A key part of my leadership DNA is fact-based decision-making. I’ve never been comfortable just running on gut or intuition. Neither of those is any good without a solid factual basis for understanding what decision options there are and how each will impact the business.
In September, my Board at Canadian Hearing Society approved a bold strategic plan for building the leading national organization to serve Deaf and hard of hearing Canadians.
We are an aggressive and fast moving organization, so there has already been a huge amount of activity taking place to help us achieve the Board’s vision. A key initiative conducted in October 2017 was the surveying of 550 clients from CHS’s Audiology and Counselling programs. Respondents were clients who received an appointment between April 1 to September 30, 2017. The survey was available in multiple languages (English, ASL, French, LSQ, Simplified Chinese, Russian and Portuguese). This interim report was completed December 2017 and the final report will be available summer 2018.
We are pleased with the results of the survey. Generally, we feel it shows that we are on the right track. A lot of our clients seem satisfied. I am very proud of the dedicated people at CHS who work tirelessly on behalf of our client.
However, the survey also shows us where there are opportunities to improve and get better. We will be using this insight through 2018 as we roll out our strategic plan. And, we will continue to survey our clients on a regular basis. Meeting their needs is our mission.
More information on the survey results is available by following this link to the Canadian Hearing Society website.
Director Competency is a Trend
One of the most fundamental trends in current corporate governance is the upwards shift in Director competency.
On competency-based Boards, the expertise of the Directors mirrors the challenges and opportunities that the organization is facing. These opportunities and challenges could range from corporate governance and financial stability through to operating challenges like information security and industry innovation.
Strong Corporate Governance
In the past, the composition of many not-for-profit and association Boards directly reflected constituent representation. Directors were chosen based on their ability to speak for clients and members. There was also lots of regional representation, as regional differences were considered fundamental to good governance.
There are a couple of weaknesses with this approach.
First, constituent representation falls short of effective corporate governance. The role of a Board of Directors is to identify and mitigate risk, oversee strategy and performance manage the CEO. The Board does this on behalf of the entire organization, not just individual constituents.
Second, the knowledge and skills of constituent representation are frequently different from those required to oversee a sustainable, stable organization. There are many challenges an organization must overcome to survive into the future. Financially stability is one. There are many others, including meeting the needs of clients and members. Boards must have the expertise to identify and deal with these challenges.
Building a competency-based Board depends on both understanding the objectives of strong governance, then identifying and attracting the expertise required that reflects the challenges and opportunities the organization is facing.
Governance for the Future
I see that not-for-profit and association governance is changing. Traditional governance structures and approaches are being adapted and sometimes blown away by the impact of new threats and opportunities. The future depends on Boards that have the competency to meet this challenge.
Social media is a natural communications channel for the people who want to know what’s happening at Canadian Hearing Society.
Our primary audiences are Deaf and hard of hearing Canadians. Twitter, Facebook and other platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram are well understood, closely monitored and well used by these Canadians.
Other key audiences for CHS include employers, funders and donors. We use social media to help ensure that it’s easy for these audiences to stay current on what’s happening.
Here’s what I’ve learned about using social media in our organization:
- It’s requires a serious commitment. At CHS there is no shortage of news, events, expertise and insight that is helpful for the people we serve. The challenge is staying organized, planned and capable. That is the responsibility of our communications department. We’ve invested in them and count on them to stay on top of what’s current, provide interesting and easy-to-understand content and, to provide the expertise and capacity for communicating on-line in a timely and professional manner.
- People must be constantly reminded to include social media in their planning. Like ‘quality control’, ‘HR’, or many other corporate functions, people easily fall into the habit of thinking that social media is someone else’s responsibility (the communications department!). It becomes an after-thought. When that happens we miss opportunities to keep people well informed. Counteracting that means constantly reminding ourselves to think about social media planning from the outset of every activity.
- Not everyone loves every piece of content we tweet or post (although they seem to like most of them). That is to be expected. Everyone is different. We cannot let it dissuade us from our on-going commitment to do the best we can to keep our clients and others who care about us informed.
- Social media is giving us better insight on the needs of those we serve. Every day, our leadership team gets a report on our social media activity. We see what content we’ve posted, how far it’s reached and how much interaction has taken place. As a result, I see us developing a stronger sense for how to communicate with Deaf and hard of hearing Canadians and with others who are important to CHS.
At Canadian Hearing Society, we’re using social media because it is such an effective, efficient, timely, and visible tool for communicating information and insight. It is a critical strategy we are using to achieve our goals.
Here is a link to our Twitter feed.
Here is a link to our Facebook page.
Here is a link to our LinkedIn page.
Her is a link to our website.
I have a friend who says the easiest CEO job in the world is leading a turn around. Why? Because at the point where something needs to be turned around, there isn’t any resistance. You just need to figure out what to do – and do it!
My friend isn’t crazy or lucky. What she is, is a great communicator.
When everyone understands the need to change, then a transformation is simple.
