As you already know, I am keenly interested in how CEOs manage their tenures. In my book on CEO reputation, I referred to the various stages of a CEO’s tenure as the seasons of a CEO. When I wrote it several years ago, it started with the Countdown period (pre-announcement), the first 100 days, the first year, the middle years and ends with the last 100 hours and legacy-setting. Since then, I have continued to follow CEOs closely but have been particularly fascinated by how CEOs can use social platforms to build their companies’ reputations and to some extent, their own. That is what I explained in this new article on CEOs getting social in their early tenure. (See also Weber Shandwick’s Socializing Your CEO II)
Surprising to me, despite billions of people communicating and socializing online, little has changed in experts’ advice to CEOs or other executives on how to navigate their early tenure by taking advantage of social tools. In three separate research investigations on how CEOs spend their time by Harvard Business School, the European University Institute and the London School of Economics, and Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti, the words “social” or “digital” did not appear once in the nearly 30,000 words written. Management consultants’ white papers on CEO transitions reveal little attention to how to effectively use social platforms. I have about 15 articles with smart advice on CEO successions and transitions that I send to new CEOs and not one mentions using social media. Further still, an online search of the most relevant 30 hits for “how CEOs should use social media in their first 100 days” does not retrieve a concise blueprint whatsoever. Instead, the mentions consist of lists of Twittering CEOs, reasons why CEOs don’t use social media, events and primers for getting into the social game, articles written by CEOs of digital agencies, and do’s and don’ts for CEOs who use social media.
Social media should be incorporated into new CEOs’ early playbooks. Whether CEOs are communicating, engaging in two-way conversation or simply listening in, social media platforms should be gradually adopted. As technology increasingly permeates all aspects of business and society, CEOs cannot afford to be out of touch with their cultures, how their products or services are being received and what their competitors are up to. Moreover, as the next generation of technology-literate CEOs start taking office as 77 million baby boomers leave the stage, being socially-literate will become the norm, not the exception.
For these reasons and because all these management consultants seemed to be overlooking social media as a leadership tool in their early CEO days, I wrote this article titled Get Social: A Mandate for New CEOs. It just appeared this week on MIT Sloan Management Review’s nicely redesigned Social Business site. Please take a look if you are a new CEO and getting the social bug! Or if you are advising CEOs to jump on the social bandwagon even a little. I firmly and proudly believe that this might be the first (or among the very first) articles on how and why CEOs should be social citizens at the start of their tenures and not wait til their seasons come to an end. There are some great examples from CEOs and presidents of companies such as Aetna, Etsy, GM, MassMutual, Best Buy and BAE.
Reputation mandate. The new CEO of Barclays made it clear to employees at the beginning of the year what it would now take to repair the bank’s reputation and equally clear about what they did not want. The new CEO pointedly said in his memo to 140,000 employees that things were going to be different now and employees should know that…”The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.” Anthony Jenkins took over from CEO Robert Diamond who resigned when news broke out about Libor manipulation or rate-rigging.
Jenkins believes that the prior regime put short-term profits ahead of values. Now that he was in charge, people have to commit to their reputation restoration program or hand in their IDs. Their program is called the TRANSFORM program and is based on living their values to restore Barclay’s reputation, not just to restore their bottom line. As part of their rebuild, all employees viewed a film of the bank’s history (“Made by Barclays”). Their new values and purpose, developed by their senior leadership group and Executive Committee along with many others, were also unveiled. Their Purpose is to help people achieve their ambitions “in the right way.” Their five values are Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence and Stewardship. As this new program rolls out, people will be measured and rewarded according to these values. Sounds good. Ambitious. Doable. Will be watching.
Just caught up with my November HBR. There is an excellent article by the CEO of Siemens, Peter Loscher, on how to use a scandal to activate change in an organization. There is a section in the article on Loscher’s first 100 days, a favorite topic of mine. He says that he was the first chief executive at Siemens who came from the outside and mentions how it actually worked to his benefit because he brought an outside perspective to his early start.
