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Episode 10: The Importance of Executive Alignment


In this episode, host Chris Thornton talks with Daggerwing Group CEO and Co-Founder Ewan Main about the importance of executive alignment and how it’s key to getting change right the first time. They discuss what makes Daggerwing Group a secret weapon for CEOs, and explore practical client examples of how we’ve helped CEOs make change happen and make it stick. Ewan also reflects on the key lessons he learned as a leader in 2020, and how organizations will need to continue to change in 2021.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;03;11 – 00;00;33;19

And. Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, principal here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients. We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals.

00;00;33;21 – 00;00;52;00

Joining me today is Ewan Main, co-founder and CEO of Daggerwing Group. Ewan, welcome to the podcast. thanks for having me, Chris. Well, I have a job because of you, so it really wasn’t a choice. I absolutely had to have you on. I felt it was the show up. So we’re in the same boat too. Thank you.

00;00;52;02 – 00;01;23;02

It means so much. You and you know that at the start of every podcast, we have the guest. Prove that you’re human. Do you feel up to the challenge? It’s a tough one. Let’s go. Let’s see if I can pass. What was your favorite age growing up? You know, I have heard that question posed before, and I always think that if you say the answer besides, you know, then you should be in therapy, because his good, good stuff happened in the past, just in downhill since that.

00;01;23;05 – 00;01;54;19

So I do believe that, especially at my age now, that when you’re been lucky to have a good long run and things, hopefully things are or are better now than they were last year and better than ten years ago. Yeah, and better than that. So I love all experiences today. Look forward to the ones coming. And I honestly would cop out and say, Say now, because otherwise they’d be subjugating whatever whatever decades I try to to go back to.

00;01;54;19 – 00;02;20;11

And God forbid anyone says, yeah, high school is the best. I have to. You’ve had a tough, rough go the last 40 years. You when you live in Canada, do they have Netflix up there? Yeah, we pronounce it differently. We say Netflix and I didn’t know it. They Netflix, Amazon Prime, it all eventually comes across the border.

00;02;20;11 – 00;02;48;19

It has little plaid coverings on it. But you do get into TV shows only in a binge format. I don’t like to do anything just half assed, what have you. Binge It’s a British show called Death in Paradise. Death and Paradise. Death in Paradise. Death in Terror. And the premise is that there is a English very English detective who’s been seconded to a French island in the Caribbean.

00;02;48;21 – 00;03;11;26

And every single show, even though it’s a very small island, somebody gets gets kicked off, but with humor. And if you can have a murder a week and laugh, I think you’re leading a good life. That’s it’s a real life motto there. The other one that I that I did really like, and I think this is Netflix is Shetland.

00;03;12;20 – 00;03;35;01

nice. I had a Shetland pony growing up. Is it about ponies? Not at all, but. Okay. But this is this is exactly how most cocktail conversations go where I lead off with something sensical and I get Shetland goddamn pony thrown in my face and I’m supposed to work with that and then try to wander off and pretend I’m looking for a bathroom, which is not part of the podcast.

00;03;35;04 – 00;04;14;04

Did you ever think that maybe it was the person getting rid of you? Clearly. Clearly. Because I’ve had Shetland pony way too many times for it to be just a coincidence. All right, let’s ask let’s ask this one. What’s the best career decision you made? I wouldn’t actually say made. I would say in inadvertently ended up working for two two entrepreneurs and both of them, there’s that classic line of I subsequently end up doing an MBA, but there’s that classic line, the everything teacher, everything that you don’t learn in business school and that you actually need to succeed.

00;04;14;06 – 00;04;45;13

And, and it was the to the two different sets of entrepreneurs and it was, it was a lot of fun, a lot of work and there’s a lot of on the job training. And I think the part of the puzzle that I took from that that I use still every day is when you’re dealing with an entrepreneur and the first person he had his house on the on the line for the company credit for the entire time I worked in them which is three years and it wasn’t till the last year that he could actually take his house.

00;04;45;15 – 00;05;13;00

And the company was quite large at that point. And it meant that every single decision you made, every penny you spent, every every investment that you were putting forward, it was literally coming out of his pocket. And the same thing with the second set of entrepreneurs. It was two individuals. They had worked for Monsanto and bought out the Canadian operation, and it was just the two of them that that ran it.

00;05;13;01 – 00;05;41;03

One had 49%, one and 51%. And again, when when you’re working with them, the decisions that you’re making were material because they directly affected them. And it’s kind of a mantra that I take in working with CEOs now. It’s you get so caught up sometimes in the bureaucracy, in the internal mechanisms required to move things forward, and it can be like the proverbial molasses that they need to take the step back in the council.

00;05;41;03 – 00;05;59;03

A lot of times, if you own this, what would you do? How would you do it? And then let’s figure out how to do that, because that’s a great path and the rest of it is just getting sort of caught up in that and the barriers in between as part of that. Here at Daggerwing Group, we talk about doing change right the first time, right?

