“I don’t want you to attend the weekly sales meeting any more,” our new sales VP, “Tom”, said to me. I didn’t argue with him, but I was concerned. I’ll get back to why I was concerned later.
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It seems there is a common belief that the proper way for a CEO to manage is through a command and control structure. The CEO meets with his or her lieutenants and tells them what to do.
The lieutenants tell their troops what to do and reports the results back to the CEO. The interaction in this model between the CEO and troops in minimal.
Maybe that works well in the movies, but command and control doesn’t work very well in the startup world.
The best CEOs I’ve worked with regularly interacted with all levels of the organization. And these CEOs would meet with the department heads and staff regularly.
One of the biggest challenges you have as CEO is the quality of the information you are receiving. As well intentioned as people may be, everyone has biases. A smart way to counteract any biases is by talking to lots of different people at various levels of your company.
You can do this through the old Hewlett-Packard management technique called “management by walking around.” This simple strategy is just as you’d guess. You just walk around the building and start talking to people.
I have found management by walking around a great way to build rapport with your team. Plus it’s a great way to have informal conversations on various issues your company faces.
The second way to improve the quality of information you receive is through meetings. The meetings I liked attending regularly were:
A. The weekly executive staff meeting.
This meeting was just with my direct reports. The goal was to update the team on key issues facing the company, and for the executives to update each other on the progress in their departments.
B. 1:1’s with each member of your executive staff.
You want to meet with each direct report individually to provide any coaching or guidance necessary. And your direct reports can and should ask for any help needed.
I always thought of these meetings as “mini-reviews” where you are giving the executive instant feedback on what’s working. It’s a great way to keep the lines of communication open.
It’s a red flag, by the way, if your direct reports are not from time to time asking for help. It can mean they are trying to hide information from you, or it can mean they are afraid to reveal information to you. Either way, you have a problem.
C. All hands meetings with your whole team.
You will learn the hard way that if you don’t give your team information they will make up the information. For example, if you don’t tell your team what last month’s revenue is, they will guess the number themselves.
Your team’s imagination will run wild when you don’t provide information. For example, your team will think layoffs are coming or that revenue is low. Who knows what might be dreamed up.
The way you combat this by having regular all hands meetings with the team. I liked doing this meeting the day after our board meetings.
We would go through the open session part of the board meeting; with each department head presenting the same material we presented the board. I would talk about the general health of the company, and we would answer any questions the team had.
Now the team feels like they know what’s going on. And you get a feel for what concerns your team has. And just like in your 1:1 meetings with your direct reports, it’s a red flag if no one is asking you tough questions.
Don’t worry about information getting beyond the room (it will) because it’s worth the loyalty you are building by being transparent.
D. Departmental meetings (when necessary).
You’ll want to attend some departmental meetings on an as-needed basis. The value of attending departmental meetings is three-fold:
a. You are showing how important a given area is to the company.
For example, you just introduced your first product to market. And you want to show the sales team how important their function is to the company.
You do this by going to the department meeting. You’ll let the department head run the meeting, but you’ll participate in the meeting by asking questions and moving the meeting along as needed.
Your team knows their work, if you handle yourself properly in the meeting, has the support of the CEO. That’s important. Plus…
b. You are making sure this key area of the company is working well.
You can’t sit idly by waiting for the results to come because the feedback loop will take too long. You need to be actively involved in key areas of the company to keep them moving in the right direction. Finally…
c. You are showing your support for the department head.
If you attend a departmental meeting and contradict the departmental head, then you are doing the wrong thing. The department head will be pissed, and rightfully so.
However, you and the department head should be on the same page. After all, you have regular 1:1’s with the department head, so any differences of opinion should be worked out in your 1:1 meeting.
You are showing the team, by going to the meeting and supporting the department head, that you and the department head are working together. The team will likely respond well to this synergy.
That’s why I was concerned about Tom. I wasn't going to the meeting to spy on Tom. I was there to help and support Tom.
Sure enough, my concern about Tom was correct. Tom missed every revenue goal he set. He was quickly out of the company.
Think of the various areas of your company like a wheel with spokes.
Each department in the company can be thought of like a spoke on the wheel. Your focus will be on some of these spokes (but not all of them) at a given time.
Then as time goes on you will focus on other areas (departments) of the wheel (the company). When you’re focusing on these areas, you will likely meet with and attend meeting with all levels of that department.
Then, when the department is in steady state, you will likely not attend these meeting. You will move your focus to another area of the company.
That’s what good, hands-on, CEOs do to keep their companies executing at a high level.
For more, read: How Do You Keep Your Team Highly Motivated?
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