“Having a group of peers was a big thing for me,” says Chris Smith, CEO of a data capture and workflow specialist company. “Having a group of CEOs who have similar types of businesses that you can bounce things off is invaluable.”
But this isn’t about a group of CEOs venting. Far from it. The structure the facilitator brings to meetings prevents things from degenerating into the talking shop O’Neill experienced in his first group. This is a value driven proposition where that collegiate interplay just provides the background music. “We’re not here for a friendly chat,” says O’Neill, “We’re here for the purpose of growing our businesses. This is serious.”
It’s the mentoring element of the programme that drew Fitzgerald to DCEO. He gives voice to the ambition which everyone in the group shares.
“I want to be a really superb, world-class businessman and entrepreneur,” he says, “but I can’t do that on my own…Any good CEO should spend 4 days a week working on the business and only 1 day a week in the business. Having a coach addresses that balance because there’s always a tendency to go technical rather than being strategic. Having a coach pulls you out and helps you get that balance right.”
Again however, it’s not simply about having a coach, it’s about having access to the right kind of coach. “When I hit a particularly difficult strategic issue,” says Fitzgerald, “I’ll call the facilitator and he’ll say, ‘Well, I know a guy who you can have a chat to’ or ‘I was in that position and here’s a framework or a model to save you a year of frustration’ or ‘Well look, you just apply this principle here’…”
Like so many people, Chris Smith is haunted by the ghost of business plans past. The planning process sucks in huge amounts of time and energy, and yet the plan that eventually emerges from that process tends to get mangled by life’s unpredictable twists and turns. By contrast, he describes the discovery of the ONE-Thing Plan a ‘Eureka moment’.
“Padraig gave us a model that was simple to understand and easy to implement… In a week or two it was done and dusted. Here’s my plan, here are my strategic thrusts, these are the areas we need to improve, etc.”
These individual plans now form the basis of the three hour peer-review session which comprises most of each meeting. It’s here that the real value of the planning process comes into stark relief.
“I was making a presentation last week,” says Smith, “and the guys very quickly honed in on a particular area in my plan that I knew in the back of my mind was a problem. But sometimes, you don’t want to accept that you have a particular problem in this particular area with this particular staff member. There is however nowhere to hide in these meetings. I was told, ‘You need to sort this out’”.
Pierre Brunel says the same thing. At the last meeting, he was outlining his plan when someone stopped him and said that he was giving too many things equal priority.
“There was unanimous feedback saying, you can put everything else on the backburner for the next three or four months, the ‘sales team management issue’ is going to make you or break you. The rest is meaningless if you don’t sort this one out.”