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The Institute Way Blog

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

CEO Epic Fail: Have a Blueprint BEFORE You Swing the Hammer

By: Gail S. Perry

Have you ever noticed how a newly hired CEO often starts his/her tenure with a BANG!  Making all sorts of immediate changes – whether it’s replacing the entire leadership team, reorganizing, initiating a major acquisition or spinning off a business unit?   One thing that is a hallmark of new CEOs is…change! And this creates great tension and, often chaos, within the organization.  Yet many of these CEOs, after 3-5 years, quietly disappear…leaving the organization different, but not necessarily better, than they found it.

I used to puzzle over this as I observed it over and over – at companies, at school districts, at large
non-profits.  Why would someone create such chaos and stress, and then just leave?  That’s unconscionable!

Over time, I’ve come to understand that they aren’t evil and they don’t do it on purpose.  Most of these CEOs arrive on the job with the best of intentions.  And they didn’t intend to create a mess and leave.  

But they feel a lot of pressure to show immediate results.  So they often rely upon an action they’ve successfully used elsewhere to try and effect immediate change - whether their favorite go-to action is reorganization, an acquisition, or draconian cost-cutting.  They immediately implement this action and the staff straps themselves into their office chairs and braces for impact of sudden, and sometimes violent, change.

In laymen’s terms:  When you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.   

And yes, sometimes the action does produce short-term results.  But then what?  Often the CEO seems to fizzle out – they don’t have any more big ideas and can’t seem to make any more progress in improving organizational results.  Or maybe the action they chose didn’t even produce the desired effect, at all.  Either way, they slowly disengage and…leave.  The staff cheer.  And then brace for impact of the next CEO.  It’s a dreadful cycle.

Yet there is hope.  There are CEOs who do achieve tremendous long-term results and who command the greatest respect (and devotion) from their employees, year over year.   I believe one of the secrets is that these CEOs don’t immediately reach for their “go-to hammer”.  In fact, they don’t actually believe they have all the answers.  And they rarely give orders for immediate high-impact action upon arrival (unless, of course, the organization is a breath away from failure when they hire on).   

These truly fearless leaders enable and empower their staff to be part of their TEAM.  They are able to articulate their long-term goals for the organization and lay out a blueprint.  And they LEAD the organization in such a way that staff is eager to help achieve the organization’s long-term goals.  Sure, sometimes this requires some difficult or stressful actions - reorganization, replacing leadership team members, draconian cost-cutting, spin-offs and acquisitions.  But the difference is that these successful CEOs do a fantastic job of communicating the big picture and of including staff in the conversations (and sometimes in the decisions) about the future of the organization.  So, when the tough decisions ARE made – people understand and feel respected.

We’ve been privileged to watch some really successful CEOs achieve results and earn the respect and loyalty of their staff – by using a strategic blueprint.  We’ve created a short webinar to illustrate how they communicate the big picture and engage their employees into willingly participating in the transformational journey – as a team. 
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Gail Stout Perry

Gail Stout PerryGail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations. Other posts by Gail Stout Perry

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