The Executive Edge (Generating Results)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Although it’s true that executive level roles have a greater strategic focus and are further away from the front line action, senior level people still have to be able to get things done.  Whether it’s helping a management team to solve problems, identifying an expansion path, or overseeing core business activities, executives are accountable for (and often judged by) results.  This is not an easy place to be, particularly in times of change or declining performance.

So, if people at the senior level of an organization are less involved in front line work, how do they get things done?  The answer might be as simple as comparing a successful executive to one who is less accomplished in this regard; think: sound planning and direction; ensuring that a company has the right systems in place that allow staff and management team members to do more; generating a motivating environment; and, of course, having all of the right skills on hand.  This could be described as a “gentle push”, that allows a company to move forward with decisive support, as opposed to stagnating or being plagued by indecision.  Smart executives know that getting things done is, in part, about decision making, but also about having the necessary experience and judgement to make good decisions.  It is this ability that fuels the critical act of implementation and the results that follow.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including collaboration, professional development, and generating respect.  Here’s more about why successful executives understand the importance of implementation and getting things done.

Where it Goes Wrong

Executives who lose focus on the importance of generating tangible results might find themselves on the outside of relevance.   Whether leading a for-profit business or managing the limited resources of a not-for-profit organization, results and productivity matter.  Those who spend too much time on unfocused or theoretical efforts run the risk of leading an organization to a point where it will ultimately do less; this is the risk of becoming too far removed from the front line work.

Before too long, organizations can start to have a lack of urgency; a dangerous place to be in a competitive, and resource constrained world.  What doesn’t get done today gets put off until tomorrow, as the weeks and months go by with little achievement in the way of tangible results.  From a customer standpoint, who wants to deal with these companies?

Get the Executive Edge

Ensure that upward mobility on the career path includes sufficient focus on turning the wheels of productivity.  Here’s how to keep focused on generating results:

  • Use meeting time wisely. Meetings should be used to communicate important information, seek input, confirm action items, and move forward.  In order to ensure that the focus is kept on getting things done (and not just talking about it!), meet only when needed, maintain focus by using agendas and action items, and curtail non-productive chit chat.
  • Pay attention to standards and systems. Although some might consider processes and standardized approaches to be mundane, remember that they not only benefit the company, but also those who perform well enough to meet or exceed targets. Use standards and systems as an opportunity to accelerate performance.
  • Measure and monitor results.  Once standards are in place, they have to be managed, which means measuring actual results to target and taking corrective action where required.  Those who have the discipline and talent to do so are well regarded by the senior ranks.
  • Compensate based on results. Structures that include a meaningful variable component tied to performance tend to focus people’s efforts on what’s important.  Good compensation structures include short term and long term incentives, as well as measures for individual, departmental, and organizational performance.  Roles that are structured in this manner can be a good opportunity for those on the way up to demonstrate their worth in tangible terms.
  • Watch competitors and the marketplace. Paying attention to what’s going on in the outside world can be an important reminder that organizations need to take action in order to remain relevant to those that they serve. Remembering that any organization should be thinking about customers, competitors, and markets at least 50% of the time can help to instill a results oriented mindset.

The reality is that the more senior a position becomes, the more directly accountable it is for the performance of the entire organization, which, in turn, reflects how well the actual job is conducted.  This is a significant shift from that of less senior roles, so the sooner that the “results” skillset is developed, the better.

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 1)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

Business succession planning is tricky; part old, part new, part money, part emotion; it’s no wonder that so many business leaders put it off.  The reality is that an abundance of Canada’s small to medium sized businesses (more than half, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business) don’t have a succession plan at all.  Since companies in this category are responsible for generating approximately one half of the Canadian economy, there is undoubtedly cause for concern.

Consider some of the key survey findings (1):

  • 51% of business leaders surveyed indicated that they don’t have a business succession plan.  Of the 49% that have a plan, only 9% have a formal, written plan
  • Approximately 48% of business leaders plan to exit their company within the next five years
  • 48% plan to exit their business by selling to buyers unrelated to their family, while approximately 37% plan to sell or transfer the business to family members
  • The top barriers to succession planning include finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), valuing the business (54%), and securing financing for the successor (48%)

Those who have even a moderate interest in the issue of business succession likely realize that various surveys and sources of information have yielded similar results.  Delving beneath the surface, however, reveals interesting implications for business leaders, their potential successors, and those who seek to finance the transition, some of which should be sufficient to kick-start those seeking an exit anytime soon into action.

The Business Leader Perspective

Since over 85% of business leaders surveyed identified retirement as their reason for exit, it stands to reason that many have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into building their company.  As a result, a transfer of ownership represents the primary opportunity to monetize value that has appreciated over what could be a lengthy period of time.  Although this increase might be significant as compared to that of inception, business leaders are often dissatisfied with the offers they receive, which reinforces the need for thorough, early, and practical succession planning to maximize value wherever possible.

