Implementing Your Growth Zone Plan Step 1: Selecting Your Leader

This is the first in a five post series on how to build a cross-functional team that delivers.  If you have done your homework using the process we’ve discussed in previous newsletters, you are now ready to put your plans into place.

The first step in this process is selecting your leader.

An effective growth leader needs to fit three key criteria, and my admonition to business leaders is to sideline the project if any of these criteria are not met:

 Criteria #1:  Subject Matter Expert

If you have followed the planning materials on this site, you know that the open source business model map provides a nice framework for zeroing in on which parts of the business model need to change.  Doblin’s research shows that going to work on at least two of these elements sets you up to outperform your industry peers.

Your leader needs to be a subject matter expert in at least one of the boxes on the business model map that you are changing with the breakthrough project.  She does not need to be a world-class expert, but she should be a recognized player in the space.

This means that the person should not only be an expert among their peer group at your enterprise, but he or she should also be recognized as an expert externally, as well.  Being validated externally takes work and mutual investment, and those leaders who have gone the extra mile are great candidates for your growth leader positions.

 Criteria #2:  Works Well With Others

Your leader needs to have a demonstrated track record of working with their functional peers.  An example of this is the sales leader, who rather than sending everything to their VP for resolution, builds a cross-functional team with the customer to get to the root cause and improve the product or service.

The pace of these growth teams is very demanding, and having a leader who needs to learn both the cross-functional skills and handle the complexity of running the team will become overwhelming.

The best growth leaders recognize that in addition to their functional home, they need to work across the firm to create value.  You’ll find these leaders routinely working with their peers in sales, operations and marketing in an effort to understand and better serve their customers, or to solve complex quality and service issues.

 Criteria #3:  Solid Decision Making

Your leader needs to have a track record of good, solid decision making.  This is key because cross-functional teams can get easily bogged down when everything is a research project.  Keeping a balance of rigor and momentum is a critical skill for your cross-functional team leader – and making timely decisions in what I call the 49/51 zone – where two alternatives are nearly equal – is a key skill for keeping the team on track.

Stepping forward and making the call when just 70 percent of the information is on the table is the hallmark of a good growth leader.  These skills are born out of the experience of leadership, and are best identified during growth assignments or crisis work.

One of the key things young military officers are taught is to avoid “vapor lock” and not allow their troops to take fire due to decision dithering. We need to expect the same from our growth leaders.

 Other Attributes to Look for (And Avoid)

Now for the nice to haves:

  • The ability to work with hardcore creative – you know the ones: they cannot stand compromise and will insist on having their way even when the pressure for perfection will blow your schedule to smithereens.
  • The ability to manage up and use the mantle of leadership carefully.  This individual should be able to get a great deal done without having to drag senior leaders in on every disagreement.  They should be able to shrewdly handle the responsibility you have given them to smoothly form and execute on the program.
  • The ability to handle a senior team like a board of directors meeting by creating a good pre-read and getting it out early (so those influential leaders can handle those areas of conflict in the hallways and airport lounges rather than the meeting room).

Things they should not be:

  • Overly diplomatic.  A good growth leader is not afraid to break some glass, as business model innovation, by definition, challenges the status quo.  Someone who gets caught up on consensus is guaranteed to get stuck – and you’ll grow weary of breaking the logjams on their behalf.
  • Overly contentious. Someone who majors in the minor skirmish (the opposite of the above) will derail you as well.  You want someone who is goal oriented, but not a human wrecking ball.

To summarize, what you are looking for is a leader who can: (1) create a high challenge, high support environment, where everyone has line of sight and personal expectations of high standards and (2) someone who supports their team through tough challenges in an authentic and professional way.

What do you do if you do not have the leader you need?

This is more common than you think, and my advice is always the same: don’t start until you have the right leader.  If you have done your homework in designing your growth initiative, you know exactly who you need, so go get them – it’s that important.

To make sure you have some good leadership for these kinds of programs, you need to always be on the prowl for talent – especially when at external conferences and industry sessions.  Go and meet promising subject matter experts after their talk and take the time to add them to your network.  Having a good network of people scouting on your behalf is also a great strategy.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this post – please send me a tweet @scottpropp or drop me an email.

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