Top Team, Culture and Talent

1. Form the "troika": Allocating the right resources against the right priorities will depend in no small part on putting together a critical team at the top. The CEO needs a strong, strategic CFO who can help manage the balance sheet and income statement while helping fight the fights to get resources put in the right place. It also requires a strong, strategic chief human resources officer to recruit, develop and fight the fights to allocate the right talent against the right initiatives. This CEO-CFO-CHRO troika is a powerful force, especially if it is fully aligned and speaks with one voice. The best CEOs recognize this and make forming the troika a top priority.

2. Create a "talent table." We all understand that the best companies must win the war for talent. But great CEOs are more specific—they need the right people in the right jobs. They ruthlessly manage what we call the "talent table," a grid that identifies the company's best talent at all levels and those roles in the organization that create the most value. The CEO must take accountability for distributing talent across the grid, matching talented people to critical roles. Inevitably, the best leaders within the organization will do whatever they can to keep the best talent within their lanes. Only the CEO can arbitrate.

3. Align on what it takes to build a high-performance culture: Sustained business success requires a high-performance organization. For most executives, the challenge in building such an organization is determining where to start. In our view, the starting point depends on three factors: the organization's current performance, its long-term objectives and its competitive situation. To raise the odds of business success, leadership teams must align around the specific organizational outcomes they would like to achieve and how effective they are currently in those areas. We recently surveyed 665 companies worldwide and found that six organizational outcomes are key to exceptional performance. High-performing organizations are:

  • Aligned with the company's strategy
  • Capable of executing strategy with the right talent, processes and tools
  • Effective at making and executing critical decisions
  • Adaptable in the face of rapid change
  • Efficient in realizing the benefits of scale and scope
  • Engaged to go the extra mile

4. Manage time as a precious resource: Most companies have elaborate procedures for managing capital. An organization's time, in contrast, goes largely unmanaged. Although phone calls, emails, instant messages, meetings and teleconferences eat up hours in every executive's day, most companies have no clear understanding of how people spend their collective time. Not surprisingly, time is often squandered, taking a heavy toll on productivity. Some forward-thinking companies expect their leaders to treat time as a scarce resource and to invest it prudently. They bring as much discipline to their time budgets as they do to their capital budgets. These organizations have not only lowered their overhead expenses, they have also liberated countless hours of previously unproductive time. The best CEOs manage time aggressively.