Executive Team Tune-Ups

Sit back and imagine yourself sitting with your team—executive, management, departmental. Now imagine that you and your team are a car. This car might be relatively new or might have been serving you well for many years. Let’s analyze how this car functions. Is it running smoothly? Does the ignition clearly signal a clean start, or does it falter sometimes? Are the windshield wipers still removing excess water, or are there blotches of watery blind spots? Are the tires aligned? Is someone making sure everything is running well, or are you all making excuses and creating workarounds to get to your destination?

You and I both know the answer to these questions. Without constant monitoring, tracking, and tune-ups, you are headed towards a major crash—and your executive team is in for a major disconnect in terms of outcomes and strategic success.

Is every car and executive committee a mess? Certainly not. Those companies that regularly change the oil, fix the dents, upgrade the lights, and complete “self-checks” tend to steadily navigate the road. Those that take the attitude, “Oh, it is okay for now and we can pay attention to that later because, after all, we are too busy running the company!” have yet to learn the art and science of the executive team tune up.

Such a tune-up involves the following steps.

1. Collect data through one-on-one interviews with each executive (in person, zoom, skype): what is working” and “what needs to be done to be even better?”

2. Collate information into actionable, “working themes.”

3. Convene the committee for a retreat or series of meetings to address the themes.

4. Work through the information in truthful and disciplined ways to develop action plans (with emphasis on “action”).

5. Design a tracking system to measure progress and ensure accountability.

Repeat as necessary.

Piece of cake, right? The underlying skill sets needed for such a tune-up are quite sophisticated; yet, they are often dismissed by executives as being too simplistic or wasteful. “Oh, we can do that kind of thing ourselves” or “That’s just silly, touchy-feely stuff” or “The executive team knows what to do—it is those middle managers that need fixing.” Yes, sometimes you can change the oil yourself. But when the engine light is flashing, the turn signal stops functioning, the oil is leaking on a regular basis, and the navigation system keeps taking you down non-existing highways, it is time for professional help.

The best tune-up design utilizes a combination of professionals—internal and external organizational development consultants working in coordination with a leader who believes in continuous improvement.

And what are these sophisticated skill sets?

1. The use of “dialogue” that encourages openness of opinions, facts, personal agendas, truth, and directness with care.

2. Formatted group conversations with templates that lead to measurable actions and results.

3. Structured team conversations that reveal underlying reasoning, pooling of ideas, and a chance to gain perspective that doesn’t happen during daily chaos.

4. Documentation of agreements, steps, and owners—basically, accountability for the running of the car.

As you can see, such tune-ups are not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to face the “noise under the hood” instead of letting things slide until the car stops in the middle of the road to nowhere. After one or two tune-ups, an executive team will start to internalize the skill sets of constant improvement, and such “tune-ups” will be embraced as one of the mandatory ingredients of corporate success.

Virginia Bianco-Mathis is a Partner at the Strategic Performance Group, a Senior Consultant at Oyster Organizational Development, and Chair of the Department of Management (Director of the Human Resources and Organization Development programs) at Marymount University. She is a thought leader whose work spans all aspects of human resources, and has deep experience in academia, consulting, and executive coaching.