Masters Alliance C-Suite Not So Sweet? Is There a Skills Gap in the Corner Office?

C-Suite Not So Sweet? Is There a Skills Gap in the Corner Office?

By J. Allen | Originally Published September 27, 2016

Business Basics

A controversial topic that has consumed plenty of headline space in the last three years. It remains one of the hottest topics of debate amongst business leaders – specifically how it’s hurting our ability to stay competitive on a regional, national and global platform. Traditionally, this talent problem has been focused on the more technical roles and capabilities within an organization – concerns about our ability to drive innovation, breakthrough research, translate that into marketable products and services – all the way to the effective manufacturing and delivery of a high tech offering. Regardless of which side of the controversy you fall on, I think it’s time we look at a different part of the company with this question in mind.

The Gap

In our work at Masters Alliance, we see a different skill gap. It’s in the C-Suite and the click below that. It’s not so much of a knowledge based skill gap, or even an inability to produce financially sound results. It’s much more basic than that. The gap we see is that many executives have forgotten or never learned the fundamental basics of Business…including their own business! The stuff you learn in the management trainee program as you spend your first 4 weeks in the manufacturing plant. The experience you get when the next four weeks are spent taking customer calls and resolving customer complaints.

It’s the difference between learning about a value proposition in an Advanced Marketing course lecture and actually working the sales floor and helping a customer understand why your product meets a need that they don’t yet comprehend. It’s the gap between pursuit of financial outcomes versus pursuit of satisfied customers and happy employees. This gap has real implications for your company’s success and survival.

It wasn’t too many years ago that there was a boom in the awarding of MBA degrees in the US. It was the fastest way for high-potential middle managers and recent college graduates to increase their compensation levels. Most leaders felt the ROI on this pursuit had a near-guaranteed pay back. What these organizations didn’t realize is that by rewarding its high potential talent to go into the classroom, rather than the manufacturing floor or the service desk to learn how to make the company more financially successful, there was a longer-term price to pay.

That price came in the form of losing touch with the real world of serving customer’s needs. Leap frogging over the “school of hard knocks” that their predecessors attended, this new generation of leaders had the credentials of senior leaders, but not the real-world experience. It leaves many organizations in a tenuous position and leaders are starting to ask the question: How do I turn back the hands of time and bring our leadership team up-to-speed on the basics?

Taking Care of Customers and Employees

I’m not talking about an Executive Strategic Refresher course – those aren’t the basics I’m talking about. The gap we need to close is around leaders understanding the importance of taking care of customers and employees, even if it means giving up a sliver of margin. It means offering a service or a product that is world class according to their customer, rather than the marketing team. Relearning the fundamental truth that if you take care of the customer and deliver great value – the margin and the profit will follow.

Also, worth noting – giving your employees the authority to do the right thing has a remarkably strong ROI in customer loyalty. Happy employees mean happy customers. Happy customers mean repeat business. Repeat business means more sales with less investment to get them in the door. While the MBA class on marketing may have a chapter or two on “the customer experience,” a recent review of several of the top MBA programs from top business schools in the country (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Carlson School of Management) revealed that none of the required course titles for the program contained the word customer or employee. Course titles focus on markets, consumer and managing up, rather than digging deep into the customer mindset or the employee experience.

Please don’t think that I’m against MBA programs, or don’t believe in the value of formal education and development for our leaders – they are critical to providing a strong, informed foundation. But that knowledge can’t be used in a vacuum – the preparation of our future organization leaders needs to be a blend of real world experience at all levels of the organization, with the right amount of formal education to serve as a basis for that experience.

Closing the Gap

What’s the solution to closing the gap? We can’t turn the clock back and send the entire leadership team of an organization out onto a sales floor for a month. But we can begin to address the problem. At Masters Alliance, we work with executive teams from across the globe on helping leaders shift their mindset about customers, employees and strategy. We help leaders look at their markets, customers, suppliers, competitors differently – to get back to the basics…now! We help senior leaders to see with a new light, the experience of those closest to the customers, markets and competitors.

Be a “Noticer”

This is not a call for executive “over involvement” nor “interference” with those fulfilling the vision, implementing strategies, doing the day-to-day. But, leaders need to be “Noticers.” This is more than observing. It is more than “staying connected.” It is picking up on the “vibes.” It is understanding beyond the reports, the research, the presentations. It is interpreting between the lines, reading the situation. It is imagining what could be.

It is about seeing barriers others are not articulating. It is identifying opportunities others are not seeing or are not talking about for fear of being wrong. Leaders are the “Chief Barrier Removers,” the “Chief Opportunity Instigators,” the “Chief Excitement Officers” and yes, the “Chief Noticers.” They are the unrelenting searchers for what is going on and why.

Bill, CEO of a well-known food company client was a really good “noticer” and he knew he could always use help in noticing more. After we dug into the organization with a Quick Discovery, he stated: “You found out more about our organization that some wanted to know, but we took action on the findings with great results.”

Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time…Lead and Notice  

Leading and noticing can be an adjustment contrasted with a career of “being operationally involved.” Novo Nordisk CEO, Lars Rebien Sørensen stated in a recent Harvard Business Review story: “I’ve worked for this large international company [42,000 people in 77 countries with products in 165+ countries] for years. I’ve had to transform myself, to go from being a very good at what I was doing technically, with domain expertise – to being a generalist, and then being constantly challenged!”

US Defense Contractor President Jack, during one my visits to this client headquarters, yelled down the hall upon seeing me: “Allen, you’ve really done it now!” The story was very similar. He reported: “I’ve been one of the best engineers, problem recognizers and solution identifiers in the company – now I must get my recognition and personal satisfaction from my leadership efforts. It is quite an adjustment, leading others and still noticing things!”

Take Action

Our partnership model allows for leaders to rewire their brains in a safe and real-world environment. Instead of using “theoretical case studies,” we work with clients to solve actual problems that their companies are facing. We help clients identify and move quickly on opportunities for competitive advantage. It’s the combination of a real world focused view and an action based learning model that helps senior leaders and other leaders, think differently about the basics of leading an organization.

Want to learn more about how to solve the C-Suite skills gap problem? Wondering if your corner office is vulnerable in this regard? Master’s Alliance has two simple assessment tools that we can use to find out:

  • Test yourselves on the Masters Alliance “World Class Barometer”
  • Test your organization on the Masters Alliance “Improvement Urgency Scale”

We Can Help

Masters Alliance can privately start this revealing assessment process at to your organization.

Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business strategies that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.

We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers, patients, clients and markets.

To privately start this revealing assessment process, give J. Allen a call at 952-831-7300, or send us an email.