Treading Softly

September 12th, 2011 | Posted in Clarity by

When was the last time your organization changed?  Last month, last week or just a few hours ago?   

The one thing many of us have come to accept in life is that change is one of the few constants.  Whether we like it or not, staying flexible means staying relevant. 

Evolving customer needs, new and emerging technologies and the current economic turmoil being experienced around the world all make rigid adherence to long-term planning next to impossible.  

One of the more impactful changes an organization can experience is the arrival of a new CEO or President.  It happens every day as Boards face both internal and external challenges having to do with product obsolescence, competition and/or upset shareholders. One of the fixes often turned to is the replacement of the CEO.

When a new CEO comes on board, many wait to see what additional changes are coming down the line.  How will strategy shift?  What new direction will product development be asked to undertake?  What additional changes will be made to organizational structure?

To put it simply, many of us begin to “tread softly” as we await the new CEO’s pronouncements on further changes to be made. 

During this transition period, the organization can actually slow down while other leaders put decisions and actions on hold so as not to get in the way of the new CEO or end up working at cross purposes once the CEO’s new gameplan is announced.

While this is normal, there is risk that the organization will fail to maintain the necessary forward movement expected by its key stakeholders while it remains in this “waiting to see” mode.

One of the ways to avoid this form of organizational paralysis is to stay focused on the work of the organization while paying attention to any new changes coming from the new CEO.

The CEO of one of my client organizations utilizes an approach with his team to encourage their continued engagement and leadership, even when strategy or organizational structure is under review.  He tells his team they should be comfortable continuing to make decisions on their own as long as they are “reversible” should a change be required down the road. 

Instead of waiting days, weeks or months to learn how the new CEO will weigh in on issues that impact our day-to-day work, we can continue to make the important decisions and take the necessary steps to keep the organization moving.  

While the new CEO is getting grounded and learning what he or she needs to know to create a meaningful impact, organizational leaders can be encouraged to move forward with their plans. 

Most new CEOs are hopeful that their arrival doesn’t make things worse by causing everyone to tread so softly that they become paralyzed at the point of action while waiting to see what is coming next.

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