In the article, he mentions that one of the things he wanted to do in year one (post 100 days) was to get the organization more focused on customers. And then he proceeded to explain how he did it. I thought it was such a cool idea that I wanted to share it. Here is what he said:
“In my first year, I tried to find other ways to emphasize to the entire organization that customers should be our primary focus. Once a year, our top 600 or 700 managers gather for a leadership conference in Berlin. Before my first one, in 2008, I collected the Outlook calendars for the previous year from all my division CEOs and board members. Then I mapped how much time they had spent with customers and I ranked them. There was a big debate in my inner circle over whether I should use names. Some felt we would embarrass people, but I decided to put the names on the screen anyway.
The rankings were a classic bell curve, with most people in the middle. I was number one, having spent 50% of my time with customers. I said to the people at the leadership conference, “Is this a good sign or a bad sign? In my opinion it’s very bad. The people who are running the businesses should rank higher on this measure than the CEO.”
I put the rankings up again in 2009, in 2010, and in 2011. And now things have changed. The curve has shifted. Some people have passed me, and most are near me at the top of the distribution—because everybody knows this matters and that names will be up there at the next leadership meeting. With this simple approach we have achieved a much, much stronger emphasis on customers in the top management echelons.”
What a smart way to get management focused on being customer-driven. As he concludes, “But if you want to change a big, complex organization like Siemens, you have to make your agenda known, and you have to communicate in simple terms.” I’d say taking stock of everyone’s calendars and tallying up the time spent on customer activities, sent the right message, clear as a bell.
In an article today on the academic dream team that consulted with President Obama’s team, a few lessons are shared that should be helpful for the public sector and CEOs or other executives. The group of behavioral scientists who were unpaid advised that voters focus on two characteristics in choosing a president or leader – competence and warmth. This is especially good advice for new CEOs coming into office to hear. The article states that Romney had the competence factor working for him but less so the emotional warmth factor, particularly with all the negative advertising that many people saw. Clearly, CEOs have to project both factors to gain support from their followers.
Another lesson to be learned that was shared in the article is useful for companies facing crises (who isn’t?). The social scientists that made up the dream team advised the Democrats running the Obama campaign that when it comes to neutralizing rumors, it is best not to deny the charge but to affirm a competing one. The example given was how the rumors about President Obama being a Muslim stuck over the long term but their advice (and probably well taken) was to counteract that rumor by asserting that Obama is a Christian. I do recall hearing that. Good advice that can apply to corporate leaders faced with hearsay and wanting to deflect innuendos.
Every week I think nothing new is happening in the world of reputation. And I am always wrong. There are always CEOs coming and going, companies that get into trouble and lose reputation points and new things to learn. That’s the best part. Here’s a few:
1. Booz Allen released their fabulous CEO Succession report. I read it every year and welcome the insights. This year they focused on new CEOs, a topic dear to my heart and book. This year they found that 14.2% of CEOs of the world’s 2500 largest public companies changed over. This is a sizeable increase from last year when the turnover rate was 11.6%. This increase makes sense because as boards battled the recession, it was not the opportune time to change chief executive reins. Better to batten down the hatches when times are tough. Strikingly, Bozo found that outsider CEOs are making a comeback. In 2011, 22% of all new CEOs were outsiders compared to 14% in 2007. That’s definitely surprising to me since the trend has been in favor of insiders for a while now. The possibility is that companies need fresh new ideas and outsiders with global experience as they now look to grow. You should check out the report because there always is a lot of fascinating information on the world of CEO transitions. For example, outsider CEOs are more likely to lose their jobs, the number of CEOs being appointed chairman has declined and nearly 90% of new CEOs have not been a CEO before. That last fact is astounding and perhaps why we get asked about our services on CEO First 100 Days as often as we do. In another post, I will provide Booz’s insights on advice on CEO’s first year in office.
