The first business book I actually read was “What the CEO Wants You to Know.” I remember admiring the way it looked; small and white with a band of red across the bottom. The author was Ram Charan; his name was strong and when I read the book I wasn’t disappointed. In a few sittings, I learned about business metrics, leadership and how to tell a compelling story using simple examples. Of all the business books I have owned, it’s the one that has made it through every office move in the last 13 years.
Last month I learned that Ram Charan would be visiting Celanese to share his insights into effective execution. You may have read the book he co-wrote with Larry Bossidy by that title; I’ve read that one, too.
As Ram prepared for his keynote, he spent time at our headquarters in Dallas. He sized us up studying the financials, our strategy and asking a lot of questions about how we make decisions and prioritize our work. I believe he saw that we have a healthy desire to make our company even more successful for our customers, employees and shareowners. Ram’s client list reads like a who’s who. His insights are gleaned from years of coaching some of the most successful chief executive officers in business.
With his permission, I’m sharing a few of his insights and observations that can help us all become stronger and more effective leaders and contributors. True to the title of this blog, most of these can be implemented in 24 hours or less. The themes are:
- Break it down
- Manage the intersections
- Know your people
- Resolve conflict
- Keep it simple
- Kindle the fire
Break it down – A strategy is only as good as a leader’s ability to turn it into tangible actions. Ram outlined the following components of a strategy: high level objective, imperatives, critical tasks, interdependencies. With this approach, the organization and leader must do the hard work of prioritizing objectives and then understanding the detailed tasks to accomplish the most important ones. These actions should be laser sharp. There’s no room for ambiguity or flowery words. Once you have the actions, they should be organized by quarter and year. The team must review these consistently with an unflinching honesty: are we making progress, what can we do better? Put it to work: Can you use this approach to speed communication and implementation of your business or functional strategy? Can you apply it to goal setting and performance updates for your employees?
Manage the intersections – Execution often breaks down. How many times have you managed a project where the whole thing went awry once you brought “others” into the process or when you’ve moved 2-3 steps away from the core team? Whether this is misunderstanding, misaligned objectives, or a lack of team play, we can’t ignore the best plans can fracture at any time. Know the critical leverage points, know the critical players and manage them keenly. We’re all on the same team. Put it to work: Bring people with different perspective and skills to your project. They can offer insights and identify trouble spots to prevent the break down at the intersections. This equals speed and effectiveness.
Know your people – Pens were scratching furiously when Ram talked about managing a team. “Do you know the raw talent of each of your people? Do you work with them to cultivate it?” If you don’t, he said, you should because people trust and respect you for supporting their success. Put it to work: Take an uninterrupted hour to consider each team member. List a significant talent for each person. List one thing they can improve. Consult the book FYI, For Your Improvement, A Guide for Development and Coaching if you need help. Now communicate your perceptions with your employees. Have an active discussion and decide on next steps. If you’re an individual contributor, think about yourself. Consult the Celanese competencies and identify one or two areas that you are strong and one or two that you want to improve. Ask your manager for their help.
Resolve conflict – “Unresolved conflict is an energy drain.” I wrote that one down, starred and underlined it. I knew there was conflict in my organization, but I preferred to ignore it. After all, we could still get things done. Put in this perspective, my mindset changed in an instant. My team is successful precisely because it is energetic. I couldn’t ignore the fact that my reluctance to address conflict could drain the very thing we needed to be creative, strategic and successful. Put it to work: Address conflicts within your function. Enlist the team to help solve it. Give feedback quickly and dispassionately. This will provide speed and transparency to our culture. This is also managing at the intersections.
Work hard to keep it simple – “Leaders need to be clear and grounded in what specific actions need to happen to create the desired results.” Complexity is easy. A simple, actionable approach is the product of hard thinking, dialogue and managing at the intersections, but when it’s done, it’s easy to understand, to communicate and to act against. Put it to work: Using one or two sentences, develop a purpose statement for you, your team, your organization. It’s harder than it seems, but this action will clarify your thoughts and create a touchpoint for team discussion.
Kindle the fire – Your team’s energy can drive you forward or dwindle when you’re just a few feet from the finish line. How do you kindle your team’s fire? Make the complex simple, identify the most critical tasks, resolve conflict, manage the intersections, leverage people’s strengths, take roadblocks out of the way, build on wins. Put it to work: Recognize good work when you see it, always be coaching, ask for help with your own development needs, and let the team know when they are succeeding.
It’s with great appreciation to Ram Charan for freely sharing his knowledge and helping so many learn how to be better leaders and organizations.