May 10, 2011
Recently, I have quite frankly been amazed at the totally engaged behaviour of a CEO I work with. This individual has professed in the past to have great concern for the workforce, yet been reluctant to make the hard decisions to really change those negative aspects of the organisation that are long-standing and therefore what are commonly referred to as “ugly problems”.
So what happened, over the course of a single weekend, to turn this CEO around into becoming someone who brings forward professional literature as idea starters, is literally bubbling with enthusiasm for tackling the tough stuff, wants to re-energise the company values and is even willing to use consultants to work with the leadership team on their responsibility for employee engagement?? I admit I’m a bit stumped to be able to provide a comprehensive answer, yet I do have a few ideas. If this is something you want to achieve in your organisation, read on….. but don’t necessarily expect the answer to be anything you haven’t heard before!
1. Engage support from the general manaers, or next-level-down-from-the-CEO. Frankly, if the CEO is the problem you will need support in other areas of the organisation. This group are the change agents. They have either been happy with the CEO’s stance on this issue or have been privately (even not so privately) frustrated with the situation. Find the people willing to speak their truth to the CEO, and support them as they move towards more authentic leadership behaviour. These people have a long-standing working relationship with the CEO, and will have more influence than you ever will if push comes to shove!
2. Be firm in your vision of what the organisation needs. Whenever you talk to anyone in the organisation, you need to be an un-movable force for what is needed to improve the situation for them. This needs to be evidence-based – whether from business results, customer feedback or employee feedback – you need to be justifiably passionate about what you want for the organisation to move towards. This clarity of vision and purpose will have influence over time (usually not as quickly as you would like, but cultural change is a slow learner….), especially with the CEO and general management team. In my experience the rest of the organisation will “get it” pretty quickly!
3. Respect for the CEO and their exprience and knowledge. Let’s face it, although some people can get promoted beyond their capability it’s pretty rare in CEOs. Whether you like their style or philosophy, there is typically definite substance to their experience and knowledge that earned them the position. As a subject matter expert or young up-and-comer, you may believe that you have the answer to all the organisation’s problems. And in many ways, you do! Yet to achieve lasting change you will need to learn to work within the limitations and boundaries established by the CEO. Please note that I’m not advising that you accept these limitations and boundaries whole-heartedly – I believe personally that change happens one individual at a time, and in this case I’m talking about the CEO. Just like any great business leader they need to stay abreast of current trends and best practice. I’m simply suggesting that the longer-term view of “education” rather than “transformation” may be the difference between frustration and eventual success.
So back to the CEO with the weekend make-over? Beyond what I’ve mentioned above I can’t explain it. An epiphany? Whatever the cause, I’m very grateful for the change and am loving the positive energy that’s being generated within the leadership team already. So what if I can’t explain it… bring it ONNNNN!!!