In a recent coaching session with a CEO, our conversation included a discussion on a number of organizational moves the company had recently made. These moves reflected both the business needs of growth as well as providing significant career opportunities to several members of the staff. These moments can be among the most exciting for anyone occupying a senior leadership seat. Both the company and its people are flourishing. And yet, this CEO had a keen awareness that they still have a long way to go in at least one area: The leadership team is comprised exclusively of white males.
This leader believes in diversity for all the right reasons. We talked about progress made of adding diversity in several areas of the company already as well as intentional focus they can create to become an even better company through intentional focus on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. This included how he can share openly and specifically to the company that this will be a strategic focus for its long-term health as well as its culture.
I’m not a super fan of quips like “Name it and you will tame it,” but I believe “naming it” is an essential component of effective execution. I’ve seen it over and over in my own executive career, and it has only been confirmed in my consulting practice. Let me supply a contrasting example.
Years ago, I was supporting another organization’s strategic planning efforts, and diversity was on the table. The debate wasn’t whether the organization needed to become more diverse. There was high agreement on that. The debate focused on whether diversity deserved a call out as its own strategy or if it should be nested within the other areas of strategic focus. My advice was that if they wanted to see change, they’d make it its own strategy, making it visible and going on record that they were serious about seeing progress in this area. Ultimately, they decided on the nesting approach. The argument for it was essentially that it should become part of our fabric in everything we do. (Agree). There were parallel arguments that had less merit, but here’s the point: Nearly eight years later, this organization looks essentially the same as it did when that decision was made. A failure to go on record contributed, at least in part, to a failure to execute.
Let’s look at a more positive example. Another company knew that “one day” it would need to expand its geographical reach. For its first 15 years, one day never came. And then, the executive leadership decided to name it, and they put it in their strategic plan. Much work was needed, but in under two years they had established that new market presence. And the ramp up on volume exceeded projections beginning in its first quarter of full operation.
Looking up from the immediate and casting vision for an organization’s future is a core function of senior leadership. With that, naming it — whatever “it” is — is one of the best things we can do:
- Naming it creates clarity. Team members, key partners, customers and community know where we’re going and why.
- Naming it connects the dots. It gives leadership an opportunity to remind others how the day-to-day connects to the bigger strategic imperative.
- Naming it creates accountability. Yes, we might fail, or progress might be slower than expected. Yet, the courage to name it tells others — we’re serious and we’re in it for the long haul.
We’re a little ahead of the traditional fourth quarter planning cycle, but it’s never too early to consider what we need to get serious about and how we intend to talk about it to those that deserve to know and be a part of “it.”
Chuck Hyde is the founder of C3 Advisors, a Northwest Arkansas firm focused on executive development and talent optimization. The opinions expressed are those of the author.