Now it doesn't seem so simple...
A CEO's Letter to a New Executive Team Member
Dear Jean -
Earlier today, on behalf of my colleagues I asked you to consider joining our executive management team. That we have asked you to join us in this important responsibility is not just a natural result of your position as VP, it is more importantly a reflection of the respect I and your peers have for you.
As you and I discussed, accepting our offer to join the senior executive team is something we want you to consider carefully. It is not something to accept lightly, or without due consideration.
Accordingly, as you know, I have invited you to attend our next three executive meetings as an observer - so you can see close up what is involved, see how we work, and get a better feel for the implications of being on the team. I look forward to having you with us on the dates I provided to you.
In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to give you some indication of what we expect from you in your capacity as a member of the executive team, and what you can expect from me and your peers if you do decide to join us. Over the next few weeks I will write to you to outline the main principles we adhere to as a group, lay out a few guidelines about expected behavior and pass on a few tips to make your learning curve as a new member of the management team as short as possible.
Let me start with what I call our "3 governing principles". You'll need to fully grasp these in order to make sense of what you will see in action at the next executive team meeting:
1. Check Your Hat at the Door
The role of the executive team is to manage the operational details of this business. When you're acting as a member of the executive team, your role is exactly the same: to manage the operational details of this business. This business. Not your department.
When we're in session, you're not there to manage your department, you're there to manage this business. You run your department the rest of the time.
The simplest way to look at it is this - when you come into the management team meetings, you check your functional hat at the door. Of course, we may ask you to put it on again if there are specific decisions to be made about which we need your subject matter expertise, or special insights that you can give us because of your functional knowledge but you'll find that this is less frequent than you might expect.
The consequences of this is that you can expect to see the following in our team meeting:
- Everyone (that means you) is expected to contribute to everything we discuss, not just those matters that fall into your functional ambit;
- Everyone (that means you) is required to help us reach decisions that are for the better good of the organization as a whole, not just 'good for you', and
- The rest of the management team do not react positively to contributions that are either self-serving or defensive regarding the contributor's specific functional area.
If you persistently bring a purely functional perspective into the management meetings (by insisting on wearing your functional hat), or if you consistently act in a protective or defensive manner when discussing your functional activities or your direct reports, you will lose your ability to add value as a member of the executive team.
When we asked you to join the executive team, it is because we believe you are ready to step up to this challenge of helping us manage the business as a whole: not instead of, but in addition to, your functional responsibilities. I look forward to seeing you check your hat at the door.
2. Think Laterally, Not Vertically.
Until now, your key relationships in the organization have been vertical: upward to your manager, and downward to your direct reports. From the moment you agree to join the executive team, your key relationships will shift from the vertical to the horizontal. As of then your first and overriding commitment will be to your peers - the other members of the executive team - not to your functional group.
Why? Because as I laid out above, your key role will be to to make decisions that are for the best for the organization as a whole, not just for your functional group. There will on occasion be conflicts between what is good for your functional area and what is good for the business as a whole, and when those conflicts occur, your commitment must be to the organization as a whole - represented by your executive team members - not to your specific functional area.
Now, this of course does not mean that you can no longer be loyal to your functional group. And (so long as you heed the first first point above about being self-serving or defensive) it doesn't mean that you cannot lobby for their best interests or represent their needs - indeed, we expect you to do just that. Let me repeat, so as to be clear: we don't expect you to weaken or dilute any of the existing loyalties that you have. Instead, we expect you to add to it another layer of commitment: to the members of the executive team.
(One thing you will discover about being an effective member of the executive team is that it frequently means using the word 'AND' instead of the word 'OR', and the word 'ADD' rather than 'INSTEAD OF', as in:
- Keep all the existing loyalty you have to your functional team AND ADD an overriding commitment to your executive team members.
- Keep your responsibilities as a functional leader AND ADD the responsibility of managing the business as a whole.
You will see more "AND ADD-ing" in future letters.)
In the past, we have had difficulties with executive team members fully grasping this shift in commitment from the vertical to the lateral. Please use the three meetings you will attend to fully consider how well you will rise to this challenge.
3. Bring a Dollar Bill.
We practice what we call 'dollar bill management'. What I mean is this: As you will discover, we discuss issues - often intensely. We each say our piece. We argue hard, sometimes at length. We say what is on our minds (courteously and civilly). We challenge each other and our ideas (in a manner we call being 'ruthlessly supportive' - more on that later). Sometimes it gets heated. But by the time we finish talking, and we proceed to make a decision, the dynamic changes:
When a decision is made, we ALL uphold it, 100%.
The Brits call it 'cabinet responsibility'. When their executive arm of government (the cabinet) make a decision, no individual members of the cabinet are associated with that decision - it is issued, and upheld, collectively. We call it 'dollar bill management': you can voice all of your concerns and objections on any issue while we're discussing it, but when we make the final decision, it's made by all of us. And when we leave that room, you can't slide a dollar bill between us - we stand side by side on our decisions, indivisibly, jointly and fully supportive of the decisions we make as a team.
The implications of this are important:
- You don't get to second guess executive team decisions. You don't get to come into my office after a meeting and pick apart any decision we made. You don't get to complain or whine about any decision we made to anyone outside the executive team meeting.
- You don't get to obstruct, ignore, sandbag or avoid implementing any decisions or their implications or consequences.
- You do get to be a role model in implementing agreed decisions - swiftly, fully and with enthusiasm, whatever your stance was when the decision was being debated.
This doesn't mean mean that we think the executive team is infallible, or that we all have to act like robots and persevere with the consequences of poor decisions. The executive team makes mistakes: sometimes a decision proves to have been the wrong one. When that happens, any executive team member can bring evidence that a decision needs to be re-thought - but only after an agreed period of supportive compliance, and only in a scheduled executive session.
Jean, this is probably enough for you to take on board ahead of your first attendance at the executive team session next week. After that meeting, I'll write to you again with some pointers on the mechanics of how we work together. I look forward to seeing you at our meeting.
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