It’s Time for Senior Managers to Look in the Mirror

January 3, 2011

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to set your New Year’s resolutions. And, no, I don’t mean setting goals to lose weight or save more money — although the latter may apply.

When I was an operational software executive, the approach of a new year triggered a rigorous performance evaluation. I looked at how the company had done that year and I formulated goals and strategies for how to improve the way my team and company operated in the future.

I focused quite a bit on management teams and the importance of the team building phase. Finding the right new members to bring in to an early or expansion stage company is critical to scaling the company and improving its operational execution.

So, as part of my own annual review and planning process, I would evaluate the performance of the organization, my team, and myself as a leader. For business executives and senior leaders, it’s sometimes easy to evaluate the first two groups, but how often do you turn the mirror on yourself?

The truth is, it doesn’t happen often enough. If you’re a senior executive, the buck often stops with you and your performance as a leader. As easy as it sounds, I believe that executives must look in the mirror and ask themselves three things:

  1. What am I doing well?
  2. What am I not doing well?
  3. What can I do better?

Seems simple enough, right? As the founder and/or CEO of a growth stage company, now is the time to look in that mirror. With a new year ahead, you have the chance to start fresh and take your business to the next level. But you can’t do that without better understanding what you can do better first.

Management consultant Melissa Raffoni penned a great article for the Harvard Business Review on annual performance evaluations, detailing her process for analyzing executives. She came up with a list of the eight characteristics of the most (and least) successful CEOs she worked with in the previous year, while also posing two more detailed questions that every executive should ask themselves:

  • If there was only one thing I could focus on to improve my personal performance, what would that be and how would I make it happen?
  • What messages am I not listening to or refusing to confront in my business and personal performance and how am I going to overcome that this year?

She argues that executives can’t simply mull those questions over for a few minutes. Instead, they should take time to truly consider each one, writing out answers and committing to making them their business New Year’s resolutions.

As much as we’d all like to believe we’re perfect, there’s always room for improvement. I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that argued that bosses often overestimate their management skills. It was a particularly good read because it depicted how difficult it can be for managers and executives to be honest about their own strengths and weaknesses.

The article focuses mostly on new front line managers and the findings within it point to an overly strong sense of overconfidence among those managers. I believe that’s fairly representative of entrepreneurs who are first time CEO’s, too. After all, those CEOs are the front line managers within the start-up or expansion stage companies that they’re running.

Firas Raouf, one of my peers at OpenView, recently wrote a blog post that asked CEOs to consider if they would hire themselves. It brings another perspective to the topic and does a nice job of presenting the major theme that CEOs should focus on for 2011: How can I continue to develop my CEO skills?

So, while you’re closing out your year, focusing on business growth strategies, building a repeatable business and economic model, and identifying the key management team members that you need to hire to boost your operational execution in 2011, don’t forget to take a look in the mirror.

Whether you’re still bootstrapping the company or you’ve raised growth capital, you owe it to yourself, your team, and your company to be introspective. A little self-reflection never hurt and it may do a lot to help your business get to the next level.

Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.