The Executive Edge (Human Resources Management)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Although most jobs involve working with others, the complexity associated with people only increases when you enter the executive ranks.  Think about it: gone are the days when you just have to co-exist with co-workers, as executives are typically faced with people related responsibilities and relationships that are multifaceted.  In addition to the typical co-worker type relationship, add motivation, performance management, recruitment/termination, and broader supervision to the mix.  These areas must be considered in the context of senior level roles that can have a significant impact on an organization (good or bad), complex tasks, and perhaps a limited talent pool from which to draw candidates.  Given the circumstances, the human resource aspect of an executive role is one that often doesn’t get the attention that it should.

When it comes to dealing with senior team members, executives need to understand when to take what action; when to hire, when to fire, when to supervise more closely, and when to give people room to do their jobs.  This is a talent that isn’t common, and can be best cultivated through personal awareness and practice (remember that executives still have a need to recognize areas where they could improve).  The very best can come from senior teams that have the right skills and experience, are in the right roles, and have the appropriate balance of support and direction to get the job done.  This environment is one to strive for, and is far from a given in many organizations

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including risk management, professional development, and high role engagement.  Here’s more about the why getting the management of people right is so important to the executive ranks.

Where it Goes Wrong

We all can appreciate that the executive world is a busy place and there are many things involved in getting the job done.  Human resource matters, such as recruitment, performance management, and coaching can be time consuming tasks and often get shuffled to the next day (or month), particularly in busy times.  There is considerable risk in this on both sides of the equation; where substandard performers are allowed to continue in their role at a risk to the company and perhaps others, while the “stars” of the group become frustrated by spinning wheels and a lack of progress, having not received the support they need to keep moving forward.  Does this sound familiar?

Get the Executive Edge

Skilled executives know how and when to take the right action when it comes to managing people.  They recognize that the benefits are at least twofold: better performance to the benefit of the company and better equity within the executive group (no one likes to carry a marginal performer).  Here are some executive worthy tips to get the managing people aspect of the role right:

  • Don’t favour quantity over quality. Managing people effectively at the executive level isn’t about spending the day making the rounds with superficial chit chat and meddling in the work of others.  It’s more about understanding the level of executive development of each team member, their strengths and weaknesses, and when to provide support or direction.  The quality of the message and motivation approach matters.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly. This mantra may be often said, but seems to be seldom followed. Take the time to understand the particular executive role that needs to be filled and identify a candidate that suits it well.  Conversely, when a team member is not working out, take the necessary performance management steps to bring the situation to an end, to the benefit of both the company and the team.
  • Communicate.  People like to be in the know and understand what is expected of them on an ongoing basis.  Areas for improvement, succession planning, and strategic direction are all important areas to address with the executive team, so don’t leave them in the dark.
  • Let high achievers fly (within reason). Good executives know that when they are fortunate enough to have a bona fide star (or two) on their team, they perform best by having the freedom to do their job, within corporate guidelines and policies.  These folks consistently turn out great results, are reliable, and will ask for assistance when needed.  Let them do their job and don’t meddle; a better strategy is to utilize your time working with team members who are not as well developed.
  • Learn to recognize the difference between high and marginal achievers. As strange as this might sound, some executives don’t do this well. If they believe it is possible to resolve a particular problem, they simply expect that it will be done, with little regard for the actual ability of the team member to do so.  This is a dangerous path, so make sure that you are not casting expectations that a team member is not capable of fulfilling. (this can be a good area to seek assistance from an experienced executive to provide you with coaching in this regard).
  • Recognize that a big part of an executive role is providing coaching when needed. The executive ranks are all about assembling a team that can lead the company to successfully execute on its business plan.  In order to do so, senior roles are less about doing the front line work and more about helping others to be successful in their role.  In order to do so, coaching and feedback are musts.

Executives who are able to manage people effectively at the senior level have a much better likelihood of generating success, on both a team and a corporate level.  It’s not about excessive “touchy/feely” stuff; rather, it’s about understanding who your team members are, in terms of needs and ability, and what their role is so that you can put them in the best position to win.

The Executive Edge (Risk Management)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

As your career progresses, a funny thing can happen: you actually start to realize just how complicated the business world and your role can be.  Long gone are the early career refrains of “how hard could it be?” or “why not?”; experience has taught you just how hard things and all of the trouble that arises when the task at hand and the actions that were taken to address it should have been contemplated much more thoroughly.  Does it seem like the reverse should be true?  Call it “experience”.

