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A Road Map for Presidents and CEOs

By Tom Walsh


The most important decision executives make is who they name as manager, at all levels in a company. 

— Randall J. Beck, Gallup 


CFO asks his CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave the company?” CEO answers, “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?” Are you feeding and keeping your best people? 

      — Author unknown


If you want to grow a prosperous, thriving company, here are 10 steps on the continual improvement journey.

Step One: Leadership awareness. If there is one thing that good leaders do very well and with great consciousness, it is choosing other leaders/managers in their organizations. Mediocre leaders are distracted by issues of less importance and then have to struggle because they have surrounded themselves with sub-par performers. There should be no higher priority than getting the smartest, most emotionally intelligent and most capable people in every leadership or management position. 

Step Two: Talent inventory. Do a complete talent inventory of your direct reports. We highly recommend the use of the “Nine Box” tool, which forces you to rank each person on a grid of potential and performance. This tool, meeting my criteria of using science, reducing complexity, and adding value, is increasingly being adopted by our clients and other forward-thinking leaders. It is a simple tool, free to use, and extremely powerful. 

Step Three: Get candid. Strive for clarity about who the most impactful and high-potential people are in your organization. High potential is being defined as able to grow into new areas of responsibility and probably another step up the ladder. Discuss the results with your team (gulp — candor is often painful). Drive for clarity about who the most impactful leaders are in your business. 

Step Four: Drive it down. Make sure your direct reports use the grid with their teams and review the results with them. Be prepared for resistance and challenging conversations, but be persistent. 

If you get this far, you will be well on your way to transforming your organization —remember, it’s all about the people. Most leaders never get this far because they are too busy focusing on the less important stuff that feels very urgent. 

Step Five: Current reality. Have your top team complete an organizational survey that is science-based, cost effective, and gives your leadership team clear feedback of the health of the organization in the key areas of strategy, design, and culture. It should also compare you with other companies. After all, if you are a typical leader don’t you want to keep score and know how your company compares with others? Or, are you too busy in the here and now to work so powerfully on your business? 

Most companies are somewhat disappointed to find out they are only average. Is average OK? Will it attract and retain above-average employees? Now that you are working on the “who” in your organization, you need to focus on the “what” you need to change and “what” you do not need to change. In other words, the best leaders are focusing on the future as well as today.

Step Six: Dig into the data. Get your top people and best talent (remember the Nine Box) together with the results from the survey to dig into what’s hot and what’s not in your organization and choose the key areas you want to improve. Spend the time and focus. You might want to engage an outside facilitator.

Step Seven: Plan. Develop a simple yet clear strategic-planning system to create a strategic plan that looks out three years and has measureable objectives and action plans for one year. The plan must be clear, balanced, and have accountabilities built into it.

Step Eight: Alignment. Make sure you have the agreement and buy-in from your key team to follow and execute the plan.

Step Nine: Execute. Every month, insist that your key people update their parts of the plan, stay on track, and get it done. Focus, execute, and keep score. Good leaders do what they commit to and hold others to the same standard.

Step Ten: Keep it going. Do the Nine Box every six months, the survey once a year, and the planning/execution review with your team every month. Create a compelling strategic discipline and you will be on your journey to becoming a great company that dominates your market, engages bright, talented employees, and builds your legacy as a leader.

While these actions are not all inclusive, a company that does them will see continuous improvement, be more disciplined, serve its customers better, be a better place to work, and be more profitable.        


Thomas Walsh, Ph.D. is president of Grenell Consulting Group, a regional firm specializing in maximizing the performance of organizations and their key contributors. Email Walsh at


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