The Modern-Day Challenges of a Chief Executive Officer

Every Chief Executive Officer faces their share of challenges, whether that be increasing operational performance and profitability, shaping the company culture, adapting to trends and changes in the marketplace or most recently, an unprecedented global pandemic.

In the modern day, it is increasingly common to find CEOs appointed as a result of an internal promotion, in fact, a recent survey found that 83% of new CEOs are internal hires as appose to an external selection. However, it is widely recognised that external Chief Executives receive more support with the transition into their new role, in comparison to those promoted from within. Internal leaders are expected to adjust with ease, with their assumed familiarity with the organisation, its strategy, cultural dynamics, and management style. Yet because they are often seen as a safe pair of hands, the challenges associated are often overlooked.

Nevertheless, every CEO across the world experiences similar challenges throughout their years of leadership. Our team have identified a few of these modern-day challenges and provided solutions to overcome them.

1. Navigating Change

It will come as no surprise that navigating through change is a key challenge to business leaders, whether that that be organisational restructures, increased industry standards, or global/ national changes, such as leaving the EU. In successfully adapting to both controlled and uncontrolled changes, clear communication and upholding your presence as a trusted figure to the wider business is key.

Develop trust within the teams by creating opportunities for open, two-way communication, not only about the change itself, but also the timing and impact to the wider business. Implement an open-door policy, where employees can speak freely to director level management or introduce quarterly companywide meetings where you can address the changes and employees can ask questions and receive honest feedback.

2. Partnering with the CFO

The relationship between a CEO and CFO is the most critical within any company. If the relationship is successful, the organisation has two strong leaders capable of navigating it through times of transition and ensure stable growth and opportunity. If ineffective, the business could quickly lose its competitiveness and reflect the success of the business.

This partnership is based on trust, collaboration, and a shared approach on how to successfully drive the company forward. A CFO must find ways to protect the bottom line while instilling confidence in the company’s financial statements. CEOs require a CFO who can help them manage the business, consult, guide the decision-making process and complement their skills.

To build a successful partnership with your CFO, ensure your relationship offers a joint contribution, instead of just a reporting liaison. You need to build a two-way relationship where you can both express your views privately and the CFO can confidently provide a challenging voice at the boardroom table. It is important to present a united front to the wider board team, to instil the commitment on delivering aligned goals and strategies. Set out your expectations to the CFO from day one, but equally understand what they need from you, that will enable you to establish a fair and honest professional relationship.

3. Digital Transformation and Agile Working

Recent surveys show that digital transformation continues to be a top priority for organisations in today’s world. As a result of the COVID pandemic, leaders have transitioned their digital capabilities to support agile working. As we reach the midpoint of 2021, IT leaders and CEO’s must continue to respond to changing working conditions and adapt to the new normal. The changing environment will create a number of significant challenges for CEOs.

Work closely with the IT Director/ Manager, wider operations team and the board to understand the range of digital transformation initiatives that can be implemented into the business. Develop new digitally enabled products, improve employee experiences, automate workflow, introduce data-driven practices and test artificial intelligence.

Aside from agile working initiatives, leaders across the world are more invested than ever in digital marketing, recognising its value and the capabilities it has in connecting with targeted audiences. Work in partnership with the Marketing Director/ Manager to understand digital marketing and strategise an on-going effective plan that reflects the values and mission of your business. Without a solid digital marketing plan, you risk being left behind in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

4. Competing in an active marketplace

Contending with the competition and remaining at the forefront of a crowded marketplace is a challenge every business leader faces. Dedicating time to understanding what drives your competition and their offerings in both quality and price can consume many CEOs.

As a priority, shift the focus and strategy to improve your existing offerings, then begin to increase your range of products or services following a thorough market analysis. Additionally, work with the Sales Director to ensure a training plan is in place to upskill the sales and customer service teams, to provide a unique experience for your customers.

5. Making day-to-day progress

Many CEOs will often get side-tracked and pulled into various departmental challenges, with teams looking for reassurance and a solution from the top. These diversions often consume the daily priorities and can take your attention from the primary focus of maximising business results.

Hold regular meetings with department leaders to remain updated with both successes and challenges, but allow them to take ownership, find the solutions and have the confidence to make the right decision for the business.

6. Support of the Board Team

Behind every CEO are several strong leaders that strike the right balance between support and accountability, to work more effectively on long-term value creation. Having an influential board level or c-suite team is significant to implementing successful strategic initiatives and problem solving, but one that comes with its own challenges. Establishing trust can often be complex but crucial to success.

Strive to develop one-to-one relationships with individual directors outside of the boardroom, to seek advice and feedback on ideas. Additionally, encourage leadership team interactions by hosting informal dinners and activities.

7. Creating diverse and inclusive environments

The CEO and the board team play a critical role in driving diversity in the workplace, specifically in terms of creating inclusive environments where everyone can thrive.

The top tier management set the tone by modelling the culture from the boardroom, which in-turn reflects to the wider business. Make sure the board itself is diverse and encourages each member to contribute, constructively challenge perspectives and eliminate bias from the “ideal” director profile.

Work in partnership with the HR Director to gather data and set targets to diversify the business, analyse potential obstructions and be transparent about the successes and failures. Introduce policies that encourage inclusive working environments and provide diverse talent with the support systems the employees need to be successful within the organisation. As importantly, coach and mentor leaders on how to recognise and approach different management styles with diverse teams.

8. Choosing the right opportunities

CEOs are regularly presented with many business opportunities; the biggest challenge is determining which ones to pursue. Successful CEO’s will strategise and feel confident turning down opportunities that do not meet the company’s growth or values, so they can prioritise and focus their time on the best opportunities.

Introduce customer feedback, ensure the sales teams are listening to potential clients and past leads. Understand their needs, challenges, and frustrations with your industry. Have they used similar products and services before? What did they like and dislike? Why did they come to you? What are their objections to your products or services? This will help you develop more tailored products and services, define your target market, identify, and overcome common objections and key business opportunities.

Make sure both, yourself and the wider business leaders remain up to date with industry trends, technologies, and insights. Encourage your teams to subscribe to industry publications, join relevant associations, set Google alerts for key industry news, and follow other industry experts on social media. Absorb the industry and continually educate yourself on the latest techniques.

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