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New CEO's Limited Familiarities And The Rush Hour Surprises

The new CEO of a company finally after many years of sweat, blood, perhaps staking personal time or even health, you've arrived!

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There you are! The new CEO of a company finally after many years of sweat, blood, perhaps staking personal time or even health, you've arrived!

It certainly sounds like a coveted role with power of decision making, authoritative than any other titles a company can offer. But ask the CEOs many years into the role how they feel sitting at the driver's seat, facing the sun on their windshields, balancing the company's success and failures during rough or blind turns and bearing the onus of wielding it well without any untoward consequences. To them it sounds less fancy. Well, truth of the matter is, it is 'not at all' fancy, it is extremely complicated and different than any previous positions held so far.

When a new CEO joins a company, a critical issue which instantly hits him and later even haunts him (i.e. if decisions fail him) is whether he should retain the existing team, change it partially or entirely. The whole process is fraught with tradeoffs. The CEO has to balance the issue of business strategy and performance while also moving ahead as per plans. In such a situation, newly appointed leaders have limited familiarity with their teams and can't immediately swap in new people to help grow or transform the business. Sometimes they lack the necessary political power or resources to swiftly replace personnel or the culture does not allow the seamless transition. Often existing team members are essential for running the business in the short term but not the right people to lead it into the future. Let it be a cliché but it is a tight rope.

Few years ago, I took over as CEO of a white goods company which was not so much in its right shape; it was weighty and held no appropriate distribution of health. I had faced the similar dilemma to either hire new or not to fire the incumbents. I could do that with the help of an absolute authority granted by the board to do so, must have been a chilling revelation for many others in the organisation but had realised it much later. Expectations from me as the CEO were to turnaround the business in short time. Despite my decision taken then to keep the complete senior leadership team intact as per the given limited timeframe allowed to demonstrate excellence in performance, I still wonder if that was the most perfect decision. Although I had assessed the team, their skills and discussed new vision and new strategy, the dominating factor was that the results were short term.

In present organisations teams are far more diverse, dispersed, digital and self-motivated. But while team face new hurdles their success still hinges on a core set of dynamic fundamentals for group collaboration. Conflicts on ideas are not considered bad signs; they are a part of healthy conversations and way forward. The groups while resolving conflicts also get to sharpen their interpersonal skills and often form work camaraderie. Employees are empowered for work destructions and reconstructions therefore building most efficient work-flows and systems.

I strongly feel, for a CEO to hold a bird's eye view or a holistic perspective to draw a comprehensive plan and process things must remain uncomplicated to implement and follow in the longer run. CEOs should not get stuck with moulds resulted out of archaic nomenclature, it is alright to keep short term perspective for initiatives, mid-term perspective for action and long terms perspective for results. Perspectives don't mind the definitions at all.

As suggested by Michael D Watkins while defining the 7 seismic shifts for a manager to become a leader, the most important is to first undertake a deep assessment of people and their skills and understand holistically the dynamics put to play. The analysis must include SWOT of the core team and their contribution to the existing vision, environments and required deliverables. Integration takes place when they also fit into the future scheme of things, their contribution to the changed vision, environments, strategy, structure and technology. According to the business requirement, the team membership role, requirement, source of purpose and direction, operating model and behaviour must be reshaped. Those who have limitations of holding the right attitude will be eliminated and the rest must come into the purview of a focussed communication and development plan.

When the new team comes in, vision and direction needs to be communicated strongly with no ambiguity, efficient structures of information-flow get created. Communicative leadership style ensures a supportive gesture and can influence mindsets positively ensuring endearing results. Early wins and rewards will further reinforce the idea of a collaborative top down approach.

While the context of a new CEO is discussed here, things may seem simple and familiar to relate to or comprehend but the ground realities may significantly vary to put either of the suggestions into practical application. There are simply too many surprises for a CEO due to time, knowledge and perspective limitations or complexities. There is always something happening for a CEO to look harder for solutions - imperfect information or unexpected new roles of teams that alter professional relationships or not enough time to implement plans. All this and more seems to conclude that nothing in a leader's environment prepares him fully to be a CEO while he is also faced with a paradox of holding astounding power but harder to use it or with utmost discretion. I did not want to use the cliché 'a tight rope' again to reiterate CEOs' tribulations, but will leave it to your imagination and it better be bright and full of aspirations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr Yasho V Verma

Dr Yasho V Verma is a Management Thinker & Philosopher, a Mentor and a Strategy Consultant, an Academician and a Veteran in consumer durables and retail. He was formerly associated with LG Electronics as its COO and Director. Currently he is consulting with World Bank. He is also a member on Board of Dena Bank and an advisor to Videocon. Besides, he is in the board of few other business houses across various industry verticals and consults them on plans and policies.

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