Experience recognizes the full magnitude and complexity of situations and the actions that should be taken, as well as the various options that should be considered when making a decision.  Those who have successfully reached the executive level know that business situations are rarely black and white, and in fact, lots of grey areas exist; this is often the culprit of complexity.  As a result, experienced executives typically have a strong ability to identify complex situations and bring the right balance of analysis and action to bear.  This is what experience can do, in terms of developing the necessary level of judgment to recognize business risk (that can be mitigated), as compared to catastrophic risk (that can be devastating to a company).

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including professional development, consistent reliability, and high role engagement.  Here’s more about the importance of sound risk management skills to the executive ranks.

Where it Goes Wrong

Inexperience is often coupled with high enthusiasm and impatience; to get the job done, be recognized, and perhaps make a “splash” to generate a promotion opportunity.  Although there can be positive aspects to bringing action and enthusiasm to a role, there is a fine line between a “just do it” attitude and barging ahead in a careless manner.  Too often, less experienced staff members approach tasks without fully appreciating the challenges of the situation or the outcome of their actions.  Fast forward, and you might just find yourself in a situation that you wish you could have avoided or approached differently.  By this point, it’s often too late to turn back the proverbial clock, resulting in possible damage to the company, your reputation, and perhaps others.

Get the Executive Edge

Recognize that business situations are often much more complex and risk laden than most might realize.  Experience provides the tools to recognize this, but also the skills to indentify options for resolution.  Here’s how:

  • Seek to fully understand situations before acting. Taking quick action without fully appreciating the situation is a likely path to trouble. The devil is, in fact, in the details, so take the time and effort to be in the know.
  • Identify the key things you need to know. When analyzing business situations, there are typically a number of important areas to understand: What is the situation? Who is involved/impacted? What are the limitations/guidelines that are applicable? What are the financial considerations? What is the timeline for resolution? Develop a list of the standard things you need to understand and use it as a guide for resolution.
  • Consider the outcomes fully. It’s important to understand the situation, but also the outcomes of the actions that could be taken.  This is an area that often doesn’t get as much attention as it should, resulting in the right solution, but the wrong approach.  Remember that executives often spend more time “thinking” and less time “doing”, so don’t rush to judgment.
  • Be patient. Senior level decision making often requires more thought and patience than new executives might expect.  In simple terms, executive level problems are more complex, can impact more people, and have greater consequences: all good reasons to gather information, think it through, and take a patient approach.
  • Get advice. Bring advisors and other experienced individuals into the process when needed.  Although an executive might understand their business and customers well, they may lack specialized knowledge in areas such as legal, tax, and regulatory, so advisors in these areas can fill important information gaps.  In addition, a sound second opinion from an experienced executive can be extremely helpful.

Executives who are able to weather the storms of the business world for the long term need to have sound risk management skills.  Failing to do so could result in unsuccessful ventures or a short-lived executive career; costs that are much too high not to prevent.

The Executive Edge (Role Engagement)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Have you ever had a job where you thought you had it all figured out?  Each day seems predictable, tasks seem routine, answers seem obvious, problems non-existent.  Routine, smooth sailing, nothing to report from here.  Hmmmm…could a job really be this easy?

Situations like this can actually be dangerous, as too much complacency and comfort in a job can create the potential for an “asleep at the wheel” scenario.  The result: substandard work, mistakes that don’t get caught, and a declining level of motivation and engagement.  The risks: can vary, depending on the seniority of the role, but should never be acceptable.  In practical terms, a lack of role engagement can cause all kinds of problems for companies.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know that an “autopilot” mentality is never acceptable, as it insulates against what could go wrong, increasing risk to unacceptable levels.  Smart executives understand how critical sound risk management skills and awareness are, particularity as the seniority of the role increases, and it’s difficult to detect and manage risk without engagement (risks don’t typically come with signs and banners to announce their arrival!). In order to successfully protect a company from the proverbial “what could go wrong”, its leadership needs to be addressing the situation well in advance of when it arrives.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of professional development, comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability as part of the Executive Edge skill set.  Here’s more about why being fully engaged in your role at all times is so important.

