In my years of working with fellow CEO’s, I have slowly developed a list of attributes that I have found common in the high performing C-level executives for growing entrepreneurial businesses. Over the past few months, since the selling of Quickparts, I have been heavily involved in the roles of several CEO’s by providing coaching to them to help them move their businesses to the next level. During this time, the importance of these attributes has proven to be critical to making positive progress. One particular attribute missing from a few of these CEO’s has been so frustrating that it’s like a neon sign on the Vegas strip flashing “No Sense of Urgency Here”. Unfortunately, for most businesses, this quality transcends throughout the organization and puts the company on the path to their demise.
As a person that has an intense sense of urgency, it can easily be taken for granted. If you are programmed to always want everything to have happened yesterday because you are ready to be working on tomorrow, then you have a high sense of urgency. If you are a person that is unwilling to sacrifice time and performance to get things done, then you have a low sense of urgency. When one of your executives was to have a phone chat with a hot new prospect, but he keeps pushing it out, then you are accepting this low sense of urgency and it reflects on you. Get Stuff Done Now!
I’m not sure if having a high sense of urgency is innate or developed over time, but my experience for entrepreneurial businesses is that this is absolutely critical for the CEO to have a high sense of urgency. Just letting things happens as they happen or when convenient for all involved is unacceptable.
Regrettably, I find that most entrepreneurial CEO's don’t have it and act like they are in some big corporate structure where putting in your 9-5 is fine and just getting what gets done works. It’s not about the number of hours, as most put in way more than 40 hours but effective for much less, but the use of their time get everything done today that must be done.
What is not appropriately appreciated by most low sense of urgency CEO's is that in an entrepreneurial business, it is like a raging river where the next challenge is right behind the current ones. Putting things off is allowing the system to backlog until the problems are insurmountable, the options are limited, and the future of the business in jeopardy. We all should know that “time kills all deals” because of this same principle that the world is dynamic, so you need to take action with the current state of the world instead of increasing the risk of the unknown future state.
Delaying a decision today will typically make it a harder decision later that has greater ramifications. Some easy and obvious examples include the following:
Slow Hiring. You have the opportunity to hire a rock star for your organization. Instead of driving action to get the prospect through your hiring process, you keep making excuses about not completing the phone interview, or scheduling the interview. The result is that rock stars don’t wait on you, so they get hired by your competition and then beat you in your market. Not only has a low sense of urgency cost you a great team member, but empowered your competition.
Slow Firing. It’s the middle of summer and you have a c-player that you know needs to be released to the world for CDE (career development elsewhere). You keep making excuses about why it’s better to wait or you are just too busy to do your job. By the end of the year, the c-player has continued to erode your organization's morale, lose key customers, and lower the overall quality of the company. However, now it’s the holiday season and you have to include the human aspects of firing someone right before the holidays and what message this sends to your company and what impact it could have on that person's family. If you had done your job in the summer, the c-player may have found a job in another great company, where they could be a-player, love their job, and have the best holiday of their lives.
Raising Money. You need another round of funding to grow your business. This is a top priority for the CEO. You have interested investors calling you requesting an updated business plan, financials, or investor presentations. Every day you leave the office before updating this information, sending it to the interested investors, or replying back to their emails. Your lack of performance sends a couple of signals to the interested investors. Either you are not interested in their money, or you are under-performing CEO. Either one creates hurdles that reduce the likelihood of success with the potential investor and/or reduces your leverage to negotiate favorable terms because they feel the need to mitigate their risk. This can easily be the beginning of the end for the company regardless of how good the business model or product.
It is easy to rationalize the lack of success a CEO can have with their full loads. However, they took the role of CEO with an acceptance that they are responsible for the entire organization, including themselves and if things are not done, then they are responsible. I guess the criticality of this attributes drives another key attribute for a successful CEO and that is personal organization skills. You have got to have a strong system to let you get everything done and the unwillingness to fail to ensure that nothing is pushed to the next day.