00;05;59;05 – 00;06;29;13

Let’s make sure that the investment is worth it, that we do it right. How would you describe our approach on that? Well, I mean, honestly, it comes back to when Sheryl and I co-founded Daring over 20 years ago, is the premise when we walked in with clients that same is now is this very practical aspect. The thinking, hankering back to working for entrepreneurs and starting starting my own business and starting our own business.

00;06;29;15 – 00;06;55;06

Charlene I And you treat it as though it’s, it’s, it’s yours. So you’re not there to build for the sake of building. You’re there to show up and get the job done as quick as possible. And the way that you do that is to get it right the first time. You’re not, you’re coming in as an expert. You’re expected to to perform as an expert and expect to do the job and create the deliverable, create the results on the correct timeframe.

00;06;55;11 – 00;07;20;11

And that isn’t a usual approach. I think, in a lot of firms in our space. Did you pick up the dog? Yeah. I want to talk about the dogs. Do you have a dog? No, no, there’s two of them. The second one, I’ll kick off in a second because I’m just. good. What? Let’s talk about names. do they have anything to say or do you just call them dog One dog two only on a good day and one of them is called Kona.

00;07;20;14 – 00;07;44;23

Kona. And the other one is Madison. And sadly, the Madison name came about from my 16 year old daughter who named the dog based on the street I seem to spend most of my time on when we had the offices on Madison Avenue, so it was both nice and sad all the same time. all right. So if you’re trying to get change right the first time, what undermines that for?

00;07;44;23 – 00;08;08;25

For many companies? What have you seen get in the way? I mean, executive alignment is is number one is that it’s that classic dries up. It’s it’s also the one that tends to be more difficult. It’s it’s easier for people, especially in large organizations, even when they’re direct report to the CEO. It’s like a military structure typically is command and control.

00;08;08;25 – 00;08;33;09

So they have different sets of responsibilities which tend to then end up in silos. There tends to not be a lot of interconnectivity between them. Thought out. It’s more around how to get your job done, your group, your your area through. And because of that, the typical structure is really not set to think through from a customer perspective diagonally all across every single touchpoint of the company.

00;08;33;11 – 00;09;01;27

So the number one element in terms of in terms of speed is to get that executive alignment. Everything else will flow a lot quicker. And I think the other piece of the puzzle, though, is to be able to take that and translate it into various actionable steps and be able to understand that everything derives from human behavior and behavior change and trying to just casually slip past the fact that we’re all human.

00;09;01;27 – 00;09;23;20

We all think a certain way, we all act a certain way, and we need to then change that. That’s a classic failure area. So change executive alignment, have a clean payment plan, and then keeping your foot on it and seeing it through in a defined time frame. Yeah. One of the things I heard you say to a client recently was that we’re often called the secret weapon of CEOs.

00;09;23;20 – 00;09;52;01

Can you talk me through what you mean by that? Yeah. Typically, if you if you’re in the CEO position of a large company, you are very clear in what you want to have happen. So this whole visionary or or having a clear vision in terms of what’s going forward, but in terms of the appetite for the speed, it tends to be quite short, which is, which is good.

00;09;52;03 – 00;10;10;24

But when it comes to change, there are a lot of different variables that go into it. So the trick of being a secret weapon for CEOs is to realize and be completely cognizant of what the vision is, understand how it relates to the business, understand how it relates to the behavior. Changes are going to occur in customers and employees to make that happen.

00;10;10;27 – 00;10;35;28

But at the same time, to to be able from an experts perspective, know what all the key factors are, prioritize and deal with them and be able to bring that through to concrete steps. But then realize that behavior change so that you can actually get it done. The big difference with having a vision and having something accomplished is that 30 part in between and actually implementing.

00;10;36;00 – 00;10;58;24

And so we’re really good at being able to be a translator between a CEO’s vision and the practicalities of successful implementation in as short a time as possible. Listen, without going into details about the particular client, can you think about a time recently when we’ve helped a CEO or you’ve helped a CEO make change happen? Make it last year, What did you do?

00;10;59;02 – 00;11;31;20

So yeah, there is a company we worked with recently, CEO had been promoted internally. Yeah, I’m extremely confident individual. The challenge was that the industry dynamics were changing substantially and in order to address that, it really required a business model, a business approach, change. And that piece of the puzzle in terms of what needed to be done, he was quite clear on in an earlier answer.

00;11;31;23 – 00;12;00;04

The vision was it was well thought through and strategically on point. And then the challenge was to get all of the executives aligned and to work through the whole process. So you’ve got the executive alignment. Then you then have implications for how the organization is structured. That then has implications substantial on the culture and the kind of changes that need to be occurring in the culture and to consciously guide those changes.

00;12;00;04 – 00;12;31;21

And then the employee impact employee engagement. And so we worked with all of those pieces from start to finish and had a terrific result. So part of it, because we had the license with this individual to be able to bring our absolute best thinking and best execution to the table, and it worked out extremely well. Why would that CEO choose us over competitors?

00;12;31;23 – 00;13;11;06

It’s interesting. We we had the good fortune of working with that company and with their CMO previously. And as such, I had a few meetings with the person who subsequently became the CEO and they saw a much more practical perspective. They are extremely large firm in the Fortune 250. They have dealt with most of the firms that we would look at in the competitive space within the change consultancy on a full level and are very practical.

00;13;11;06 – 00;13;37;07

And I think it goes back to that kind of thinking like you own the company orientation and that that ability to always focus on what the results are and that they’re they can be demonstrated, they’re practical and they show up in the business results. Yeah, that actually allowed him to make what would have been a more and I or an orthodox pick should it have gone into, you know, an RFP type process as we head into 2021.

00;13;37;07 – 00;13;57;22

What are you saying to executives and leaders about getting on the same page? They’re dealing with so many changes right now. So many things have been thrown at them. Most of them have made it through this year and are focusing on 2021. What would you tell them about getting people focused and on the same page? Know, it’s interesting.

00;13;57;22 – 00;14;41;17

I, I everything specific on this one. The impact of of the pandemic has been so non equitable that depending on what industry a firm is in, they can either have been advantaged in some cases substantially by what’s transpired or completely disadvantaged and unfortunately that’s also transferred into the into the entire population. There’s a lot of talk around the a K recovery where we’re already in this big upswing and certainly lots of the folks, working class people that have jobs like ours where we can work from home quite comfortably and others that are just being devastated, that translates to the companies.

00;14;41;19 – 00;15;05;14

So I would say, you know, anything obviously anything that’s been hugely challenged, if you’re in hospitality or in transportation, they’re going to have a different look at 2021. There’s going to be that whole piece of the puzzle shoring up. I think the biggest challenge that we’ve dealt, not dealt with, I’ll deal with that part first and I’ll talk about the the other side of the coin, the upswing on the K.

00;15;05;17 – 00;15;35;29

K Yeah, the the ones that have been very disadvantaged. I mean, obviously you’re you’re into a bit of a corporate fetal position. You’re going to need to conserve cash to make sure the business model is going to be around. But as that starts to firm up and I believe that will come around by no later than second quarter of 2021, it will be too late at that point to look further down the road and to see how to take what has been a huge disadvantage in something that was not planned for and couldn’t have been planned for.

00;15;36;01 – 00;15;55;27

But it has happened to all of your competitors now. How are you going to be the one to come out of it faster and and more with more gain in relation to market share and so on? And so that type of planning has to occur. Now, even though there’s still a lot of that and a block and tackle being done, it’s a very tough thing to do.

00;15;55;29 – 00;16;35;16

But the ones that do it and they think ahead and will make the most strides. On the other side of the coin, the firms that have had unexpected gains, those in consumer products that I’ve seen, everybody who is older has a penchant for for paper towels and confectionery goods and all of the different areas. I mean, it seems like you couldn’t get a contractor to show up at your house if you put a gold bar in your head and allow them to take it as soon as they arrived on your porch, because all the materials are gone, you know, the builders, as we’re building them, going up.

00;16;35;18 – 00;17;12;15

So firms that are in that have a converse where they’re trying to cycle plants up, they’re trying to cycle up their service provisions and they can’t do a quick enough. And there’s another chance there of being a game short sighted and not planning through because all their competitors are doing the same thing. And the one other piece of the puzzle for a lot is companies have had to kind of cobble together on the fly a sort of work from home, work from anywhere model, and they haven’t thought through as to not just what they should be doing for their business, but most importantly, what should they be should be doing for their people.

00;17;12;17 – 00;17;37;29

Typically, the answer is a hybrid model, and it’s a complete upending of the tradition of having fixed offices where people come in and some people work from home completely. And instead it’s going to be this, this much more complicated amalgamation between those. And and firms need to be planning ahead for that and thinking it through as opposed to letting it back end.

00;17;37;29 – 00;18;17;19

Just fallout. And that’s another area that definitely hasn’t been picked up on picked up on enough at this point. You know. What did you learn about yourself in 2020 as a leader? Well, it’s it’s interesting. We as a company were one of the advantage ones by by this pandemic. And I and I and I, I find that really tough in any other situation in my entire business career, which has spanned many, many decades at this point, I’ve never been in a position where the misery of others has lifted my business.

00;18;17;19 – 00;21;21;06

Whatever business it is, whether it’s when I started or when I’m in up. And so there’s it gives you.

More in the Series

Ewan is the Chairman & Co-Founder of Daggerwing Group. Executives at client firms have benefited from Ewan’s practical, hands-on approach to helping senior teams make rapid decisions, set priorities and take action to fuel faster growth through accelerated customer and employee behavior change. Building on a career history in global executive management roles and entrepreneurship, Ewan applies a unique perspective on the challenges Executives face in developing one coordinated approach to the drivers of business performance: delivering the brand promise to customers at an enterprise level, activating corporate culture to improve business results, realigning the organization’s structure and processes to adapt to constant change, and engaging and equipping employees to impact value delivered to customers.
Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.