For the past year, Andrew Meade has been helping local business leaders in West Africa improve and scale their organizations as a Volunteer Business Coach with the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED.) A construction management professional with more than 30 years of experience managing large, complex construction projects, Meade decided to join SEED to apply his skills to help strengthen and provide lasting benefits for the West African business community. He says he was intrigued by the opportunity to work in Africa “because the challenges faced by entrepreneurs there are so much more intractable than what we see in the West.”
Prior to volunteering, he founded a commercial general contracting company in Silicon Valley focused on high-tech and healthcare construction. Meade has a BS in civil engineering from MIT and an MS in civil engineering from Stanford.
We caught up with him upon his return from Accra, Ghana, where he coached and worked with more than 16 companies, including Joissam Ghana Ltd., which is focused on siting and drilling for groundwater, and Tranos Contracting Ltd., which provides services to the oil and gas sector, manufacturing industries, and construction companies.
What is the top leadership lesson you shared with the companies you coached?
Make sure everybody in the company understands how the job they do contributes to the success of the company. Give them tangible examples to follow of all the things that each of them can do to contribute to the company’s success. Reinforce this framework all the time. Make sure your people policies — hiring, firing, raises, bonuses, promotions, etc. — are directly linked to this framework, so people see the connection between their contribution to the success of the company and their personal success.
At several companies that I coached, we developed a statement called “The [company] Way” outlining these guidelines and inculcating everyone in them.
What is the best advice you gave to a CEO?
Perhaps 90% of what you are spending all your time and energy doing now can be done by somebody else. If you hire or assign someone else to do that, you will be able to spend so much more of your time doing those things that are most valuable to your company’s success. Also, unless you get your management team to see themselves as your partners in this company, you’ll always be alone at the top.
Tell us about a problem you helped solve.
This is a problem that I helped a company avoid: A SEED client in Nigeria wanted to expand their business by adding a new service for their customers. They decided they needed to build a new building to house this service, because it has to be set up in a facility that meets certain security and durability requirements. The company owns a piece of land already. They asked me to help them develop a strategy and timetable to get this building built so they could start up the new service.
After evaluating their needs, I decided to try instead to talk them out of building at all. Their piece of land was capable of being used to generate much more profit for the company if it was developed based on the market needs, not the company’s needs. Furthermore, they could rent a suitable facility immediately and start providing this new service now, instead of waiting up to a year to design, permit, and construct the building. The monthly rent would have a much smaller impact on their cash flow than a large construction project.
The resulting added revenue over that period, the ability to avoid a major drain on their cash flow, and the potential future income from developing their piece of land convinced them to follow this recommendation.
Describe an innovation that you implemented.
No matter what the industry, the challenges of the market, or the size of the company, a firm with great internal teamwork will eventually outrun its competition. Great teamwork is not something you can automatically assume will evolve at any company, and in West Africa it is much more common to find a top-down management style that does not tend to elicit strong teamwork.
At many of my client companies we introduced a step-by-step approach to developing teamwork based on Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. All management team members and several others read the book. Then, over a period of weeks we introduced exercises at the beginning of every team meeting to take the group through the five steps of creating great teams. I developed tools and led discussions where we focused first on building trust, then developing the habit of constructive conflict, creating team-wide commitment, holding ourselves and one another accountable, and ultimately, focusing everyone on achieving the team goals.
How did you change as a result of coaching in West Africa?
I started my year trying to find all the ways where I could bring value and make myself useful to my clients. This often resulted in them coming to rely on me like I was a member of their management team. I enjoyed that role, but realized it was not actually in the company’s best interest. I learned instead to focus on working myself out of a job. I tried to develop the management team’s skills, helped them develop tools and processes, added key skill sets through hiring or bringing in local resources. And I helped them substantially enhance the role of their boards of directors [by] creating new boards where they were ineffective or non-existent. So now, many of them don’t need a business coach. This is a much better long-term approach for our clients.