Where it Goes Wrong

Simply put, trouble begins when thoughts of “I have this all figured out” start to creep in.  Managers who fall into this mindset can become less effective in several directions: missing errors made by staff members; failing to notice risks and challenges emerging within their own role; and being a less effective management team member.  Allow this mentality to exist for a period of time and a once effective organization can find itself adrift (and that can be a scary place).

Get the Executive Edge

Resist the temptation to become too complacent and less aware of the complexities and issues developing around you.  Ensure that you are always fully engaged in your role; here’s how:

  • Recognize the benefits of fear. Not all fear comes to harm you; in fact, it can be helpful. Recognize the importance of your role and the consequences of making errors or performing poorly.  What could the impacts be to the business? Others?  Yourself?  This approach keeps it real and should provide the motivation to maximize your engagement level at all times.
  • Monitor your engagement level. Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure that your engagement level is acceptable and not starting to wane.  Turn a declining situation around by setting some goals and/or identifying any tasks that are bogging down your productivity.  If your role is truly becoming too routine, talk to your supervisor about taking on some new tasks or increasing variety, where possible.
  • Increase your risk management skills. Risk management is a specialized, but interesting area.  Understanding more about how to identify and manage risks can provide the tools to help to put your role in context.  Seek out training opportunities with the goal of practical application.
  • Make continuous learning a norm. Professional development is an excellent tool to keep engagement high, as well as understanding the implications of substandard performance; make it a regular part of your working life.
  • Call out autopilot behavior. If you see examples of decreased role engagement in staff members or peers, speak up.  The team only performs as well as its weakest link, so raising the issue in the spirit of constructive improvement is fair.

Adopting a strategy of always being a little afraid is not a bad thing; with changing environments, competitive threats, and what the future holds, there is much to be mindful.  This fear mentality actually creates comfort, in terms of truly being in command of what’s going on and what’s to come.  No asleep at the wheel here.

The Executive Edge (Professional Development and Continuous Learning)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One of the interesting things about a career in business is that the more you learn, the more there is to know.  With the many functional aspects of the corporate world, such as accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources; coupled with industry trends, competition, technology, and practical experience gained on the job, a business person could spend every waking hour learning more.  What’s troubling is when people seem to stop learning, something particularly prevalent among the mid-level ranks, when formal studies have been left behind for what seems like more freedom and spare time.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know how important continuous learning and professional development are.  Quite simply, they are a given.  Thinking that once you reach the “top job” means that you have sufficient knowledge and can take a pass on learning more is a myth, and even worse, a recipe for trouble.  Skilled executives know that in order to become and stay successful, it’s important to learn as much as you can, given the rapid pace of change and many economic factors.  Starting good professional development habits early not only brings the necessary knowledge base to generate success on the job now, it also instills the important continuous learning routine to practice throughout your career.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial for achieving success in their role.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for advancement tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability.  Here’s more about why professional development and continuous learning are so important.

 Where it Goes Wrong

Early career days tend to be characterized by lots of excitement around a new role, new workplace, and what seems like endless opportunity.  Fast forward a few years to what can become days of routine, expectations that haven’t been realized, and enthusiasm can start to fade.  What’s more, your work environment can actually influence how you see the world, including your role, impact, and future prospects, and this can be a problem, particularly in a workplace that isn’t as positive as it should be.  Before you know it, your attitude is on the decline, which (you guessed it!) can start to impact your career advancement prospects.

This might sound a bit dramatic, but it unfortunately happens far too often.  With the many ways to absorb professional development these days- webinars, podcasts, online learning, and convenient breakfast/lunch seminars; being in the know is easier than ever.

Get the Executive Edge

Turn a bad situation around (or avoid it altogether) by getting on the professional development path; learn new skills, seek out opportunities, and spend some time with the crowd that wants to (and probably will) go places; here’s how to get started:

  • Set goals and priorities. Step back and think about your career objectives over the next year, as well as three, five, and even ten years from now. Where do you want to go?  What roles are of interest to you?  Once you have established an overall plan, it’s easier to identify the professional development programs that would be most beneficial to you.
  • Benefit from the experience of others. Get advice from others as to courses or PD resources that they have tapped into; find out what was of value and what worked well for them.  Ask your supervisor about professional development activities that would help you to advance in the workplace, perhaps to positions you have already discussed.  This approach can help to ensure that you spend your time wisely and might also identify some options you had not considered.
  • Seek out workplace PD programs. Many employers have professional development programs that offer courses and seminars and/or provide financial support to employees who successfully complete studies in areas that are relevant to their job.  These programs can provide tremendous benefit to employees, such as the chance to complete a designation program fully financed by the company, as opposed to the staff member.
  • Work within your time constraints. Have what seems to be no time at all for continuous learning?  These days, that’s not a problem, as there are so many ways to learn.  Despite a busy lifestyle, most people can find the time to tap into online learning resources or podcasts at their leisure.

