Bill has been the CEO of a prominent financial services firm for nearly a decade. He knows the industry and his company well, has adequate visibility with his employees, and delivers powerfully-worded speeches that have the capacity to get them motivated. The only problem is… they’re not. In fact, morale is down, performance is declining, and turnover seems to be increasing.
After years in the business, sales have been increasingly harder to come by, demanding more resources each year in order to make the same level of sales as the year before. About six months ago, Bill’s team determined that the best way for the company to get in front of its evolving customer market, (without significant outlay costs) would be to begin a repositioning process. Repositioning is defined as a concerted effort to position the company, brand, products, and services in a new way so there are few or no substitutes.
The problem, however, is that Bill is not 100% committed to repositioning. While he feels in agreement with some parts, he is not wholeheartedly behind the entire process. He pushes his personal feelings aside and does his best to promote the new rollout. His lack of commitment to the company’s new direction, however, is felt by his employees, despite his attempts to convince them otherwise with his carefully-worded speeches.
The Disservice of Lip Service
Aviva Leebow Wolmer outlines this very well in an article she wrote for Entrepreneur in 2018:
If you’re the kind of leader who only pays lip service to your vision and values, you’re not just lost at sea — you’re willfully rowing in the other direction. Without thorough enforcement from top to bottom, these guidelines are nothing but icing on a hollow, cardboard cake.
CEO buy-in is critical for major company changes, such as repositioning. If you aren’t fully supportive of company changes, the likelihood is no one else will be either. Your reluctance will:
- Prevent you from appointing the resources necessary to successfully execute the transformation — a challenge not likely faced with initiatives receiving your full support.
- Inhibit employee motivation. Change requires hard work, dedication, and the ability to move fast. If the CEO isn’t 100% sure the changes being implemented are the right ones, his or her people will feel it, just as Bill’s did. Not only will motivation be hard but doing anything ‘fast’ will be near impossible.
- Thwart all efforts to build and retain a strong team. When employees sense discontinuity in the company’s management and vision, they may question their own role and future within the company. Looking elsewhere becomes critical.
All of these effects, of course, affect the bottom-line.
The Right Approach
If you find yourself in such a situation, address it as quickly as possible. Express concern with senior management and move to correct whatever issues concern you before the initiative is further carried out. Furthermore, if for some reason you feel the approach is completely wrong for the company, it’s your responsibility to voice it now. Carrying out an initiative without your full backing can only lead to potentially disastrous outcomes for the company in the future.
Making transformation meaningful is one of the most important jobs of a CEO, which is much easier said than done. Working every day to build transparency and trust within your organization is the first step.