Growth Insights for CEOs

Onboarding Tips for CEOs: Get it Right

Posted by The Chief Outsider

Putting your best foot forward in your organization


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 blog post (and expanded e-book) will explore advice from CEOs about what first steps to take…and some to avoid when taking over an organization. Also read George Bradt's Forbes article.

Tips for Success for New CEO:

  • Prepare and deliver a meaningful first speech
  • Analyze the available data
  • Trust with caution. Beware of the initial euphoria
  • “I will believe it when I see it”
  • The “Amen Corner”
  • The fact-finding mission
  • Establish rituals
  • Complain up, not down
  • What you take away means more than what you give

Free eBook! Onboarding Tips for CEOs

Prepare and deliver a meaningful first CEO speech: You must convey your personal excitement with the opportunity, an understanding of the reality of the situation you face and faith in your ability to lead the organization forward.

Analyze the available data: Many of us in leadership positions have a tendency to trust our guts and feel we are extraordinarily intuitive. Go with the data. Check and recheck it, then you can look to your intuition.

Trust with Caution: There will be people who want to become your best friend and confidant. There will be others who tell you how excited they are that you have taken over 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.

“I will believe it when I see it.” 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." Be patient. Take them on one-on-one or in small groups. 

The Amen Corner: 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. Find some influencers.

The Fact-Finding Mission: Oftentimes, in a demotivated 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 you.

Establish rituals. 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. This builds the culture.

What you take away means more than what you give. I remember a new 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.

For more excellent advice on this, see KornFerry's Career Playbook and The Center for Values Driven Leadership blog

Please share your ideas of what works and download the e-book above. 

  Free eBook - Innovation: Winning Ideas, Fewer Flops


Topics: CEO Perspectives, CEO Strategies, CEO Choices, CEO Motivation