Successful executives know that they can learn something from almost any situation, good or bad, and they never stop seeking out the chance to do so.  We all know that knowledge is power, so the only way you lose is by not getting started.

The Executive Edge (Reliability)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Many of us grew up with parents who always challenged us to be our best.  “Take pride in everything you do”  “Do the very best you can before turning in your assignment” “Check your work!” Given the many times these lessons were repeated during our childhoods, it’s a reasonable assumption that the outcome just might be an attitude of high achievement that comes from within and lasts a lifetime.  If this is the case, why is it that the impact of so many of these lessons seem to be absent from the workplace?

Most careers begin by starting out in an entry level position and progressing forward, as skills and competencies develop and opportunities for advancement emerge.  One of the important factors that employers consider in this regard is the degree of self managed initiative and “ownership” that a staff member exhibits in performing their job.  In other words, are staff members challenging themselves to generate the best possible work, or are they simply putting in a marginal effort and passing their output to the next level without any real accountability for the results?

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial for achieving success in their role; consistently demonstrating high quality results is certainly on the list.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for advancement tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading and clear communication.  Here’s more about why taking ownership of your role to generate great results is so important.

Where it Goes Wrong

Here’s some information that might be a bit of a news flash to those who fail to advance in the workplace: it is not your supervisor’s role to find the mistakes in your work- it is your responsibility to do so.

Yes, it’s true that supervisors and managers do find errors in the work of others, but quite frankly, this often occurs in the course of performing their actual role (i.e., being responsible for a particular area of a business), and also, unfortunately, because too many staff members don’t take enough care in completing their work.  As a result of this situation, staff members who live by the rules of always putting their best effort forward are easily differentiated from their peers and often have the best opportunity to advance to more senior roles.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by remembering the good advice that many of us received years ago- take pride in your work!  Gain the reputation of bringing quality and reliability to everything you do; here’s how to get started:

  • Understand the requirements first. When approaching any task, take the time to fully understand what is required. Read instructions fully and make the effort to ask for clarification where required (flashback to our first article in this series: it’s amazing how many people don’t take the time to read thoroughly!).  Time to prepare well is time well spent.
  • Take notes. Experienced executives recognize that the corporate world is complex and the number of tasks at hand can be extensive.  Thinking that you will remember it all doesn’t make you look smart; it makes you look inexperienced!  Taking notes on how to complete tasks and workplace assignments is an important support to generating a quality result.  It also allows you to build your own reference manual.
  • Check your work.   Once you have completed a task, step back and review it from a fresh perspective.  Make yourself accountable for finding any mistakes or areas of improvement before passing your work to the next person.
  • Learn how supervisors and managers approach their review role. Take the opportunity to speak with your supervisor to learn more about what they look for when reviewing the work of others. Ask them what success “looks like” for the particular task in order to visualize and better understand what you need to do to generate a successful outcome.
  • Document and learn from your mistakes. Treat every experience where feedback is received as an opportunity to learn and improve.  Remember that supervisors expect staff members to learn from these experiences and not make the same mistakes in the future.  Challenge yourself to never make the same mistake twice.

It’s often been said that work that is done quickly, but not correctly, is of no value.  This is true.  Add up your time to complete the task initially; your supervisor’s time to review your (substandard) work; and the time to revise and review the work again and this lesson becomes crystal clear.  The real risk, however, is situations where poorly completed work somehow makes it through the review process into a larger realm, potentially damaging the company and, perhaps, others.  This risk alone is reason enough to check your work!

