Recently, I was in a conversation with two CEOs, two CTOs, and a COO discussing our businesses in pretty frank terms. Most were doing OK. One was experiencing pretty explosive growth. But all were struggling with how to increase company productivity so their companies could deliver more.
The C-Suite often has tremendous autonomy, but for many, determining how to influence the business from the top isn’t easy. The following are five ways the C-Suite can influence their company to increase productivity, outside of the most obvious, which is hiring the right people.
1. Align company leaders around the company mission
Like many people, I’ve worked for few great CEOs — CEOs who inspire their leaders, who understand how to succinctly explain the company mission, and who believe it in their hearts and show it. Years ago, I did. His name was Dennis Kelly, who is now Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. Back then, Dennis and I worked for a company that offered a clean electricity solution that was better for the environment than traditional forms of electricity generation. Dennis began every company meeting by restating that we were “changing the way power is made.” And he believed it — we believed it. We aligned through his leadership and his inspiration — and that alignment drove productivity in ways that are difficult to measure, but that everyone who worked there knows. We wanted to accomplish great things — and we did. We hired people who could get excited about the mission, knowing it would align the teams and drive performance. And it did.
2. Clarity around goals/milestones
Setting team or personal milestones sounds simple, and it is, but the follow through around the milestones is often where leaders fall short. So much of leadership is about repetition — measuring the same things over time, including progress toward goals. But it’s that repetition — that focus around a set of agreed-to milestones that drives results. The best leaders have 3-5 things they measure each of their teams on relentlessly. They are the priorities and everyone on the team knows it. Other initiatives may slip — as Steve Jobs famously said, “(focus) means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” The 3-5 things you prioritize don’t slip.
3. Arm with resources
Teams require the resources necessary to accomplish milestones leaders set for them. Whether these resources are people or technologies or something else, leaders need to understand resources as a dependency. This is why milestones need to be shared and agreed upon. A leader may bring milestones they would like to accomplish to the table, but the team lead responsible for executing the milestone may have dependencies that prohibit or impede the team’s ability to accomplish that milestone. The C-Suite needs to trust their team leaders with this information and act on it, either by modifying the goal or by providing the resources necessary to accomplish it.
4. Stimulate internal interactions
If you ask someone about the best work experience they’ve had, you’ll find that nearly all had one thing in common: co-workers worked closely together and communication amongst and between teams was strong. Hiring goes a long way towards this, but regardless of who you hire, how do you ensure team members are communicating with each other? An open floor plan helps because it forces employees to work in close proximity, which helps foster communications. Chat applications like Slack and Hipchat also help, particularly for employees outside the office. We use a combination of Hipchat and our own software for knowledge sharing. The result is closer collaboration across the company — and less reliance on one-to-one tools, like email. There’ no bigger culprit for developing silos than email!
5. Celebrate and reflect
You’re going to have successes and failures in business. Celebrating your successes brings people together in a unique and memorable way if you do it right. Recognize those who contributed to the success and celebrate their accomplishments. They’ll want to work even harder for you, and those around them will work hard for that recognition. But failures can also be a time to bring people together. Discuss what went wrong, what you as a leader could do better. Reflecting openly and honestly about failure will push others to do the same — and to not make similar mistakes down the road.
I’m proud to work at a company with a clear mission (that I reiterate every Friday at our all-hands meeting) which is to help teams improve collaboration and productivity by helping them find the information they need to do their jobs. And I’m lucky we are the developers of a knowledge sharing platform that helps us increase productivity. The C-Suite has an opportunity to drive business productivity from the top, but they need to invest in each of these elements to elevate their teams to accomplish more. Doing so requires time and focus, more than anything. But the payoffs can be tremendous.
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