The Secrets to Choosing the Right CEO - Part Three

18 Oct 2019


Written by Debbie Bowen-Heaton, Partner at Oliver Wight EAME 

In part one and part two of our three-part blog series on ‘The Secrets to Choosing the Right CEO’, we explained the importance of appointing a CEO who can take ownership and whose motivations, ambitions and values are aligned to those of the business.

In this final instalment, we reveal why trust is a mutual ‘must’ across the workforce. The CEO and leadership team need to establish early on that honesty and teamwork is a priority, as this is key in maintaining trust and crucially, in enabling improvement.

Compromising trust?

The CEO – along with the leadership team – has to be able to trust its workforce as much as the workforce trusts the leadership team. If trust is compromised, there is an internal and external disconnect which can lead to a number of problems, including the veracity of the figures presented. People need to know that it’s safe to tell the truth and should be encouraged to deliver bad news early. Similarly, they have to be measured and rewarded appropriately. If people think that honesty equates to more difficult targets in the future, or that 11th hour rescues will impress the leadership, they won’t declare everything they know. This introduces bias into the figures; Supply doesn’t trust the demand plan and so avoids making early investment decisions, which in turn, leads to Supply leading Demand and so on, into a downward spiral.

In one German chemical company we worked with, the CEO immersed himself in the detail of the numbers because he didn’t have confidence in the figures he was being given. His tailored Oliver Wight education was to ‘unlearn’ his behaviour of delving into the detail and instead, to build trust in his team to remove bias in the figures. It emerged that one of the underlying issues was that workforce hadn’t realised that IBP could help identify problems ahead of time and find solutions before the issues had a tangible effect on results. Through a programme of coaching, mentoring and development on all levels, a culture of partnership and shared responsibility began to emerge.

 Tackling bad behaviours?

Understanding the company’s technical and process issues is just one part of the story; it’s crucial to confront the personal and emotional drivers among the leadership team that are causing bad behaviours among the workforce. The reason more often than not, is that leaders (often inadvertently) inspire these destructive behaviours, and challenging these may require some robust ‘you can’t handle the truth!’ discussions. It’s a fairly blunt message, but for those that take it on board, it can be an epiphany.

For the avoidance of doubt, the correction of bad behaviour – at all levels – is not the role of IBP itself; IBP is an enabler for improvement, and it has to be supported by a change management programme which establishes the correct behaviours among the workforce to make the improvement happen.

To summarise, history shows that carving out a successful career at the top requires making a real and tangible difference to the long-term future of the business. Establishing and nurturing a sustainable, rolling business plan for the next two-to-three-year horizon is absolutely essential. This is dependent on a happy marriage between the emotional drivers among the leadership team and the values of the organisation. Recruiting or re-educating people at the top is fundamental, but they must be allowed to operate in an appropriate environment that supports a long-term focus and be judged accordingly. The CEO has to set the right standards, gain the trust of their employees, and most importantly keep the company on the path of continuous improvement process.

What do you think is the best way to forge trust between CEOs and their workforce? Let Debbie know by connecting on LinkedIn.

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