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Taking The Helm: The Case of The New CEO

BACKGROUND
AFTER THE CEO of a fast-growing hospitality organization retired, both national and internal candidate were considered. The organization selected an external CEO from outside the industry to continue to grow the corporation and increase market share. The new CEO’s reception was cordial but restrained. He met individually with the senior staff and heard that their concerns centered on quality. When he unveiled a strategic plan focused on fast growth, concern surfaced and tension mounted. Resistance grew to the point where the CEO hired Dr. Mary Lippitt of Enterprise Management Ltd. In preparation for an upcoming retreat, Dr. Lippitt conducted individual interviews with the CEO and staff.

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THE SITUATION
Individual interviews with the five senior staff revealed:

  • A strong sense of pride for their accomplishments in growing the business.
  • Tenure ranging from 4 to 18 years.
  • Tension due to the perception that there was limited consultation or input into the strategic plan.
  • Displeasure with the CEO’s go-it-alone style.
  • Internal candidates disappoint that an external CEO without industry experience was hired.
  • Four staff members agreed on the need for the strategy to focus on quality.
  • One member wanted to focus on systems integration and incentive policies.

The CEO interview revealed a:

  • Commitment to follow the Board’s desire to continue a strategy of fast organic growth.
  • Strong commitment to “hit the deck” running.
  • Disappointment in senior staff’s perceived “resistance” to retaining a fast growth strategy.
  • Low opinion of the senior staff for their internal focus on quality rather than on expansion.
  • Presumption that the senior staff was disgruntled at the selection of an external CEO.
  • Deteriorating trust in the staff’s willingness to collaborate.

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The CEO identified three retreat goals: gaining active support for his strategic plan, agreeing to an execution and communication plan, and identifying metrics to monitor implementation. However, Dr. Lippitt recommended that the retreat focus on the first goal due to the need to bridge differences in opinions and build team effectiveness. In addition, she suggested phrasing the retreat goal as “developing an effective strategic plan.” She also asked that everyone complete the LSP inventory in advance based on the organization’s needs and requirements for the future. The CEO agreed to the goals and scope. He also agreed to assume a participant role during the retreat.

THE RETREAT
In preparation for the retreat, Dr. Lippitt reviewed the LSP team profile which showed a significant priority mindset split. One person was in the left hemisphere using a Catalyzing Mindset. The other five respondents centered in the right hemisphere with three respondents concentrating on the Performing Mindset and one on both the Developing and Performing Mindsets. Given the dichotomy, the retreat kick-off activity focused on the organization’s life cycle and the issues that dominate each stage.

The CEO asserted that the organization was in the Growth Stage while his staff viewed the organization coping with the Stature or Prime Stages. The ensuing discussion uncovered new information. The CEO was unaware that several national contracts had been lost and others were threatened due to concerns about inconsistent quality. The discussion turned to potential causes including limited incentive metrics, the case for more rigorous standards, and the opportunity to improve training followed by enhanced performance management.

Having established a level of openness, the agenda turned to understanding the LSP, individual mindsets, current team pattern, and mindset impact on change readiness. Replacing the traditional personal framework with an objective goal oriented template encouraged thinking on how to bridge differences.

The final retreat topic was change management and how the LSP mindsets hemispheres shape the change response. The CEO’s left hemisphere seeks rapid change while accepting risk as essential for reward based on external realities. While the staff mindset was in the right hemisphere were the preferred approach to change is evolutionary, based on a desire to concentrate on internal realities and reduce risk.

Leadership Spectrum
Discussion on how a change orientation impacts decisions, plans, and communication proved valuable. Personal stereotypes were replaced with more objective assessments. In addition, an objective frame for discussing differences was established.

THE RESULT
The LSP discussion clearly created a new lens for responding to change and for delving into different points of view. It created interest in finding an alternative that would bridge the mandated growth strategy with the pressing need to improve quality. Team collaboration, personal interaction, and communication improved.

A new “growth through quality” strategy was adopted with the understanding that the initial emphasis would be on quality, which would soon produce both growth and brand enhancement. In subsequent sessions, the senior team crafted a strategic execution plan and an integrated and sustained communication plan. Improvements in quality, customer satisfaction, and market expansion followed as anticipated.

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Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitthttp://www.enterprisemgt.com
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.

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