In life, we tend to focus on beginnings and endings, be it of relationships, going to college and new jobs. However, the most critical part is often what happens in-between. This rule goes for a CEO as well. As a new CEO, you typically start with a clear agenda of urgent issues to handle. It can be anything; finding new revenue streams, implementing cutbacks or getting the company out of the red.
As a CEO you need to consolidate your leadership and prove your value. However, after a full first term, it’s time for the middle act. How can you make the most of these middle years and avoid becoming middling?
Keep challenging yourself and keep the ambition up
After hitting the ground running, full of energy and implementing significant reforms, stability returns to your business. While stability is generally a good thing for business, it shouldn’t be an excuse for letting yourself slip. As a CEO, you need to keep your eyes on the ball. Your external market environment is continually changing, so it’s vital you retain a critical look at your company, just like when you started out. One way is to imagine yourself being a new CEO again. You got fired, and now there is a new CEO in town. What would this new CEO do during the first year?
Stay fresh, ambitious, and don’t be afraid to try new things when you think the business requires this. However, change for the sake of change is something to be avoided.
Keep a strategic outlook on your company. Both with the experience you’ve built up over the years and by keeping the ambition alive, which you had on that first day walking into your new office.
Destroy the silos and eliminate processes that don’t add value
When you start out at a new company, it takes time before you actually know the ins and outs. You’ll first go for the low hanging fruit of things you want to improve. Be it closing down old business units, entering a new market or making new investments. It’s what shareholders and investors expect from the new CEO; clear actions and results.
However, as time goes by, you’ll get to understand your organization on a deeper level. You’ll discover parts of your company’s culture that don’t work. Business units, or silos, that work against each other instead of following a grand business strategy. Processes that have been around for ages but don’t make any sense anymore. In your middle years, it’s the time to start tackling these.
Break down the silos where you can and actively stimulate inter-departmental cooperation. Compile new interdisciplinary teams comprised of people from various business units and departments to look for improvements and new services.
Ask management on all levels to critically review their business processes by asking and answering the following questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- What would happen if we wouldn’t do this?
- How does it add value to our business?
- How does it add value to our customer?
A full review takes time, but it’s worth it.
A company’s way of working and culture don’t change overnight.
Yet, if done well, the payoffs are big.
When a CEO comes in, it’s like electing a new US president. In politics, there’s the formation of a new cabinet. In business, your top management gets shaken up. New managers come in, and other ones will leave. However, this is only the first round. The most successful CEOs aren’t afraid to make more necessary adjustments the further they get into their tenure.
Just like a good football coach changes players during the game, so does a CEO. Somebody who was great on your team at the start of the game, might not be the best now. He or she might not be playing well, is getting tired, or the game is changing, and you need to play offense instead of defense.
To make changes, you have to know who your talent is today and tomorrow. You need an excellent talent development program to spot new talent quickly and move them up the ranks. You never want to be lacking eager and talented players.
Get a constant stream of new input
With time, you’ll know the company and your people better, and they will get to know you. That’s generally positive. You are more attuned to each other, which will make working together more fluid. However, the danger is that employees stop telling you their ideas since they assume, based on their knowledge of you, that you might not like these ideas.
Due to increasing assumptions, you’ll miss out on innovative ideas. To minimize the risk of this happening, stimulate an environment where employees share their thoughts and opinions openly with you and each other. Encourage and reward those who dare to propose something new and different.
Make sure that your employees know that you want to hear a new idea, even if you don’t always think it’s a great idea.
Furthermore, you want to diversify and refresh your pool of information. Don’t always talk with the same people. Make a real effort to discover other views. Meet with people on all levels of your organization. Moreover, don’t only meet with people in your company but also on the outside. One of the primary jobs you have as a CEO is to develop a grand vision and strategy for the company.
For your vision to not go stale, you need creative and a variety of input from both inside and outside of your business. Reserve time for this in your agenda.
Build up leadership capital and disrupt
As we mentioned above, one of the primary jobs of a CEO is to develop a long-term vision and strategy for your company. A significant strategic change which pays off in the long-term, instead of the short-term, is a tougher sell to your shareholders and employees. By building up confidence with your board, investors, and employees during the early years, you’ll acquire the leadership capital you need to make this daring, potentially disruptive, move.
Your middle years as a CEO are not about reaping the benefits from that energetic start and just keeping on doing what it was that brought you success. Quite the opposite. You need to push the pedal on the metal. You’ve gotten to know the company, and they have gotten to know you, so now is the moment to get going. Keep up the speed and accelerate where you can. The first phase was only the warm-up. Get in touch with us to get the most out of your organization.