Creating Your Executive Team

executive teamThe process you go through to create your Executive Team will be emulated by your direct reports to create theirs. Make sure that process is worthy of repeating. Be a mentor. If you’ve made mistakes, share them. If you’ve done something that worked well, share that. You never win by withholding information from your team. Some CEOs do this to make themselves feel smarter or to “test” their teams. Both strategies make you look weak and ineffective in the end. One CEO I worked with had a management meeting and told his six key reports to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about what was happening in their departments. He gave them three days to prepare. Three of them, however, had never prepared their own PowerPoint presentations; they had only used ones prepared for them. When it came time to present, the CEO went first and gave an elabo­rate display. He then asked each of his people to present in succession and was visibly agitated when the rest were not, to his mind, as good as his.

How motivating do you think this experience was to people who were trying to learn some­thing new? Instead of an educational experience, it turned into humiliation for two of them. I’m certain this was not the CEO’s intent. But remember, the outcome will often “rewrite” the intent, and that is the story that will be told and retold. Always state your intention and make sure your actions follow from that. Heck, everything I know I got from other people or by doing the opposite of what I should have done. Why make your team reinvent the wheel when you probably didn’t do that yourself? Besides, putting your team through this kind of pointless exercise only distracts and detracts from the work they should be doing for the company.

While you need to be a mentor to develop your key people, don’t settle for someone who might be good in any position. If a person’s past work doesn’t demonstrate the specific behavior you’re looking for, the likelihood is small that you will see it in the future. Remember Marcus Buckingham’s premise that you can’t work on weaknesses, only strengths. Another way to look at this is that past performance predicts future behavior. No matter how great a leader you think you are, you can’t make a duck bark.

Focus on the behaviors you know are required by the position and that are nonnegotiable. The only way to predict if someone meets these is by asking behavior-based interview questions grounded in the Job Description you’ve created (see Chapter Four for more details on behavior-based interviewing). Remember, an interview is one of the best performances your potential employee will ever give you. Be honest with yourself: if you are terrible at interviewing, get someone to help you. One bad hire will cost you three times the annual salary you are advertising for a position.

And no, you can’t hire someone without having a job description because they won’t know how their performance will be measured, and thus can’t accurately tell you whether they can do the job or not. Writing a job description is a prerequisite to interviewing for any position, but particularly for your Executive Team. So, think about your goals and the positions you need to fulfill those, and then get to work writing your job descriptions. See Chapter Four for a more in-depth discussion of job descriptions, but very briefly a simple job description should contain the following:

  • Job duties and responsibilities
  • Required skills and characteristics
  • Desired skills and characteristics

Once you’ve defined your team, spend some time thinking about what the team needs to accomplish in the first year. Set a strategy, milestones, and goals, and communicate those clearly to everyone.

Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.