Why timing matters for executive team and board performance

Timing matters for executive team and board performance. It’s the most frustrating of things. Decisions are made, but the time it takes to agree them seems torturously long. Even when they are agreed on, the implementation seems to go at a snail’s pace and you’re worried that the organisation will miss the market opportunity the decision was meant to grasp. Sometimes, on reflection, the executive team or Board didn’t make the right decision because of a lack of challenge – or too much, which railroaded the process.

Sound familiar?

At our most recent roundtable event we talked about the significance of timing. While what I just described probably feels hauntingly familiar if you operate as a CEO, senior executive or as a non-exec, the likelihood is that, even though you can spot the symptoms, you haven’t yet figured out the cure.

And the really tricky thing is that the right cure – the one which fixes the issues once and for all, rather than making things only incrementally better – is likely to depend entirely on the timing.

When is just as important as what

When a senior executive team or board team is performing sub-optimally it’s easy to leap to solutions. But the most crucial move is to pause sufficiently so you can understand the timing context in order to match it to the right solution.

So what do we mean by when in this context? Examples include:

  • A change in leadership – whether that’s a new chief executive, chair, significant stakeholders or C-suite team membership
  • Changes in strategy or strategic priorities
  • A need to take performance to the next level
  • External factors such as legislative changes or disruption in your market
  • Any key point within the organisation’s cycle, so the mid-year point, when you need to review how you’re doing against enterprise targets, or the start or end of a year when you are planning
  • Before you make significant changes, for example establishing a new target operating model or strategy, and you’re considering the best team to lead the change
  • A new partnership, joint venture or alliance which brings pairs of teams together
  • A situation where there’s unhelpful conflict between those in pivotal relationships, for example, the chair and chief exec, or chief exec and CFO
  • When senior relationships are so fractured that intervention is needed to get things back on track

Surely we can crack this alone?

The evidence would suggest not, given that high-performing leadership teams were number eight in the top 20 Harvard Business Review article topics between 1976 and 2016. That’s 40 years of trying to successfully and sustainably solve this problem, without much apparent progress.

And evidence also shows us how critical the performance of top teams can be. 90% of investors consider the top team the key non-financial factor in their decision-making, and an organisation is 1.9 times more likely to have above-median performance if the top team is aligned and working towards a common vision.

So while top executives seem to agree on the business challenges we’re facing – company growth, new markets, cross-sector competition and the need for new alliances – it seems that the actions being taken to make those teams most able to tackle the challenges are merely more of the same things which haven’t fixed the issues so far. It’s like turning up the volume on a radio station you’re already playing and expecting a different genre of music to appear.

At our event and in previous blogs we’ve explained the big three problems we see when working with executive teams – time together is unproductive, conflict is too high or too low, which impacts on decision-making, and the skills, experience and behaviours which got people on the top team aren’t enough to sustain performance.

In our experience the trick to making those successful and sustainable changes is in not only addressing those three big problems, but in using the right solution for the team’s when – which is dependent on the stage both the business and the team are at. Interventions need to match both the business context and the team’s current challenges, which we reviewed in detail earlier in this article.

Doing the right things at the wrong time doesn’t deliver results. That’s why we put so much emphasis on the discovery phase of our work. It helps us not only understand the enterprise and its context, but map the when, which is what leads to higher-quality, more sustainable interventions.

As basketball legend Michael Jordon so eloquently put it, “Talent wins games. But team work and intelligence win championships.” Senior leaders need to decide whether they are happy playing in the lower leagues, or whether they have their eyes set on the Premiership trophy.

If your organisation has it’s eyes on the prize and you’re keen to ensure you do the right thing at the right time to take your executive team or Board up a level, get in touch for an informal chat about how we can support your team’s performance and growth.

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