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The CEO’s Challenge with Change

In my work supporting Chiefs, here are some best practices that will bring about the change you seek to make.

Those who occupy the corner office know that expectations and opinions about WHAT should be done and HOW it should be done come from all directions. And while there is a wide variance in the “what’s” of CEO decision making, the “how’s” are delivered with surprising uniformity by CEOs across almost every industry. In particular, everyone expects those at the top to be confident, clear, concise, compelling, and consistent (the 5 C’s).

The challenge is to deliver on those expectations as well as creating a culture that excels while embracing the ever-present sixth C—which can disrupt all other C’s if you let it—change.

In my work supporting Chiefs, here are some best practices that will bring about the change you seek to make.

Be confident about people.

Over time as products/services and markets shift, it will be your employees who’ll navigate your ship. Jim Collins was right with his first rule of success in Good to Great: It’s Who First. Expressing confidence in people will fuel their motivation and productivity more than you know. The best CEOs I’ve worked with understand that optimizing the return on their human capital is every bit as important as their focus on financial capital.

Be clear about intentions.

Clarity is an undervalued attribute. CEOs are well served when they explain the motivation and rationale behind their decisions. When Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, one of his goals was to simplify what leadership meant at his company. After months of study, Microsoft announced that leadership consists of three attributes: clarity, excellence, and results.

Be concise about priorities.

Companies struggle with retention. When I served as AT&T’s President of Global Services, we introduced a simple symbol to remind our workforce what was important. We printed “R3” on pens and hats and used it to set agendas for our meetings. Our simple priority was to drive results for three important groups of people (customers, employees, shareowners) with a focus on three attributes (teamwork, innovation, and speed). This simple reminder helped reinforce our mission. 

Be compelling about the mission.

Simon Sinek’s breakthrough TED talk in 2009 on the importance of “why” has been seen by over 37 million people. Not every CEO can deliver on stage like Simon, but we can all learn from him. CEOs are well served when they speak from their heart about their company’s “why.” It can serve as the North Star when things get crazy.

Be consistent about values.

CEOs are faced with the reality that over time everything will change, including people. Even above mission, a company’s values can serve as the foundation for constant evolution. An organization’s “how” is based in their values. Those values can’t be over-emphasized in an environment when everything else seems to shift. Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” My view is that consistency with values is the hallmark of those with clear vision.

Using the 5 C’s above, any CEO can navigate change in any organization. Are you up for the challenge?

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