What’s even more compelling is how dependent a business leader’s ability to cash out at what they consider to be an acceptable value actually is upon the ability to identify a potential successor who has the: (i) skills to lead the business; (ii) interest in doing so; and (iii) ability to secure financing.  This is a tall order, since many successor candidates might only meet one or two of these requirements.  Couple this with a lack of experience in terms of developing a business plan to take a company forward in a manner that provides the necessary level of comfort to secure enough financing to close the deal.  In the absence of third party financing, business leaders are left with the gamble of whether or not the company, under new leadership, will be able to generate a sufficient amount of cash over time to pay what could be a significant portion of the proceeds related to the transfer of ownership, a scenario that doesn’t end well far too often.

The Opportunity

Business leaders and those in the financing field both have a vested interest in terms of how Canada’s succession planning future plays out; the former wants to cash out and the latter wants to roll cash back in.  In order to avoid a time-consuming stalemate in a situation where time is of the essence, an opportunity exists to help potential successors become real successors, by providing the tools to take companies forward; the right skills, plan, and leadership ability (and a bit of extra effort to help get the deal past the goal line wouldn’t hurt!).  Here’s how:

Business leader skills. Many potential successors have played a second tier role in their careers, without having had the opportunity to ascend to the CEO level. Since the top job can be quite different from what has been the experience thus far, potential successors need a transfer of knowledge, mentoring, and practice in abundance, prior to formally assuming the CEO role.

Existing business leaders can help by creating professional development plans, delegating areas of responsibility in a meaningful way, and taking the time to provide practical mentorship.  Potential successors often complain that leaders don’t take the time to provide meaningful coaching; sadly, this is too often the case.  Doing so can be the difference between a well prepared leader and one who stumbles out of the gate.

Investor ready business planning. Many potential successors don’t have experience with developing a business plan that is sufficient to secure financing, let alone the process of raising capital.  Business leaders who have lost interest in the company, not stepped up internal planning and control processes, or haven’t had the need to seek financing for long periods of time don’t help the process, resulting in a lack of information and competitive positioning to develop a compelling business plan.

Business leaders can make sound business planning a reality by ensuring that the right systems and information are in place within the company to support successors in putting together a plan that can be financed.  Making the effort to critique existing business models, consider new markets, and understand important industry developments can help to identify opportunities for the company well into the future, all of which bodes well with financial partners, and, in turn, benefits those who are seeking to exit.

Leadership ability. Those who have spent years at the helm of a company understand the importance of leadership skills, particularly in terms of the impact to the business as a whole.  Being a good manager doesn’t ensure that a company will be well led, a reality that is too often overlooked when passing the torch.

Recognizing the value of practical leadership development programs and forums and encouraging involvement can help to groom the business leaders of tomorrow.  Starting well in advance and providing practical opportunities to put learning into practice are not only a powerful combination for success, this approach can also identify situations where an individual is not a good fit for a leadership role.  Business leaders that do not encourage this type of development are effectively “boxing themselves in”, in terms of viable succession options.

Facilitating the exit. Financial partners can work with companies approaching (or well past) the need for succession by bringing options to the table, in terms of acquisitions, mergers, successor candidates, and other types of transactions.  In the case where financial partners identify “to do” items to improve a company or go-forward plan to the point where a succession transaction could be financed, facilitating the introduction to advisors who can help makes all the difference, as the complexities of the succession and financing processes make it difficult for business leaders and potential successors to identify the right advisory resources.

The reality is that business leaders have to “help potential successors to help them”; the same is true for financial partners.  In the absence of this approach, it might be difficult to affect a successful transfer of ownership in many cases.  Seasoned business leaders know that a big part of their role is to create an environment that will make those around them successful; addressing the issue of succession really isn’t any different, in this regard.

Where does this leave potential successors?  This topic will be considered in the next installment of The Succession Conundrum.

Source:

(1)  Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

The Executive Edge (Respect)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Being a leader means many things: having the necessary expertise to perform your role, overseeing the efforts of others, with a balance of support and direction; and fostering an environment that allows people and the organization to perform at their very best.  This is a tall order for any executive, and at the end of the day, real success is only generated in situations where a leader is able to provide compelling reasons for others to follow, as well as fulfill their role.

An integral part of this process is generating respect, not just in how an executive performs in their role, but also in terms of how they treat others.  This doesn’t mean behaving in a manner designed to win a popularity contest (being an executive often involves making decisions that might not be particularly popular); but rather, approaching a leadership role in a fair and balanced way and with respect.  Although executive workdays are often characterized by too much to do and too many requests to do even more, successful executives recognize that they are always “on” and how they approach their role and interact with others is in full display at all times.  Yes, living in the executive fishbowl can be a lot to handle.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including collaboration, risk management, and professional development.  Here’s more about the importance of developing and maintaining respect at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Although there are leaders out there who can generate results by using less than desirable tactics (think fear, intimidation, and other forms of pressure), this approach is far from acceptable and is not sustainable in the long run.  After all, who wants to work for these people?  The reality is that everyone in an organization has an important job to do, and companies need people at all levels; this means that all roles are deserving of respect, provided that they are conducted in a respectful manner.

