Tag Archives: Jim Collins

The CEOs Top 5: Leading Through Turbulent Times

hurricane_500It’s during turbulent times, whether it be the current global economic situation or in times of industry or organization crisis, that CEOs have a tremendous opportunity to pull the people in their organization together towards a common goal.  As Francois De La Rochefoucauld said, “there is no stronger bond of friendship than a mutual enemy.”

Here is a list of the top five things CEOs must keep in mind while leading through turbulent times:

  1. Simplify the strategic message. The easier the strategy is to understand and communicate the more likely it is to be understood and passed on through the entire organization.  The Top 3-5 goals for the year is really what people will remember.  Stephen Covey takes it one step further in his book, The Eighth Habit, when he describes the concept of a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) – the most important goal for the company for the year, as the single overarching objective that everyone in the company must be able to understand, feel compelled by, and be able to repeat and pass-on.  A simple catch phrase that rallies support, the WIG is something that politicians have used to their advantage for years.  Side note: Premier Gordon Campbell knows this well.  At the BC Leadership Lunch last week he summed up the importance of forestry to British Columbia by saying, “wood is good.”  Now I’m sure the double-entendre was intentional and I guarantee that his message was passed on.
  2. As Jim Collins said, Good to Great, confront the brutal facts but move forward with healthy optimism anyway.  Be clear about what the situation is today, what that means for the organization, what the strategy is to move us is the right direction, and what each person can do to contribute to the success of the plan.
  3. Be candid and speak authentically about the reality of the situtation.  Jack Welch, in chapter 2 of his book Winning, speaks about candor,  or as he calls it, “the biggest little dirty secret in business.”  Jack says that he felt the biggest turning point in success at GE happened when they brought all the executives together and agreed to put true candor into place in the organization.  That chapter is one of the best pieces I’ve read on the value of candor in organizations.
  4. Keep your strategic plan dynamic. The most successful companies we work with at ViRTUS, are the ones that review, evaluate, and revise their strategic plans on a quarterly basis.  Adapting the plan to changes in the market, economy, industry, company, or direct competition creates a document which decision can be made by instead of another binder on the shelf (I swear a shelf manufacturer came up with the concept of putting binders on shelves to sell more shelves.).
  5. Be consistent in your communications to all stakeholders. In board meetings, executive meetings, press releases, articles, newsletters, speeches, blog postings, hallway/cafeteria adhoc conversations, etc., the message must be the same.

Hear’s where the rant starts:  and STOP blaming everything on the “global economic situation.”  Not all of the risks you take as a CEO, even as calculated as they might seem at the time, are going to pan out.  Own up to the mistakes that were made and move on.  You’ll make more later so now’s the time to focus on the path forward.

The economy and strategic planning.

The CEO of one of the companies we work with asked me this question over email yesterday: “Should a short term economic condition (or is it) affect strategic direction?”  I decided to share my answer since I know this question is on the minds of many CEOs, entrepreneurs, and executives right now.

Here are my thoughts:

The Darwinian approach fits: it’s not survival of the fittest but more survival of the organism or in this case the organization that is more able to adapt to a changing environment.  In a strategic sense this means reviewing the strategic plan to determine whether or not the change in the economy or economic outlook is greater or less of a force when compared to when the strategic plan was completed.

Since the economy is a threat in more SWOT analysis’s right now the uncertainty and variability that comes along with this threat underscores the need to review the organizational strategy on a quarterly basis to ensure that any adverse effects of the economy against the strategy plan can be taken into account.  It’s through this process of review, evaluating, and revising, that strategic plans become dynamic and remain relevant to things like changes in the economy.  The opposite approach most often leads to the strategic plan being shelved while executives shift into reactionary mode.  I think Jim Collins said it best in Good to Great when he described the Stockdale Paradox, “confront the brutal facts but maintain an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts.”

An unexplored threat that gains mindshare with executives can lead to distraction from the key initiatives that are moving the organization forward towards its long term goals.  By examining the threat it can be treated with the appropriate amount of appreciative inquiry instead of potentially allowing it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The practical answer to this is to spend an hour in your next monthly executive meeting to discuss the facts and the concern the executives have about the economy to see if anything percolates through and requires adjusting the strategy. In this way the issue can be tabled, discussed, and then executives can focus on their key priorities.