Here’s a transcript of the conversation:
Rita: Welcome to the Avanti Leadership Group’s Voice of the Leader series. This is our inaugural video so I’m really, really excited to be here with Kurt Richarz, a very accomplished senior executive. Welcome, Kurt. I wonder if you could give us a little bit of background on your career as a leader as we start.
Kurt: Thanks, Rita. Thanks for having me in the first video. I’m Kurt Richarz. I have 30 years in technology. The last 20 years I managed international organizations. My primary role in life was managing the customer functions. That included sales operations, customer support, all those activities that take place. My companies in size ranged from somewhere between $7 billion and $15-16 billion a year, 25,000 to 55,000 employees. My last formal title was Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales.
Rita: That’s a lot of people that you managed Kurt. You have an amazing experience in those 30 years. Let me ask you first, in your experience what are the key things that you believe leaders do?
Kurt: Rita, it’s a topic that really probably doesn’t get enough discussion. Certainly we all have been enamored with the kickoff presentations of a very gracefully speaking CEO and those are incredibly important steps to kicking off yearly objectives or long term objectives.
But just as important are really two other things that I think don’t get enough discussion. There have to be lots of discussion and dialogue to make sure all the functions that support that CEO are aligned to the short and long term objectives. I won’t spend time on that. That’s a critical step that has to happen before, to make sure that everybody is fully invested to getting to these plans.
And then I think the most important step is making sure that the functions below that CEO really take the time to develop a strong communication plan with a very set cadence that communicates to their functional teams. And certainly those objectives have to be aligned cross functionally as well because that encourages people to adapt and not question where we’re going.
Kurt: So I think, you know leadership really is about delivering long term sustainable results. As much as we’d like to measure the ones we look back on as that shiny kickoff presentations, really none of our investors or our owners really care about that. What they care about is delivering sustainable results.
Rita: Yes, of course. Very good. And that’s so important today, in today’s global organizations as well. More than ever we’re asking leaders to manage teams and effectively lead those teams that have very different languages, very different cultural backgrounds. That’s also very challenging and in your large group of people that you managed those were certainly worldwide I’m guessing.
Kurt: That’s correct.
Rita: Can you tell us just a little bit about how you measure your leadership effectiveness, or maybe communications effectiveness since you mentioned pretty clearly that communications are a key part of leadership.
Kurt: Good question. So clearly Rita I think there are two or three different things that you have to look at.
I learned this particularly as I got into an international role, that you have to figure out a formal way to measure from a survey perspective. Really spending a lot of time making sure that those questions are serving the objectives that you’re trying to go get done. And you know the frustrating thing about surveys is they move slow, but it also gives you a really good place for your employees to have a safe place to express exactly what they’re thinking. So that’s clearly part of it. It has to be on a sustained basis and the example in my last company, we had run the survey for more than 10 years and you could see the attributes that changed, where we were doing well on communications and where we were not doing so well.
You also have to look at – it was clearly metrics that linked to sustainable success. Are you on track, or off track? Everybody company should have those. I would encourage it never to be more than 4 or 5. If there is more than that they need to be sub-objectives that small teams manage, but people don’t have the ability, in my past, especially multiple languages, to digest more than 4 or 5 different objectives. And everybody wants to make it more, but in the end I don’t think it’s quite effective.
And then, are you delivering on the sustainable results? And take responsibility when you’re not, to take action to change how you’re communicating, how you’re leading a team.
And then probably the last, but not least, is really listening. Particularly important in everything we do, but I think particularly in the international organizations where they’re not as prone to confront you as a U.S. company would, employee – U.S. employee would hit you directly with a no-ended, kind of an open environment, where in Beijing or Taipei, or all the Eastern part of the world that’s not done with executives. So you really have to stop and listen. Sit in the background, listen to the dialogue, to make sure that they really have understood your communication and understand your objectives.
Rita: Wow, that’s really important and that’s what many executives face today, again, in our global organization. So in other words listening is one of the keys to excellent leadership. Great.
Now I’m going to ask you a little bit more complicated question. As someone who spends a good amount of time at the C-suite level, can you say what you believe that those leaders who aspire to be part of the C-suite, who would like to be at that C level, maybe what they don’t understand about executive leadership and what advice you might give them.
Kurt: It’s a great – also something I think companies should do a better job of communicating, about what’s important to the C-suite community.
First and foremost these are people that are incredibly smart. They are gifted in the ability to move large audiences of people in the right direction.
They have, in a lot of cases, accumulated great wealth. In a lot of cases that fans their ego to be more than what they probably should be. The point of that is they are extremely busy.
They’re extremely committed to success and you have to tailor your communications to them and how you position yourself to them, knowing that that’s the person you’re presenting to. Sending the C-suite manager lots of unstructured communication never gets read. It’s a waste of time. Sending them something that enables them to go to their next cross functional meeting and be influential with what’s going on in the market, influential with what’s going on in your function, that’s the kind of information they want to have to be more effective in getting to their objectives.
You know the old adage of assume smart and keep the communications at that right level is the right thing to communicate to those people and make sure what you’re communicating is meaningful to what they’re trying to get done every day.
The second part of the question I think is how do you aspire and become a C-suite executive and I’ll do a brief story on this.
I used to have people – one of the things I really enjoyed doing in my life was mentoring people and people – you could get a reputation for that. And people would come in my office and ask can we sit together and map out my career plans?
People that have ever worked for me in the last 30 years will laugh about this discussion because I talked about this all the time. I used to literally have to bite my lip and not want to throw them out of the office because the reality of why a C-suite executive is there is because they have delivered sustainable results. And if you come in and you talk to a C-suite executive and ask them can I get coached, really candid coaching? I want to aspire to be something bigger than I am today. I admire you for who you are and I really want to volunteer for projects.
That’s the kind of stuff that a C-suite executive wants to hear and they will nurture and mentor you to become that.
If you ask for the career plan, map me out in the next 15 months where I’m going to be, it just never works. That’s not the way life is. It’s about meeting sustainable results.
Rita: That’s so clear, Kurt, and so useful for people who would like to advance their career and move in that level. Well gosh, I just want to thank you so very, very much for being with us today at Avanti Leadership Group and being on our inaugural video. You are obviously justified in your fantastic reputation as an amazing, amazing leader. So, thank you so much again Kurt.
Kurt: Thanks, Rita. I’m honored to be a part of it and glad to help. Thank you.