Ram Charan gave the keynote talk at Project Flow 2010 today. His theme is related to his research and writing on the topic of Execution and driving performance in companies. His suggestion to the attendees was fairly simple: align yourself to the issues that the CEO faces, and you will be able to help both yourself and the company.
At a slightly higher level, Ram Charan talked about several key pieces. Sprinkled throughout his talk were anecdotes and questions to the audience that kept things moving right along.
First. Know your CEO. Understand how she is measured, how she measures her performance. The key measures that Charan discussed apply to every company at the highest level: Revenue, Margins, Velocity, Cash, and Market Share. These are the things that companies publish in their corporate statements - at least for the public companies. Even if these numbers aren't available, you should know that these are important numbers to top managers. Most of the discussions and stories were related to margin and velocity. Velocity is the idea of speed or turns, based on the work of Mike Hammer - in any business, faster is better!
Second, understand the CEO's priorities. Not all CEO's are worried about the measures in the same way. It depends on the business, the competitive environment, and the ambitions of the CEO / company. Even if this isn't published directly internal to the company, these priorities should be obvious from the discussions your CEO has with the market and wall street analysts.
Third, sit down with your team at any level in the organization and come up with ideas to attack any of the key measures with a particular focus on the priority items for the CEO. The CEO will be especially interested in ideas that create competitive advantage. Ram Charan suggested this discussion is best held in a bar - though with lots of paper and white space available.
Fourth, know you team. Understand what skills and interests your people bring to the organization. Make sure the right people are in the right job. Make sure that you have a mechanism to deal with people in the wrong jobs - for any reason.