One of the big questions we get from our CEO clients is as the business grows what is the real role of a CEO? What should they really be focused on to take the organization to new levels, because most are focused on the day-to-day aspects of the business.
A great conversation was started in the association community by Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor to Associations Now. His post "A Better Job Description for CEOs" asks the question, what should CEO's be focus on. The question is a really good one and I think the bigger question is what should the roles be for the Executive Team, the Integrator (#2 of an organization) and the Visionary (#1/CEO).
My friend and colleague Jamie Notter posted his top four for the CEO as Culture, Strategy, People, and Business Model, but this is still too much for a CEO to focus on. I also believe it muddies the role of the Integrator and the Executive team with the true role of a CEO who wants to scale and grow the organization.
Here are my thoughts on the roles of the Executive Team, the #2 (COO/Integrator), and the #1 (CEO/Executive Director/Visionary).
The Executive Team of any organization needs to be focusing on six core aspects of the "business" which we call Vision, People, Data, Issues, Process and Traction.
1. VISION: Getting everyone in the organization 100% clear about where you're going with the organization.
2. PEOPLE: Surrounding yourself with great people because you can't achieve a great vision without great people.
3. DATA: This means cutting through all the feelings, personalities, opinions and egos and boiling your organization down to a handful of objective numbers that give you an absolute pulse on where things are.
4. ISSUES: With 1-3 above addressed and clear it makes it much easier to identify and tackle the real issues within an organization and make them go away.
5. PROCESS: This is the secret ingredient in any organization. This means “systemizing” the organization by identifying and documenting the core processes that define your way to run your organization – getting everyone on the same page with what the essential procedural steps are in your core processes and then getting everyone to follow them so you create consistency and scalability in your organization.
6. TRACTION: This means bringing discipline and accountability into the organization – becoming great at execution – taking the vision down to the ground and making it real.
The Executive Team focuses on these six core components of an organization. By strengthening all six of those core areas, organizations can become more efficient and scalable.
The #2 person in the organization we call the “Integrator” but their job titles vary (COO, Executive VP of Administration, etc.). This person’s focus is ensuring that the Executive Team has all of the resources it needs to tackle those six components. The Integrator is also responsible for executive of the Business Plan and P&L (but this is not the CFO).
This leaves the “Visionary” or CEO/Executive Director owning and guiding the Vision and long-term growth of the organization. To grow the organization, the CEO should be focused on:
1. Ensuring the Executive Team, Board, Staff, and Members are clear on the vision of the organization. This means continually working with these teams and individuals to ensure what they are doing is clearly aligning with where the organization is going.
2. Developing and deepening the Key Relationships of the organization. This does not mean others are not involved but it does mean taking an active role in the identified "Key" relationships for the organization.
3. Emulates the Culture that supports the Vision. One of the biggest issues we hear about most often is the perception that the leaders of an organization are saying one thing but doing another. The CEO needs to be the one keeping a pulse on this.
What we we see too often is that the “Integrator” and “Visionary” are trying to mix and match their roles instead of letting each do what they do best. The profile of a successful Integrator (one who likes being in the weeds) is very different than that of an Visionary (one guiding the future of the organization). And many times others have the expectation that the CEO needs to do both. Yes, the CEO needs to know what’s going on in the organization with regards to operations, but the CEO should not be responsible for its day-to-day work if the organization is going to scale and grow. They CEO needs to focus on the Vision, Key Relationships and Culture in order to take the organization to new heights.
Amy Riccardi is the Chief People Officer and Founder of HCM2020. She's a guest lecturer at Georgetown and George Washington Universities and works with executive teams and CEOs to help scale and grow their business.