In some organizations recruitment for the chief executive is done through recruiting firms—seeking someone who has the best experience applicable to the organization. In other organizations, there is a philosophy to hire within. In either case, many chief executives start their career in a lower level role and work their way up the corporate ladder into executive leadership.
When moving from any role to an executive role there is a learning curve. It requires individuals to move from focusing on the details to focusing on the big picture. In other words the executive shifts from operations to strategic visioning. Some individuals naturally make this shift, for some it happens over time and for some it is a constant struggle.
With many organizations there isn’t a succession or talent management plan so employees climb the ladder with little to no thought about the transition. Without a good understanding of the new role contrasted to the former role, it is likely the new role will be fashioned by the executive transitioning into it. To the degree the executive is able to rise above the former role and envision the future, s/he will be more successful in the new role.
Typically there is not a dedicated focus to train or coach new executives, it is basically “on the job training”. This is important to note since executives have an influential role within the organization, specifically to identify and achieve the company’s vision, objectives, and goals.
The new executive inherits the organizational structure. The development of an organization’s structure often happens without purposeful planning. This structure is critical to optimal functioning of an organization and needs to be reviewed on hire and thereafter regularly at a high level by the chief executive. Organizational structures vary—from a flat structure, where there are few layers to the top to a more hierarchical structure where there are many layers to the top. Regardless of the structure, there are levels of work in every organization.
A new executive should pay particular attention to each role and be cautious about eliminating any role. Often what happens is that a particular position is eliminated when someone isn’t functioning well in a role and instead of coaching and intentionally planning an exit strategy, the position is eliminated. The problem with job eliminations is that the work doesn’t go away, it often moves onto someone else’s plate.
Often position (job) descriptions for each role in the organization are not in existence or are old and unused. This is the greatest tool for a chief executive leader to utilize when working with employees and his/her board. Without a written description for each role, each employee makes up the job with the risk that the employer may have very different expectations. It can lead to an issue with performance, which is avoided with a clear description that both the employee and the employer agree to. If the role is clear to the individual from the beginning, s/he has a higher likelihood of being successful in the role.
If you find yourself either being promoted to or recruited into a chief executive role, here are seven ideas to help you succeed:
1. Ask for a copy of the job description and review it to ensure what you are going to is consistent with your desires, skills and experience.
a. Pay attention to when it was last revised.
b. Talk with your board chair about the process of evaluations and reviewing/revising job descriptions.
2. Ask your board chair his/her expectations for the job and match what is included in the job description. Discuss exceptions to ensure clarity of the role.
3. Find a truth teller who can be honest with you about your effectiveness.
a. Ask for an executive coach as part of your hiring package to help you assess your executive skills and plan accordingly to enhance skills that might need strengthening.
i. Ask for six months to a year of coaching if you are new into an executive role or up to six months if you have been a chief to ensure you have coaching specific to the new organization and culture.
ii. Select a coach who can help you grow and has experience doing it.
iii. Select a coach who will be honest and respectful in approach.
b. Seek a mentor outside the organization who has done an equal role and can advise you and give you truthful feedback.
c. Focus on your areas of growth that are critical to the new role and be specific on how you will master each area of growth.
4. Be coachable and be a continuous learner.
5. Determine the kind of culture you want. Study the existing culture and create and implement a plan to shift to the new culture.
6. Review your organizational structure and see if it fits to your future vision and culture. If not, revise it.
7. Carefully assess your direct reports in terms of their fit to your new vision and culture. If there are outliers, deal with them up front and quickly.
Great leadership comes from people who are eager to learn and embrace feedback. When executives thrive it has a downstream impact to employees and customers.
Each organization functions differently in terms of structure, culture, and leadership. No matter how much experience a leader has, there is always an adjustment when entering a new position and organization.
Given the global changes impacting strategic direction in technology, finance, and operations—are you the right person for the job, now that you have it? What might you need to help you succeed in the role? How will or do you know for certain you are effective in your executive role? These are all normal questions when you take on an executive role and if you need help with a self-assessment or a plan to ensure success, contact us.