HR & Management

What a newly appointed CEO should do to get off to a great start

5 min read

31 January 2017

Being a newly appointed CEO is, in equal parts, exhilarating and overwhelming. It is a tough, risky job with high levels of responsibility and stress – so getting a good start is essential.

Much has been written about the first 100 days of a newly appointed CEO, with many senior executives rushing in with complex strategies for expansion, product launches or M&A activity in an effort to prove their capabilities in as short a time as possible. But this approach risks alienating key people and could lead to missed opportunities.

So what should a newly appointed CEO do to get off to a great start?

Remember, no matter how smart and innovative your strategy might be, success is heavily dependent on your team’s support and their commitment to your vision. And keep in mind that your style during those early transitional days is being watched. How you act during meetings will be noted by those in the room. It’s important to establish early on what you stand for.

Typically you’ll meet a complex mix of resistance, anxiety, uncertainty, ambition and positivity from your team. Therefore, establishing trust and developing a good relationship with staff across all levels is crucial. Taking time to engage every department and employee group will help you to understand the general mood and culture within the business. It should reveal personal motivations, capabilities, attitudes to risk and how people feel about the company.

From the outset, a newly appointed CEO should get a handle on the business’ real strengths and challenges. Also, investing energy in balancing the existing team with the business’s targets, your personal vision and the workforce’s drive promotes a shared sense of ownership and momentum that can deliver sustainable growth.

The middle management level is an essential segment as they translate most of the company’s strategy into operational direction. Building your top team and establishing a respect-based relationship with stakeholders within the business will be the most important early task you’ll have as a newly appointed CEO. Tied to this is gathering intel. A significant challenge for those in positions of leadership is finding the time to collect objective, balanced employee feedback and insight.

Technological assistance

Thanks to technical advancements, this is no longer an issue. CEOs have a choice of tools that can scan employee engagement, organisational performance and any potential dysfunctions quickly. In this way, senior executives can discover whether the team is aligned with company culture and what specific areas need attention.

We’ve all seen the benefits business analytics can bring to a business. Why not use data for your new team as well? ‘People analytics’ enables you to easily identify difficulties and counterproductive processes or structures that you might not have considered before. Your employees know the company better than anyone and can become a priceless source of strategic insight.

A systematic feedback mechanism will help with building a high performance workplace, as employees will feel their voices are being heard and that action is being taken. By creating the right culture for improved performance, you’ll be cultivating behaviours that deliver the desired business outcomes. And while the information acquired after such initiatives is not always pleasant, it’s better to bite the bullet and make some difficult decisions that facilitate a truly fresh start.

People are the heart of the business

Some CEOs use external advisors or mentors to tackle such challenges and gain a new perspective. Being able to speak openly about potential strategies you’re considering and the challenges you might have to manage while also hearing critical advice when necessary can boost your chances of success and develop your leadership skills.

CEOs that engage with their staff and focus on developing genuine leadership capabilities that inspire people are far more effective and are likely to prove more successful in the long-term.

The truth is, there isn’t an ‘official’ playbook for CEOs that ensures success. Always remember that your employees are your most important asset and you’ll need to adapt to the environment of each company you lead. Only then will you be able to deliver on stakeholders’ expectations.

Matt Jenkins is head of consulting at Footdown

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