My title is borrowed from a blog post I recently read and felt compelled to share with the readers of my Ho‘ohana Community newsletter: What do executives do, anyway? by Avery Pennarun, Apenwarr.
Pennarun chews on the question by means of a book review: He offers up the answer given by Andy Grove (of Intel fame) in his book High Output Management, and writes;
“To paraphrase the book, the job of an executive is: to define and enforce culture and values for their whole organization, and to ratify good decisions.”
“Not to decide. Not to break ties. Not to set strategy. Not to be the expert on every, or any topic. Just to sit in the room while the right people make good decisions in alignment with their values. And if they do, to endorse it. And if they don’t, to send them back to try again.”
I actually jumped up, shot my arms into the air, and shouted “Yes!” when I read that. Then I sat back down, and downloaded High Output Management to my Kindle.
I kept reading Pennarun’s article, and you know I loved this next part, sending me here to my own blog to recapture it so I, and hopefully you, will read it often;
Enforcement of culture and values
“According to the book, which makes a pretty compelling case, the only other responsibility of an executive is to enforce company values.”
“What does that mean? It means if someone in the company isn’t acting “right” – not acting ethically, not following the conflict resolution algorithm above, playing politics – then they need to be corrected or removed. Every executive is responsible for enforcing the policy all the way down the chain, recursively. And the CEO is responsible for everyone. You have to squash violators of company values, fast, because violators are dangerous. People who don’t share your values will hire more people who don’t share your values. It’s all downhill from there.”
“Real values aren’t what you talk about, they’re what you do when times get tough. That means values are most visible during big, controversial decisions. The executive ratifying a decision needs to evaluate that decision against the set of organizational values. Do the two leads both understand our values? Is the decision in line with our values? If not, tell them so, explicitly, and send them back to try again.”
Pennarun goes on to explain why values will always be important than strategy. Do businesses need strategy? Yes, but strategy will follow as the result of the exceptional teamwork—also key to Grove’s management philosophy—a values-centered and values-aligned workplace culture operates within;
“Employees, including executives that report to you, follow company values first and foremost. (This is by definition construction. If they don’t, you fired them, see above.) Of course, they’re human, so as part of that, they’ll be looking out for themselves, their friends, and the people in their organization.”
That sentence essentially reminds us that employees will always keep their personal values in play as well. What we’re hoping for, and planned for in assuring we assemble the right group of people, is that personal values and company values become shared values. And the exec? He, or she, does everything within their power to make that happen, by brokering meaningful, value-aligned decision-making within the ranks.
We speak of this in Say Leadership Coaching:
We humans hold and apply our values in at least three ways:
- Individually — what you believe in as your personal values
- Organizationally — company values you enroll in and agree to uphold as your professional values, sharing them with others in company culture
- In Living History — community values, as represented by its heritage, traditions, conventions, and active culture. These are largely determined by your sense of place, and community sense of belonging.
“Why will employees embrace whatever weird organizational values you set? Because in every decision meeting, you enforce your values. And you fire the people who don’t line up. Recursively, that means executives lower down the tree will do the same, because that itself is one of the values you enforce.”
“Unless it’s somehow impossible to hire people who agree with your values, you can assemble an organization that aligns with them. It might be a terrible organization that ruins your business, but then… well, those values weren’t a good choice.”
“I can’t believe nobody told me this before. It’s all so simple, and it’s all been documented since the 1980s.”
Yep, it’s all so simple.
The Managing with Aloha Ethos: Please, Be true to your Values.
From “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a VP” with Wendy Johansson, GVP at Publicis Sapient, in an interview with Phil La Duke:
La Duke: In just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Johansson: An executive needs to live up to company values from every angle — internally to the employees, externally for the company’s reputation, and in their daily ethics for their own personal reputation. Other leaders have more narrow responsibilities as people leaders or subject matter experts: shined upon by only one spotlight of measure.