Aligning Your Senior Team
Michael DeVenney
January 24, 2022
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People are complicated.

Even those closest to us, most informed about the priorities of the organization, at times seem to work against what is most important. Leaders are often surprised by their senior teams sending mixed messages as to what matters most, and where attention and resources should be placed.

A recent study showed that more than one-third of executives do not agree with the direction of the senior leader, and do not share their opinion. That means starting an initiative that matters to the organization with four out of ten leaders not committed to the game. It is no surprise that McKinsey and Company released research reporting that leadership teams feel their decisions are ineffective 82% of the time!

Why do people not share their misgivings, even in urgent and pressured situations?

Again, people are complicated and do things that work against them from unconscious biases, although something more is at play here. Complex, yes, but people are not obstacles to progress, they enable opportunities for innovation and growth.

Getting there is not a mystery.

The first step is self-awareness for the senior leader, whose role is to be a catalyst for action, not a commander of compliance. The urgency and pressure of situations can take a leader down a road to quickly set direction, hear what they want to hear, and move on. Action is needed. But the tendency for short-termism keeps the organization from gaining sustainable long-term success.

Being self-aware starts with clarity as to what is most important. Much of the time, leaders are more comfortable with tactics than taking time to focus on the first-order strategic priority. A key role of leaders is to make sense of it all for people. There can be a rush to have an answer, although that is not the same as making sense of things.

As feedback, 63% of senior team members we worked with did not agree with the priority of the leader, and 72% felt the focus was on the short term. Even more of a problem, in the workforce, the greatest challenge to culture was identified in our work as people not understanding the decisions made and the consistency of priorities.

So, using question-based analytics, we work with leaders to help them quiet the noise and identify what is most important to them. We go beneath the surface, with the purpose as a framework for understanding, and figure out what really matters.

The second step of self-awareness for leaders is to be open and inclusive to the perspective of others. Many think they are, but others say differently. Often people are complicated because we make them so. We think we are open and listening, while we are checking the time and impatient to move on to what needs to happen. People sense this and do not share the diversity of perspectives needed. Silence is not agreement or alignment. Leaders need a safe way to unloose opinions.

Then, let us go a different way. Working with the senior team, we use analytics that provide a confidential method for executives to say what they think. By measuring the quantitative and qualitative, we can see what people think and how they feel about things. We can map the degree of agreement, or divergence, around what is most important, and inform decisions with the data needed.

Having a confidential path to gain perspectives takes the personalization away. Instead of responding or reacting to someone’s opinion, making it about them, a conversation can be had about the breadth of opinions around a topic, focusing on the issue, not the people. A much deeper and more strategic discussion follows.

We found in our work that the greatest divergence of opinions as to what is important in senior teams lies in how to generate revenue. There was wide disagreement around what the best fit for direction would be. This can hold back our capacity to scale and grow.

The senior leader is very aware and open to what is meaningful to them and hears the diversity of opinion they need to reach alignment on direction going forward together, at a strategic level and framed by purpose. And people can speak their minds, ensuring a deep and rich debate and discussion. Direction and decisions are cohesive and consistent.

Analytics open the opportunity of people and can be used quickly to include and appreciate all perspectives to make informed decisions. Using artificial intelligence applications, we can even uncover the biases team members do not even know are there, in a safe way, so everyone is crystal clear to supporting the readiness and commitment of people.

Yes, people may be complicated, but they also hold the keys to opportunity. Understanding what is happening, why it is happening, and how it is playing out helps leaders make sense of external factors and internal responses to leverage the capacity of the organization. Accessing data as to how people think and feel unlocks the collective potential of the business.

We cannot leave a third of the team not playing the same game. We cannot rush into action without hearing the lay of the land. We cannot be responsible for everything ourselves.

We need to be self-aware, be clear on what matters, be open to the perspectives of others, and take time to ask, listen, and have a discussion to make decisions that create alignment for senior teams. Only when the senior team is working from the same page can the entire organization make progress and reach its potential. It is worth the time and builds the energy.

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