The Executive Edge (Communication)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Communication is one of those things that we all have to do in life, every single day.  What can differentiate successful executives from those who don’t make it to the top is the manner in which they approach the issue of communication.  Simply put, communication is a serious thing; it’s the difference between being understood and not being understood.  Skilled executives take it one step further, viewing communication as a tool to be completely understood.  That’s powerful stuff.

It’s no secret that failing to communicate well could result in everything from poor decisions to catastrophic misunderstandings, regardless of any good intentions along the way.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to communicate well (or even at all, in some cases), especially in a world of text messages and other informal interactions.  What’s more, many people just don’t realize how much poor communication not only increases risk, but also limits their potential to advance to more senior roles.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial to achieve success in their role; everything from comprehensive reading to being consistently reliable, and having a great ability to communicate is no different.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading.  Here’s more about why good communication skills are so critical to success.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever tried to advance an initiative or workplace project with a group of co-workers that just doesn’t seem to be moving forward?  Staff members seem confused about what their responsibilities are.  Duplication of effort occurs, due to a lack of clarity over who is supposed to do what (and, after a while, no one seems to care).  Numerous meetings are held, but at the end of an hour or two, no one is quite sure what the next steps are.  Nothing seems to get done, and enthusiasm starts to fade.  Why does this happen?

Although this type of situation can arise due to a number of factors, one of the main problems is always communication.  This includes everything from having clear meeting agendas and discussion topics, to how the discussion process is managed, to meaningful documentation of decisions and next steps.  No wonder success can be so difficult to achieve.

But, consider this: every day, thousands of hours of staff and management time are wasted by working on initiatives that lack the clarity and communication to move forward.  As disturbing as this is, it’s also an opportunity for you to take a leadership role and cast some much needed light on the situation.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by taking a vow to always strive to be understood and invest in the necessary professional development, attention to detail, and practice to do so.  Once you do, not only will you develop important executive skills, you will also make a meaningful contribution to improve how your work environment functions (and, yes, results do matter).  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep it simple. Anyone can make something sound complicated; the real talent is in taking something that is complicated and making it understandable to others.  Any situation can be crystallized to a simple concept that others can easily absorb; you just have to find it.
  • Strive to be “crystal clear”. If you consciously focus on delivering your message in a manner that is as clear and understandable as possible, chances are, it will be sufficiently clear to others.  Sounds simple, but it works.
  • More isn’t always better. Rambling on and burying the point in volumes of peripheral information doesn’t enhance communication.  Use words carefully and weed out any unnecessary language that clutters the message.
  • Clean up writing skills. Be honest with yourself: many people would benefit from taking a business writing, grammar, or presentation course to improve their communication ability. Another option is to spend more time working with people who write well and volunteering to complete tasks that have a significant communication component (practice works!).
  • Document discussions, decisions, and next steps. Nobody enjoys taking meeting minutes, developing agendas, or updating project workplans; however, these are important components of the executive world and you need to be able to do these things well in order to move forward. So, raise your hand next time these types of tasks are up for grabs.
  • Keep it moving. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect of everything they do. Keep communication meaningful by making it practical and action oriented.

Keep it up and something strange might start to happen; some of your peer group may actually start to improve their communication skills as well.  Don’t believe it?  Well, you might just be surprised by what good communication can do.

The Executive Edge (Comprehensive Reading)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Ever wonder what it really takes to join the ranks of senior management?  Hard work, a strong level of technical or specialized knowledge, and the broad perspective to manage others all come to mind.  It’s not surprising that successful candidates often spend years completing professional designations and gaining particular on the job experience to help prepare them for roles at the senior or executive levels.

What might be surprising, however, are the fundamental skills that successful, top level people typically exhibit and consistently practice.  These skills are not characterized by complicated research, formulas, or complex business practices and are, in fact, much more simplistic than that.  These characteristics are more about the approach that the individual takes to fulfil their role on a personal level and are essential to generating a positive result.  Things like comprehensive reading, active listening, concise communication, and consistent reliability are all important skills that are typically exhibited by strong senior level managers.

