed as non-negotiable. Together, these executive leaders must fight to hold time on the calendar – or add to it – in the quest to strengthen their collective leadership. When the team’s focus becomes diffused, they will begin to run on fumes – busy but not necessarily productive. In that less effective state, standing meetings will be quickly canceled, and the team’s ‘muscle’ will begin to atrophy as it becomes less active. Leaders, particularly the top leader, must resist the insidious intruders that can chip away at the vibrancy of an executive team. HR leaders are perfectly positioned to flag these issues before real damage occurs.
The secret sauce of an executive team can be created, nurtured, or even rediscovered. High-performing executive teams represent the keys to engaging staff members through periods of change. They are able to work cohesively as they shape new business models – even before those models are needed. Strong teams can actually turn entire businesses around.
Ultimately, these types of teams demonstrate exemplary leadership, which others will actually want to follow.