Industries have always faced challenges in the marketplace, but today they are under stress like never before. Advances in technology have ushered in dramatic changes, remaking traditional industries like energy, retail, journalism, and medicine. Even cutting-edge technology companies that themselves are disruptors are in a continuous state of disruption. Companies cannot settle for incremental improvement; they must accept major transformation as a fact of life.
The CEO has to drive dramatic change, and it takes much more than having a good strategic vision. The CEO must look in the mirror to assess their own approach and duty in the transformation. They should ask, “Am I communicating the strategic vision with clarity? Does everyone know their responsibilities and how to achieve them? Am I addressing all the constituencies needed to drive change? Is my senior team up to the task? Does the organization have the leadership skill sets?”
People will devote a surprising level of effort for causes they believe in, and a clearly aligned, strong, coordinated message will serve to create and reinforce their commitment. As the chief role model, the CEO’s every action and every word is scrutinized and has an impact. When CEOs pay lip service to change and speak in euphemisms, employees take their cues from the top and do the same. CEOs must take real action themselves before they can expect others to do the same.
The CEO needs a strong senior team and must make certain that each member has the ability and motivation to change, to develop their leadership capacity and to inspire change in others. Even with a productive and effective team, these smart, determined, and independent people must become aligned.
Years ago, I became the CEO of a company with a mission of developing personal confidence. It had a very well-respected name but faced a changing and increasingly difficult market environment. New competitors were entering the field and new delivery technologies were emerging. We did not have the capital to advertise our way out of the problem or to turn to strategic acquisitions for a solution. The internal transformation was required. We built a strong senior management team that understood the situation clearly and were aligned on the challenges ahead. We engaged each other in relentlessly delivered, honest communication in order to develop the strategic vision describing what we considered necessary to compete and grow. This difficult process allowed us to spell out the transformation plan, and determine what each person’s role would be.
CEOs and leadership teams must engage their employees in the transformation conversation, describing the changes that the organization must create. People respond to personal stories that illustrate what’s needed as well as regular updates on how the change is progressing. Senior management can infuse energy by reinforcing what is working well and spotlighting success. Stories crystallize the effects of change and inspire confidence. My own stories were from the perspective of a parent and a spouse and not just as the CEO. It was a powerful way to bring the strategic vision to employees. They needed extraordinary energy to fundamentally rethink and reshape the business while continuing to run it effectively every day.