Executives know that failing to do any of these things could result in poor decisions, at a minimum, as well as the real potential for crisis situations and more in the worst case.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to utilize these vital skills, especially those in the mid-ranks with expectations to progress further.  What these people don’t realize is how much a lack of attention to detail limits their progress in terms of advancement, and might even result in being labeled as not having the potential for more senior roles.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Instead, take the initiative to understand how executives approach their role and start to adopt these behaviors.  Practicing these skills consistently will not only differentiate you from others in your peer group and generate better results today, they will also help to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we will consider several skills that will help give you the Executive Edge.  Let’s get started with the first skill: comprehensive reading.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever sent someone an email with what you thought were fairly straightforward instructions, only to receive a response that seemed completely out of left field?  “Did she even read my email?” you wonder.  “I went out of my way to make this so simple for him; how frustrating!” you complain.  Why does this happen?

Assuming that you did communicate your instructions in a clear and concise manner (we will get to that in a future article!), the bottom line is that too many people just don’t read!  Although they might have read carefully at the beginning, a common shortfall is to skim the rest, not paying attention to critical information or what was being asked in terms of response or “to do” items on their part.  Experienced executives know that this approach can actually be fatal.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by doing something really simple; just read (yes, all of it!).  The challenge of comprehensive reading often comes with doing it consistently and completely, but practicing this skill and using it without exception are critical for managing the risk levels of executive roles.

  • Don’t skim. Skilled executives read thoroughly, from the beginning of a document or email right to the end.  The challenge is to maintain focus in order to concentrate on what is being said, without any incorrect interpretations.
  • Don’t let your mind wander. If you feel this happening, stop reading, go back to the top of the last paragraph, and begin again.  If you pay conscious attention to not letting your mind wander, you will be surprised how quickly your attention level starts to decline.  This will happen less frequently if you practice.
  • Learn to absorb information quickly. Practice allows you to effectively open your mind and absorb new information quickly, but also thoroughly and completely. Skilled executives might look like they are skimming, due to the pace of their reading; but instead, they have practiced well to absorb information quickly.
  • Think about next steps. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect in relation to what they read. This approach makes written material more action oriented and keeps the “what is being asked of me?” question top of mind.
  • Appreciate the value of executive summary type documents. Given that executives do, in fact, read thoroughly, this increases of importance of concise documents, such as the executive summary.  Communications that focus on the core issues of a situation, decision points, and next steps are critical, as opposed to long winded documents that include unnecessary information or never get to the point.  Keeping this in mind when communicating with others actually helps to practice comprehensive reading skills.

Think it sounds easy?  Too easy to bother?  Now, that’s a mistake.  The reality is this: executive level issues and decisions are often based on complex information and situations.  In order to grasp the material, it takes practice to absorb it.  This is just another reason to start practicing now, while the stakes are certainly important, but are not quite so high.

Put Yourself to Work (Pay it Forward)

As published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One of the things that can happen as you progress in your career is the feeling of a sense of distance from where it all started.  A few years in the corporate world can seem much longer, and as roles and responsibilities change and careers advance, it can be easy to forget what it was like back in the day, when you were sitting in that trench (oops; cubicle).  Wow; putting yourself to work, through things like professional development, volunteer opportunities, and workplace assignments, has really helped to move you forward from where you were just a few years ago.

Remember how frustrated you were when the “people at the top” didn’t seem to have any appreciation for the front line working folk?  “They don’t know how difficult it is down here!”  “It was so much easier to get ahead in their day.”  “I work like mad and no one seems to notice, much less appreciate, my efforts.”  Many people starting their careers and trying to get ahead have felt this way, and probably swore they would do things differently if given the chance.

Now that you are one of the “people at the top”, you have that chance; to take the put yourself to work attitude and pay it forward by creating the business environment that you always wanted to be a part of back when you were just starting out.  Remember that employer that you left behind because they didn’t create an environment that fostered achievement and career development?  Take a good look around and make sure that you are not contributing to creating a similar environment.  You can take steps to create a workplace that motivates staff members to perform at their best, stay engaged, and move forward.  How?  By putting yourself to work; this time, on the employer and leadership side of the equation.

