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The CEO's biggest challenge

CEO ConversationGet a group of 12 CEOs from high-growth businesses around a table (as I did last month) and ask them a) their biggest challenge and b) the secret of their success, and after some discussion, almost every one of them will tell you the same answer to both questions: it's all about getting the right people around you.

The surprising thing, as you dig a little deeper, is that it has very little to do with recruitment - use the right tools and processes and you can improve your hit-rate no end (write me if you want to know more about that). But in most cases, the problem is far more about the people you already have.

As your business grows and changes, the people around you need to grow and change too, and recognising that someone, who may have been working with you for years, can't do the job you now need them to do, makes for a very difficult decision. It's natural to postpone and prevaricate, but keeping someone in a senior role who isn't delivering what you need or modelling the behaviour you want to see in your business, is incredibly damaging. The very fact you're keeping them in their role implicitly endorses everything they do, or fail to do, and has a corrosive effect on the expectations and behaviours of everyone else in the organisation.

If you have a question-mark over any of your senior team, you have a decision to make, and you need to make if fast. Can they turn things around with the right support, or do you need someone else to step in? Every day you delay that decision you send a powerful signal to the rest of your people.

So here are the four questions that will help you quickly make that call:

1. Clarity

What exactly is it that you want them to do differently? Write down exactly what you want them to deliver, that they're not delivering now. Then ask yourself "Am I absolutely sure that they know this?" If not, you have to give them that clarity with the belief that they can do it. If you're not confident in them, neither will they be. However, if you're absolutely confident they already know what’s required, the next question is:

2. Will

Do they want to do it? You can train skill but you can’t train passion – you need to recruit it. If you really believe (or they're honest enough to say) they don't want to do it, it's time to either part company or to bring someone in above them that can do the job you need doing. But if it's clear they do want to do it, it’s more likely a question of:

3. Skill

Could they do it if their life depended on it? If the answer is no, you need to look for the three Ps that show whether it’s worth investing in them to develop the skills: 1. Passion (are they keen to develop); 2. Precedent (have they shown they can learn); 3. Potential (do you think they could actually learn this stuff). But if the answer is yes: they know what to do, they want to do it, and they could actually do it if they really needed to, it can only be:

4. Focus

Why aren’t they giving it the priority it needs? It’s either because too many other things are genuinely higher priorities, or they aren’t giving this the priority it deserves. In which case, you need to help them understand what their priorities need to be, and to develop the capability of their teams to take on those things that are getting in the way. The good news is that this is the easiest one to fix.

Bottom line

Most of the time, underperformance is due to poor communication, either of responsibilities or priorities. When it’s genuinely an issue of capability or attitude, having open, direct conversations are often a relief to both parties. The single most important thing though, is to make that call and to resolve to act, quickly.

To find out how to make the important stuff more urgent click here

To read more about the “power of passion” click here

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