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4 Steps to Help CEOs Get the Senior Team Right

It is a CEO’s critical responsibility to drive organizational performance through a high-performing leadership team, not only through managing and leading the team, but also through carefully, deliberately choosing the best individual leaders.

Choosing the right leadership team is as important to an organization’s success as setting strategy and operations.

Recently, Marty Hughes, the CEO of HUB International, a leading insurance brokerage company, wanted to assess HUB’s leadership team’s capabilities in light of a new, more-formalized business strategy and value creation plan. He wanted to clarify roles and bring in new blood to his already high-performing team to improve succession planning. He used these 4 steps to lay the foundation for his high-performance leadership team.

1. Get the Structure Right. Align the senior team structure to the structure of the organization. This involves determining which tasks the team needs to accomplish together (e.g., related to information sharing, decision making, financials, products, brand, projects, work coordination) vs. those task each leader achieves alone.

“The best senior leadership teams are also small enough to manage, but the members must be agile enough to play different roles.”

The best senior leadership teams are also small enough to manage—in the single digits—but the members must be agile enough to play different roles. These senior leadership teams are akin to both basketball teams AND golf teams, knowing when to work together and when to divide and conquer alone.

2. Get the Roles Right. Create an accountability matrix for each leadership role, i.e., what specific outcomes will each executive be held accountable for in the next 1-3 years? (Think financial targets, operational goals, talent, culture building, senior team contribution, etc.) This sets the stage for a clear-sighted evaluation of an individual against criteria that defines success in the given context.

3. Get the People Right. With role outcomes well-defined, a rigorous assessment of the executives themselves can then take place—one that encompasses personality, motivation, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, business acumen, learning agility, and potential for growth within the future environment. This can be conducted by a skilled HR leader or outside consultant trained in behavioral and psychometric assessment and relevant analyses. Beyond “yes or no,” an in-depth assessment provides important guidance for ensuring a selected leader’s future success.

4. Get the Sum of the Parts Right. Being a productive member of a management team means more than simply serving as a strong functional contributor. It means adding value to the shared, enterprise leadership work. This requires: (1) aligning with the vision and values set by the CEO and board, (2) behaving in accordance with agreed upon standards (norms), and (3) contributing significant, unique value to the tasks and to the team processes (e.g., coordinating work, seeking and providing feedback, managing conflict). This is what it means to be a high performing team: its impact is greater than the sum of the individual contributions, and the team gets better together over time. This does not happen on its own; it requires intentional, continual leadership and cultivation.

Talent-first CEOs design the right structure; clarify the role requirements; assess, select, and motivate the right people; and lead them to coalesce into a well-oiled machine. CEOs that nail the first stages of putting a leadership team are ahead of the game in terms of success.

For Hub International, following this approach translated into a reconfigured team structure, sharpened team norms, and ultimately, revenue and growth figures that exceeded expectations.

It also led to some unanticipated benefits, such as the identification and emergence of a group of young executives who are now positioned to take on more senior-level responsibilities; and an increase in M&A activity for the firm.


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