What must a new CEO focus on in their first twelve months?

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It is an intense time when you become a new CEO. You have more than a new job description; you have a new set of expectations, you are now accountable for the business, and you need to justify spending someone else’s money, not to mention that the CEO position can be lonely.

The first twelve months are critical for new CEOs as they attempt to make their mark, build relationships with stakeholders, and set the foundation for future success. You must demonstrate the skills and expertise necessary to lead the company through strategic shifts, organisational changes, and financial decisions. You must also foster an environment of trust, respect, and collaboration among your team.

If you are new to the CEO position, here are four things I recommend focusing on during your first twelve months.

Listen and understand before acting

It is pertinent to remember that you can only move the business forward once you understand the business and the current state of its moving parts.

When entering your role as a new CEO, you must listen to your team and understand the company before making bold decisions or statements. I recommend asking questions of your team and direct reports; ask about the problems that arise in the business and understand the successes. You might ask questions about what must change in the company, what people need from you and the initiatives you should capitalise on.

Peter Drucker said, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ Part of listening and understanding must include an analysis of the data collected on the business. If a past initiative failed, what story do the numbers tell? Only when you have all this information can you start building new initiatives, make bold but appropriate moves and begin facilitating change in the business.

Focus on getting your first actions right

First impressions matter a great deal. After adopting the CEO title, you need to make your first impression as the leader in that position, even if you have worked within the company for a while.

Your actions and approach during your early tenure will define how people interpret you as a leader. If you are transparent with your team when things go wrong, they will feel you are more trustworthy when the tide turns. If you keep your narrative consistent, whether speaking with the frontline or the board, you can gain trust by sticking with one version of the truth and not muddying the waters.

First impressions matter; in this case, some of your most powerful first impressions will include the success of your early initiatives. Getting initiatives right in their first year sets new CEOs up for long-term success by demonstrating an ability to identify areas for improvement and effectively implement changes quickly.

Maximise your effectiveness

Try to avoid getting involved with everything all at once. What happens in the business is your responsibility, and you need to remain accountable, but attempting to get deeply involved with everything can cause you to burn out fast. When you are already adjusting to a new role, it will not do you good to be overwhelmed with tasks.

Since time is limited, new CEOs must prioritise initiatives with the most immediate and lasting impact. You can identify areas for improvement by closely analysing your company’s current processes, procedures, and culture. Your ability to listen and understand the state of the business will become useful here.

You must also properly implement your initiatives to maximise their success. It is important to have a plan that outlines objectives, timelines, and resources needed to execute any initiative. Finally, you must be diligent in monitoring results, collecting feedback, and making necessary adjustments to maximise effectiveness.

Keep your focus on the organisation

Rising to the CEO position is not about glory. Yes, you have achieved one of your career goals and gained the coveted title. But, you still must remain humble and understand that you serve your team just as much as they serve you. It can be challenging to remember that it is not about you; everyone will have their eyes on you, will be waiting to see your next moves, and the board will keenly watch your performance. In many ways, your beginnings as a new CEO will feel like it is about you.

However, your focus should remain on the organisation. You must think about what you need from your team, but you must also ask what they need from you. You have not taken up the CEO position merely for success; your purpose is to guide the organisation to success.

If you are a new CEO, Resonate can guide your approach

I help B2B business leaders define or refine their strategies. I provide strategic advice and consulting on various facets of strategy; business strategy, corporate strategy, product/service strategy, functional strategy, go-to-market, competitive strategy, pricing strategy, etc.

I aim to work with business leaders to help them make sound business decisions. More often than not, I find that the issues businesses face are caused by strategic issues.

If you are starting a new role as a business leader, or you have been with the business for a while, and you are initiating new transformation projects, let’s connect, let’s talk. I have extensive experience in guiding business leaders on transformation and change projects. I look forward to hearing from you.

RK is the CEO & Co-Founder of Resonate.

RK is Resonate’s chief strategist, thought leader, and IT industry veteran. Our clients depend on RK to advise on their business strategy, channel strategy, and sales strategy. 

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