PFSbrands Senior Leadership Team
My wife Julie and I founded Pro Food Systems (PFSbrands) in 1998. I’ve led PFSbrands for over 18 years and during that time, there has been a massive amount of changes. Not only has our customer base grown and changed, but our internal organizational structure has changed dramatically as well.
Today, I depend heavily on a key group of individuals to help me lead the company. I decided over 5 years ago to officially recognize this group as the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). This team not only leads the way in their own departments, but they also play a critical role in helping to make strategic company decisions.
Why I Created Our Senior Leadership Team
First, let me digress back to the time when the SLT did not exist. During this 12 or 13 year timeframe, I still had key individuals that I counted on, but there was simply no structure created around our SLT. This created an “informal” leadership organization, but there was a lot of work to be done in order to create a truly functional SLT.
During the first couple years of having a SLT, I added depth to the team through new hires. One of the most important things to realize as a CEO is the fact that a scaling company NEEDS talent to grow. While we like to promote from within at PFSbrands, it is not always possible to create a “home grown” SLT. When developing a winning SLT, it is critical not to look specifically for people that are capable of handling their department. The SLT has larger responsibilities that affect the entire company.
Like all other aspects of PFSbrands, the SLT has been work in progress with a focus on continuous improvement. Recently I rounded out our SLT with the addition of a Vice President – Business Development. Our current SLT can be found here.
Senior Leadership Team “Pledge”
Last year I also added a SLT “Pledge” that includes detailed expectations of each SLT member. The following is a list of things that each member must do if they intend to serve on my SLT:
- Commitment: Treat the role of team member as seriously as your individual leadership role.
- Transparency: If it affects more than one of us, put it on the team table.
- Participation: Each member’s voice is welcomed on issues affecting the enterprise.
- Integrity: What you say and do when you are with the team is what you say and do when you are outside the team.
- Build Trust: Defending others even when they are not present, honoring commitments, keeping no secrets, welcoming others’ interest and questions about your area (no protecting one’s turf), collaborating, and developing others.
- Don’t Cut Someone Off At The Knees To Make Yourself Look Taller: Attack the issues, not the person. Work through appropriate channels and be conscious of what your fellow leaders (SLT and leaders at all levels) are trying to accomplish.
- Be Decisive: Taking measured risks, being innovative, admitting mistakes, and taking a stand on issues.
- Be Accountable: See it. Own it. Fix it.
- Read or listen to at least 12 books per year and log them in the Better Book Club.
- Hold Great Meetings: Well-planned with agendas, start and end on time, no sidebar conversations, and create next steps and accountabilities at meeting’s close.
- Deliver Results: Deliver on commitments with ‘iron will determination to make it happen’.
- The Leader Leads: I will decide when a decision will be made by 100% agreement, by majority, or by me. I expect you to run your teams accordingly.
- Be willing to step down from the SLT if asked to do so and be willing to continue serving the company at a high level.
- A Decision is a Decision: Once a decision has been made, each member will support it as the team’s decision. We will not continually reopen decisions made. Passive disagreement is not an option.
- Ambassadors: One voice will come out of our meetings. Each of us will speak for the whole team. We will all live by our 5 guiding principles and the Happiness Rule.
- Have Fun: Life is short.
Creating Your Team
One of the best books I have found on this subject is named “Senior Leadership Teams”. Based on knowledge gained from this book and other sources, I have elected to keep my team limited to 8 individuals, including myself. I’ve been questioned occasionally on WHY I would want to limit this team to 8 individuals.
The reasons to keep a team small are fairly simple. Larger groups make it more difficult to establish and enforce rules of engagement. It is harder to create genuine team tasks. It is also harder to accommodate all the voices for the robust discussions that great Senior Leadership Teams must engage in and the subsequent tough decisions that must be made. A SLT has to be cohesive and comfortable with one another. The larger the group gets, the greater the number of relationships that must be managed, thus creating coordination problems.
A SLT needs to have diversity and contain individuals from various departments or divisions. These individuals do not necessary have to report directly to the CEO. This entire team needs to understand that it is a great honor to serve on the SLT and it comes along with a great deal of Responsibility and Accountability.
So Why Don’t You Have a SLT?
- Are you a rugged individualist that doesn’t think you need a team? If so, you will eventually hit a ceiling of complexity and be unable to grow your company any further.
- Do you think your company is too small? Looking back I wish I would have created a SLT when we reached about 20 employees. The team would have been 2 or 3 people, but we could have likely outperformed our actual numbers.
- Not sure where to begin? A start might be to pick up a copy of “Senior Leadership Teams”. You may also seek out a coach or mentor. While you’re at it, consider an open-book management approach. Open-book management makes it easier to educate everyone on your business.
If you have a growing company, don’t wait too long to embrace the concept of a SLT. It’s not right for every company and for every individual. However, as you begin to get others within your organization engaged in the strategic thinking, I believe you make better decisions as a leader and you also enable a talented group of individuals an opportunity to make a greater impact.
I personally could not survive without my Senior Leadership Team and I thank each of them for what they do to make PFSbrands a great place to work!