2. Reputation Institute released its worldwide reputation findings on the Most Reputable Companies. Their headline reads, “Reputation Is Impacted More By What You Stand For Than What You Sell.” In their research, they found that “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven 60 percent by their perceptions of the company and only 40 percent by their perceptions of their products.” That’s an important finding and mirrors Weber Shandwick’s results on the importance of the company behind the brand. We are on the same wavelength, clearly. They also found that only 11% of the top 100 companies have better reputations abroad than at home. “It’s because reputation isn’t something that’s easy to export,” says Nicolas Georges Trad, Executive Partner at Reputation Institute. Love that quote.
3. I also attended Spencer Stuart’s CMO Summit this week on innovation. It was illuminating in how innovation gets baked into companies from the head marketing honcho. Whereas one company CMO panelist was analytical in her approach, another was more artistic and qualitative. Goes to show that culture drives execution. From the panel, I learned about another usage of HIPPO which is always a bonus to me – it is a reference to the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Everyone in business knows what that means.
Just read this article in Forbes about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ number one leadership secret. I’ve followed him for years and enjoy reading about how Amazon has grown from a bookseller to an everything store online. I had already been thinking about about the importance of employees and customers for new CEOs when I read that Bezos’ number one leadership secret is that the customer is always right. There is this example described in the article that when Bezos calls meetings, he leaves an empty seat at the conference table for what he calls the customer’s seat. A potent reminder to bring the customer’s point of view to the table. The article hints at the fact that Bezos has built his hugely successful business bent on “coddling his 164 million customers, not his 56,000 employees.” This has me wondering that in this age of the Internet and social media galore, if customers are now more important than employees, maybe because of sheer size? The pendulum seems to be swinging again anyway. It used to be that all business activities were primarily all about customers, then all about employees and now… it’s all about equal parts’ employees and customers but with customers gaining the upper hand again. The Internet has created a sense of urgency about how satisfied your customers are. Probably because they spread word of mouth more quickly and seem to have more power than employees. They can advocate or criticize your business approach or customer service online for all to see. They have more power because they have so many choices from which to buy from. The answer for new CEOs, however, appears to be focusing on employees with a healthy dose of understanding what your customers want and quickly scaling to reach them online to confirm what employees are telling you. Something to think about over the next few weeks. Whose more important — employees or customers for new CEOs and CEOs who’ve been in office for some time?
Yesterday I was asked to talk about what I do at Weber Shandwick to our Crisis and Issues group in New York. It was an end of the week get together to take the edge off of all the long hours. I talked about reputational issues and answered several questions. It was a nice opportunity for me to reflect too.
I was asked where all the celebrity CEOs had gone which made me recall my first book on CEO reputation. The book was released at the height of the dot com boom when 22 year old CEOs were the norm and celebrity CEOs were plentiful. In my book, I tried to make the point that it was not CEO celebrity that mattered but CEO credibility. As I was answering this question, I realized that I hit on some of the right notes as to why CEO celebrity was not the same today but missed a few. In fact, I mentioned that being CEO today was not an easy job whatsoever. CEOs are much more embattled. Here are some of the reasons I talked about yesterday but others as well taken from an Economist article I was saving to post about.
- CEO tenure is shorter than it used to be (on average 6.6 years, according to Booz’s research). They usually come into office with great fanfare. They get approximately two years of grace when they start out (more like 18 months), 2 years to provide evidence that their strategy is working and two years to get pushed out. After six years like this, it’s best to be a CEO nobody.
- CEOs don’t have all the power anymore. Most CEOs now have separate chairmans that are looking over their shoulders and asking a lot of questions. Booz found that in 2002 48% of incoming CEOs were also chairmen. In 2009, that number dropped to 12%. Hard to be a celebrity when there is power sharing going on.
- CEO compensation is always a headline and increasingly links the CEO title to perceptions of greed. CEO compensation is actually declining.
- Shareholders and stakeholders are not sitting idle. They are much more aggressive. Some hedge funds are actively browbeating CEO and corporate decisions and in executives’ faces. The ridicule can get strenuous.
- Boards are more active too. They don’t want their reputations shamed either by poor CEO decisions or poor behavior. And according to Korn Ferry, new board members are more likely to be deep in international experience and have worked abroad. They are not necessarily golfing buddies like board members of yore. Angry birds maybe, but not necessarily tee time!
