Avoiding C-Suite Mistakes Chapter 5: Lack of Context, Clarity, and Accountability

Driving in the Fog

Off on Their Own


Read the previous parts of “Avoiding C-Suite Mistakes” here:  https://deodentalgroup.com/category/strategy/avoiding-c-suite-mistakes/

It is often so foggy in San Francisco that you can’t see the Golden Gate Bridge. You know it’s there, but the fog makes it virtually invisible.

As the day progresses, the fog burns away in the warming sun, and you can make out a faint outline of the structure; by mid-afternoon its red expanse has become crystal-clear.

Your job when managing the C-Suite, for this hire and all others, is to clear away the fog. Your Golden Gate Bridge is your managed-group practice; you are tasked with making it crystal clear who your executives need to be and what they will be responsible for in the company.

Driving in the Fog

Context is decisive, so begin there: A leader’s job is to generate the context in which the company exists. The context of a business encompasses many elements that are both byproducts of the context but also holograms of it. These elements include: core values, culture, vision, mission, purpose, strategy, and tactics. Leadership provides the energy and focus to engender the context  — not just at the top, but throughout the entire enterprise. Context is superordinate, superior, dominant, and conclusive. Your first job is to create the context for your new hire.

Remember: The first few weeks is about observation and assessment. Include in your frequent debriefings the new C-Suite executive’s discoveries about context: the values, culture, vision, mission, purpose, strategy, and tactics of the company. Be aware they have been to your website, and asked for your materials, so they know the words — but do they grasp the meaning? When you speak with them, listen for clues that let you know they “get it.”

If you’re both singing the same tune, there is harmony — if not, there is disharmony. Make sure you and your C-Suite hire are on the same page. Figure out how to keep the conversation alive — not only with your new hire, but all future C-Suite executive hires.  

Most likely, what you’ll find is that the new hire wants to get started ASAP. They want to take off right away — they want to really dig in. Engines are fired up, but take it from 40 years of experience: Put in the time to do it right, because every time you have to do it over, it’s both painful and expensive.

Now that you’ve tackled the partnership and context aspects, you’re ready to drill down to the more functional areas of onboarding. The next area of focus is defining the C-Suite executive’s accountability.

First, you need to define accountabilities for your executive hire. You both need to recognize that accountability is a relationship phenomenon. You can’t be accountable to yourself — you can’t be a parent without a child; can’t be a doctor without a patient; can’t be an owner without a business.

You get the point. In management and in a corporate business context, the C-Suite hire is your “direct report.” You are acting CEO at this stage of your development, and the new executive reports to you.

Off On Their Own

Accountability means “that for which you can be counted on to do.” Developing accountability begins with answering some hefty questions, and because accountability is a relationship-dependent phenomenon, you and your new hire must mutually agree on the answers to these questions. You need to be equally responsible that the new hire has everything they need to perform successfully.

Questions must result in answers you can both agree on. For example:

Q: What portion of the practice are you willing to be fully responsible for?

A newly hired CFO might answer: “I am fully accountable for the financial integrity of the company.”

Q: “Who is essential for my fulfilling my accountability inside and outside the company?”

You might answer: “The person who manages receivables; the CPA; the bookkeeper, the IT vendor; the person who manages payables; and so on.”

Over time that list may change, but this is where your guidance is most needed: highlighting the new executive’s network of support inside and outside the company.

Q: “What are the expected outcomes from achieving core goals?”

This is critical. You and your new hire need to become crystal clear on the outcomes expected of them. For the CFO example, one expected outcome is that the company operate with financial integrity. Another would be that vendors are appropriately handled and good relationships are maintained: it could be as simple as no vendor calls for late payments. Or, the company stays on budget — and when it is about to deviate from budget, the executive lets you know.

Q: “How do you want to be measured in the fulfillment of your accountabilities?”

There are no pat answers here. First, you look at the area of the company for which the executive is accountable and you decide what performance numbers (KPIs) would accurately indicate they are fulfilling their responsibilities. Figure out what would clearly and easily demonstrate their performance in reaching their accountability goals.

Q: “What are the conditions of satisfaction that you require to fulfill your accountability? What do you need from me? What do you need from other resources and support individuals? What do you need in terms of resources? What do you need to succeed?”

As you might have gathered, this process cannot be completed in a one-hour meeting. For the first weeks — or until the executive is clear on their accountability, their frequency of reporting, how the report will be delivered and reviewed — do not pass Go. It is fundamental and critical that you define context and accountability before work begins. Once these important steps are complete, your new hire is ready to go to work.  

— Marc



Dr. Marc B. Cooper, Emeritus Faculty of The DEO

Author Dr. Marc B. Cooper, Emeritus Faculty of The DEO

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