The Effective CEO: Fast Start & Strong Results

Getting a fast start on a new business strategy is critically important for any CEO, but it is difficult when no one else in the organization shares the CEO’s perspective. This is especially true if the CEO is new to the position. Partnering with a trusted advisor having an outsider’s objectivity can immediately increase traction and accelerate results. Here are five keys to make that happen along with an example of how I partnered with a new CEO to help him get his strategy set, his team aligned, and achieve outstanding business results.

The Five Keys

  1. Clearly define your business strategy -- Clear direction comes from the top. It is the music everyone dances to. Set the direction and be able to articulate it very clearly. If you cannot tell your strategy in two sentences or less, you probably don't understand it as well as you should. It should be so simple and clear that any of your top executives can recite exactly the same strategy. Key indicator: Can they do that now?
  2. Align your team -- An unbiased look at key players, including their strengths, their roles, and how they must work together is fundamental to teamwork and getting the results you want. You want to be especially clear about accountabilities for each position. That means the results, not activities, each one needs to deliver on an ongoing basis. You also want to each person to demonstrate behaviors that reflect your values. This goes way beyond a poster in the lobby. For example, if treating people with respect is a value, then behaviors need to be respectful.
  3. Establish a firm management platform -- Knowing the organization structure, everyone's accountabilities, how you'll communicate and make decisions needs to be solidified because it greatly influences how the team works together and separately to drive results. What standard meetings will you have? What is the purpose of each one?
  4. Launch effectively -- Clear goals, high expectations, and a road map to begin moving aggressively forward are all part of launching a great new strategy. It has to be both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging to be most effective. This is not a one-time, rah-rah, break out the t-shirts event, but ongoing communications and focus.
  5. Follow-up aggressively -- It's never "set it and forget it." You'll need to keep at it and make corrections along the way. That too is the role of the leader. Without ongoing leadership focus, organizations have a strong tendency to go off on tangents. Effective leadership with follow-up provides a centripetal force keeping the organization centered and sharply focused.

Here's an example:
The Challenge. New CEO of a regional transportation operation faced a current operating loss of $4.5 million, a decade of deficits, decreasing ridership, an aging fleet, and a recent financial scandal. He needed to improve operating results, reduce the deficits, and reestablish the organization’s credibility.

Together, we partnered to:
  • Define a new culture of high performance
  • Assess the senior team’s capabilities
  • Design the new organization structure
  • Delineate senior team roles and responsibilities
  • Eliminate accountability gaps and overlaps
  • Identify key operating measures
  • Put in place key management processes including operational reviews, budgeting, and weekly management agendas, and
  • Set the new strategy and launch it with his executive team

We completed the launch within a few months providing clear direction and a dramatic boost in the team’s energy. A year later, we re-engaged to focus on remaining attitudes and behaviors that held the team back from fully completing the cultural change. Working with the team we cleared away the impediments enabling the team to make immediate and enduring headway.

The Results. In five years, they went from an operating deficit of $4.5 million to a $35.5 million operating surplus. Ridership increased, investments were made in new fleet, and fares were reduced—all in a period of decreasing state and federal aid. Additionally, work was started on $100 million of construction projects. When the CEO decided to move on to new challenges, I was asked by the Board to develop a CEO Succession Plan and a formal search and replacement process the Board adopted. Our work together led to dramatic improvements for which the CEO received national attention.