The CEO role is notoriously well-known for the stress it brings to its occupier – meeting the expectations of board directors, shareholders, employees, and consumers is hardly an easy feat for any one person. The success and downfall of companies is often defined by the CEO’s actions, so we are here to lay out some CEO best-practice advice, making sure you take your well-deserved spot on the CEO wall of greatness. Whether new to the role or well-seasoned, here are the key areas every CEO should be focusing on to make their organisation thrive:
Strategy and execution
Today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, & ambiguous) environment calls for leaders who can demonstrate short-term wins whilst adapting to major changes in ways of working. Therefore, striking the right balance between setting the future strategy for the business and driving its execution is crucial. Regardless of how experienced they are, CEOs often fall into one of two traps here – either moving too quickly to set the future direction of the business without first assessing the underlying business challenges, or, focusing on day-to-day execution at the expense of future strategic planning. We recommend the following steps when you embark on any transformation:
1. Diagnosing the current situation - identify and remove any inefficiencies to simplify the operating model and set the immediate priorities whilst securing the support of your board and executive team
2. Setting an ambitious vision – start with your stakeholders’ expectations and market trends in mind and take those a step further by bringing your personal aspirations and values into the mix. What do you want your legacy to be as a leader and how do you go about making it happen? An ambitious vision will inspire employees and external stakeholders alike, securing the long-term success of the business. But for it to be truly engaging, the business vision should stretch beyond the financial success of the business – the ultimate mission of the business and why it exists in the first place should relate to making a meaningful difference to your customer’s lives.
3. Creating the environment for change – How? Keep reading to find out – the key areas of focus below outline the best-practice CEO advice for executing on your strategy
Creating a cultural environment which supports your strategic vision more than doubles the odds of successfully executing it. Luckily, culture starts at the top, giving you the chance to directly influence all the cultural elements that drive performance. In addition to aligning your organisational processes to your overall mission and culture, we recommend paying special attention to the following two areas central to any culture change initiative:
Values – Your business values should embody who you are as an organisation and permeate across to all employees to create a common sense of direction and purpose, guiding behaviours and how things are done in the day-to-day. To drive the performance and behaviours you want, we’d strongly recommend examining your values, re-defining them if you believe they’re not a true reflection of your business’ identity, and bringing them to life by talking about them and being a true role-model of everything you are preaching.
People strategy – Your people strategy needs to be aligned to your culture, as well as your business objectives. Hiring decisions should focus on looking for a culture-fit by using your values as a guiding point when attracting and selecting candidates. Beyond recruitment, on-boarding should further solidify the cultural integration of fresh talent into the business, whilst ongoing performance management should offer employees the opportunity to develop and progress within the business in support of your cultural values and practices.
The executive team
A strong executive team will propel the organisation forward, yet CEOs frequently report their top team is underperforming. In our experience, this is because executive teams are too often focused on looking outwards, leading performance results across each functional area, rather than looking inwards to create the right team dynamic which’ll enable cohesion and collaboration within the executive team itself. High-performance across the executive leadership team (ELT) is co-dependent on 2 things:
Collective approach – Working together, the ELT should take the time to translate the overall strategic vision, creating clear long- and short-term goals for each functional area and outlining the key interdependencies across the teams. This exercise will help drive clear accountabilities for the team and have a clear impact on bottom-line performance.
Mutual trust – The best teams are built upon mutual trust and understanding. The first step to achieving this is simple – just get to know each other. Trust is grounded in vulnerability, so by getting to know each other as human beings you can build good working relationships and respect across the ELT. With these foundations in place, you will be able to foster honest input into team meetings and true commitment to the business results.
The board relationship
The relationship between the board and the CEO is a notoriously difficult one, but it doesn’t have to be. The same elements that contribute to the success of the ELT can help alleviate tensions between the CEO and the board. Being engaged with the future vision of the company and able to participate in challenging discourse will drive collective decision-making. But importantly, remember to educate board members and touch ground often – without transparency the right information, the board support the business fully.
We cannot over-state this enough – invest time in yourself! Despite the skills and experience of their team, CEOs often find it difficult to relinquish control and give their people the freedom to deliver, leaving them feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work continuously piling up. No one can handle everything at once. This is why trust is so critical within the ELT – empower your team to deliver and prove themselves capable and you will see often be surprised to see how well people can step up to the challenge.
And one final thing – don’t forget life is a learning journey! The best CEOs aren’t afraid to admit they don’t always have the answers; they seek new perspectives to inform decision-making, they recognise the strengths of the team around them, and they ask for help when it’s needed.