Role Optimization: How Great Leaders Put Together a Winning Lineup
02 / 25 / 20

Role Optimization: How Great Leaders Put Together a Winning Lineup

A client had a long-tenured employee who rose through the ranks to become a senior executive and equity partner.

But then his performance hit a wall. And it became apparent to the leadership team, his direct reports, and eventually the executive himself, that senior management wasn’t an optimal role for him.

Perhaps he could succeed going back in the field, but that wasn’t what the company needed. He was shuffled around to find a leadership role where he could thrive. But he didn’t flourish in any of those positions.

When we conducted the 360-degree assessments, the feedback on this executive’s performance was harsh. No one clearly understood what his role or purpose was for the company. And, as it turned out, he didn’t really know either. It was clear that keeping him on board would be a strain on company morale and growth.

So, we had a “come to Jesus” meeting with the CEO and asked him, “What are you going to do about it?”

The situation was complicated because the executive was an equity partner, making it difficult to simply let him go. But the CEO made the hard decision to part ways with him anyway. And we facilitated the buy-out.

It turns out that this was the best decision for both parties. The executive has moved on and done well—and so has the company.

This is just one example of what happens far too often in companies. Good people get stuck in bad roles—for them or the company—that don’t fit their interests or skills. As a result, they tend to feel disengaged, underperform, or become a bottleneck to growth. And even when they give their best effort, they may not meet expectations because they don’t have the appropriate skill for the role.

So, how can you ensure you’re putting together a winning “lineup”—where you have the right people in the right roles—to achieve your company’s objectives?

This is where you tap into the principles from Breakthrough Workshop #2: Role Optimization, which we’ll unpack for you in today’s article.

RECAP: The “Collaboration Effect on Profits” Series

If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, here are the links and key takeaways to give you the context you need to get you up to speed. If you’ve already read these articles, feel free to jump right to the next section.

Intro to the Collaboration Effect on Profits
The Collaboration Effect on Profits: How Great Culture Drives Business Results
Key Takeaway: When you create an environment where leadership and rank-and-file employees alike are all working together in their optimal roles toward the same vision, that culture becomes a force multiplier to achieve breakthrough profits.

Breakthrough Workshop #1: What’s the Why?
How Bold Companies Turn Their Courageous Vision into Breakthrough Performance
Key Takeaway: Simon Sinek put it best when he said, “Vision is a destination—a fixed point to which we focus all effort. Strategy is a route—an adaptable path to get us where we want to go.” The key is to make sure that your courageous vision is a destination that you and your team are willing to work towards together. And then use the “Big 4” strategic business questions to help chart your course.

(To receive these articles directly in your inbox, click here.)

Today, we’re going to talk about how to ensure you have the right people serving in their optimal roles to achieve your courageous vision.

Breakthrough Workshop #2: Role Optimization

Virtue: Humility
Objective: Identify and bridge any gaps between actual and optimal roles

As Patrick Lencioni writes in "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable," “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

The idea here is that when you and your team have a clear understanding of your company’s Why, How and What, the next step is to evaluate everyone's roles and giftedness—to get everyone into their optimal position, all rowing in the same direction.

But how do you do this?

At Legacy Advisory Partners, we walk our clients through questions like these.

#1. What roles do we need to fill to achieve our courageous vision?
Look at the organizational chart. Have all the required positions been identified? If not, what’s missing? What gaps in knowledge, talent, and expertise do you need to fill?

For example, suppose you run a construction company that generates more than 70-percent of its business from hard-bid contracts. That is, the majority of your company's revenue comes from winning jobs, usually based on being the lowest bidder.

But if your vision is to grow revenues from, say, $75 million to $200 million in the next five years, the low-bid sales process won't likely get you there. You'll need to adopt more of a business development model to expand your growth potential by actively building long-term relationships with prospects and customers—and not passively waiting for worthwhile bid opportunities to arise.

So, what roles would you need to fill to shift your sales model from 70-percent hard-bid to 70-percent business development? At this point, you would be looking to build a more robust sales and marketing team to achieve your objective.

#2. Do we have the right people in their optimal roles?
As you evaluate each position, is the best person in that role?

If not, why? What changes do you need to make to your lineup? Who do you need to shift around? Who should you replace?

As you go through this process, you might discover some employees who, at one time, were an excellent fit for the team but now seem out of place.

For example, think of the rock star salesperson whose success got him promoted to VP of Sales. But he lacks the leadership skills to build a high-performance sales team under him.

Or, you might uncover gems, like the administrative assistant who has impressive writing and communication skills and could add even more value to the company in a marketing director role.

One question we have found helpful in getting people to talk candidly about their desired role is this: If given the opportunity to make an impact on the business that you currently do not have, what would that impact be?

This is where 360-degree reviews—with feedback from supervisors, peers, direct reports, along with the employee’s self-assessment—can help give you a clearer picture of each of your team member’s capabilities and interests and where they best fit in your company’s overall strategy.

#3. What roles still need to be filled?
You’ve identified the necessary roles, evaluated your existing team, and shifted some employees into other roles that are better suited to their talent and the company’s needs. So, what roles do you still need to fill? What is your recruiting strategy to attract the best talent to fill those positions?

#4. How should we incentivize and retain key people to ensure those roles stay filled?
In an era of historically low unemployment, the competition for talent is fierce. What executive compensation and benefits tools can help you retain your top talent? How can you more effectively align executive incentives with company performance?

You might think, “But where do we find the money to pay for these retention programs?”

But an equally important question is: “What’s the cost if we DON’T do something to be competitive in keeping our most valuable players?”

The reality is that when you have the right people in the right roles—all rowing in the same direction—your business will produce results that far exceed any investment you make in retaining your key employees.

That’s the Collaboration Effect on Profits at work.

The Bottom Line

Now, for the Role Optimization process to work in your company, you and your team must put into practice the "Great 8" leadership virtue of Humility.

That's because Humility leads to self-awareness, where you're brutally honest with yourself and others about your strengths and weaknesses—and how you can best help the team win.

As the famous 19th Century preacher Charles H. Spurgeon put it, "Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself."

And the practice “to make a right estimate of oneself” must begin with the CEO, who then creates a safe environment for the others on the team to do the same.

The result is a winning team that coalesces around a courageous vision, with each employee operating in their sweet spot to achieve amazing results for the company.

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About the Author:  J. David Harper, Jr. serves as CEO and principal of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides total retirement plan advisory services that give clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also the author of the book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership” that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.