A Memo to a New Executive Team Member
A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
Dear Jean –
Earlier today I asked you to consider joining our executive management team.
As you and I discussed, accepting our offer to join the senior executive team is something we want you to consider carefully. It is not something to accept lightly, or without due consideration.
Accordingly, I thought it would be helpful to give you some indication of what we expect from you in your capacity as a member of the executive team, and what you can expect from me and your peers if you do decide to join us.
Let me start with our three governing principles. You’ll need to fully grasp these in order to make sense of what you will see in action at the next executive team meeting:
1. Check Your Hat at the Door.
As a member of the executive team, your role is to manage the operational details of our company. The company. Not your department.
In executive session, you’re not there to manage your department, you’re there to manage this business. You run your department the rest of the time.
Look at it this way – in management team meetings, you check your functional hat at the door. We may ask you to put it on again if there are specific decisions to be made about which we need your subject matter expertise, or special insights that you can give us because of your functional knowledge, but you’ll find that this is less frequent than you might expect.
The consequences of this is that you can expect to see the following in our team meeting:
Everyone (that means you) is expected to contribute to everything we discuss, not just those matters that fall into your functional ambit;
Everyone (that means you) is required to help us reach decisions that are for the better good of the organization as a whole, not just ‘good for you’; and
The rest of the management team does not react positively to contributions that are either self-serving or defensive regarding the contributor’s specific functional area.
If you persistently bring a purely functional perspective into the management meetings (by insisting on wearing your functional hat), or if you consistently act in a protective or defensive manner when discussing your functional activities or your direct reports, you will lose your ability to add value as a member of the executive team.
2. Think Laterally, Not Vertically.
Until now, your key relationships in the organization have been vertical: upward to your manager, and downward to your direct reports. Once you agree to join the executive team, your key relationships will shift from the vertical to the horizontal. As of then your first and overriding commitment will be to your peers – the other members of the executive team – not to your functional group.
Why? Because there will, on occasion, be conflicts between what is good for your team and what is good for the business as a whole. When those conflicts occur, your commitment must be to the organization as a whole – represented by your executive team members – not to your specific functional area.
Now, this of course does not mean that you can no longer be loyal to your functional group. And (so long as you heed the first point above about being self-serving or defensive) it doesn’t mean that you cannot lobby for their best interests or represent their needs – indeed, we expect you to do just that. Let me repeat, so as to be clear: we don’t expect you to weaken or dilute any of the existing loyalties that you have. Instead, we expect you to add to it another layer of commitment: to the members of the executive team.
3. Bring a Dollar Bill.
We practice what we call ‘dollar bill management’. What I mean is this: As you will discover, we discuss issues – often intensely. We each say our piece. We argue hard, sometimes at length. We say what is on our minds (courteously and civilly). We challenge each other and our ideas. Sometimes it gets heated. But by the time we finish talking, and we proceed to make a decision, the dynamic changes:
When a decision is made, we all uphold it, 100%.
The implications of this are important:
You don’t get to second-guess executive team decisions. You don’t get to come into my office after a meeting and pick apart any decision we made. You don’t get to complain or whine about any decision we made to anyone outside the executive team meeting.
You don’t get to obstruct, ignore, sandbag or avoid implementing any decisions or their implications or consequences.
You do get to be a role model in implementing agreed-upon decisions – swiftly, fully and with enthusiasm, whatever your stance was when the decision was being debated.
This doesn’t mean that we think the executive team is infallible, or that we all have to act like robots and persevere with the consequences of poor decisions. The executive team makes mistakes: sometimes a decision proves to have been the wrong one. When that happens, any executive team member can bring evidence that a decision needs to be re-thought – but only after an agreed period of supportive compliance, and only in a scheduled executive session.
Jean, this is probably enough for you to take on board ahead of your first attendance at the executive team session next week. After that meeting, I’ll write to you again with some pointers on the mechanics of how we work together. I look forward to seeing you at our meeting.
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