Leadership: The Invested Executive
A few years back, I was out of town visiting a national distributor to sort out an eCommerce project. Driving to their office, I was on the verge of a breakdown because we were caught in between two warring factions in the client’s company – the engineers versus the sales and business team. Then it hit me: the project was going to fail. As I walked in the front door, I managed to secure a 5-minute meeting with the CEO. “How important is this project to you?” I asked, to which he replied, “It’s probably going to be 50% of our sales in the future.” I proceeded to ask if he and some key team leaders could spend an entire day reviewing the website’s feature list in order to get everyone on the same page. Three weeks later, 20 of us spent an entire day in a conference room. The result? 75 features defined and a direct increase in the company’s online sales: from 37% to 65% of total – an 85% increase in under 2 years. My conclusion? There was a direct correlation between the CEO’s involvement and hitting his ambitious goals.
When people ask us “Why do you work with startups and entrepreneurs instead of larger, more-established companies?”, the answer is simple: the entrepreneur is more directly invested in the outcome. And they are not afraid to make hard decisions, quickly.
So why aren’t executives of larger companies invested? And how to entrepreneurs avoid making the same mistake? Working with both types, AP Logic has found three biggies:
Fear of wasting time.
Belief that the issues are handled by others.
Fear of alienating key team members.
Addressing each of these:
1. This one is not shocking. There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over! I’ve done it, you’ve done it. Every executive I have ever queried about a failed project wishes that they had known more about what was going on in the trenches. Fortunately, in this case, it only cost that CEO about 8 hours of his time. What it returned to him was far more valuable than hours: the fact that he took an entire day told his team how valuable the project was to him and how valuable they were to him! From then on, the team compromised and prioritized like never before. And the CEO’s outcomes were able to be articulated because he understood the problems and heard the team regurgitate the issues. That never could have happened via email or written requirements.
2. This one amazes me. Who is positioned to make decisions BETWEEN departments if not the CEO (or division leader) or possibly an ops manager/COO? Consider the following situations:
- The IT team is tasked with making things reliable or secure – not taking on additional risk to boost sales
- The VP of sales is tasked with reaching out to prospects and clients in new ways – not with security and cost efficiency.
- The CFO is tasked with managing a budget in some predictable way.
How do these three decide to take a risk on a new technology? They can’t because that’s not their job. The VP of sales isn’t equipped with the knowledge to make the network secure and won’t know what the right tradeoff is in terms of mobile accessibility for his/her team.
3. This is my pet peeve. Too many leaders are held hostage by their tech teams. “I don’t understand that stuff” doesn’t equal “therefore I cannot evaluate options and make decisions”. Leaders fear disenfranchising engineering staff or just flat-out losing them. I see it constantly. And I’ve done it. “If this vendor or employee gets angry, nobody else can do this!” Of course, the alternative is that the wrong individual or team is given permission to deep-six the project – usually with tunnel-vision or over-focus on one goal or area. Again, I’ve seen it dozens of times. None of us is irreplaceable – from the CEO on down. It’s amazing how the world keeps turning after people leave. You’ve already lost the negotiation if you’re deathly afraid of losing someone.
So what are the take-aways for startup CEOs and entrepeneurs? I’m talking to you.. The most successful tech projects we’ve been involved with all share one common factor: The final decision-maker was involved in the key decisions from start-to-finish.