Welcome to the seat of CEO, a position you’ve undoubtedly worked hard to get to. I imagine you are excited and perhaps a little fearful (if you are in your right mind) about what is ahead. This is a BIG job that can be thankless, but it also has so much possibility. It’s not going to be easy and you might lose a little hair and some sleep in the process, but the rewards of seeing your company grow and prosper, can make the challenges worthwhile.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve worked with a lot of new CEOs. I can tell you that the ones who do these seven things below, right out of the gate, have more early-on success, which helps set the stage for a long and meaningful career as CEO.
Don’t be afraid to have a voice and a strong point of view – Yes, you want to build consensus and make those on your team feel valued, but first and foremost your job is to set direction. Many new CEOs are afraid to rock the boat. They seek a great deal of input upfront before making decisions. While input is key to engaging your team and building trust, don’t wait too long to deliver your CEO message. Having a new sheriff in town can and should be exciting for the team. You have an opportunity to lay out a new inspirational vision. Take this chance to talk about the company values that matter to you and what your expectations are. It is possible to do this while keeping in mind what is important to them, why they are here and what motivates them. The best CEOs balance team engagement with clear direction setting.
Work swiftly to get the right team in place...and trust your gut – Moving slowly in a time of change is a guaranteed way to lose momentum. You take a risk if you wait too long to make changes to your leadership team. It’s important that you trust your judgement on what a great team looks like and listen to your gut as you determine who best aligns with your values and leadership style. You want to make sure you have a team in place that can succeed working with you. Part of this process is evaluating each team member’s skills, intellect and fit for the role and company. When and if you decide to make changes, be swift so you don’t create a frightened environment where people are waiting for the next ball to drop. If you choose the alternative of waiting a bit before shuffling the deck, give yourself a deadline, for example, “Within 6 months I will build a plan and execute on it.”
Get into the numbers immediately and ask the hard questions – You need to know your numbers inside and out so you have a true understanding of where the business is at before you can be confident about where it needs to go. Key questions to ask yourself are: Is this model viable? Can you see a way to a compelling three-year proforma? Are margins where they should be? Are costs in line? Are customers segmented and managed appropriately? It’s possible that some of the answers to these questions will not be what you want to hear, but that’s where the adventure of the CEO role begins – working with your vetted and trusted exec team to navigate and make the changes required to get all the drivers of success where they need to be.
Meet your customers - Your customers are the life blood of the organization. Meet them, understand their needs and what brings them to you. Hear it in their words. Part of your job as CEO is to ensure a solid value proposition so that you stand out from your competitors. Hearing the voices of your customers will help you to learn how strong that position is, as well as teach you a great deal about the company itself.
If board governance is unclear, now is the time to set it – As the CEO, it’s important that you control the agenda and get what you need from the board. The purpose of board, agenda and decision-making authority must be clear or else you’ll waste cycles. Keep the meeting agenda tight and make sure you are presenting a plan that is both challenging and realistic, so you can see some real success and build strong credibility in your first year.
Over communicate to rally the culture – You have a window to reset expectations and to drive change, which requires clear and frequent communication. Messages that are important need to be hit home to the team multiple times to stick. Make sure that your voice and point of view (discussed early in the article) is heard loud and clear…and consistently. Depending on the size of your organization, company meetings can be a great way to communicate. It’s also important that your exec team is on board and echoing these communications with those on their teams, allowing the messages to make their way down through the whole company.
Build or find a trusted team of advisors that have nothing at stake in the business – We all need people to call for input. And now, more than ever, in the role of CEO, your decisions will have a major impact on the success of the company, the lives of your employees, and the future of your career. Who do you call? While relying on a few CEO colleagues may work for the short term, better to seek out a more formalized CEO peer group of true peers with a structured time to meet and a formal agenda to help each other succeed. With the power of a network of peers behind you, you can avoid some of the pitfalls that many new CEOs experience. Leaning on the collective wisdom of your peers can help you make better decisions, faster.