What Should Keep CEOs Up At Night

Mar 27 2014, 6:11am CDT | by

What Should Keep CEOs Up At Night
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

Our CEO Nancy Dearman reacts to a recent blog post that outlines “What Keeps CEOs Up at Night,” sharing how her focus on the people in our company and on our customers challenges the article’s assertions.

A recent Wall Street Journal blog, “What Keeps CEOs Up at Night,” by Noreena Hertz has left me wondering if many CEOs are worrying about the wrong things – or perhaps just worrying in the wrong way. Certainly, Hertz names issues that ought to concern any organization, but in my opinion, CEOs should worry beyond these five specifics.

Below is my take on each of Ms. Hertz’s points.

1. Hertz writes, “Technology is proving to be the game changer in industry after industry. CEOs need, to quote Wayne Gretsky, ‘to see where the puck is going and get there first.’”

Technology is certainly an issue for my company, but it won’t be me that “sees where the puck is going.” Instead, I’m concerned with giving an impactful voice to those in my company who do see where it is going and can propose fast solutions to “get there first.” In our case, this includes some of our youngest and newest employees.

2. “Super-transparency increasingly defines the business environment. In a world in which there is no ‘off the record’ companies need to be truer faster and CEOs need to think beyond their legal counsel’s advice when they get things wrong,” continues Hertz.

Of course. When clear and honest communications are part of a company’s culture, there is far less to fear. When legal counsel understands that its advice must fit within that culture, they become part of a team working to quickly and transparently correct any missteps rather than a barrier to such efforts.

3. Which brings us to her third point: “Products or services that just do the job increasingly won’t suffice—consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets on social and environmental issues as well. CEOs need to interrogate their supply chain and think about how to differentiate their offerings along these lines.”

Helping our clients to “insource” the talents and experience of their people to achieve exceptional results is at the core of what we do. In my experience, supply chains don’t need to be interrogated. Rather, the people at all levels who work within that function can become the engine for accelerating efficiency as well as environmental and social responsibility – and they do that because they want to, not because they have to. The same goes for customer-facing employees in terms of determining what serves the customer best. The CEO’s job is to recognize the enormous potential of her employees, create the culture by which that potential can thrive, and demonstrate the kind of leadership that will accelerate the organizations’ goals.

4. “When it comes to the economy we are not out of the woods by any means yet. Despite the increasingly positive rhetoric to the contrary CEOs should remain at this time cautious and think very carefully about how a range of potential scenarios–from a second European dip to a rise of public protests–might affect their strategy and planning,” continues Hertz.

I would be staying up all night, every night, if I worried about the economy – and still not be any closer to achieving our goals for my company. Instead, as CEOs, we need to ensure our products and services meet our customers’ needs now and in the future, that we offer them at affordable prices while still making a profit for our shareholders, and that we treat the people within our organizations as the valuable business partners they are. The economy will swing, but if we take care of these basics first, and concentrate on ensuring that our organizations are agile, we will be able to take full advantage of opportunities that such swings in fortune provide.

5. And her final point: “From a personal leadership perspective most CEOs today admit, in private at least, feeling overwhelmed by their own to do lists. Email overload is a widespread problem, stress levels are reaching new heights, the ‘urgent’ crowds out the ‘important’. If you are a CEO ask yourself—What can you delegate? What can you ditch? Who can better serve as your Gatekeeper? How can you make sure you carve out essential thinking time?”

Everyone is busy. Ask working parents with three school-age kids. Ask the high school senior applying to college. Ask your head of online marketing. As CEO, your to-do list is long. “Urgent” should only be about important. If it isn’t, you may be experiencing what my colleague John Kotter calls a false sense of urgency and should be avoided like the plague.

I agree with Ms. Hertz’s advice about delegating. But I’d caution against relying too much on your “gatekeepers.” If they are too good at their jobs, you might miss the terrific opportunities your employees, customers, and changes to the environment can present.

Now, I think I’ll try to get some sleep.

For more about how organizations can develop the agility required to succeed in today’s rapidly changing world, read Dr. John P. Kotter’s new book Accelerate.

Nancy Dearman /> helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. Follow us on @KotterIntlFacebook, or Linkedin. Sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.

Source: Forbes Business


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