What to Focus on as a Newly-Appointed CEO

What to Focus on as a Newly-Appointed CEO

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on February 12, 2019

In August 2016, I wrote an article about what new CEO’s should focus on in their first 100 days on the job. Based on my subsequent conversations with new CEOs, this is an update of that article. 

You were just appointed CEO at a new company. The press announcements have been singing your praises, outlining your previous positions, expertise and track record of results.

The employees at your new company are wondering about your leadership style, your tone at the top and what changes you might make to the company’s culture and strategy, as well as possible changes to the senior leadership team reporting to you. Your board of directors will be wondering the same thing. What you say and do will be watched intently by everyone within the organization. Expectations that you will move the company forward will be very high.

As the new CEO, what should you focus on during your first 100 days? The knowledge gained during this learning process will help you formulate changes to the culture, the senior leadership team, as well as both the operational and strategic initiatives of the company.

Listen, ask questions and form impressions

Get to know the company, your board members and your direct reports. Talk with your board members and the individuals reporting to you, as well as those individuals reporting to them.

Learn about the norms and practices established by the former CEO

Understand the tone at the top and organizational culture under the previous CEO. Did the culture permit employees to practice common sense and good critical judgment, and when necessary violate the rules when doing so was in the best interest of the company? Were employees who did so terminated or celebrated? How much leeway were employees given to do what’s right versus follow existing policies and procedures?

What is the state of the company’s strategic plan?

Talk to your staff to understand the company’s current market situation. Is the strategic plan current, and are the various areas within the company pursuing strategies to achieve this plan?

Has a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) been performed, and do the strategic and operational plans build on the company’s strengths, minimize the impact of its weaknesses, exploit its opportunities and defend against its threats?

When you are sufficiently knowledgeable about the business, you will need to discuss the changes you want to make to the company’s strategic plan with the board. It is critical that as CEO, you and your team “own” the strategic plan, because you and they will be held responsible for executing it.

What is the competitive position of the company?

Vis-a-vis the competition, what is the competitive position of the company’s various businesses? How active is the competition in attacking the company’s markets with new product offerings or aggressive product pricing?

Determine if members of the senior leadership team know why their customers buy from the company, and why other customers buy from the competition. This knowledge should be known throughout the organization, so every employee, even those who do not directly touch the customer, can perform their jobs in a way to strengthen the company’s competitive advantage and deliver a great customer experience.

What is the cost position of the company versus its competitors? How competitive is the company’s business processes and information technology?

Ensure all employees are committed to the process of continuous improvement. The company should be on a journey to be the best in the world at what it does. Learn if all employees and board members buy into and share ownership of this ethos.

What is the company’s financial position?

How strong is the profitability and cash flow of the company and how much debt is on the company’s balance sheet? How capital intensive is the company and what major capital projects are on the horizon? Is the cash flow and balance sheet sufficiently strong to fund these projects and market growth?

Are you comfortable with your signature authority for capital projects beyond which you will need to take a project to the board for approval? Ensure you are comfortable with the signature authority of your direct reports, beyond which they need to get your approval.

Learn about the senior leaders who report to you

Understand the leadership styles, tone and culture of the senior managers reporting to you. Do they listen to their direct reports and do they surround themselves with people who will point out the brutal facts of reality? Can they execute and deliver results? Do they inspire their employees?

Do they micro-manage their direct reports, or do they empower them to make decisions, so they have a feeling of ownership in what they do? Are employees allowed to take risks, and do they know how to de-risk their decisions? Do some of your direct reports need to be changed?

Develop a good relationship with your board and stakeholders

Understand how the board operates, and their expectations of you. What level of information detail do they require to oversee the company? How much experience does each have as a board member? Do they tend to drift beyond oversight and governance and get into operational issues, which is the responsibility of the CEO?

You should also spend time focused externally, speaking with major stockholders and customers, and understand their expectations. What would they like to see that’s different from the previous CEO?

In my conversations with current and former CEOs, they all commented that trust among the leadership team is paramount to the success of their organizations. The foundation of trust is honesty, ethics and integrity. What is the level of trust among members of your senior leadership team?

Focusing on the areas above will ensure that you have an effective start as CEO at your new company.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally-syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. 

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