The Evolved Executive
The pandemic forced executive teams to work in new ways – or face possible ruin – meaning that there was no time for extensive debate and heavy governance. In many ways, this was positive, as Covid acted as a leveller with senior leaders forced to establish new ways of working together, discarding layers of bureaucracy and enabling agile decision-making.
However moving into the new world of work, leadership teams must strike a clever balance. Whilst we must not let old hierarchies or inefficiency creep in and it is essential that executive teams move forward, embracing new ways of working. This means that we must consciously engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas and focus on fostering an environment of support, inspiration and learning, as top talent is in fierce demand.
Without addressing the opportunities of this new world of work intentionally, there is a danger that executive meetings default back to a carefully architected show – where directors and senior leaders seek only to have their proposals quickly approved, no questions asked, and performance measurement is predictable. These older-style routines are re-emerging now that the pandemic dust is settling, perpetuating an executive culture of right and wrong. This ultimately puts the organisation at risk when the competitive environment is as challenging as it has ever been.
There is however an opportunity for senior teams to use this post-Covid period to reflect and reinvent themselves and their working practices to ensure they are serving our organisations in the best possible way.
Establishing a climate of trust, inquisitive and constructive challenge, and framing proposals as opportunities for shared learning creates dynamic dialogue, where new ideas emerge. The cross-functional support which flows from the evolved executives’ decisions results in strategies which are delivered more quickly and effectively, ensuring competitive success.
I have the privilege to be part of a brilliant executive team at Insights. We are particularly mindful of retaining the learnings in our executive practises from the past two years, as we move out of crisis mode and into the new world of work.
Four elements for executive team effectiveness
Four essential elements must be in place, and working effectively, for executive teams to thrive in the ‘new normal’ and create a learning culture around the executive table. These principles have particular resonance given the competitive environment executives need to succeed in.
Leadership teams made up of people with high levels of self-awareness, who understand their unique personality preferences, and can understand and relate to others, help produce the best climate and enjoy higher levels of trust and engagement. Additionally, proactively harnessing diversity in the team creates the opportunity for new ideas and different perspectives, which can unlock creativity and innovation. A climate of encouragement, care and support within executive meetings is essential. Senior leaders have more choice than ever with attrition rates skyrocketing, so creating positive, empowering and inspiring environments where everyone is able to challenge and be challenged, will be a vital element of organisational success.
Executive teams need to be aligned and clear on their goals and remit with individuals sure of their role and the contribution they can make. Different people respond to goals in different ways. It is important to carve out time together as a leadership team, developing an inspiring vision and a coherent strategy, with clear goals and measurements which can be easily communicated to the organisation. A strong well-communicated focus is a powerful force for good.
High-performing executive teams will be built on strong processes, with clear methods of working. That’s because when processes are clear, everyone knows what is expected of them, is working to a similar standard and can focus firmly on the horizon. Enabling processes are in place and working together to establish these together can really help ensure that there is alignment at the top of an organisation.
How a team works together – or flows – is an essential ingredient in its overall success. Senior leadership teams that interact positively and work well together are more likely to achieve common goals. Taking the time to understand each other’s personalities, skills and experiences, listen to personal experiences and points of view, empathise, and respond authentically helps to maintain flow. When an executive team is in flow the whole company benefits as this radiates out to the organisation and fosters a culture which attracts talent and generates great results.
What will successful executive meetings look like?
For executive teams to be successful in the new world of work, members must retain the skills which have helped to steer many companies through the pandemic. Agility in decision making, constructive challenge and debate, and expecting and encouraging an open exchange of ideas will be central as we move forward.
Investing in self-awareness can help to make meetings more successful – because self-awareness is the foundation upon which everything else is built. A self-aware leader is more aware of others, more aware of how to adapt personal style to make more meaningful connections with others, be open to challenge and learning, create more effective ways of working and achieve better business outcomes.
Senior leadership meetings should also be an opportunity for personal and organisational development – where everyone brings their unique perspective and personal contribution, and everyone goes away having learned something new and, as a result, the business flourishes.
Finally, humanity and compassion are crucial to creating a learning culture and executive team success. Leadership teams – as with any team – work best when relationships are invested in and nurtured. This means ensuring the human skills of resilience, creativity and collaboration are properly considered and catered for, alongside personal preference and need.
At Insights we have a company value of ‘enjoying the journey’ that acts as a constant reminder of the importance of enjoying what you are doing, and who you are doing it with.
About the author: Fiona Logan came to Insights in 2015 as VP Europe, and soon took on the role of Chief Operating Officer. She joined from her post as CEO of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park following an international corporate career with IBM and Unilever. Fiona has attended Henley, Harvard and Macquarie Business Schools and is a previous winner of the UK Public Servant of the Year from the Women in Public Life awards. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion and an advocate for sustainability and corporate social responsibility.