James Kerr and the executive checklist


James Kerr is a management consultant, organizational behaviourist and regular contributor to Management-Issues.com. He helps businesses to become best practice enterprises through strategic planning, corporate transformation and project and program development. His latest book, The Executive Checklist, is about making the business world simpler and helping leaders improve the ways in which they guide and shape their organizations.

Why an Executive Checklist?

Checklists make life easier. So, why not fashion an Executive Checklist that leaders can follow to make their lives easier? The ten items in the checklist represent the things that every leader, regardless of industry or size, must do extremely well in order to amply set direction and manage change to be the best leaders that they can be.

There's a section in The Executive Checklist where you present characteristics of poor leadership, why the emphasis?

A bad leader can wreak havoc on an organization. They can cripple morale and undermine a senior executive's agenda. Therefore, an executive seeking to establish leadership within an organization should never tolerate bad subordinate managers of whom they are responsible. That said, they need to identify poor leadership and do whatever is required to correct or eliminate it for to tolerate the behavior of terrible leaders only sends the unwelcome message to underlings that such behavior is condoned. So, squelching bad leadership behavior is a theme that I attempted to carry throughout the book.

"Do Your Job" is one of your tenets for building trust within an organization. How does placing a focus on doing one's job help to build trust?

Executive leadership can set an important tone within a corporate culture by regularly reinforcing a simple message to all personnel "do your job."

The implications of those three, unassuming words abound. For instance, one can easily infer that staff members are duty-bound to focus their energy on doing their level best at their job assignments; workmates should aim all of their attention on performing their specific responsibilities and not be concerned by how others are carrying out their tasks; coworkers have to work together to deliver on their obligations to one another; and, colleagues must come to rely on others to do their jobs in order to be successful as an organization.

When taken seriously and acted upon as needed, an emphasis on "doing one's job" leads to increased trust within an enterprise.

You write about the importance of tying employee engagement to measurement and reward programs, what steps can a firm follow to integrate the two?

We must tie engagement to the measurement and reward program. The linkage becomes the way in which we incent desired behaviors and gain sought after outcomes, which, in turn, promotes more engagement.

Some steps to ensure successful integration, include, identifying the key strategic themes on which we need staff engagement; including these themes in their next scheduled performance review, asking each staff member to develop a personal plan for how they will contribute to the achievement of one or more of these themes; solicit metrics for the items in their personal plan, and; celebrating achievement of personal goals that contributes to engagement by promoting stories about it in organizational newsletters and on intranet sites.

Organizations which can connect engagement activities to measurement and rewards programs are more likely to effectually engage and motivate employees implementing organizational change.

The Executive Checklist stresses the importance of communication. How does a leader institute better communications within an organization?

The communications renewal battle is won and lost at the middle layer of the organization. Mid-tier managers either encourage open and honest communications or they work to close it down in order to maintain control and dominance over the people whom they are responsible for managing. Information sharing is squelched in work environments where mid-level manager's exhibit restricted communication behavior.

That said, we need to focus attention on helping the middle layer understand why communications is vital to the organization's continuing success and convince them that better information sharing across the enterprise will lead to a higher degree of cooperation. Increased cooperation will make their jobs more enjoyable and easier to perform.

In the heart of the book, you propose that firms should "Renovate to Differentiate" care to elaborate on that thought?

Sure, as I write in the book, improvement for the sake of doing things differently is not why we, as executives, must establish ongoing business renovation programs within our organizations. Rather, we should renovate in order to strategically differentiate our enterprises from the competition. This distinction is an important one to make because it serves to inform the decisions about which types of changes and improvements we should pursue.

To be the organization of choice, for example, suggests that we offer the right products, at the right price, through the right distribution channels while providing the right customer experience. It does not automatically imply that we offer the lowest price or the best product in order to be "of choice". Quite the opposite, in fact, it proposes that we possess the optimum combination of elements to make our enterprise stand out within the markets in which we compete.

So, business renovation efforts aimed at simply becoming the least expensive provider or forming the most sophisticated product portfolio may be ill-advised. A more appropriate approach may be to aim business transformation efforts at initiatives that yield the right combination of product, price and service improvements.

Indeed, by making strategic differentiation the goal of all business renovation activities, organizations will begin to push for the right kinds of changes in the way work is performed and in the way the enterprise is run. In fact, when a business transformation program is designed with "of Choice" goals in mind, improvements in virtually all areas of an organization will result.

You also suggest that leaders should build a creative workforce, why is staff member creativity important?

It is unmistakable, organizations enjoy many benefits by building a more creative team of personnel, including, Better talent enabled by the fashioning of a rewarding and inspiring work environment; Better problem-solving brought about by the amalgam of talent that is regularly called upon to develop creative solutions to business problems; Better product and service offerings facilitated by exposure to innovative ways of thinking and doing, and; Better differentiation as a result of creative minds working together to astound.

By making staff creativity a priority, we can transform our organizations and establish a more sustainable work environment one that arouses and provokes exceptional performance from the entire enterprise.

You close The Executive Checklist with a vision for the future. Do you think that that vision is achievable?

Yes, I think firms like Zappos, W.L. Gore & Associates (the makers of Gore-Tex) and Google are already committing to the vision outlined in the book. Such organizations are finding that they can no longer afford to be top-heavy. Management bureaucracies destroy productivity and milk the creative juices out of even the most ambitious staff member which allows lethargy and sluggishness to seep into the culture and kill the enterprise.

A flatter organizational design coupled with a team-based operating model has been adopted in tomorrow's organization. It empowers and motivates staff to do their best.


About The Author

Brian Amble
Brian Amble

Brian Amble is apparently Management-Issues staff writer, which is surprising given that he is actually a composite of a human being and a Beagle . . . .