Sometimes the need for change is just compelling: “if we keep losing money we will go out of business”. It doesn’t get much clearer: no organization, no job. Then it’s simply: “Tell what I need to do to keep my job!”
For the organizations I’ve run, figuring out how to stop from going out of business has been pretty simple: stop wasting money; focus on the core business; learn how to sell more.
The challenge has been communicating the need to do it. Why? Because nobody trusts transparency when it’s only used to make someone change. So organizations who have suffered without transparency, without trust, without empowerment struggle the most when all of a sudden the need for change is thrust upon them.
Here’s a simple lesson I’ve learned. Don’t save open, transparent communication for a rainy day. Use it always. Then, when a business is running well, it will run even better. And when a business needs to transform, the need to change will be easily understood.
Leadership is communication. So are transformations.
‘Tell your story. Please tell your story.’
For the past year that’s what my advisers have been telling me. By ‘my story’ they’re talking about the story of The Canadian Hearing Society. CHS as it’s known is the brilliant, resilient, and incredibly dedicated organization founded 77 years ago to support the Deaf and hard of hearing in Canada. Today, The Canadian Hearing Society is the undisputed leader removing barriers to participation for the nation’s Deaf and hard of hearing. I’m fortunate enough to be its CEO.
Over the past three years, CHS has gone through a dramatic governance, strategic and leadership transformation. Lead by our Board of Directors, we’ve identified and eliminated risks; set a bold strategic vision for the future; and, attracted all-star leaders to make it all happen. Along the way there have been all sorts of challenges that any organization going through a transformation might expect to face – and perhaps a few they might not!
And our momentum keeps growing.
I hope you will read this story. If you are interested in governance, Deaf, hard of hearing and corporate transformations there is lots of neat learning here. I’m glad we wrote it all down! Here’s a quick sample. We’re proud of our impact!
- Counselling Services at CHS are comprised of three distinct and highly unique services: CONNECT Counselling, General Support Services and Hearing Care Counselling. In 2016/17, Counselling Services saw more than 6,000 clients, conducted more than 44,000 visits and provided more than 57,000 hours of service.
- CONNECT provides professional counselling services to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals of all ages, and their families, dealing with mental health issues, addiction, relationship problems, domestic violence or other serious challenges. The average clients’ age is 46 years old, 71% are Deaf, and 72% live in poverty.
- General Support Services (GSS) counsellors offer guidance, advocacy, support and counselling to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals who request assistance to manage everyday life events including completing government forms and developing strategies to cope with hearing loss. The average clients’ age is 49 years old, 66% are Deaf, and 75% live at or below the poverty line.
- The Hearing Care Counselling (HCC) Program provides free counselling services to help cope with hearing loss, improve communication with family and friends, stay active and involved and remain safe and independent at home. The average clients’ age is 82 years old, 94% are hard of hearing, and 61% are female.
Here’s a link to the story on our Canadian Hearing Society website.
CEO’s in the turnaround business need a thick skin. Generally, turnarounds depend on quick, tough decisions being implemented quickly. Not everyone is going to be happy.
Aside from the turnaround CEO’s, how good does a CEO need to be at taking the heat from stakeholders, including employees, the Board, funders and others? The answer obviously depends on how much heat a CEO is taking!
Organizational change and poor performance are the most common causes that put pressure on a CEO.
Leading organizational change
Some thoughts on leading organizational change and absorbing the heat along the way.
- Having a clear vision and mission is really helpful. If you’re going to take the heat, it’s important to be committed to a clear direction.
- Empathy is critical. Change is difficult for most people. Understanding that and having patience for the reaction it causes makes absorbing the heat easier to take.
- Having an outlet is helpful. Blowing up under pressure is the wrong thing to do. That can be avoided by sharing frustrations, thoughts and ideas with trusted confidantes who both listen patiently, provide support – and when needed, get you back on the right path.
Leading a poor performing organization
Some thoughts on leading a poorly performing organization and absorbing the heat along the way:
- Get your act together. Quickly. Being clear why the organization isn’t performing and having a solid plan for improvement won’t just help you keep your job, it will help you keep your cool.
- Take responsibility but share the leadership burden with others. There’s something very desperate about a sinking CEO taking on responsibility for everything. That never works. Reduce the pressure and accomplish more by engaging others in the plan for making things better.
- Verify and engage the support of your Board and leadership team. It’s better to know where you stand than to assume what their support level is. Knowing you’re fully supported is very motivating. Knowing you’re not supported maybe scary, but it helps clarify some of the priorities you need to sort!
Taking the heat is part of what a CEO signs up for. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without it. However, success doesn’t just depend on having a thick skin. It depends on having a great awareness of what’s happening and a plan for dealing with it.
There are two kinds of senior leadership. Both work. At least for a while.
The ‘smartest person’ depends on having all the answers and providing all the direction. This leader attracts followers.
The ‘facilitator’ depends on the CEO being surrounded by other smart people and holding them accountable for helping to set direction and making things happen. This leader attracts other leaders.
