Every CEO knows they need to have an A-team to reach (and hopefully surpass) their business goals. That top-tier mentality starts in the C-suite. If the top layer of the company’s management has holes — the team is missing a C-level executive or has the wrong person in the wrong role, for instance — and doesn’t repair them quickly, everyone suffers; strategic objectives go unmet, execution across teams and departments falters and, in many cases, finger-pointing becomes the norm instead of the rare exception.
As a public relations executive, I see this issue manifest frequently at critical crossroads for businesses — periods of high growth, strategic shifts or management changes, etc. — when it should’ve been addressed much earlier on.
Fortunately, most CEOs are built with a strong focus and intolerance for suffering fools, and they can measure their team regularly to make adjustments as needed. In the current tight job market, adding top talent or replacing a leader who isn’t a good fit can be a difficult task. That makes on-the-job self-reflection even more important. Do you have the right COO, CPO, CMO, CFO, CTO, and so on?
When I meet with executives and teams to build and implement proactive crisis communications plans or internal communications strategies, it’s usually very easy to notice when there are issues within the senior management team. The C-suite and senior leadership that supports it need to function well together in the best of times, but even more so during a crisis or incident that could have severe ramifications for the brand. Preparing for them becomes the best opportunity for leaders to assess the quality of the teams around them.
Years ago, I was getting ready to take a company public and was preparing a CFO to speak on the company’s finances. His heart simply wasn’t in it. He preferred to operate behind the scenes and struggled to be the public figure we needed him to be for the IPO. Fortunately, he left of his own accord, but that doesn’t always happen, and leaders have to be prepared to do what is necessary to ensure the company’s success.
I have taken over divisions as well as international geographic regions, and each time I’ve been told by the CEO to make sure I have my A-team. The goals are ambitious but achievable, and there’s no room for B or C players who might drag you down. I’ve always taken that message very seriously. In most cases, I inherited great people who might not have had the skill sets I needed.
The A-team doesn’t just magically show up. A leader who lets time pass without addressing low performance weakens the potential for success or progress across individual departments and the entire company, and sets a dangerous precedent that performance is largely irrelevant and not an important factor in personal or collective growth. A leader must ask themselves a few key questions about existing team members:
• Does this person have the skills, drive and attitude that I need on my team?
• Is this person passionate about our mission, culture and business goals?
• Do they have a history or reputation of excellence and dedication that I can count on?
• Are they an inspiring manager who can keep others motivated and engaged?
• Does this person make my business better by being present?
• Would I be better off with someone else in their role, and if so, why?
• How will I measure their impact weekly, monthly and quarterly?
• How do my other A-team players engage with this team member?
• What skills am I missing for the team I have, and where can I secure this expertise?
It’s not personal; it’s about having the right talent in place and the right team dynamic to achieve and exceed goals. Getting down to an honest assessment is essential, and if changes need to be made, then it’s time to assess other options, enlist recruiters and correct the problem. But in a market where, according to (subscription required) the Labor Department, “employers added 225,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate stayed near a half-century low,” securing your A-team players will take some creativity. Here are a few tips on how to map out your A-team strategy even in a challenging hiring market:
1. Determine the roles you must have in-house. These are the people you must have at your fingertips — your leadership team. Once you have them in place, work with them to determine the hires they believe they must have in place vs. areas they can scale creatively with exceptional talent and resources.
2. Know when you can secure external senior guidance to help you scale. Explore roles you can outsource to secure more senior expertise than you could otherwise afford with a full-time hire. Some examples are experts the CTO might feel are too expensive to hire internally but who are available as an outside source. If you can’t afford to hire a full marketing and communications team, find one person internally who can work with external partners such as a PR and marketing firm and an advertising and design firm. Sometimes, companies hire virtual CFOs.
3. Recognize new roles and new titles. Too often, companies inflate titles to attract talent during a difficult recruiting time. Paying people well is one thing, but making someone a C-suite member or a VP when they don’t have the right skill set will come back to bite you. A venture capital firm or suitor will smell this right away, and even worse, other employees will see this as an inability to hire capable talent.
Today’s headlines trumpet various levels of crisis across industries. An honest and thorough evaluation of the skills your company needs — and knowing whether your team has the right chops — can help you weather whatever storm comes your way.