In a series of interviews conducted with CEOs of large companies in the United Kingdom, it has been discovered that close to 50% of all chief executives have stated that the role was “not what I expected beforehand.” The goal of this series of interviews was to determine what are the current challenges and best practices that CEOs should take into consideration when they accept this role in businesses nowadays. Furthermore, what happens when an organisation loses a visionary CEO? Most likely, innovation disappears and the company drifts for years out of sheer momentum and brand awareness. Organisations that go through these changes inevitably suffer the consequences and they rarely reclaim their former glory.
The aforementioned interviews have also revealed that most newly appointed CEOs find the transition period particularly challenging, even those professionals who have years of experience in this role. They have also mentioned certain aspects that new CEOs should always take into account: a correct flow of information that goes within and outside the organisation, managing time and energy accordingly and institute a clear framework in managing relationships with the board and external shareholders.
Managing Time & Energy
Stuart Fletcher, former CEO of Bupa had this to say: “Being time-constrained is a given, but the key is managing your energy. I’m very conscious of where I divert and direct my energy, where I get my energy and what saps it.” As mentioned above, older and more experienced CEOs understand the importance of time and energy management.
For example, chief executives spend a lot of time in all sorts of meeting with the board. Instead of treating board members as a drain of energy, many CEOs have stated that realising board colleagues can be a sort of insight and advice and can turn themselves into a proper source of energy. One of the CEOs interviewed has said: “It took a real mindset shift on my part but turning engagements with the board from an energy-draining exercise into a source of support and advice contributed greatly to my personal success and to the feeling that I had advocates around me.” Another important factor that must be looked into when managing time and energy is building a strong senior team as soon as possible, as Paul Foster, CEO of Sellafield has stated: “I spent too long working across multiple roles [CEO and previous role], when I should have been bringing in new hires.”
Managing Internal-External Relationships
CEOs recognise the importance of building trust with all stakeholders, with a priority focus on the board, investors and the media. Among those we interviewed, most spend on average about 50% of their time managing internal and external relationships.
Almost half of that 50% is taken up with board engagement. Nearly all former CEOs who did not focus on cultivating their professional relationships with board members yearned in hindsight that they had. Left all alone, board members can be influenced by investors or media outlets that focus on short-term goals often at the expense of strategies to build longer-term value. This risk will be especially high with board members who do not really understand or adhere to a company’s business strategy or opportunities for value creation.
CEOs have reported that building relationships with investors and other external factors — customers, media, industry contacts and regulators — is often burdensome and time-consuming than anticipated. Rob Peabody, CEO of Husky Energy Peabody has characterised the process of managing externally as being able to “write your own scorecard”— with numerous opportunities to build support for long-term goals and build patience among investors. CEOs like Mr. Peabody are highly aware that good relationships with external shareholders are “two-way streets.” CEOs who regularly connect with investors will use their feedback to improve communication in presentations and materials regarding the company and in various media interviews.
The Information Flow
The impact of asymmetric information is most obvious and most damaging in the relationship between chief executives and external shareholders. Stock price is often driven in part by the messages a CEO communicates through engagement with investors, analysts, and the media. Learning to control this information flow is considered a quintessential factor in career longevity.
Inexperienced CEOs often revert to old, previously successful behaviours in times of stress, but eventually realize that they are no longer appropriate or effective in their new role. Survey respondents highlighted the need for CEOs to quickly adapt, clearly outline a personal strategy, and regularly evaluate themselves against it. “Am I getting the information I need from the business units?” and “Am I spending enough time on individual relationships with board members?” is important and can help identify challenges early or avoid them altogether. They also note that while the job can be isolating there is often help available. New CEOs who find that they are struggling to adjust should consider seeking counsel from a more experienced CEO, senior consultant, or coach to help guide their efforts and increase chances of success.
CEOs have a lot to manage at any given point in time given the fact that they are tasked with increasing business revenue whilst also managing employees and customers, there are a lot of variables nowadays. As a CEO you must be aware that there are many challenges throughout the day; some that can be planned in hindsight but others not so much.
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