Image: Mark Lee
Image: Mark Lee

Matt Jenkins, Head of Consulting at Footdown, looks at those important earlier days for a new CEO, and looks at the best and the worst CEOs.

Boards, investors and employees pay close attention to the first strategic moves a new leader makes.

Most newly appointed CEOs have felt under pressure to quickly figure out which way to take the business, which critical issues to focus on, and how to get commitment from both inside and outside the company.

Early on, CEOs usually focus on a few bold moves such as M&A targets, changing the management team, and launching new businesses and products. However, organisational redesigns are challenging for all companies and a CEO’s effectiveness is heavily dependent on the people they surround themselves with.

For these reasons, before launching swift and daring initiatives, new leaders should put their efforts into thoroughly understanding the current state of the company they are now leading, how engaged or disengaged employees are and what improvements are required by each department within the company.

You need to balance your existing team with the business outcomes you want to deliver. The team might already be engaged and dedicated to driving growth, but they might have issues with the technology they use or the company’s products. You won’t know what employees need unless you ask and assess the wider business context.

Listen to your employees

This step is critical for any CEO. No matter how smart and innovative their development strategies are, without a dedicated and supportive team progress will be hindered and results will be below stakeholders’ expectations. At this stage it is critical to find the right solution that can scan employee engagement and reveal potential issues in a matter of minutes.

Nowadays, there are many diagnostic tools that can efficiently assess your organisation, but the essential features you need to look for are confidentiality and anonymity. Employees need to feel secure when they provide insight and feedback. In this way, you’ll learn their honest views and not what they think you want to hear.

One of the most common mistakes CEOs make is to surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. Uncompromised data is critical to making good decisions.

Encourage your employees to identify the difficulties and dysfunctions encountered in their work and ask them to propose improvement initiatives. Employees feel their voice and opinions matter and you’ll get an accurate view of what tactical improvements are needed. At the same time, you might discover a new strategic direction you haven’t considered before.

There are plenty of management books and high-priced consultants that can give you countless ideas about ‘successful’ development strategies and how to quickly grow your business, but presuming what worked for one company can deliver similar results for your company is a high-risk approach. Your employees know the company better than any consultant and can become a priceless source of strategic insight. Also, bear in mind, employees whose ideas are repeatedly ignored may quit and take their ideas with them.

Seek guidance

Once you have figured out what your employees need to become successful and you have put in place an effective and agile management process, you can launch the strategic actions aimed at delivering superior performance.

Another important step that will boost your odds of success as a new chief-executive is finding someone qualified to mentor you and isn’t afraid to provide critical advice when necessary.

Being able to speak openly about the challenges you face in the new role and potential strategies you’re considering could have a significant impact on your ability to further develop your leadership skills. An effective mentor will be able to provide the ‘outsider perspective’ when evaluating challenges and opportunities, aspects that most of us tend to lose sight of when involved in day-to-day activities.

At the end of the day, a successful CEO knows that:

  • Employees are his/her most valuable assets
  • They don’t need to do everything alone
  • There isn’t an ‘official’ playbook for chief-executives that ensures success and they need to understand and adapt to the environment of each company they lead

The best CEOs are often defined by the fact that their people would do anything for them voluntarily. The worst CEOs are defined by employees who throw a party when they leave. What kind of CEO do you want to be?