A Successful CEO Does 3 Things
Quick, what are the three key responsibilities of a CEO? Easy, I’ve been saying for as long as I’ve been a CEO: 1) Systems, 2) Structure, and 3) Scalability. Stated simply, the CEO perfects the product and process that allows the business to exist (“nails it”), and then makes the result sustainable and scalable to meet the company’s goals (“scales it”).
Failure comes, I’ve maintained, when we lose our focus on these primary goals.
But this year I’ve gained some new perspective from Trey Taylor, J.D., the author of “A CEO Only Does Three Things.” Taylor provides executive coaching and strategic planning to C-Suite executives through his consultancy, trinity-blue, and is a partner in multiple investment capital firms.
I met Taylor through the advanced mastermind group Board of Advisors at the beginning of 2020. When the pandemic struck, he immediately stepped forward in the daily a.m. strategy calls among the group’s members to determine financing avenues and strategy paths forward during the 2020 adventures to come. The process was excruciating for all, but many achieved new levels of outcome during a year like no other.
Culture, people, and numbers are the focal points that ensure your success
Today and always, Taylor maintains, the three focal points leaders must master are these:
All that we require is covered by mastery of these three primary goals. What does this mean for us now?
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"
We all talk about the virtues of culture in statements like the famous Peter Drucker remark, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But what, exactly, is culture?
According to Taylor, it’s the challenging and essential requirement to align the corporate culture with the underlying shared values of its people. And if you succeed in doing this, it is your most important competitive advantage.
Culture, in a nutshell, is the ethical environment, beliefs, traditions, and rituals that bind us together. Every group creates a culture: a summary of what the group believes is the right way to act toward each other based on shared beliefs.
Culture exists whether you create it or not, and generally falls into one of two buckets, Taylor says in his book.
They are 1) the lowest common denominator, which is unplanned and ad hoc. This culture tends to put its customers last and falls by default to choices made by the individuals responsible for leading out in any particular program.
Or, 2) an intentional culture, defined by the CEO and leadership in a way that is not only written but also breathed into life in the form of shared values, commitment, and goals that are embodied in a company's people to a degree they don't simply adhere to the company culture; they exude it.
It is essential for every CEO that the work of creating a vibrant culture is the first and highest priority for the organization to fully succeed.
The right people are your greatest advantage
Hand in hand with the priority of culture is people. One of the CEO’s highest challenges is to choose the right people to power your business within a culture in which they can thrive. Choosing the right people is the express job of the CEO and cannot be delegated, Taylor says in his book, as people matter more than any other variable.
It is vital to stress the importance of both the thinking, intellectual, and capabilities side of each candidate with the feeling, emotional maturity skills.
Beyond the skills and aptitude, consider the Third Dimension: “I am”
Taylor advocates for a third dimension of skills he calls the “I Am” dimension of the creative unconscious that houses our beliefs, our self-image, and our sense of right and wrong. Hardwired into this element is our purpose. When our purpose is clear, we channel tremendous amounts of mental energy. And when we are mission-driven, it is no longer necessary to drag and cajole reluctant workers along. They are compelled by their own sense of identity and purpose, allowing the CEO to remain focused on the business's highest potential and needs.
This is why many organizations, faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, went to such extremes to protect the roles of their people, which they rightly recognized as the highest treasure the company holds.
Mind the (right) numbers
The ability to lead by the numbers may seem obvious but is the surprising Achilles Heel of many organizations today. Taylor notes, quoting entrepreneurial pro Marcus Lemonis in the assertion that “if you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business.”
As an example, we can count any number of businesses that have failed while their leaders believed all was well. It should go without saying that CEOs must always protect the ability to access sufficient funds to support their next moves.
How many companies in solar or other fast-growth sectors have mistakenly spent so much money achieving sales and paying commissions on orders they become backlogged and cash strapped in their ability to fulfil and end up dying in the midst of “good news?”
Monitoring and sharing the right data empowers your team
Sharing the right data allows your people to see the impact of their work on the overall business. Inherent in the process is making sure the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) you monitor are the right numbers that show participants the expectations and impacts of their work, down to the day. Additionally, sharing the overall KPIs with a team or company empowers their creative energy to rise to unimaginable highs.
For example, Taylor tells the story in his book of Pixable, which set a goal to increase ad revenue by 700%, without producing any additional content. To accomplish this, the company hired four data scientists who determined within 30 days that articles that shared vital data spent more time on the site, shared the material more widely with other professionals, and even featured the information more broadly in their social media lives. So “time on site” became the most important metric to measure. Knowing this, the sales team was able to customize its “time on site” case studies for specific vertical markets. Productivity (and profitability) soared.
“In nearly every business I work with, we discover opportunities hidden in the data,” Taylor says in his book. “The Pixable story is not an anomaly, but it is rare in the sense that few business leaders take the time to fully understand how their business works, and even fewer share unfettered access to that knowledge with their teams.”
Imagine what you might discover by examining the most meaningful data in your company, such as what do customers value most? Where do your employees apply the most time and cost-intensive resources? Do the investments and the outcomes align?
In all, then, your route to growth in 2021 — and in every year — is to put your focus on just three things: Culture, People, and Numbers. In any business climate, it will propel your success.
Related: 10 Myths About Successful CEOs