In my career as a CMO, I have had the opportunity to work with CEOs in start-ups and turn-around situations. In most situations where a new CEO has been brought in, the company has not been performing well for several years. But it has potential.
This article explores advice from CEOs about the first steps to take (and avoid) when onboarding at a new organization.
As the new CEO, you must convey your personal excitement with the opportunity to serve in an executive role, an understanding of the reality of the situation you face and faith in your ability to lead the organization forward.
Many of us in leadership positions have a tendency to trust our guts and feel we are extraordinarily intuitive. A quote from James Warbasse starts out “Science offers the disadvantage of not allowing us to believe what we want to believe."
There will be people who want to become your best friend and confidants. There will be others who tell you how excited they are that you have taken over as CEO and how much they think this will make a critical difference in their success. It is natural to feel good about this. But many times, people are doing this so that they can feel powerful, important, needed or to abdicate their own responsibility for poor performance.
Oftentimes you are taking over an organization where the prior leader has talked for years about improving, turning it all around, building a team and getting back on track. The people are no longer listening and as Confucius once said, “the teacher will appear when the student is ready”.
Even in the most poorly performing companies, there is someone who is performing less poorly than the others. If that someone is willing to support you without you proving yourself first, then you have an amen corner. When you ask for support, he or she gives it. More importantly, behind the scene, that person is rallying the troops, telling them to give you a chance to prove yourself.
Oftentimes, in a demotivated sales environment “telling” doesn’t work. Ask instead for a small group of your people to go on a fact-finding mission to an organization that is working well and bring back ideas can contribute to the change. Then the ideas are coming from them, not being imposed on them by the CEO.
Great teams have rituals. Things that establish their identities and set them apart from the rest. I have seen rituals from developing a company cheer, to the same tie or scarf, lapel pins etc., that have made a tremendous difference. Try to find some common rituals or customs that your organization can share.
Remember “Saving Private Ryan” when Tom Hanks shared the philosophy that leaders could complain up to their leaders but not down to their followers. When you say something bad about someone, the person hearing it may think, “Someday, he will say the same about me.” Always be cognizant of how fragile our sense of self-esteem is.
I remember a newly onboarded CEO who started a sales contest, organized a team outing and put together a picnic. However, later that year, he discontinued a holiday event. No one talked about what he added but when the holiday event was eliminated, there were so many complaints and criticisms. Put together a cohesive plan. Get buy-in. Make it their idea. DOWNLOAD Complete Paper
- Barbara Fowler, CMO