What is an Early Stage CEO's Real Job?
Every CEO is different, just like every company is different. Some are great salesmen, others are great engineers, developers, and coders. Some are great negotiators, others are great leaders. Some are introverts and others are extroverts.
CEOs and their backgrounds can be very diverse. So what do successful CEOs have in common?
What is their ‘real job’?
It boils down to just 3 things:
Setting the company vision, communicating it and holding the line!
A successful early stage CEO must be able to create, define and maintain the vision – what are we here for?
A vision is the essence of what the company is about. Why is this an important journey to undertake? Why is this groundbreaking if we succeed? Why should we attempt to undertake this?
A vision must:
Be easily described in a mission statement, under 10 words
Answer the question “if we are successful, why is it a big deal?”
Many startups I meet are so focused on execution that they haven’t stopped to figure out WHY they’ve started down this path.
The purpose of your company answers the question of motivation for the mission:
Why does what we do matter?
What difference are we making in the world?
What would be missing if we didn’t exist?
What would our customers never experience without our company?
Make sure you have a good answer here before undertaking the journey, since once you start, there is no turning back!
A powerful purpose tends to revolve around a single word or idea. When this word is heard, everyone in the company understands the purpose for why the company exists.
For my company it is the one word: “Value.” Other companies have stated their purpose in words such as “Innovation,” “Happiness,” or “Engagement.”
Often this central word or idea is expanded into a phrase called a “mission statement.”
However, I believe that your purpose is most easily remembered and acted upon when powerfully stated in a single word or idea.
This word becomes identified as the very core of your purpose.
The best way to discover the purpose of your business is to gather your team together for a round table discussion. Open the discussion with the question, “What do we do?”
Then follow that question with a series of “Why” questions. You need to keep asking “Why” several times to arrive at the real depth of why you do what you do.
You are now beginning to discover the real motivation for your mission when you ask questions that uncover the big why’s and discover the real mark of difference you are wanting to make in this world.
When you define your version of “To Save the World,” back up one question, or a few, to get to the true essence of your values.
A company’s success depends on having a solid vision for the future — and employing an engaged team that is dedicated to making that vision a reality.
A clear vision statement helps companies run more efficiently because it keeps everyone on the same page.
In order to achieve this vision, employees need to strongly align with their company’s values and mission.
Gallup’s 2016 report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, found that only 40 percent of millennial employees surveyed felt strongly connected to their company’s mission.
This disconnect is sure to cause a lack of direction and create listless employees disengaged from their work.
Achieving real alignment, where strategy, goals, and meaningful purpose reinforce one another, gives an organization a major advantage because it has a clearer sense of what to do at any given time, and it can trust people to move in the right direction.
The result is an organization that can focus less on deciding what to do—and more on simply doing.
For example, look at how a marching band performs. The band looks to the drum major at the top waving the baton. This helps the band to see what direction they should be moving so they can create the right formation on the field.
Your mission, vision and values are the baton for your company. As long as employees can see the baton, they can march in the same direction and organize the way you intended.
A CEOs job is to communicate the vision over and over again.
If you’re doing it well, I don’t think you can over-communicate with your employees.
The vision must be communicated in hour-by-hour activities, anywhere and everywhere. The vision must be referred to in emails, meetings, presentations, company newsletters, and internal training programs.
Most companies under-communicate their vision by at least a factor of 10.
A single memo announcing the vision is never enough, nor is even a series of speeches by the CEO and the executive team.
To understand how the vision can easily get lost in the clutter, consider this:
The total amount of communication going to an employee in three months: 2.3 million words or numbers.
Typical communication about the vision over a period of three months (the equivalent of one 30-minute speech, an hour-long meeting, one 600 word article in the company’s internal newsletter, and one 2,000 word memo) = 13,400 words or numbers.
13,400/2,300,000 = .0058, which means the vision has captured only 0.58 percent of the communication market share.
It is the CEOs job to strive to over-communicate!
Over-communication helps organizations promote discipline, accountability and strategic direction.
After all, being a CEO means being a Leader, and being a successful leader means uniting people behind a common goal or vision and giving them both purpose and support.
Holding the Line
An early stage company just looking to survive and thrive in this world must hold its line, its vision and its certainty and must work as one to achieve success.
It cannot be distracted with too many directions, ideas or problems.
The CEO must set the direction and once set, make sure the team “Holds the Line.”
The easiest thing for an early stage company to do in the face of adversity is to change the vision. This can be a small change (to deal with competition, product performance, monetization challenges) or a large change – let’s do something completely different.
If your vision is big enough and important enough, by definition you cannot easily change it and find something else that is just as big and important.
Not many such visions exist. You can adapt and change tactics as you learn more from your mistakes, but do not confuse that with changing the vision.
Its the CEO’s job to create and maintain the vision and deal with the problems arising from the deeper understanding of the space you are in and find ways to push on.
The vision will evolve due to new information and experience, and it is the CEO’s job to know when to hold the line and when to evolve the vision.
Holding the line against your investors, employees and users, because you ‘know’ that the vision is right, is a large part of the intangible value a great CEO brings.
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