Culture Building in the First 100 Days

I’m often called upon to recruit a new CEO for an organization that’s been struggling with major challenges over a number of years.  When the challenges result from a difficult economic or market situation, the new CEO will need to focus on process, production and productivity. However, when the abrupt departure of a former CEO triggers an executive search, then the new incoming CEO can expect to face both technical as well as much more complex people problems.

Not only does this situation require a candidate with skills broader than simply technical expertise, it calls for an individual with strong emotional intelligence, the ability to quickly build trust and to develop strong relationships through all levels of the organization. In addition, the incumbent must be a visionary who can inspire others to follow. He/she must be able to deliberately, specifically and quickly change the culture of an organization in time to steer it onto the right path to success.

Typically, the new CEO’s first 90 days on the job, will be spent meeting new people, observing, and assessing the overall situation. However, the new CEO needs to quickly get to the bottom of the true challenges that might be crippling the organization. Yet, how does a new leader do that in the most rapid timeframe?

One key strategy is to conduct what is referred to as a department by department “organizational culture” survey. This provides an opportunity to quantify the various elements that bring an organization to life, that support its strategies and enable the organization to attain and sustain its goals.  A survey such as this enables the new leader to assess the behaviours driving the organization and to identify areas that are out of alignment and which create barriers to success.

Surveys such as this typically review elements such as leadership behaviour, the nature of customer focus, organization structure issues, communication, conflict management, human resource management, employee participation, the level of innovation, decision making, professionalism, attitudes, values and beliefs, the level of commitment and the level of trust. Surveys also assess employee perceptions of their workload, worklife balance, teamwork, job match, supervisory skill, goal alignment, as well as rewards and recognition.

The results of these surveys allow leaders to deepen their understanding of what is working and not working within their organizational culture, what is important to employees, and how they experience the culture. In addition, a survey will identify what factors get in the way of people doing their jobs and what prevents good customer service. Results from the survey can be cross checked between various departments so that a determination can be made as to where pockets of challenge exist within the organization.

A culture survey will allow a new CEO to see and understand the personal motivations of employees, their experience within your organization, and the direction they believe the organization should be heading. The end result is a well outlined road-map for building a high performance, resilient and sustainable organization.

It is well known that along with the excitement of becoming a new CEO comes a high risk of failure. In fact, approximately one-third of all new appointments fail within three years and sometimes within only eighteen months. That’s why it is important for the new CEO to get a head start in understanding their organization, diagnosing issues of concern and developing a plan to address the weaknesses they discover. It allows the CEO to quickly set their own ground rules, build a leadership team, craft a new strategy and put their own stamp on the organization.

For more information on conducting an organization culture survey, please give us a call.

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