“I need my people to be honest with me ─ tell me what I need to hear ─ and push themselves to get the results without me having to push them.”
─ a frustrated CEO and client
Even the best performers are sometimes afraid to push it — and if they don’t, they can’t do their best work and results suffer.
The Real-Life Situation:
The VP of Supply Chain and a client was a very successful executive with a strong pedigree — top of his class at West Point, MBA from a top school, and previously a strategy consultant.
He was charged to lead a major cost-cutting initiative with a $50 million target.
By the end of Q1 it was easy for Mark to see that the company was not going to achieve $50 million — and not even the $35 million that the collective business unit executives were promising for the year.
Mark spoke with the the divisional President and with the CEO to feel out their commitment, but he just wasn’t getting the support he required to deliver the $50 million that the board requested. From the CEO through to the divisional Vice Presidents, commitment to $50 million and was lacking. The CEO was prepared to give the board whatever the company achieved — without sweating it.
Set-up for Failure and a Decision Point:
From Mark’s perspective, he was set-up for failure and he had to make a choice. He could either:
1) Acquiesce, try for the $35 million in savings and miss the board’s $50 million target, or
2) Push for the $50 million and go squarely against-the-grain to make it happen
He was sure that either could get him fired. Or, was there a better option?
With some encouragement and coaching, Mark decided to push it. He gracefully and brilliantly got himself invited into the Board of Directors meeting to present the status of the initiative. Being fully supportive of the CEO he explained other reasons the company was going to achieve their target and also what he needed to succeed. Without throwing the CEO under the bus and as hoped for, his presentation caused the board to put the needed pressure on the CEO which provided the missing support for the initiative.
Result: his tenacity and grace was the impetus for the company to snapping into alignment from the board of directors down through the CEO and the business unit Vice Presidents. Cost cutting came in at $43MM. Not the $50MM the board wanted, but more than $8 million beyond the Q1 commitments — far beyond what would have been achieved without the intervention.
As a leader, this is how you can make it safe for people to push it:
- Ensure that goals and your uncompromising commitment to success are clearly understood
- Say what you need to say and do your best. Be willing to push-it yourself
- Invite creative, contrarian and even outrageous views on how to win
- Reward people with genuine appreciation for telling you what they think, even when you don’t agree
- Make sure your people know you trust them and value them so they don’t choose to play it so safe that you miss your numbers.
- Let them know over and over again that you want them to push-it!
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Matthew Levy is the Chief Catalyst and principal of RESULTS MANAGEMENT GROUP, LLC, a growth management consulting and executive coaching firm that dramatically shifts business results by: facilitating the creation of compelling visions and strategies, aligning executive and other management teams, developing an organizational capacity to manage execution and designing organizational environments that support the attainment of dramatically better results in any area.