Mission Accomplished

A media exec on what it takes to get the job done

Steve White
Title: President, West Division, Comcast Cable
Location: Englewood, CO
Power Play: Leading a team of nearly 20,000 employees and serving more than 6 million customers, White is responsible for Comcast’s West/Southwest video, high-speed Internet, and voice operations

Name the biggest obstacle organizations face in making changes to improve their business.
Based on my experience, the major challenge that organizations face is internal versus external measurements. When you compare yourself to others within your company, it’s easy to get a false sense of pride about how you’re doing. I think it’s important to benchmark yourself outside of your company; whether it’s customer expectations or finding competitors [and other companies] that are best-in-class.

Big ideas are easy to submit. What is the first step in making them actionable?

This is a three-part answer. First of all, create a compelling vision of “why”; why are we taking this big step? Once you do that, you create organizational alignment—getting everyone to agree and then following up with the key stakeholders to make sure they are clear about the big steps. The third part is breaking it up into actual steps for each department. Everyone has a role, so, if I’m in finance or if I’m in sales and marketing, those big ideas—they represent a big initiative for everyone in the company. So the third part is just breaking it out in actual steps that I call “line-of-sight items” so people can really embrace it and everybody can work toward one goal.

As a leader, what is your process for making sure the team is focused on completing the task?
Everything starts with making sure you’ve got the right people focused on the right projects. The second thing is to have regular, ongoing check-in sessions. I spend a lot of my time with my team,  getting together regularly to see how we’re progressing on a project. And finally there’s “over communication,” where we process how we’re doing and what our roadblocks are, so you keep everyone energized and engaged in the process.

Is it possible to change the culture of the organization to move in a new direction?
Absolutely! It absolutely starts with the leader. They do it a number of ways: One, they set the pace based on the people they’ve selected to hire; two, based on what’s rewarded and not rewarded; three, it’s how you spend your time as a leader. People really watch to see how you spend your time and so through those three ways a leader starts to establish a pace and the second part of that is you have to make sure you have key hires that are going to help you carry the flag.

What has been your most valuable lesson?
A couple of times early in my career, I struggled. It came back to creating a compelling vision and developing organizational alignment and how to take big ideas and make them actionable. Depending on how big the project is, we send a very strong message when we say “this is your only focus” for this project. I’ve made mistakes in the past when I’ve tried to give folks incremental projects and they were doing them part time at night and during the day while they were doing their regular jobs. Sometimes a project is so big, so important, that you need to identify that team and pull them out of their normal day-to-day activities and totally focus them— particularly when it’s a big project, it’s a big initiative, and it has a great impact on the organizational success.

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