From a results perspective, the ‘smartest person’ often starts well. But it can fade fast. It’s hard knowing everything, and having to make all the decisions bottlenecks most of today’s fast-paced businesses.
Leading by facilitating is more sustainable because it shares the decision making and leadership load with other smart leaders. Trusting others can be scary. However, the thing about smart people is they often surprise you and they learn from their mistakes.
So, what does it take to look after a team of good leaders?
- Trust in their motivation.
- Respect for their expertise and skills.
- A clear set of expectations.
- Clear accountability for results.
- Encouragement to act, even take a risk.
- Help eliminating roadblocks and barriers.
- Recognition for a job well done.
Leading other leaders takes a lot of confidence. I think it takes more confidence than it takes to be the smartest person in the room.
I notice not all CEO’s put in the same hours. I wonder what the difference is?
Drive? For sure. We’re all made up differently. I’m sure we have different visions of what needs get done, and when.
Effectiveness? Maybe, but not necessarily. I feel like I’m highly effective. I just have lot to do and it takes a while.
Stamina? Yes. I know CEO’s who need to break away to stay effective. I believe that taking a break can help but I don’t crave it personally.
Other priorities? Definitely a factor. When I hear all the other things some CEO’s are involved in, I wonder how they get any time to make anything happen anywhere (they must be really effective!).
So, we’re all different. As I think about it, what have I learned about the correct amount of time a CEO should be spending at the job?
- It’s personal. What’s too much for some is too little for others.
- We need to be careful. I think the thing that worries me most is the family time that gets run over when a CEO is at the office or on the road all the time. I’ve seen that one come back to bite lots of people.
- We need to be careful. The other thing that worries me is burning out. It does happen, frequently to people with high drive who didn’t realize they could exceed their physical and mental capacities.
- If there are ways to reduce the amount of job time, we should learn them. There are two obvious benefits – get even more done(!) and time available for something else.
- It’s worth doing a personal job-time assessment on a regular basis. Considerations: is too much (or too little) time on the job is just a bad habit?; does the job really require it?; are the rewards worth it?; is capacity shrinking with changes in personal life (kids, age, etc.)? It’s worth recognizing these things and either adapting – or making a conscious decision to carry on.
Job time affects us and the people around us. Figuring out how much we think it matters can make a world of difference for everyone.
A strong Board Chair can be the difference between flourishing in a CEO role and hating it.
What makes a strong Board Chair? I see several key attributes:
- understands corporate governance, including Board role and process
- understands the role of the CEO
- understands the business
- knows how to lead, make decisions, follow-up
- has empathy for the CEO and other Directors
- is available and easy to access when necessary
A Board Chair with these attributes is great for a CEO to work with. They keep the Board focused on its role while supporting the CEO in theirs. This enables the CEO to lead the organization at the operational level without interference.
‘Managing’ a Board Chair without these attributes can be a double-edged sword for CEO’s. The downside is too much time spent by the CEO on Board issues and corporate governance. It can also mean poor decision making and unfair demands on the CEO by a Board that is struggling with its role.
The upside is something that almost every CEO craves – direct input and influence over the Board’s direction, decision making and governance process. It’s true that poorly lead Boards tend to rely too much on their CEO for governance direction. That’s a desirable outcome for many CEO’s!
The relationship between the Board Chair and the CEO can make or break a CEO – and the organization. Making it work is the responsibility of both.
In my capacity as CEO I use a wide range of advisors.
My most trusted advisors are my Leadership Team. I trust them the most because I know them the best – and they know me. We’ve worked long hours together. Sorted problems and opportunities together. Eaten meals together. We’re close and I count on them for their skills, insight and expertise. Also, they report to me and my direct influence over their priorities and performance is different than the dynamic I have with my outside advisors. Or is it?
My most trusted outside advisors are also smart and expert at what they do. Some report to me – if I’ve directly and formally engaged them – some don’t.
There are a couple of things I keep in mind in managing my outside advisors.
- They have expertise I don’t have. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t need them – therefore, I need to pay attention to what they’re advising me – even if I’m not always on-side.
- They have other work they could be doing. I don’t believe any of my most trusted advisors are simply ‘in it for the money’. If I were to treat them poorly enough or regularly downplay their expertise, I bet they would all move on to something more meaningful. I must treat them with respect. Show them concern and consideration.
- They are fairly paid for what they’re doing for me. I see to that. Therefore, I can have high expectations for their performance – and I can hold them accountable to deliver.
- We don’t work together 24/7. Therefore, the opportunities to get to know each other – for sharing, learning and problem-solving – don’t happen spontaneously. Those opportunities must be organized. Created. Simply winging it won’t work consistently and may even fail at the most inopportune time.
- Other than by association, none of them have any direct vested interest in the long-term success of my organization. Sweat equity doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, my direction to them must be clear, the expected outputs well understood, the timing precise and the compensation fair.
Bottom line, if I want the best performance out of my advisors – both internal and external – I need to treat them all the same – with respect, caring, clear direction and accountability.