Five Letters To Bring Operations And Strategy Together

How much TRUST is there between Nonexecutive Directors and the Executive Team in your organisation? This question has been asked to Chief Executives before and once you get past that initial, expected answer the real answer soon emerges, “The trust isn’t as high as it ought to be, as we tend to be guarded.” So, why does this low trust kind of behaviour emerge in leadership positions?

Strategy is something that is identified as being a situation that only the Board should consider and as a consequence the “operations” part of it belongs to the Executive Team. This is wrong on both counts.

Meetings Matter Less In The High Trust Situation.

When there’s high trust in a leadership situation, leaders find that they can spend less time involved in meetings. That’s why meetings are so lengthy in a low trust business culture, because everybody wants to keep an eye on what others are doing. In a high trust situation whenever something tricky comes up and when people get stuck, the Chairman chips in:

“Why don’t we get a couple of members of the Executive Team together with a couple of Nonexecutive Directors to work this out? When the four of you agree, continue and feed back to us next month. If you cannot agree come back with a couple of options so that we can make a choice.”

In a high trust situation most of the real work is done outside of the meetings and everybody gets on to make it work out.

Being Disciplined About Problem-Solving.

In a problem-solving situation when a small group is trying to sort out a tricky issue, typically what they say is something like, “Why don’t we try and agree on what we are aiming to achieve and after that look at the best way to get there?”

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Everything gets jumbled up here including operations, strategy, the aim and the delivery. Everybody’s just looking to try and find a solution.

Think of what happens to the typical Board Meeting. Then, the discussion isn’t about problem-solving it’s about discussing a range of papers submitted by the Executive Team members. Most NEDs would be annoyed by this and they would think they are being cut out of the conversation. When this happens the NEDs try to go to an area where they have authority; the strategy of the organisation. For example, when yet another paper is up for discussion they would pipe in and point out that this doesn’t fit in with a wider strategy that was agreed to in the last month’s meeting.

How Your Execs Ought To Behave.

For the Executive Team – take a problem to the Board and ask for help in solving it. For the Nonexecutive Team, speak up if you find that your time is not being used properly and trust the Execs to change their ways.

Executives need to trust NEDs and NEDs need to model the type of behaviour that they want them to adopt.

Remember that strategy and operations are not normally the problem; it’s how the Executive and Nonexecutive Directors interact. Trust has to be established and the team needs to come together as a leadership team. When this happens liberation can result, with far fewer wasted hours in meetings, as well.