Growth Insights for CEOs

CEOs: What do You Stand For and Who Cares?

Posted by Deborah Fell

Part 2 of Creating Sustainability for the Business

stand-for.jpgI often work with CEOs who have created an idea and started a business.  They grew sales and needed to hire more people along the way, even managers.  Most loved the creative journey of getting the business off the ground.

They started out thriving as an expert in a business function or leading the development of a product or service. Over time, they grappled with the increasing demands of managing a business with many other function or process leaders. 

Some have grown the business to the point where they decided to bring in a President to do much of the leading and managing of the business for them. This is the time when answering the question, “What do you stand for?”  becomes critical.

Stepping Back

One CEO, who I have had many conversations with, hired a president to run the day-to-day business for three reasons:

  1. What he stands for, “Providing a future for families.” This purpose operates at both the customer and employee level.
  2. He wants to position the company to succeed for the next thirty years and feels that he should step back and create more perspective for the future.
  3. Stepping back gives him a chance to focus on the part of the business that he loves and best utilizes his talents.

You may use different words to describe your journey, but chances are, the focus of what you do, and what your business needs today, is very different than when you started and things were “simple.”  

“…focus on activities that will have enduring impact”

Hence, many CEOs find that all their time is consumed by quick fixes and short-term projects, and in these activities, micro-manage the team. They devote little time, if any, to strategic planning.

The first president hired by a founder is often short-lived because they don’t identify and focus on activities that will have enduring impact. The new executive pursues quick hits to show progress, at times hurting both brand and revenues. 

Getting What You Want Most

So, how does what you stand for relate to strategy—and why should you, or anyone else, care?  Think of a growth number… Do you have one in mind? Could a well-considered strategy help you double your revenues in three years? And, the key question—Is that what you want most?

What else might you consider as a destination for your company?  Is it to:

  • Scale up to where your most valued employees can achieve their career goals?
  • Be known as a company that gives back to the community and the planet as much as it gets?
  • Or, to be known as a consistently profitable and well-known company to current and potential investors or buyers?

“Could a well-considered strategy help you double your revenues in three years?”

And what’s in it for you personally? 

  • To create a sustaining legacy for your family?
  • To be an executive sought after by larger firms?
  • To be a leader and a stabilizing force in your industry and the communities in which you operate?
  • Or, are you striving to be known for building the best teams that deliver growth and profitability, as well as employee and customer engagement year after year?

When not pursued in the context of a strategic plan with SMART goals, an otherwise potent purpose is just words. Because, without setting the specific destination, roadmap and accountability, you have zero chance of getting there. 

The Foundation of Strategy and Relevance

Strategy is about figuring out how to get to your destination, both in financial and other terms, such as remaining true to your purpose.  It’s about acknowledging, understanding and navigating the challenges and potential threats, prepared with plans a, b and c to keep moving forward, whether over, under or around. 

But, the first and most important question in the context of your business (marketing jargon aside) is, “What do you stand for?” Because, if you really mean it, and you want to get to that destination, what you stand for must be the foundation of your strategy.

“ everything you do or don’t do resoundingly speaks for your brand”

Recently, I was speaking with a prospective client, another CEO. They were wrestling with whether they wanted to be the spokesperson for their brand or not.  My response was this:

Regardless of what you decide, everything you do or don’t do resoundingly speaks for your brand.

So again, what do you stand for?  I’m not looking for answers like “quality customer service”—so generic that it is meaningless. What website doesn’t say that?

Thus, a good place to start when identifying what you stand for is,

Will your customers care?  (How does what you stand for add value to your clients?)

I worked with an IT firm that stood for “acquiring and retaining the best talent.”  Hmmmm…  Think about it:  if companies don’t maintain current technologies, their talented millennial employees will go somewhere that does. Not only that, they will lose the talent they need to serve their customers.  This foundation proved to be a platform that engaged both employees and clients.  

And, that takes us to:

What do you stand for that your customers also care about?

In this case, clients found tremendous value in an insight about the impact of IT on retention.  The insight brought potential value to their entire business and elevated them to more of a trusted advisor role vs. the commodity selling of their competitors.  

Bonus Exercise

This simple question—What do you stand for? —should be a topic of discussion with your executive team. 

Do this at your next meeting, or to start your quarterly or annual planning:

  1. Ask each of your reports to write down in one sentence what the company stands for—something that is not generic like, “quality service,” but more along the lines of, “What difference do we make?”
  2. Give them 60 to 90 seconds to respond (which is actually a long time).
  3. Then have them each read their answer. You may spot different words scattered around a core idea, or you may discover greater differences.
  4. Discuss how you will get to common ground.

Then, I would add a question to consider and talk about at the next meeting:

Given what we stand for, what things do we do that are consistent with that, and what do we do or not do that are not?

Have a good discussion and make sure that it’s specific!

Next Step?  Get a Quick Assessment, No Cost or Obligation  dsfell@chiefoutsiders.comWhat you stand for, then, is the right starting point from which to build and achieve an effective strategic plan to accomplish more than average results. Without common ground on this question and alignment within your team, everything you do in your business is harder. With it, anything is possible and sustaining the business is a natural result. 

Topics: Business Growth Strategy, Business Planning, CEO Strategies

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