How CEOs Should Bridge Strategy and Tactics

Fast Company recently interviewed Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson about his efforts to educate employees on being more productive: “On Having a System – Any System.” Much of what he discusses focuses on organizational skills: How employees should manage their time, be more task-oriented, keep up with contacts, etc. He has even taught a class on the subject. While this is laudable – and I certainly believe that CEOs should have as much face time with employees as possible – I think both the CEO and the employees should also have a much broader management system. Being organized, productive, and on-task is only valuable if you are doing the right things. 

Many employees see no connection between their jobs and the company’s overall goals. They will continue to stay busy, but it may not be on tasks that are relevant to the company. The CEO needs to establish a foundation for all work that is done in the organization. He or she must develop the vision, mission, values and goals of the company. This sets the direction for where the organization is going and how it will get there. 

The next stage is critical. Like a bad coach, a bad CEO tells his or her employees to go “win” but doesn’t help them develop an understanding of the fundamentals necessary for success. The result is inconsistent performance, because some employees can’t translate the desire to win into execution that moves the business forward.

How does the CEO break down the business to the fundamental behaviors? It’s definitely not by personally instructing each employee on how to do his or her job. Only in the smallest of companies would this be possible, and even then it’s unlikely the CEO would know the best methods for accomplishing all tasks. 

Instead, the CEO has to lead the charge to help employees align their behaviors with the overall goals of the organization. The CEO must maintain the company’s focus on its big-picture strategy while employees must leverage their expertise to complete the necessary individual tasks. The key for the CEO is to make sure that he is growing and empowering that expertise at the individual level, and channeling it for the bigger purpose of the organization.

If this is not done well, then the company will become highly inefficient; each individual or department will begin to act as they see fit, totally detached from the direction the CEO is trying to establish. How many times have you seen employees do things that you know are bad for the company, yet they seem oblivious to the harm they are doing? 

In order to facilitate the process of breaking down the corporate goals into actual behaviors that individual employees can perform, CEOs need a business management system such as Khorus that clearly shows each employee how he or she is contributing to the organization’s goals. The system should ask for regular feedback from employees about the quality and likelihood of achieving their goals within the quarter. This reinforces the goals and the importance of achieving them. It also allows the CEO to verify that each group is working on the right fundamentals and address any issues before they cause any damage.

Hopefully, Etsy employees have not just a system to help improve workflow, but also an overall management system that lets them understand both the strategy of the organization and how their daily tactics support it.

Parts of this article are excerpted from my forthcoming book “The CEO Tightrope” (September 2014).

Photo Credit: paul bica via Compfight cc


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