Bianca Quarrell
Out with the old, in with the new: rallying the troops behind a new CEO

Working recently with one of our clients on their Employee Value Proposition as a new CEO was taking the reins got us thinking … what does it take to successfully manage the introduction of a new CEO to the organisation at large?


As communicators, moving beyond the initial outgoing/incoming CEO announcements, what should we be doing to ensure the best possible start for our brave new leader? How can we best position her or him to win the hearts and minds of the organisation’s people? To help rally the troops around their cause? It’s a big responsibility and a privilege we have as communicators. Here are some rules of thumb.


Understand what makes them tick

Cultivating a sound relationship with your new CEO should be your top priority. Be authentic and encourage them to be authentic with you, and the employee population at large. Ask them what their passions are, their personality traits, strengths, weaknesses and drivers. Get them the right training, if they need it, to be a more natural presenter. Understand their limitations. If their delivery remains wooden, perhaps scripted video is not the right medium for them? Encourage them to tell their story to people. To be open. Be real.


Do a deep dive with them

Any good CEO will know the value of understanding the current culture and underlying attitudes before embarking on any change. Be sure to ask them what personal impact they want to make on the culture. What will need to shift in order for the organisation to deliver on its strategic priorities? Consider suggesting qualitative and quantitative research across the business to establish the current culture baseline and to help define what the aspired new culture should be. Including employees in this process, at the new CEO’s initiative, demonstrates his or her willingness to listen and be open to making improvements based on employee feedback.


Identify and share their top three priorities early

People don’t expect CEOs to have all the answers immediately. But they do need them to share what they’re thinking. There is a wide held belief in the all-important 100-day plan for incoming CEOs. But according to McKinsey, the data simply doesn’t support this. McKinsey claims that: “In practice, most new leaders – 92% of external hires and 72% of internal hires – take far more than 90 days to get up to full speed … many executives admit it took them at least six months to achieve real impact … CEOs face an even longer runway.”


Despite this, people want to be led, whether they realise it or not. If your CEO is not close to articulating what their strategic vision is or the purpose and values for the organisation, that’s okay. But they do need to at least share their top three priorities in the job fairly quickly, even if one of them is developing the strategy. Sharing early with meaning and consistency shows openness, inclusiveness and a commitment to results.


Make them visible and accessible

People’s personalities vary greatly. CEOs are no different. Some of them are natural presenters with open, affable personalities, some are more reserved. But there is one inarguable fact: regardless of personality style, nothing beats face-to-face communication for human connection. So, get them out there, pounding the pavement, or walking the floors. Make them visible. Make them real. Greeting people by name, remembering little things about them. Getting out of the ivory tower and out to different locations on a regular basis.*


It’s not realistic for an open-door policy to be extended to the entire organisation. But all employees should feel as though they have access to their CEO, whether it be via regular face-to-face forums: either informal (like regular lunch and learns with small groups); or more formal (like all employee Town Halls or roadshows). Such real time, two-way communication channels are key to delivering this. Look at utilising social media platforms, intranet Q&A, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and Q&A drop boxes (for employees without computer access) as ways to provide ready access to your CEO. Always let their personality shine through.


*This communicator still remembers her CEO (10 years ago) walking the floor almost every Friday in the late afternoon to say hello, thank people for putting in a great week, and to get the hell out of there. It clearly made a lasting impression!


Make them real to employee influencers

As a communicator, you’ll already be well connected to the employee influencers in your organisation. You might refer to them as your People Managers and you probably communicate with them separately and often. They are the key players who will help bring to life on a daily basis your CEO’s cause, whatever it may be. They will be instrumental in helping employees make a clear connection with the purpose and values and the strategic direction of the business.


Establish regular face-to-face forums between this group and the CEO early. Give them the opportunity to ask questions, voice their opinions and feel heard. Make the CEO real to them. Once their hearts and minds are won, they will advocate for their new CEO and their enthusiasm will spill over to their people.


Are you a leader or a communication professional? What would you add to the list?