Put Yourself to Work:  Pay it Forward

  • Be a learning organization: companies that encourage continuous learning through events such as workplace seminars and training not only keep their staff members up to speed, they also attract high performers who value this type of environment. Staying on top of industry, product and service, and regulatory developments not only makes good business sense, it also creates a shared responsibility to be in the know (just think, no more of that “it’s not my job to know about that” attitude).
  • Promote achievement through professional development programs: encouraging staff members to complete relevant designation programs and other types of courses and rewarding those who are successful is a great way to enhance your corporate knowledge base and motivate at the same time. Companies that fail to recognize the importance of professional development put their business at risk in terms of losing high potential staff members, as well as being less competitive in the marketplace.
  • Encourage meaningful workplace assignments: it’s often been said that education is only half of the mix, when it comes to becoming truly skilled in a particular area.  The other half of the equation is practical experience.  Workplace assignments can take the form of temporary responsibilities, special projects, cross training, and job rotation.  Whatever the approach, both the company and the staff member win: through enhanced skill, depth, and interest level.
  • Be a mentor: remember how it felt when a more senior person took an interest in you and your career development? You probably learned lessons through their experiences that you couldn’t have otherwise accessed at your current level of development.  Benefit from taking the time to be a mentor; you might just be surprised what you learn from your mentorship partner.
  • Encourage volunteerism, both internally and externally: it might be hard to believe, but there are actually people out there who don’t volunteer or even stop to think about the benefit of doing so. Translate this attitude into an organization and you can end up with a pretty uninspiring place.  Encouraging volunteerism, either through in-office campaigns or external postings not only motivates staff members, it also provides the opportunity to develop new skills, particularly in the area of leadership.  And one of the really great outcomes is that the company, the employee, and “the cause” all benefit

Congratulations, you made it!  You put yourself to work and made a number of promotions your own.  Now, you have the great privilege of creating an environment to put the next generation to work.  So, do it.

Does your CEO Successor have the Right Stuff? Avoid these 5 candidate types when selecting a potential successor

Published by Divestopedia

For many reasons, business leaders can find themselves at a loss when trying to identify a potential successor.  Part of this could be due to the founder having started the business many years ago and building the leadership role around himself.  Similarly, a particular business can be so synonymous with its founder, that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else actually taking the company forward.  Sounds typical, right?

What does this mean in practical terms, when a business leader is in the process of seeking a potential successor to assume their role?  Financial and transactional issues aside, ensuring that potential leadership candidates are truly CEO material is a key issue; one that often gets clouded by other matters, leaving the business leader in a state of confusion.  Combine this with probably not allowing sufficient time to undertake the succession planning process and watch the desperation begin to appear.  Suddenly, potential successors start to look a lot more ideal than they actually are.

Here’s the reality of the leadership role: CEO’s require the ability to oversee a company across all functional areas, including administration, sales and marketing, finance, products and services, as well as liaising with various external parties, such as financial partners, customers, and regulators.  As a result, a CEO is not typically on the “front line” of delivering services; rather, they reside a level or two above the action so that they have the right sightline to oversee all key areas and resources.

So, if you’re not sure who your successor should be, start off by understanding who the next CEO shouldn’t be.  The following types of candidates typically don’t represent a good choice:

Can’t let go of the detail—some people work at their best on the front line, analyzing information, understanding detailed problems, and perhaps working directly with customers. Their focus is narrow (i.e., departmental, as opposed to organizational), and they might even regard tasks that fall outside of their direct area of focus as an interruption or annoyance.

Although they often excel in their current role, these people, by their very definition, typically don’t make good CEO’s.  The reality is they lack the skills or interest to oversee a company across various functional areas and are at their best when working in a specialized area, such as product development, sales, or technology.  Lots of businesses make the mistake of promoting this type of person to a broader, more senior role than they can handle, when they probably should have been left in their current position.

Winner by popularity alone—taking the approach that being a CEO is all about being popular and liked might be more common than expected. The reality is, CEO’s often have to make tough decisions that won’t be popular, but are in the best interest of the company.  Selecting a successor because “he’s a great guy” or “people will like her” isn’t a good approach.  What a potential successor can bring to the role is what really matters, so don’t get caught up in polls and popularity contests.

Winner by family alone—family businesses bring an added layer of complexity to the succession planning process, and if the goal is to have the company survive for the long term, being a family member isn’t reason enough to be its next leader. Again, skills, experience, and what is in the best interest of the business should prevail, unless you want to be one of those companies that doesn’t last for generations.

Thinks the product is the business—although products and services are an important component of any company, they do not represent the whole company. In the absence of cash in the bank, the ability to invoice and receive payments from customers, a qualified sales force, reliable distribution, and sound operating systems, the product or service alone, in relative terms, isn’t worth much.  Good successor candidates understand how a company as a whole operates and all of the pieces that are needed to operate a business, as opposed to just focusing on products and services.

