CEOs know that their chief responsibility is to work ON the business and not IN the business.
When you’re a founder, with a small senior team, you’re likely to be wearing one or more functional hats as well as the CEO hat. As staff is added, the role of the executive team is to continue to take over the responsibility for the internal functions, to free the CEO to focus on external changes – in market trends, technology changs, talent availability, and macro-economic impacts.
When you’re brought into an established firm as the new CEO with a mandate to grow it, you have the advantage of not having to shed the functional roles. But inevitably, as you have to make decisions about existing staff and how the company does operate, you will initially attend to the Internal issues. In The Four Dilemmas of the CEO, the CEOs adopt one of three focii. Serve as a:
- Market Protector: stabilize the business and resume its growth pace to protect the business for customers, workers and investors,
- Market Driver: seek ways to turn the company into an industry leader by increasing efficiency and effectiveness of processes, systems and people, or
- Market Shaper: disrupt the current industry processes to take on new business opportunities by unleashing innovation and invention.
I have the privilege of working with CEOs who are members of My Vistage CEO groups who have chosen the third option. While it might appear harder, the benefits outweigh the challenges. The business your company seeks is “blue ocean” vs. “red ocean” and with less competition, profit margins can be larger. Second, focusing on exceptionally interesting projects makes it easier to attract the best and brightest people entering the industry who want to have such experiences. Third, retention is easier, because who wants to give up an exciting opportunity.
For instance, one engineering CEO repositioned the firm to focus on environmental challenges that affect its “customers” So instead of concentrating on HVAC in small, medium or larger buildings, his team focuses on the butterflies in one habitat and orangutans in another; a telescope on a Mountain top which opens (without condensation!) on star systems lightyears away, and the players and audiences attending a variety of sports and entertainment stadiums.
To be in a position of shaping markets, the authors note, you need to change your mindset. You need to shift from working IN the business – a functional focus – to focusing ON the enterprise-wide firm. This means going from
- From competitor to collaborator
- From known to unknown
- From expertise to contribution
- From updates to insights
- From results against plan to breakthrough
- From loyalty to function to loyalty to enterprise.
When the Covid pandemic began, the CEO introduced a set of “research labs to study” air flow and transmission potential of covid. The research helped the firm develop an expertise on how to reopen facilities safely, and became one of the go-to players when lock-down rules were relaxed.
So, where do you want your and your company to be in five years? Now is the time to start the transition to market shaper, and build in the resilience to handle the inevitable unexpected events that will occur.