Contributors: Bob Clarke and Joe Mazzenga
To learn more about Bob and Joe, click here.
The alignment and performance of the executive leadership team (ELT) can make or break the short- and long-term success of a healthcare organization. This is why it is crucial for CEOs to focus on accelerating the effectiveness of the ELT.
Most CEOs inherit a leadership team. And most healthcare organizations have an executive team full of bright, hardworking, experienced leaders. But, according to Patrick Lencioni, author and leadership expert, the last true competitive edge is developing a high-performing leadership team, which subsequently leads to a healthier organization overall.
So how can a CEO, new or otherwise, tackle the daunting task of taking an existing group of leaders to the next level?
Creating an effective team isn’t hinged on an event or an episode. You don’t go to the gym and expect to be in shape within a day or even a week – this would just leave you overworked and sore. The same thing is true of becoming a high-performing team… it’s a process and takes courageous effort.
What follows is a primer for jump starting ELT performance in three phases.
PHASE 1 – ASSESS THE LANDSCAPE
The true reality of an organization is often elusive. You probably have some existing views and knowledge of the company and its culture. Chances are, this picture is not complete. There may also be some uncertainty around the existing ELT and its ability to drive future growth.
Effective CEOs take the time to listen, observe, and understand the organization and the existing ELT before making strategic, long-term plans. Begin assessing the organizational reality by:
- Talking to stakeholders from various levels of the company, including external vendors and suppliers
- Listening for clues that will help you familiarize yourself with the reality of the organization, including stories and narratives that help to define expectations, challenges, and opportunities, as well as aspects of the culture that may not be apparent on the surface
- Exploring the current and past effectiveness of the ELT
Next, bring the executive team together to learn more – both one-on-one and as a group. This is not only the perfect time for you to get to know them, but also for them to deepen their understanding of one another. Teams that have a strong sense of identity, purpose, and psychological safety outperform those that have little investment or awareness.
Beyond the initial exploratory discussions, and once rapport and trust have been established between the CEO and ELT, assessments can be introduced to further understand individuals’ motivators, reactions under stress, and more. It’s imperative, however, that team members know these are not for evaluation, but to empower collaboration and alignment.
By assessing personalities, as well as leadership and communication styles, the team can improve transparency and leverage their strengths to work more effectively together. This data will also help to develop the vision, strategy, and plan for execution in the next phase.
PHASE 2 – DESIGN THE FOUNDATION
Now that you have a solid blueprint of the organization and the team, this heightened awareness allows you to shape the vision and strategy, as well as design a plan for how the ELT will execute it. Pairing vision and strategy with a strong sense of team identity, purpose, and psychological safety instills confidence in team members and accelerates performance.
Leaders have to be vulnerable and trust each other; they must believe there is value in investing in the people around them. But they also have to buy into the vision and strategy along with how you plan to execute it. If they can’t connect the dots back to the organization’s mission, they will not commit – or lead – with passion. ELTs don’t fail in the development of the strategy; they fail in its execution.
Alignment isn’t always easy, espescially if you inherited a team that lacked guidance and opportunity for development. There may be doubt within the board, as well as the organization, that the right people are in fact in the right seats. This is why it is critical to get to know these leaders – their strengths, gaps, etc. – in Phase 1.
Armed with this information, you can begin to shape and sculpt the team around your vision and strategy. This happens in a few ways:
- Roles may need to be clarified or reconfigured to leverage strengths
- New role(s) may need to be added to fill gaps
- Some leaders may self-select out of the team, once roles are clarified, because they feel it’s no longer a fit
Setting expectations and clarifying roles will also allow you to define the development and coaching needed to pivot the skills of the team for enhanced performance. In addition, it will be imperative that the team shift its priorities to align, first and foremost, with the ELT’s enterprise-oriented goals and objectives over their operational ones.
Many executives excel at leading within their silos, which is what got them to this high level in the organization. They assume this will also make them successful on the ELT; however, high-performing teams leverage and invite leaders to engage across organizational boundaries. This matrix model encourages leaders to work above, below, and across the organization. Collaboration and relationship building are crucial to success.
Many leaders struggle to give top priority to the ELT. They built their departmental team from the ground up and feel a strong commitment to it. This transition to the ELT as their first priority requires examination and growth. By providing solid developmental direction and alignment with the vision and mission, the CEO can help this team of potentially siloed leaders thrive as a strong, cohesive, high-performing executive team.
PHASE 3 – CREATE A ROAD MAP
With strategy, role clarity, and development plans in place, the next step is to establish a roadmap for how the ELT will work together. Start by having a discussion with your ELT about what the team will look like a year from now.
Ask questions like:
- How might we behave and lead differently than we do now?
- What will conversations look like then, as opposed to today?
- How will decisions be made?
- Will alignment around execution look different as development occurs?
Then, together, create the roadmap of how you will get there. Be sure to account for existing gaps and opportunities for growth, as well as your strengths as a team, and how you will leverage those for solving challenges that arise along the way.
This roadmap should also define the team’s
- Core purpose
- Rules of engagement
- Benchmarks for measurement
Remember, as CEO, the ELT is your only team. And typically, your only chance to truly gain an edge over your competition. By growing and cultivating the leaders on this team, your entire organization will reap the benefits.