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 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?
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.