We’re taught that achievements are built upon a simple yet profound guiding principle: knowing your basics. What are those “basics,” exactly? Throughout my career, I’ve spent a significant amount of time discussing with colleagues and clients the core fundamentals a senior manager must master to be the best leader in the toughest situations. The following six imperatives, the result of those conversations, seem simple enough yet their mastery is the single most important pursuit for senior executives at organizations of any size.

1. Create and Communicate a Winning Vision

The down economy has led to austerity measures within LBM. Dealers of all sizes have responded by refining existing product mixes and expanding into new product categories. We have drilled into expenses and eliminated waste. We have right-sized our staffing for current volumes. All of these are correct responses, indeed. But operational steps alone will not facilitate enduring success.

 A more potent element is required. Senior leaders must now forge an inspiring, enduring vision of what and how: What will be accomplished by their organizations and how strategically and tactically for successful performance. Leaders then must communicate that vision to stakeholders—customers, vendors, employees and their families. Lives and breathe and speak the vision every hour every day until it is deeply understood and dynamically embraced by all stakeholders. 

2. Recruit and Retain Talent

Talent encompasses more than just technical skill. A talent set for this era includes a propensity for spreading the vision message of the organization. It includes both the willingness and the ability to express optimism in place of reciting obstacles. It includes the ability to set aside traditional business models no longer relevant to current conditions. It includes creativity. It includes unparalleled sense of drive and self-discipline. 

While organizations have downsized in response to our current market conditions, I wonder if we have sufficiently refined our employee rosters, customer accounts, and vendor sources until only the most innovative, self-starters remain. I wonder how many dealers hungry for innovation have not yet removed the non-innovative from their playing fields. Do we really have payroll and resources available for participants that still need to be managed on every detail of the game? I don’t think so.

3. Build Systems that Work

Informality in our systems will eventually lead to failure. In hard or easy times, we cannot waste resources. Create a format for continuous organizational improvement and for discovery of inefficiencies that lead to organizational loss and waste. Codified processes in key systems of purchasing, sales management, materials handling, delivery, accounts payable and receivable must be created, along with performance standards. System creation needs to include the distinctions for measurements, and scores and game statistics. Scores are the results of excellent execution of the fundamentals of the game. You cannot influence your organization through the review and discussion of scores. Game Statistics are the measures of how your game is being played. Continuous review and refinement of how we are getting to the scores ensures improvement in those scores. Without such a core system, any growth will be accidental at best and wracked with waste, and failure imminent.

4. Lead By Example

As a consultant I have observed the behavior of scores of senior executives.  I see many who believe that performance coaching largely takes place while sitting in a chair behind a desk. However, the people in our industry on the standing side of that executive desk are energetic, tactile, and driven to serve. They are bustling on the sales floors and in the yards and on the deliveries and at the jobsites. If the leaders want to realize world class performance, it is better to be in the field (away from the desk) each day, leading by example. Being at the ‘front of the bus’ interacting with customers and staff enables the Imperatives Driven Leader to personally direct and shape the customer experience. 

5. Encourage and Uplift Your Team

A compelling body of evidence asserts that when people are uplifted, encouraged and praised for a job well done, performance will continue to improve. Praise fosters generosity within an organization from every stakeholder. When the critical mass of generosity exists, stakeholders naturally go the extra mile, without prompt. Such voluntary and discretionary effort may be the single most significant element raising organizational performance from average to world-class results. This routine encouragement in the form of gentle, consistent feedback and ongoing coaching maximizes individual and team performance.

6. Acknowledge Your Employees' Successes

The final step is to truly celebrate successes with the team. If a long-pursued customer finally grants an order to a dedicated sales person, immediately reward the dedicated effort that won the project. If a large complex order checks out perfectly in a load check, walk around passing high fives. If a day’s total sales beat last year’s daily total by a large degree, lead a roaring cheer. If you notice an employee selling a single silly wood screw really well to a confused novice homeowner, immediately give a handshake and generous commendations. All successes, great and small, are cause for celebration. Acknowledge results over and over, day after day, to condition your organization to win again and celebrate again. Joy itself becomes the driver and the foundation underneath all achievements.

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