The critical shift
To truly create a high performing organization, every employee must think like the CEO.
In Q4 2022, the headlines screamed ‘economic uncertainty’, ‘rising inflation’ and ‘layoffs’. And, employees within organizations were advocating for merit increases to match the rising price of groceries.
Leaders were faced with the challenge of shrinking revenues and advocacy for pay hikes.
In situations such as this, how might a company’s Chief Executive Officer help employees understand the big picture of the company without causing anxiety, worry and lost productivity?
- Begins at onboarding and every 1:1 and performance review
- Threads through mentorship programs and ongoing education
- Rests in your organization’s ability to be a functional team with an enterprise mindset
- Depends on your belief that the whole is greater than the parts
The strongest organizations will elevate the thinking of their employees so they become participants in the trade-off decisions, big bets, and engagement typically reserved for the C-suite.
They will build readiness for navigating the future by committing to this one thing:
Teach employees to think like a CEO
What does ‘think like a CEO’ actually mean?
I’m a first-time CEO of an itty-bitty company of one. But…before that I had the opportunity to peak behind the curtain of the C-suite as Chief of Staff to the Chief People Officer at a tech company of 10,000 employees across 60 countries.
During the three years I spent in that role, I gleaned insights that forever transformed what I understood about business.
I watched as the organization transformed its business model (and helped Wall Street understand the financials of doing so), navigated the pandemic (with the highest employee engagement scores in history), addressed the murder of George Floyd, adapted to Board and investor focus on human capital, environment, and social issues.
I was also given this feedback (on repeat) from an individual who would shortly become the Chief Operating Officer:
Think like a GM (General Manager) and run your team like you’d run a business.
He was telling me to think bigger than addressing the internal pipeline of work we delivered. He was inviting me to think about marketing my team, selling our services, understanding our (internal) customer, raising the bar on individual and team performance, waking up/going to sleep as if I was the CEO of this domain.
The alluring comfort of a corporate paycheck is the same thing many employees complain about when they lament being “a cog in the wheel.”
So, don’t let it happen.
If you’re a CEO or if you’re an employee, realize the greatest value you can glean from every employee (or yourself) is to step out of focusing on your job and take a much more expansive view of how the business works.
6 ways to think like a CEO
Here are five things you can do today to infuse CEO-thinking into your mindset or organizational culture.
- Have a Vision
- Know the Competition
- Talk with Customers
- Understand Financial Statements
- Ruthlessly Focus on Outcomes vs. Activities
- Make Hard Decisions
Outcomes you’ll notice
When you make this a practice, here’s what will happen.
- You’ll begin to love the moment in employee town halls when the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) reviews the quarterly financials. And, you’ll attend quarterly earnings calls and shareholder meetings.
- You’ll start to set alerts for news about your company’s competition (you may even begin to pay attention to the names of the leadership at other companies and do a little research about how they run the show).
- You’ll seek opportunities to speak with customers or find out a customer’s perspective. And, this doesn’t need to be external customers. If your customer is a fellow employee, you have even more access to seek their voice and input into decisions your team is making.
- You’ll stop listing activities on your status report and you’ll begin to showcase the result of whatever activity you completed. One CEO coached this in his team with two words, “So what?” Every time he’d see a list of activities, without malice or judgement, he’d simply say, “so what?” Notice how those magic words cause you to speak in outcomes vs. activity? Few leaders care to know you were busy doing ‘the things’; rather, the care about the result produced. (Hint: You can use this technique with your own team or even as a filter to your status reports before you hit send. Have you answered the ‘so what’?)
- You’ll ask yourself, “What am I avoiding about this decision?” Maybe you have a low-performer and it seems easier to just let them ‘ride’ vs. activate a performance improvement plan.
Maybe your team is overloaded, and you need to de-prioritize a project you care about, but is sucking your resources.
These are difficult decisions, but leadership is often about focus. Steve Jobs once said, “Successful companies are tough enough to kill a lot of good ideas so those few that survive have a chance of reaching their full potential and being implemented properly.”
These are hard decisions — but they must be made so the best (ideas, people, …etc…) have a chance of reaching their full potential.
What to read
If you’re looking to bring CEO-thinking into your skillset or your organization, a great place to start is the book What Your CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan.