The turning point came when O’Neill met Padraig Berry. Berry ticked all the boxes. In addition to being a practitioner in the area, he was also aggressively growing his own business. When he got involved, the dynamic changed dramatically, and a new framework, focused on personal development, planning and accountability began to drive the group forward.
Berry kicked off with an off site onboarding workshop in Kildare, where he introduced his ‘123 Business Reframing Model’. Two important tools in the model are the The Hedgehog – designed to identify strengths and areas where you add value, and the ONE-Thing Plan which provides the framework for planning. Over the course of the following month, each of the CEOs in the group worked on his personal and business Hedgehogs and ONE-Thing Plans, at which point the meetings got going in earnest.
Forty-eight hours before each meeting, each CEO uploads his updated plans into the Dropbox folder for the other participants to read. The meetings themselves last exactly four hours, Berry explains, with the first three hours allotted to individual presentations.
“The review process that we go through has a number of steps,” he says. “The CEO has to start with the context, the company Hedgehog – where world class potential, passion and an economic driver intersect, and the visioning – enduring purpose, values and mission and finally the strategic thrusts – from 36 months back to this month. It is back from the future planning.”
“The style of the reporting back is something like ‘Here is what I said I was going to do, here’s what I did, here’s what happened, here’s what I learned…etc., what do you think?’ The eight DeliberateCEO group participants take it in turns to stand up, make their presentation, get feedback, support, etc.”
During the final hour, the facilitator presents best practice on a new topic, model or tool, something that can be applied directly to each participant’s business. In addition, between meetings, he gets together with each participant for a one hour one-on-one coaching session, face to face or on Skype, and discusses whatever needs to be discussed – a particular problem, a model that needs explaining, a personal issue or whatever.
“It’s definitely high energy,” says John Fitzgerald, a medical doctor by profession and a serial entrepreneur by inclination. “Our facilitator is always very well prepared, and he has excellent material. It’s not stuff cut and pasted out of a Harvard Business Review, it’s actually stuff that he does. You can tell that he’s done these models, these exercises for himself. Plus he has a deep domain knowledge of his field.”
Like O’Neill, Ger Doyle’s background was technology. He’d been working for a Dublin based data protection company for six years before he became CEO. Just as O’Neill discovered when he became CEO of his organisation, that ascent threw up a range of issues unlike any Doyle had had to deal with before.
“There are certain conversations you just can’t have with other members of the team,” he says, echoing a theme raised all of the DeliberateCEO participants. “I used to meet one member of the board sometimes between board meetings and he became, to some extent, a de facto mentor. But I lacked a forum to talk about issues and ideas.”
“DeliberateCEO filled that gap. Here was a high functioning peer group with whom I could share the issues that affected my business in an atmosphere of trust. As a small company with a very small management team, this was really what I found more useful than anything else; a place to go to talk to people who would understand the kinds of problems we were having.”
One of the newest members of the group, Pierre Brunel agrees. With a background in management consultancy, Brunel recently took the helm at a data analytics company with big growth plans.
“The chief executive’s office can be a lonely place,” he says. “80% of the time, you know where you’re going, but there’s still the need to validate that and share your challenges. I was always very sensitive to that.”