Doesn’t have a long term focus—leading a company requires the ability to see not only where you are, but also where you are going. Real growth typically doesn’t happen in the short term, and with business cycles fluctuating over time, a good CEO needs to have the patience and ability to ride it out and take the company forward.  Potential successors that are not able to do this typically lack the long term commitment and stability that are required in the CEO role.

Surprised by this list?  The reality is that many business leaders don’t think about succession from this perspective; it’s more about “who do I know?” or “who is the best fit from what we currently have?”.  Instead, it’s best to take a more strategic approach and seek out candidates who really have the right stuff to thrive in the CEO role, now and well into the future.

Put Yourself to Work (What to do when it “isn’t working”)

As published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

So, you’ve been busy, busy, busy; volunteering your time with non-profit organizations, taking on extra work assignments, and helping out with the office social committee.  You have enrolled in a professional designation program (completed the first two courses with flying colors!) and thanks to your persistence, have been able to convince your CEO neighbour to meet for mentoring sessions once a month.  You are Putting Yourself to Work like a house on fire!

Compare this to your workplace cubicle mate, who doesn’t seem to do much more than the job at hand (who, me, volunteer?) and manages to spend weekends out with friends without a care in the world.  The assignments you get are no better than his (and might even be a bit worse at times), despite all of your efforts and the talent you are developing.  What’s more, annual performance reviews were last week and your appraisal was nothing out of the ordinary: an awkward meeting with your boss, the clichéd “keep this up and you will be promoted soon”, a handshake, and you’re adjourned.  Not exactly what you had in mind, given all the extra work you’ve been doing.

“Isn’t anyone paying attention around here?” you wonder, passing your co-workers on their way out the door for afternoon coffee.  You’ve been doing everything you can to expand your skills, show initiative, and position yourself for a more senior position, with no real progress (except for your own).  What’s happening here?  Times like this are ideal for having a good look at the situation and taking stock.  Here’s how.

Put Yourself to Work:  What to do when it “isn’t working”

Despite all of your efforts, your lack of progress could be due to a few things:

  • Not enough time has passed—although you’ve put your nose to the grindstone for what seems like forever, how long has it been really? The busier you are, sometimes the longer it seems you have been working (in fact, you are accomplishing more, which is a good thing).  Step back and determine how long you have been “in development”, and if it’s only been a few months, a bit more patience is required. Putting yourself to work is an investment and is actually a progression to developing a new mindset, so recognize that it might take a year or two to see the progress you desire (remember that it did take you longer than this to complete your university education or professional designation.  Although the tactics might be different here, but it still takes time to make tangible progress).
  • You might be off-course—sometimes we can get so busy that we don’t take the time to step back and determine if we are focusing on the right things (think of how some tasks just seem to lead to other, more obscure tasks). Ask yourself if you need to make some adjustments to focus on activities that are directly related to where you want to go and, if so, get back on track.  If you are having difficulty identifying the key issues, your mentor could be a great resource to provide a more objective viewpoint
  • You might not making the impact you think you are—now, this is the time to take a good, hard look in the mirror (which can sometimes be difficult to do). Although you might be working hard, are you really getting the necessary results to demonstrate that you are mastering the task at hand?  Sometimes, we take on so many tasks that we don’t have the necessary time and energy to truly excel.  Remember, “quality” is more important than “quantity”, and you’re better to establish the reputation of excelling at whatever you do, as opposed to taking on many things with less than stellar results.
  • You might not be in the right environment— the previous three areas have given you the opportunity to have a good look at yourself and your progress. This area requires you to look around at your workplace and ask the question if it is one that is receptive to achievements such as volunteerism and professional development.  Although it might be difficult to believe, some workplaces don’t fully appreciate the benefits of these enrichments.  Look at the achievements of the leaders in your workplace to determine if they are actively involved in these areas and to get a sense of their attitudes in this regard; it just might be that you’ve progressed to a point where you should consider your options.  Should you decide to do so, be sure to evaluate any potential employers in terms of the value they assign to areas like professional development, volunteerism, and mentorship.

Whatever your analysis reveals, recognize this: you have made achievements that are an investment in yourself and this store of value will follow you wherever you go.  That’s the whole point of putting yourself to work.

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