How to change your executives’ behavior—starting this Monday

How to change your executives’ behavior—starting this MondayWe find that the notion of rediscovering a sense of the Founder’s Mentality℠ resonates with many CEOs. But where to start? We’ve worked with a number of CEOs to create a list of Monday morning actions for their leadership teams. Here’s an example of such a list:

  1. Fall back in love with your product—and the people who sell it. Within multinational corporations that have sunk into struggling bureaucracy, it is simply extraordinary to see how many people have never sold their company’s product. Recently, I presented to about 250 leaders at a founder-led company in Brazil. When I asked how many people in the room had started on the shop floor, selling products, about 90% of the audience raised their hands. At the leadership meetings of many multinational corporations, you would be lucky to have 40% of the audience raise their hands. That’s not enough. If at least 60% of your leaders did not start out selling your company’s product and demonstrating every day why buyers should believe in it, I can think of no better first action than to help them fall back in love with your product. Get them on the front line. Make sure they understand how the product is sold and why customers buy it. Make sure they know the names and the backgrounds of the people selling the product every day and develop a direct line of communication with them. They are the kings of the organization, and your leaders—and everyone else in the company—are there to serve the king.
  2. Be ruthless about distinguishing the doers from the thinkers, and make the doers the heroes of the business. In my experience, the thinking gene seems to dominate at many companies. It permeates everything, creating a whole group of people who think themselves into perfect inaction. I wish it were different, but it is rare that the doer gene will dominate if everyone is allowed to do both. CEOs with a Founder’s Mentality are absolutely clear on this point: They distinguish between doers and thinkers, and then they make the doers the heroes of the company. The Monday morning action is this: Go through your organization to evaluate how clear the distinction is and determine which ones you are celebrating.
  3. Embrace conflict. A key purpose of organizational design is to create conflict as a company tries to deliver both the benefits of the similar and the different. The goal isn’t conflict itself, but conflict resolution. The best companies love conflict and use it to get better answers. Too often, though, conflict slows decisions and creates energy vampires. The Monday morning action is to make sure that everyone understands that conflict is good and it will get resolved. The goal is to have the right debate, make the right decision and then actually do something about it.
  4. Make the Monday meeting matter. The best teams I’ve seen with a Founder’s Mentality have weekly meetings with a clear cultural norm: We meet, we fight and then we resolve. The imperative to resolve means that the conflict doesn’t linger, hampering the rest of the organization’s ability to act. This creates a metabolism for the company, but it also creates a very important feedback loop. While the leaders are constantly learning about the issues that might prevent the front line from acting, the front line is learning that they can’t let things fester than more than a week. Leaders can also send a cultural signal by going back to the front line with a message instead of a directive: “Stop relying on us to always take action, and sort issues out with your own peers.”
  5. Create lines in the sand. Companies with a Founder’s Mentality have very clear lines in the sand, and everyone knows them. Some examples: We will never lose market share in our core products. We will act on each customer’s complaint within 24 hours. We will never lose a sale to this competitor. They then have a repeatable model for how to respond when lines are crossed. This forces a discussion about how they know when a line is crossed and how they can respond to it. Companies that think this through consider how employees should escalate the information, bring a team together to create an action plan, mobilize reserve resources to fund the effort,  monitor progress to get them back on the right side of the line and translate lessons from the breach into professional development efforts. Founder-led companies respond to breaches of the lines quickly. They know the drill and sequences through the necessary actions. Other companies, sadly, not only lack a drill; they don’t even know when a breach has occurred.

That’s a starting list. While we’ve talked about each of these issues elsewhere, it is sometimes helpful to have a list that can start the discussion about how we will change our behaviors—starting next Monday. I hope you enjoy the weekend.

This entry was posted in The paths to Great Repeatable Models, The southward winds by James Allen. Bookmark the permalink.

About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office and recognized as a leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. He is co-head of Bain’s Global Strategy practice and a member of Bain & Company's European Consumer Products practice. He is co-author, with Chris Zook, of Repeatability (HBR Press, March 2012) and Profit from the Core (HBR Press, 2001 and 2010).

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