Addressing a new CEO assignment with why, what and where

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Every new leader faces the immediate challenge of how best to communicate his or her vision to the organization. Employees are anxious when there is a change at the top, so it is important to begin the communication process as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, new CEOs will likely not have had time to develop a fully formed strategy, so they must be careful to only communicate what they know to be true. Too many leaders let their enthusiasm overwhelm them and come out of the gate promising huge changes and major victories. Experienced CEOs know that change is hard and avoid promising results at this early stage. Initial communications should focus on three fundamental areas:

  • Why the CEO believes in the opportunity
  • What the CEO perceives to be the organization’s strengths
  • Where the CEO will focus on improvements

Why the leader believes in the opportunity 

The new CEO took the position because he sees an opportunity. It is essential to explain to the employees why the leader is excited about the company and why this is personally important to him. At this stage the new CEO may not have a complete vision for the organizations, but he can communicate why he took on the challenge. This personal connection to the mission is important for everyone to understand, as it will shape the vision and values of the company moving forward.

What the leader perceives to be the organization’s strengths

The second item the CEO should communicate is what is right about the organization. Every company has certain advantages in the market and areas of superiority versus the competition. The new CEO will do well to identify these key advantages. This performs two functions. First, it lets employees know that their company is not a total failure. Usually a CEO is replaced after a long string of losses. It is easy for morale to go downhill quickly. The new CEO has to stop the downward slide and remind people that they are not losers just because the entity has struggled. Finding a positive point to rally around is critical in these situations to buy time until people can see the results of the new management efforts. 

Where the leader will focus on improvements

Finally, employees want to know what is going to change. People realize that if the team has been losing in the market, that it would be foolish to keep doing the same thing and hoping for different results. Letting the employees know that the new CEO has a plan to improve the organization is important, along with a timeframe for action. Details will help. For example, the CEO could say: “I believe the biggest challenge we face as a company is that we have lost touch with our customers. I intend to spend much of my time over the next 90 days meeting with customers. At that point we will align the organization to provide a superior customer experience.” Being specific as to area and timeframe will give employees as much certainty as possible without committing to anything that the new CEO can’t deliver. 

Following the simple path of why, what and where should help any new CEO with the challenges of a new assignment.


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