Getting to your highest and best use can be a long and winding journey. Here’s how to streamline that path.
Ari Santiago is an EO Connecticut member and CEO of IT Direct: A Compass MSP Company, a new company formed in 2021 after selling IT Direct, his original company founded in 2002. Ari became the CEO of the much larger combined business, roughly twice the size of his former organization. Under Ari’s leadership, IT Direct has been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies seven times. We asked Ari how communication among his team leaders helped his company grow. Here’s what he shared:
Start with great people
I believe that people are the core source of strength and growth in any business. The better the leadership team can communicate, synchronize and align, the better the entire company will run. I knew that if we could develop a communication cadence at the executive leadership level, it would teach us how to get that communication cadence down to the next level and then the next―cascading down until you get a fully aligned organization.
Nothing replaces having the right people. You can’t take unwilling people and make them great. But, the right communication framework takes the great people you have and makes you all better. That fosters growth and development.
This is especially true when you want to be in rapid growth mode―or if you hit a bump in the road―like COVID. If you wait until there’s a crisis to develop your team’s communication cadence and the leadership cohesion that enables each of you to find your highest and best use, you’re in trouble. You’ve got to develop those skills up front. That’s the most significant thing I learned.
I joined EO 12 years ago because I wanted to learn and grow. Spoiler alert: I’ve done both.
As my company got bigger, I would go to EO learning events and get so much great information. But the challenge is that—as the CEO—I wasn’t the one doing all the stuff I was learning about. Other officers in my company were the ones who would implement the things that I was learning. Which meant that I had to learn it, then take it back to my company and teach it—and I’m not a teacher. So instead, I wanted my team to learn it directly.
Find your ideal communication framework
About three years ago, we were entering a growth phase. And I realized that my leadership team didn’t have a framework to understand how to take our business and company to the next level. But we needed one.
When I found out about the Master Key Executive (MKE) program, run by an EO member, I knew it was an excellent opportunity for my team to gain exposure to the type of learning and growth we get in EO.
The reason I pursued the MKE program was about improvement, not about a specific problem we needed to solve. I’m always trying to make improvements that make us better. After all, that’s why people join EO–because we want to be in a group of people with a desire to learn and grow.
MKE is a great opportunity to help your leadership team–the critical drivers of your business–learn and grow together.
Learn and grow together
What our team got from the program was a framework and communication cadence to allow work and responsibilities to flow more seamlessly where they needed to be. Like many entrepreneurs, it’s hard for me to shed responsibility. When I do shed it, I probably don’t shed it super-well. It’s kind of herky-jerky. We do eventually get to equilibrium, but not smoothly.
I thought if we could find a framework and communication rhythm where my company officers could be empowered to take over areas of responsibility from me—instead of waiting for me to give it to them—that would be great. And with the MKE program, I wouldn’t have to do the teaching, so that was ideal.
When trying to build a communication cadence with your team, the more you practice, the better you communicate. Having a set framework is the key. There were a lot of exercises in MKE that made us talk about things that were slightly uncomfortable in that it can be hard for a member of the leadership team to push back on the leader and say what they really need to get their job done right. But having the MKE framework where that alignment and pushback is defined works really well.
Our entire leadership team got tons of benefit from everything we learned—and we learned a lot about each other. It gave us an improved communication framework and structure to be able to grow and develop the team. Once we implemented that communication cadence and organization, it helped to streamline company growth.
Keep your team in their lane of highest and best use
The MKE program encouraged us to talk a lot about the highest and best use for each member of the leadership team. That extended into discussing what we need from others to remain in our highest and best use. For example, we might discuss what “John” needs to do to be more in his highest and best use―and what’s something that I need to do to support John in achieving that.
Discussions like that improved our back-and-forth communication. Once we determined each leadership team member’s highest and best use and the elements necessary for them to get there, the team took those exact questions from the same worksheet and replicated it with the people who support them. That’s how our new communication cadence and framework spread throughout the company.
If we don’t put our leaders into their highest and best use, we have no chance of growing. In MKE, we learned communications tools that you can roll down to your larger organization to achieve that.
A strong communication framework and cadence helps with speed and team alignment so that you’re able to get things done much faster. That framework empowers the people who are working with you. They feel more valued, allowing them to do more, which helps the business move faster.
Ari Santiago, an EO Connecticut member, also hosts the Made In America podcast, interviewing thriving local manufacturing leaders and discovering the secrets to their success.