This is the 3rd post in our current leadership series. To catch up with the previous installments check out “The Importance of Clear Accountability” and “Policy Setting and the Tyranny of the Minority”. Now on to this post, focusing on advice for the CEO. Though our author, Bill Dann, targets the new CEO, his eleven points below are easily tweaked to add tremendous value for even a seasoned leader. Here’s Bill’s post.
I was recently asked by a former associate, now on a board of a non-profit, what advice I would offer a new CEO re. where he/she should focus efforts to assure success. The specific question is what should a CEO be doing in the initial six months?
Having observed the rise and demise of new CEO’s over time, I would offer the following as a list of items that avoid risk factors and also build trust between CEO and board, which, after all, is job #1 as without it, not much is possible.
- Find out about the board’s experience with previous CEO’s. What did they look favorably upon and what were they disappointed in? This could be done in an executive session or through individual “get to know” meetings with each board member. Such information exposes the hidden standards of individual board members. That is, what are the buttons that erode their trust and what are the keys to building trust. The items uncovered could be minor, e.g. get board packets out on time, don’t talk too much, be available when I have questions. Or, they could be more substantial, e.g. maintain a culture where employees want to work, stay in touch with needs and wants of customers, always give us alternative courses of action with pros and cons.
- Assure that there is alignment between board and CEO on their proper roles in leading/managing the organization. Micro-management by the board can be very damaging to the performance of the organization and create a high rate of turnover in the CEO position. The authority of the CEO should be defined in board policy, but often it is not. Although the incoming CEO should have gotten clarity on this before taking the job, often actual practice differs from what is in policy or what might be said in the job interview. Previous minutes will reveal a good deal, as well as meetings with individual board members or an executive session in which the question is asked, “what were the instances in which you felt the previous CEO went outside his/her authority?”. (Contact us to get a copy of the Board-Management Roles Worksheet – a great tool for distinguishing who is responsible for what, and why!)
- Gain clarity on the board’s definition of purpose, vision and values. What are they trying to accomplish? Why? Is there a measurable destination defined? What behaviors or aspects of corporate culture are important to them?
- With input from the management team and staff to a lesser degree, complete an internal and strategic assessment, a list of recommended priority initiatives for the coming year, get those approved by the board and then develop a strategic plan that is useable as an accountability tool for the board. Once revised as needed and approved by the board, this becomes a contract of sorts between the board and management, i.e., “You get this agenda completed and we will continue to support you”.
- Gain clarity on any expectations that board members have that go beyond what is in the strategic plan, i.e. any hidden standards that they are operating from. What, if anything, did they ask the former CEO to accomplish that didn’t get done? How are they going to evaluate your performance? What metrics are important to them?
- Develop data sets that tell CEO and board whether initiatives in the strategic plan are having their intended impact, i.e. a data set that measures whether the “why” for a given project is being addressed
- Develop a data set that tells the board whether the organization is moving toward its vision, customer satisfaction, key internal processes etc.
- Get to “yes’ on the 7 Questions laid out in my book with each of your direct reports. Getting to “yes” means that each direct report understands expectations, standards, gets feedback, has the needed resources and feels valued.
- Meet with key stakeholders or customers to assess how the organization is viewed by external constituents.
- Define a personal vision for your own tenure as leader of the organization. Over and above what may be in the strategic plan, what is the legacy you want to leave behind? Vet this with your management team and then communicate it well and often to staff.
- Make it a priority to be visible to staff on a regular basis. Either by walking around or by having times when people are encouraged to come and ask questions, offer input etc. Much of leadership is about relationship. Getting to know the new CEO will strengthen the staff’s commitment to the individual and what he/she wants to accomplish.
A tall order to be sure. But, if executed well, you will have a solid foundation for success.
 Creating High Performers – 7 Questions to Ask Your Direct Reports, William Dann, Growth Press, 2014