Are your leaders holding your business back? The cost of siloed strategies
Dora Nagy, advisor and executive coach to CEOs, breaks down what to do when you’ve set your business vision, but nothing’s moving.
Self-care for a CEO is not meditation or breathwork – it is surrounding yourself with people who can get the job done. Having a team, preferably a leadership team, that can execute is what makes or breaks most CEO’s mental health. You have built a great product and tech, now it’s time to build a business. Can you do it alone? Absolutely not. Does it often feel like you still have to? Hell, yes.
Of course, it all starts at the top. You set the vision, you might even set the top priorities for the company (or Objectives if you have adopted OKRs), and then get out of the way. At least, that’s what you are told you need to do, according to some smart leadership books. You listen to the advice… and then nothing happens.
Well, actually, that’s not true. Some chaos, some missed deliverables, and stagnating KPIs sprinkled with signs of frustration and burnout in the organisation. People might start blaming the “OKR process” (if you have one) meanwhile thinking that there is a leadership vacuum.
Strategic execution unleashed
From your leadership team’s perspective, they have done their bit. They have brainstormed with their team about how they can contribute to the overall vision and objectives you have shared. They have even written up a Google Doc or Notion page (to get more fancy) and showed what their team was going to be working on for the next 3-6 months. And they might even be delivering what’s on their list.
Yet, the ship is not sailing ahead. And even if it is, the speed is so slow that you are most likely running out of food on board before you reach the next port. Crisis mode kicks in and you have to start throwing people off the boat (see all the tech layoffs in the last few years).
So why can’t your teams execute what you need them to?
Your leaders are smart. They are hard-working. They have a track record of delivering results. They are mission-driven. They care about their team and want them to succeed. The issue is, they are all trying to do it in a silo.
See, your Marketing team is doing its best to deliver the goals they set for themselves. Your Growth team is doing the same. So is Product. So is Customer Success. And so on. But even if they are all doing a relatively good job at it (otherwise you would have thrown them off the boat already), nobody is working on a shared execution plan to achieve what matters the most. Because that plan doesn’t exist.
So why is this happening?
Let me be a contrarian: In my experience working with scaleup CEOs, I find that their leaders are uncomfortable setting goals (and being fully accountable for them) that they can only achieve with the contribution of other teams outside of their authority (direct reporting line). In other words, when there are cross-team dependencies and so, high-integrity commitments are required.
When leaders are thinking through priorities, setting goals and executing in siloes, we get:
- A laundry list of tasks and initiatives that teams are going to be working on
- No understanding of each others’ priorities and their implications on one another
- No clarity on how to achieve what matters the most to the company (i.e. how to translate strategy, if you have one, to execution)
- Surprises at the end of the quarter/year that the company hasn’t progressed much even though people have been working their tail off (the ship hasn’t sailed fast enough)
- The most important questions and decisions (e.g. tradeoffs in resourcing and priorities) remain unaddressed
- A leadership team that remains a team of A-players at best instead of becoming a unified A-team working together to deliver results that matter the most
CEOs can prevent this from happening, and the answer is quite simple. Though not easy, as you might find out some of your leaders are simply not at the bar anymore for what your company needs in this next stage. It happens more often than you think (see the Peter Principle). You know where to hire next.
Meanwhile, you need to still deliver results.
Here is the TL/DR version of a 5-step process I run during the quarterly or annual planning cycle to ensure that the ship is sailing fast and in the right direction. Ask your leadership team these questions during your next offsite:
- What is success for us as an organisation in 3 years? In the next 12 months?
- What are the most important 1-3 priorities to accomplish/get right in the next 3 months (if you do quarterly planning) for us to succeed?
- What would it take to achieve those priorities? (This is where you as a team come up with an 80/20 answer together, understanding cross-team dependencies if they exist. The outcome is a set of clearly defined Key Results – if you use OKRs or goals, if you don’t – and a rough execution plan behind them)
- Does the organisation have the resources (both capability & bandwidth) to deliver these priorities?
- If not, what can we do about it? What are the trade-off decisions we need to make?
If you want your team to think big, you need to give them something big to think about. Start with these questions and see how it goes.
Dora Nagy is an advisor and executive coach to CEOs working with some of the fastest-growing tech start-ups & scale-ups in Europe.