Job titles, gold lettering on doorways and spiffy business cards just don’t cut it: When a new CEO arrives at a company, that spiffy new job title alone won’t garner him or her that hoped-for respect.
The Dale Carnegie Employee Engagement Study suggested as much, noting that 70 percent of workers in its survey said they didn’t click with new leaders whom they lacked confidence in.
In other words, new CEOs have the unenviable task of proving their worth to their employees, especially if they follow on the heels of a beloved founder. Just saying that, “There’s a new sheriff in town” doesn’t give mployees a sense of comfort. They want proof that their town is safe. If they don’t get that proof, their new CEO will lose their faith before pinning on his or her I.D. badge.
A crisis of faith
One example of a high-profile CEO transition struggle was the recent attempt at Ralph Lauren to modernize the brand.
Stefan Larsson was the new guy, assuning the role vacated by the empire’s founder and namesake, but his was a match that lasted only 15 months. Why? Blame a disconnect between the founder and new CEO: In this case, the disconnect was how best to restore the street cred the company had once had and to translate it into the current market.
Such disagreements between these two parties can happen, especially if their respective visions don’t align or their strengths don’t complement each other’s.
Absent a founder’s blessing, in fact, no CEO can start on solid footing. And the occurrence of in-fighting and friction won’t go unnoticed by employees, who will end up taking sides. It’s a dire situation for any organization, one that stops productivity, growth and profitability in its tracks.
Of course, sometimes it’s not just the founder-CEO connection that’s flawed. Many new CEOs hit the ground running, but forget to communicate openly and frequently with their teams. In other words, CEOs who don’t ingratiate themselves to staff and aren’t bolstered by the business’s founder risk losing loyalty — from everyone.
Win the people, win your freedom.
What happens when the announcement of the new CEO occurs? Is the event one that’s morale-inducing or one that’s soul-killing? If you’re one of these new CEOs, here’s how to keep your head and win employee buy-in immediately:
1. Open your book. During any transition, the troops grow restless and appreciate transparency. When the transition includes a new CEO coming in the door, make communication your top priority.