Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are CEOs Playing Chess?

A CEO would be lucky if the game were that simple. After reading the Seven Surprises for New CEOs, it made me think of a conversation I had many years ago with a friend of mine. We were talking about chess and how "interesting" the game might be if we only led the chess pieces rather than have complete control over every move.

For example, an electronic version of the game may require a player to enter the move P-K4, but the pawn may only advance to K3. Just imagine playing chess, where at any given time a piece of any rank can go where it chooses. Not unlike the workplace, the CEO may direct an employee to advance to a specific position at a certain time, but (s)he doesn't quite get there for any host of reasons. It's a fitting metaphor.

Knowing what moves to make may help you win at chess, but it's a small part of the equation when it comes to leading an organization. To set a tone, establish priorities for decision making, and inspire employees to work as a team to achieve a common goal requires a great deal of skill. Because CEOs don't have total control, they must demonstrate exceptional leadership ability to achieve victory.

By comparison, it makes chess look more like checkers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Client Service And The CEO

As Owen Van Natta takes the reins as CEO of MySpace, he'll be challenged to deliver for loyal customers and inspire the participation of new ones. What's more, he'll have to earn the trust of current MySpace employees and determine, as Jim Collins would say, whether he has all the right people on the bus to take the company boldly and successfully into the future - all as the founders step aside to serve as company advisors.

What makes the task even more daunting are the seven suprises for new CEOs. Michael Porter, Jay Lorsch, and Nitin Nohria introduced the seven surprises in an October 2004 Harvard Business Review article on CEO leadership. The authors remind us of the influence and the limitations of the CEO. Essentially, they can lead but they can't control. The seven suprises include:
  1. You can’t run the company (The sheer volume and intensity of external demands take many by surprise. Almost every new CEO struggles to manage the time drain of attending to shareholders, analysts, board members, industry groups, politicians, and other constituencies)
  2. Giving orders is very costly (No proposal should reach the CEO for final approval unless he can ratify it with enthusiasm. Before then, everyone involved with the matter should have raised and resolved any potential deal breakers, bringing the CEO into the discussion only at strategically significant moments to obtain feedback and support)
  3. It is hard to know what is really going on (Certainly, CEOs are flooded with information, but reliable information is surprisingly scarce. All information coming to the top is filtered, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with not such good intentions)
  4. You are always sending a message (A CEO's words and deeds, however small or off-the-cuff, are instantly spread and amplified, scrutinized, interpreted and sometimes drastically misinterpreted)
  5. You are not the boss (Although the CEO may sit at the top of the management hierarchy, he still reports to the board of directors. At the end of the day, the board—not the CEO—is in charge)
  6. Pleasing shareholders is not the goal (CEOs must recognize that, ultimately, it is only long-term value creation that matters, not today’s growth expectations or even the stock price)
  7. You are still only human (CEO Should recognize he needs connections to the world outside his organization, at home and in the community, to avoid being consumed by his corporate life)
Even if Van Natta is not surprised by any of the challenges of the new job, earning the confidence of all his stakeholders will ultimately be shaped by how people come to perceive his priorities and how he inspires others to embrace and deliver on those priorities.

How do you see his challenge?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Illustrate And Demonstrate

Picking up where we left off last month on outputs and outcomes and better or better to work with, the point is that in making a presentation (new business or otherwise) we tend to think in terms of the key messages we'd like to cover versus the key conclusions we'd like our audiences to reach. I've sat through dozens of new business presentation rehearsals where invariably there's always one colleague who jumps up and says, "we have to tell them we're strategic" or "we have to tell them we're creative." They believe fundamentally that if we don't tell them, the audience will never know.

No offense to my former colleagues, but think about the absurdity of that for a moment. Imagine proceeding to your next PowerPoint slide, sporting your typical agency template and in your finest Times Roman font stating, "We're creative." Let's face it, when the show doesn't match the tell, your audience is left unconvinced. (Place yourself in that audience. Would you be persuaded? Of course not.)

To be convincing on the issues of competence and compatibility as a marketing partner, you have to illustrate and demonstrate.

So what does that mean?

Well, if you want your audience to conclude that your strategic and creative, then actually BE strategic and creative. If you're as good at being either, then the audience won't miss it. Take advantage of every opportunity both large and small to illustrate these points.

Of course competence is only one factor. When it comes to winning new business, prospects want an agency with whom they are compatible. Once again, you can't just say, "You'll really like working with us." Here's where you have to demonstrate who you are as individual presenters and as a team: Enjoy yourselves; show you enjoy your colleagues; listen to one another; help each other reinforce your points; engage with your audience. If doesn't look as if you like and respect one another as a team, or if you don't use the presentation to strengthen your rapport with the prospects in the room, then it's unlikely your prospective client will reach the conclusion that you're the right fit for their company - no matter how qualified you are.

Think of show and tell this way: You show (illustrate and demonstrate) and let your new client tell everyone how glad they are to have hired you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time To Get Back To My Post(s)

I've taken somewhat of an extended Spring Break from posting on my blog. I could say that a combination of travel, teaching, and consulting has pulled me away, but the fact is, I've been busier and still maintained a solid posting schedule. If my blog were a client, he would have fired me by now.

In prior posts, I've compared many aspects of our business to running. Posting on a blog is no different. When you get into the routine of running all the time, it's easy to get up in the morning and hit the road. Over time you can easily get to the point, where it becomes so much a part of you, that you wouldn't miss it for the world. Break the routine, and it can have the opposite effect. And of course the longer you go between runs, the harder it is to get back into it. I'm afraid this has been the same dynamic that has afflicted me, resulting in my longer than planned break from posting.

I look forward to posting tomorrow and picking up where I left off - ironically enough, my last post was titled outputs and outcomes. (Putting on my running shoes more often wouldn't be such a bad idea either.)


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