When New Leaders Disrupt Existing Strategies

May 4, 2018

Dear Strategy:

“Is there a best practice for when a new leader or CEO comes in with a new corporate strategy? How should they convey and implement that change without causing disruption – or is disruption good for this situation?”

This one’s for all the CEOs and corporate leaders out there, so please pay close attention – because your teams are trying to tell you something, and they may not always tell you to your face.

Whenever I go into a company to do strategy training (or any type of training for that matter) I always ask, at some point, what the corporate strategy is. The reason for my asking this question is twofold: 1) I truly want to know what the corporate strategy is so that I can reference it within the context of whatever training I’m delivering, and; 2) I want to see how many people in the company actually know the answer.

Well. I’m sorry to say that this totally unscientific and unconfirmed method of collecting data reveals that for approximately 90% of companies I go into, the employees within those companies have little to no idea what their corporate strategies are. Keep in mind that I mostly work with product managers, which makes this number even worse. Because if there’s any group that should know what their corporate strategy is, it’s the people who are responsible for tying their product strategies back to it.

So, yeah, big problem here.

Now, those of you who are regular listeners to the show or regular followers of this blog know that I am not usually too quick to pass blame onto leadership for every thing that’s wrong within a company. And the same will apply in this case for the most part. I always tell product managers, or any manager for that matter, if you don’t know what your corporate strategy is, then go ask. And I stick to that advice here as well.

But leaving the answer there would be taking all of the accountability off the shoulders of leadership. And that’s just not something that I’m willing to do, especially in relation to this particular subject. One of the main roles of any corporate leader or CEO is to own the overall strategy of the business. And owning that strategy doesn’t just mean creating it, it also means communicating it.

Yes, that takes time. But it is an imperative part of any corporate leader’s job. And, yes, just like every good marketer knows, if you want your message to stick, you need to repeat it over and over and over again. Which means that talking about your strategy once a year simply isn’t going to be enough.

So, if you’re a CEO, get creative and go out and talk to your employees. Then ask them if they can repeat the corporate strategy back to you. And if they can’t, that’s on you, not them.

Now, regarding the second part of this question regarding disruption, I have to honestly say that I’ve seen both positive and negative disruption when new leaders come into companies. When they’re brought in to fix or change something, then disruption is usually a good thing – even if it’s sometimes hard to swallow. But, every once and a while, a leader will come in to an already thriving business and just try to put his or her mark on things because, well, that’s what they think they’re supposed to do. And that type of approach is rarely positive, mostly because it is driven purely by ego.

The good news is, you can usually see these negative leader types coming because they ask few questions and take few prisoners. In contrast, a stronger leader will try to learn about the organization, understand the current strategy, and get to know the people before choosing a definitive path forward. And that path will almost always be decided upon, communicated, and carried out in a collaborative way. It’s actually much harder to lead this way, but the results are almost always far more rewarding.

So, if you work for one of those “burn down the house” type of leaders, take warning and ask yourself if it might be time for a change. And if you are that type of leader – please stop. Because leading with your ego is not leading at all – it’s just breathing your own exhaust. And nobody’s going to tell you that you’re doing it until you eventually choke on your own toxic fumes.


Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 048




Bob Caporale is the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.

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