Many companies experience great success under founder CEO’s, then reach a strategic inflection point as growth slows or operational issues become difficult to manage. At this point, the founder CEO faces a key strategic decision: bring in a new CEO, or attempt the company turnaround themselves, with the help of a CEO coach.
CEO’s who are determined to continue leading the company through a renewal and a return to growth will face a tremendous challenge in leading a transformation. This challenge will be harder in many ways than the challenge faced by a new incoming CEO. The existing leader will need to undertake nearly identical tasks to those undertaken by a new CEO – define the Transformational Goal, Transformational Arc, and 12-month Plan. They will need to evaluate existing employees, hire new employees, and make difficult decisions.
Recommended reading includes the Leader’s Guide to Corporate Transformation and Renewal and the blog on Accelerating the Corporate Transformation Process. Next you might want to check out some of our Top Tips for Creating “One Team”, and learn about how and why to transform corporate culture to enhance corporate performance.
Special Challenges of Founder CEO’s Leading Corporate Transformations
An existing leader will have the advantage of already knowing the organization and the company’s problems. Ironically, they will also have the huge disadvantage of already knowing the organization and the company’s problems. That may seem like a contradiction, but in transformation, it is possible to be too close to the problem. An incoming leader by necessity is more dispassionate about the tasks at hand. They can, for example, evaluate an employee based on their current contributions, versus viewing them as a summation of their lifetime contributions to the company. Those two points of view may yield different results – the employee may have been incredibly valuable in the early days of the company, but they may be completely out of their depth at the current company size and scale. An incoming leader will make a rapid evaluation and decision to replace or reassign the employee. An existing leader may color their opinion more positively because of past performance by the employee, and hesitate in making a change. That is why new leaders are frequently brought in — because it is extraordinarily difficult for a founder to gain unbiased perspective. But an existing leader who is passionate about their business and determined to bring it to success again can also succeed if they follow the advice in this section.
Embrace and Embody Change
The most important act that the existing leader can perform is to embody Gandhi’s quote, “You must become the change you wish to see in the world.” What does this mean, from a practical perspective, to an existing leader? It means that, for you to be successful, you must pretend to be a new incoming leader. You must compartmentalize your knowledge of the company, — its strengths, weaknesses, and people. And you must evaluate everything anew, from the perspective of an outsider. Assume nothing. Verify everything. Strictly separate your assessment into two buckets: the first is being “the new leader”, which entails making decisions based on objective metrics. The second is your data warehouse: the knowledge you have on your company. The knowledge in that warehouse can be used to assist in decision-making, but nothing in that warehouse can actually be used as a “decision by default”. A prior decision taken out of that warehouse must be re-examined in the light of the new situation, not in the light in which the decision was originally made, because, by definition, circumstances have changed.
Seek Expert Professional Help from a CEO Coach
This will be extraordinarily difficult. It is strongly recommended that you an expert CEO coach to assist you in your renewal process. An outside consultant can provide fresh eyes, can question assumptions, challenge conclusions, and provide information that your current employees are reluctant to give you. They can be an invaluable resource in helping you achieve objectivity, make the necessary tough decisions, and renew your business for success.
Use our eBook and Blog as Resorces
Your highest chance of success is to follow the instructions in this guide – including the ones discussing a new leader’s first six months. Meet with your employees the same way that a new incoming leader would. Review every aspect of the business the same way that a new incoming leader would. Evaluate your current employees and make the tough decisions the same way that a new incoming leader would. And seek the assistance of an operational consultant and likely an HR consultant as well. The combination of “become the new outside leader” together with professional outside assistance will place you on the road to success.
Don’t “go it alone”!
When leading a company at a strategic inflection point, our expert business consulting and CEO Advisory services can make a difference between failure and success. Let an expert CEO Coach support YOU with a solution customized to your particular situation. Contact us today!