Executive roles, by their very nature, typically impact a wide range of people, both inside and outside of a company.  Those who don’t take the time and effort (or don’t have the skills) to treat others in a consistently respectful manner ultimately take more from an organization than they provide.  It doesn’t mean that the parties have to like each other; but staff members, as an example, need to know that a leader will view business situations in a fair manner, be humane, and not bring personal bias into the mix.  Having said that, those pursuing the Executive Edge have the opportunity to bring so much more to a leadership role.

Get the Executive Edge

Generating respect from others is something that won’t happen overnight, which is one of the reasons why it is so important to adopt the right mindset now to ensure great preparation in advance of stepping into an executive role.  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep a long memory. You should be able to relate to many of the people in your workplace by virtue of having held less senior roles earlier in your career.  By never forgetting the issues relating to those roles and what was important at that moment in time, you will be in a better position to relate to those who are currently in the job.
  • Practice empathy. Remember the human aspect of any organization. Simply put, people are people; they have the same kinds of hopes, dreams, and feelings deep down that many of us do.  A big part of respect is treating people humanely, regardless of the situation at hand.  Even in bad times, people will remember those who treated them with grace and respect.
  • Put things in context. Not everything in business life is critical, but many things are important.  Let recognizing situations for what they are and not overreacting be your norm.  Taking the time to fully consider the situation and reacting in a professional and pragmatic manner can help to generate respect.
  • Do your job well. Competence is important in generating respect, as it’s difficult to look up to someone if they aren’t very good at what they do. Respect isn’t about high-fives and fist-bumps around the office; it has many layers and is far more complex than that.  Be the person who can always be counted on to get the job done.
  • Pay careful attention to role models. Observing experienced executives in terms of how they handle all types of situations and the human element throughout is a great way to learn; both in terms of the leader you want to be and behaviors you never want to repeat. Well respected executives are easy to spot.

Remember that respect is a two way street; you have to give it to earn it, and around it goes.  At the end of a difficult day, you will be glad that you have this important skill in your corner.

The Executive Edge (Collaboration)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Career advancement at any level typically involves generating success on both a personal and team level.  As positions become more senior, the collaborative and team component can become much more significant, in terms of the amount of time spent and the degree of complexity of the task at hand.  Smart executives know how to bring the right expertise to a team situation, both in terms of their own skills and drawing on the abilities of others to generate a great result.

On this basis, it stands to reason that there is a need to bring together a wider range of skills and expertise to address issues encountered at the executive level, rather than relying on the power of one.  It’s not surprising that the ability to work well on a team and collaborative level can be the difference between moving up to the executive ranks and staying in a position that doesn’t involve as much of this type of work.  This is only one of the reasons why it’s important to start practicing these important skills now, as experience can contribute greatly to developing talent as a collaborator.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including professional development, communication, and managing people.  Here’s more about the why the ability to collaborate and be an effective team member are so important at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Those who are able to excel in the executive ranks understand that success generated as a team reflects well on both the group and its individual participants; this is a great reason to get involved and make your best effort.  There can be a fine line, however, between successful collaboration and taking too much personal ownership of the result.  Inappropriate behavior includes poor preparation, not seeing the perspectives of other team members, over (or under) contributing, and even taking credit for the ideas of others (yes, it happens).

The result can range from teams that don’t function well enough to accomplish much, to hard feelings between individuals.  Any way you look at it, this doesn’t bode well for a harmonious and effective work environment on a day-to day basis (and may explain why difficult team members are sometimes shuffled off to other tasks with little explanation).  Don’t let this happen to you!

Get the Executive Edge

Collaboration is both a state of skill and a state of mind.  Do it well, and you might just find yourself being approached to contribute to all kinds of initiatives, and that’s a great way to practice and network at the same time.  Here’s how:

  • Do the preparation. In order to give full attention and participation to team sessions, it’s important to be well prepared in advance (don’t consider meeting time as an appropriate place for speed reading of background materials!).  Be prepared to participate fully and take a leadership role where possible.
  • Be careful with “alliances”. Day-to-day working relationships can turn into informal alliances between individuals to move initiatives ahead. This type of situation can be tricky, as complex business problems often require a better level of objectivity to resolve.  Be sure to enter team sessions with an open mind to find the most favourable solution.
  • Listen and learn. Moments of team member contribution is not a time to “zone out”(look around the room at your next meeting and gauge the number of people who are actually listening to what is being said).  Make an active and deliberate effort to listen to the perspectives of others and learn.
  • Keep an eye on the big picture. Collaborative sessions can involve a lot of details, particularly in terms of problem solving and implementation.  Be sure to keep the “big picture” mandate of the team in mind to ensure that the process and your contributions are on point.
  • Share the wealth. Make the effort to give credit where credit is due and don’t ever take personal acknowledgement for the achievements of the team or contributions of others. These missteps do not go unnoticed and can generate a lack of respect that can be difficult to overcome.

Think about it: we learned most of what we need to know about collaboration at a very young age; play nicely with others, wait your turn, listen, learn, don’t be a copycat, and celebrate the accomplishments of others.  Some lessons are effective well into the future, so pull up your socks and start collaborating!

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.

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