7 Ways to Engage the Next Level of Leaders (with Cookies)
It’s the end of day two of planning, you and your executive team are spent from all of the discussions, bloated from all of the carb-loaded goodies brought in, yet, hopeful about what lies ahead. The plan is incredibly clear in your minds, and you are all on the same page with Winning Moves to test, the theme, targets, and plan. So, how do you get your next level of leadership engaged? Especially, if you anticipate some pushback?
Your next level of leadership wasn’t privy to the data shared, the discussions weighed or the tray of chocolate chunk cookies. If your plan to gain alignment with your next level is limited to an hour long presentation, the only thing that will stick from your planning session is your puffier exterior from the above-mentioned cookies.
We often feel if we share the plan one level further, the rest will take care of itself. But, we must equip the next level for optimal engagement and cascading. So, grab another cookie from the tray before you leave the 2-day event and set a game plan with your team on how to engage the next level while preparing them to cascade the message further:
Tell a Story: Share your vision or the Main Thing for the year or for the quarter. To bring it to life in everyone’s mind and heart, tell a story about why the theme or new direction ignites the passion you feel for the company. As external threats keep scratching at your front door, it is your job to create a positive mindset with the focus on a strong and achievable future. Make sure your vision is perfectly clear. To prepare your executive team to then engage the next level of leaders, ask your team for their own version of the story. It’s perfectly acceptable to borrow a story that has already been told. It’s not OK, however, to take the last cookie.
Steer the Ship: As the CEO, you want to be decisive with a clear direction of where this ship is going. You are not expected to know all of the stops along the way, or the challenges you’ll face; but, you must decide where you are sailing and the reason for taking your crew along. Before you leave the session with your executive team, ask for their commitment to the decisions made. In troubled times, you may even have to call up the flags to see who is still onboard. Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox 2001-2009, shared the vision and brutal facts and asked her team if they were willing to commit to the rough seas ahead. 98 out of 100 highly engaged leaders were ready to sail uncharted waters with Mulcahy. With your committed executive team, prepare some talking points around the decisions you made to share with the next level.
Don’t cross your T’s: As an executive team, you’ve determined the targets to hit and made decisions about the plan to get you there. You are not going to vote or reach consensus with the next level, rather, you will engage them in discussions. Next level leaders and their teams are instrumental in shaping ‘how’ the plan will be cascaded and implemented. Engagement happens when your next level has a seat at the table to fine tune the plan with crossed t’s and dotted i’s, tailor the plan for each department, voice concerns, and participate in approach ideation. You want your next level leaders to think about how they and their team can execute the plan.
Get real: You’ve kept a positive mindset and shared your story of your envisioned future. This should be balanced with realities of where you are today. What are our bright spots we want to replicate this quarter? What are some lessons we learned in things that didn’t go so well? What metrics are we not hitting? What threats out there make us lose sleep at night? This is not a time to gloss things over and sweep the cookie crumbs under the rug. Create trust with your next level leaders by sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Create a framework: When your plan involves a shift in focus or direction or when faced with change, audit your framework for alignment. Are the KPIs your leaders are measured by and performance incentives they are rewarded by encouraging the desired behaviors? As an executive team, audit the Job Scorecards and discuss potential adjustments needed. Share with the next level leaders the metrics they are accountable for and ask that they update their own Job Scorecard accordingly and share it with you for feedback. Asking your next level to take the first step in updating the Job Scorecard breeds accountability and engagement as they are tying their role and reward with the envisioned future.
Feed the engine: When the guardrails through metrics and rewards are solidified, a powerful way to feed the engine of engagement is through a top-down and bottom-up approach of sharing learnings and celebrating wins. You want your next level not only to develop their team but also be open to learning a thing or two from them along the way. Partner with your next level to create a system for them to publically, consistently and repeatedly celebrate the learnings and successes of their direct reports. Engaged leaders are curious leaders who are constantly learning and sharing the collective work of their team.
Get out of the way: Once you have done all of the above, don’t just sit there hovering over them, get out of the way! Let your next level order their own tray of cookies, create their departmental plan and start executing! View and collaborate in their Rhythm dashboard to offer encouragement and support.
If you share the destination with your next level and then get out of their way to execute your vision, most will surprise you. And those who don’t? No cookies for them.
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