With all these barriers in place to curb the power of CEOs, celebrity CEOs can hardly flourish. Instead, we are looking at a new world of convening CEOs who communicate internally to employees, communicate online or through video to netizens, travel to speak to customers and influencers at forums they convene themselves (IBM‘s Smarter Planet method), partner with third parties and government to problem solve on today’s economic woes and so forth.
RHR International was mentioned today in an article in the WSJ about the recent revolving door for CEOs. Not that this is new. CEOs have been coming and going for some time now. But what was new was that among the 83 CEOs of publicly held companies surveyed, the board seemed to be a greater source of tension than it used to be. Nearly three quarters wish they were included more in board discussions of succession planning. And as one would expect, the top two threats to their tenure, according to CEOs, were the current economy (39%) and rapid industry change (22%). However, a third top threat to CEO tenure was strategy disagreements with the board (17%). As a watcher of CEO trends, I find it noteworthy that CEOs mentioned disagreements with boards and desire greater collaboration over transitioning. The disagreements over strategy (spin offs, shedding assets, etc) does seem to be a rising cause for CEO exits these days. Something has changed. I wonder if the new tension that is developing is because boards are more active now because of the criticism that they were no more than a rubber stamp on CEO activities or if the strategic choices facing boards today are infinitely more complex and disruptive. When no one knows the true answer, there is room for disagreement. CEOs and boards seem to be caught in this new tango.
Another finding which I liked seeing because it provides some hard numbers about something I have observed was that half of CEOs feel isolated and lonely. For this reason, CEOs should reach out to other CEOs in different industries, find mentors or retired CEOs to talk to. It can be debilitating so finding an ear to listen and advise is highly recommended.
Because I am off from work for the holiday, I have a little time to catch up on things I meant to read in the months before. I was particularly interested in some research on CEO transitions and its impact on the value of the enterprise conducted by FTI. A few facts jumped out at me from their study among the financial community. They found that one-third (32%) of investor decisions are impacted by the reputation of the CEO. Moreover, the reputation of the CEO was more important to investors than the reputation of the company’s products and services.
The research covers the value at risk depending on what type of CEO transition occurred. The greatest risk to the enterprise is when a CEO is forced to resign.
Because of my work on CEO tenures and how to build CEO reputation, the findings confirm my own research over the years that CEOs need to show success by that 12 month marker. FIT found that investors give new CEOs about six months to assess the challenges and opportunities facing the company, setting a vision and strategy. They give new CEOs more leeway to improve market performance and valuation — about 12 months. After the first year, all engines need to be firing.
Another particularly interesting finding was what investors look at in their first 100 days to further establish the CEOs credibility in their eyes….here is what they said was of “significant importance.” Despite the ranking for “charisma,” it is still interesting that it is still estimated to be of high importance and only 16% said it was of limited importance. FTI concludes that investors take a multi-dimensional view of new CEOs. They expect to see it all.
|During First 100 Days Of A New CEO||“Significant importance”|
|Grasp of the company’s challenges and opportunities||96%|
|Knowledge of/experience with industry dynamics||92|
|A strategic plan||88|
CEO training can be fraught with complications and wouldn’t it be a shame if you overlooked someone who could make a difference. Today I read about the new CEO of IBM, Virginia “Ginni” Rometty. Apparently CEO Sam Palmisano wanted to make sure that she had a worthy mentor in the year or so leading up to her possible naming as CEO. He asked the CEO of Frontier Communications, Maggie Wilderotter, to mentor her. They met several times over lunch. According to the Wall Street Journal today, Ms. Wilderotter recommended that the possible CEO elect work more closely with Wall Street, the big banks and leading IBM customers she did not know as well as others. Apparently Wilderotter told Ms. Rometty that “Wall Street is a big part of the job when you are CEO.”
A CEO buddy system is a good idea for building a reputation to get the job. Now she will need help with her CEO reputation-building for her first 100 days. I have to admit, the ring of “her first 100 days” sounds good to me.