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Second-Stage Sensei

by Dr. Dino Signore

Manager of Entrepreneurial Education

Get the most out of your executives


Building your management team is only half the battle. Now that you have these talented professionals on board, you need to leverage their expertise.

Two critical issues come into play here: information flow and delegation.

Information is power

People tend to talk about communication as being one of their biggest problems, but that’s often not the real problem. It’s information. A steady flow of relevant information leads to organizational learning and knowledge, which in turn gives your company power.

One mistake second-stage entrepreneurs often make is not setting goals for their executives. The goals you set should feel like a stretch, and yet be realistic and measureable. For example, breaking $10 million in sales, launching a new product line, or increasing profits by 20 percent — these kinds of goals should act as a guiding star for your executives’ strategic and tactical decisions.

In order to achieve your goals, don’t withhold information, especially when it comes to financials. For example, founders may give incomplete budget information, sharing data only for the areas that an executive is responsible for. Yet your executives need to see everyone’s budget so they can understand how departments are interdependent.

Create a communications structure for your executives

 To maximize information flow, establish a consistent way of meeting with your executives so they can report their progress — both as individuals and as a group — and you can give feedback. There’s no magical method or timing for this. Certainly, regular meetings are important, but what’s most crucial is having an open, honest dialogue.

Cheryl Osborn admits that communicating with her management team has endured a learning curve. “You give someone a title and think they’ll automatically know what to do,” says Osborn, founder of Casco Contractors Inc., a general contracting and architecture firm in Irvine, California. “That doesn’t happen. You have to make sure that directors understand your vision and goals so they can really invest.”

“They also have to be there when you create and define strategy — something I’ve learned more recently,” she adds. “In the past, I didn’t involve my directors because I felt it was all my responsibility. Yet I’ve realized that was wrong. They not only want to be involved—they need to be involved. So I’m getting the seven of us in a room to define our shared strategy, which is a new thing.”

Get out of the kitchen and stay out

Delegation is about temporarily lending your authority to someone else in order to get something done. This may sound simple, but it’s difficult to do — especially for second-stagers who have just started to bring on executives. Founders are still used to calling all the shots and to having a spoon in every pot. Yet now that you have people who are capable of making solid decisions, it’s time to step back and let them stir the pot themselves.

You can observe them and facilitate the process, but don’t intervene — unless you feel they’re doing something unethical or immoral. It’s going to be tempting to second-guess your executives because they’re going to think and do things differently than you would. But before you act, stop and think. What’s important is that your executives make similar decisions as you — and hopefully even better ones.

Remember your job description

Another aspect of effective delegation is boundary management, especially when it comes to understanding your lower boundary. For example, CEOs should resist giving specific directions to frontline employees. While it’s important to know your employees and have good relationships with them, hold off from managing them. You have just hired people to do that.

One thing that really helps is to create your own job description. The mere act of putting your responsibilities and boundaries down on paper makes you more aware of your role and guides your behavior. To double-check this, occasionally ask your executives how you’re doing.

Accept people for their expertise, not the depth of their passion

I often hear second-stage CEOs say they wish their executives would think like entrepreneurs. Be careful what you ask for. You need executives to create stability in the company.

It’s also important to realize that executives probably aren’t going to be as passionate about the business as you are — unless, of course, you give them a stake. Otherwise, they’re coming to work because they have bills to pay and because they want to make money. They’re not going to hand over their lives to you. Be comfortable with that. You want them for their expertise, not their passion.

Another thing to consider: Hiring executives is going to affect your company culture. They’re going to change how things get done, how employees treat clients and one other. They’ll introduce new behaviors — and they may want to change some of your behaviors. You may not like it, but you need to be prepared for that conversation.

For Osborn, building a management team has resulted in an identify shift for her company. “Three years ago everything was tied to me,” she explains. “Now I have six executives impacting the culture, and we’ve moved from Casco being all about Cheryl to having a distinct corporate identity, which is a very good thing.”

Reap the benefits of having more time to think

Having an executive team has freed Osborn in a variety of ways. It has given her greater work-life balance, the ability to create structure for her organization, and the ability to be more strategic in the market.

It has also enabled her to focus internally on employees — to make sure they have the right tools and support to do their jobs. “We’re starting to implement a wellness program, which is something I never would have had time for before,” Osborn says.

Today’s competitive battles are won by an organization’s ability to leverage its talent. Being able to maximize your executives’ expertise is what frees you from the daily grind of operations so you can lead your company instead of just managing it.

Originally published Nov. 21, 2013, on Inc.com (http://www.inc.com/dino-signore/get-the-most-out-of-your-executives.html)