I think one of the most common myths about executive team alignment has to do with the idea of who’s on the bus. There was a book, “Good to Great”, by Jim Collins that popularized this idea of making sure that you know that you’ve got the right people on the bus first. Figure out who’s on the bus and then worry about your strategy.
That makes sense because you can’t really execute the right strategic conversations if you’re having them with the wrong people. However, I’ve noticed that CEOs have started to use that as an excuse to not be aligned.
In other words, they’ll say, “We’re not aligned, but it’s because we don’t have the right people on the bus, so we’re not going to work on our alignment as a team until we get the right people on the bus and then once we get the right executives all in the right positions, then we can have a discussion about where are we headed together and how to get aligned behind that.”
The Truth Behind the Alignment Myth
It makes sense that you don’t want to have open strategic dialogue that could affect the future of the company with people whose opinions you don’t trust or with people who you don’t feel have an adequately broad point of view in order to make a good contribution to that conversation. That part makes sense.
But the truth is that you’ll never have all the right people on the bus—you’ll never have that moment of, “You know what? I have the team I need.” The fact is that most CEOs actually never have that experience. There’s always one gap. There’s always one thing missing. There’s always one person they aren’t sure about.
I think it’s important to get the right people on the bus and it’s urgent to do that. I agree with Mr. Collins about that. But that never means you should wait for any alignment or corrective action.
In fact, the alignment process itself can force you to make the decisions about getting the right people on the bus that otherwise could take you weeks or months to make.
I can’t ever recall talking with a CEO about a regret where I said, “Tell me your biggest regret of your career, of your last year of business.” I’ve never heard the CEO say, “I wish I would have waited more. I wish I would have acted less. I wish I would have invested less in alignment because the team was going to change.” I’ve just never heard that regret. I’ve always heard the opposite.
Overcoming the Myth and Getting in Alignment
Start the alignment conversation now. I think the first thing to do is apologize to your team for waiting so long. Then start the process of aligning with the team you have and allow the alignment process itself to make apparent the gaps that you’ve got in leadership. Lead a conversation where you ask the people you have to participate. That way, if someone on your team isn’t qualified to participate, it becomes apparent—not because you call it out, but because the situation demands more than they give.
Your team will be able to self identify where they need help and where they’re playing out of position or need more bandwidth or expertise. Following this conversation, you’ll know whether you need to find either a replacement or backfill for that position now. Don’t wait.