5 Mistakes Even the Best CEOs Make

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By Melissa Raffoni
Founder & CEO, The Raffoni Group

In your role of CEO, you face tough choices every day. The path is often unclear and even the very best of you can falter. Some of the most costly missteps are ones that can be avoided. Here are five mistakes you don’t want to make:

1.) Forgetting that your demeanor, attitude and words matter. A lot. The best CEOs have egoless-confidence. Others look to them not only for business direction, but for tone and inspiration. If the CEO is frenzied, the organization will be frenzied. If the CEO is structured, the organization will be structured. If the CEO is entrepreneurial, the organization will be entrepreneurial. If the CEO cares about culture, the organization will have a strong culture. It’s like a parent-child relationship; children undoubtedly carry many of the traits of their parents.

2.) Being too open when setting strategy. The best CEOs are open to the ideas of the stellar leadership team they have built, but understand their role is to set direction. A CEO should walk into a strategic planning meeting clearly communicating direction and vision and then, be open. Most experienced executives appreciate having a place to start when it comes to strategy, especially since the larger portion of their day is focused on their operational day jobs. It also makes for a more productive conversation, which all team members appreciate. The CEO's role is the oversight of all the functional areas of the business, putting him or her in the best seat to set direction.

3.) Getting stuck in the day-to-day and neglecting strategy. The best CEOs take a step back from the day-to-day to create and regularly revisit a thoughtful plan that ties targeted growth to key strategic goals. Building a thoughtful plan requires time away from the business, the office, the clients, and the blocking and tackling. Not once have I heard a CEO say, “developing my plan was a waste of time.” But often I have heard a CEO say, “I really need to take step back and look at the business, develop a plan and align my team around it.” Bottom line, spending time on offsite planning, prepping for it, and making sure you have structures in place, such as regular strategy meetings, time to work on strategy, and CEO Peer meetings, will ensure you stay out of the weeds and do one of your most important jobs—setting and managing the strategic plan.  

4.) Holding on to the "wrong fit" team members for too long. Each year we ask our member CEOs, “What mistake did you make this year that you wish you didn’t?” Year-over-year, the number one answer is, “I held on to this person too long.” The best CEOs are often great human beings, which is why people follow them, but this fatal flaw of holding on to someone too long in the hopes of making it work can have detrimental effects. Keeping people in the wrong roles or keeping the wrong people in the organization will create damage that is difficult and painstaking to repair.

5) Thinking you know the answers and not collaborating with other CEOs. In a CEO Collective (peer group) meeting recently, one of our CEOs was weighing the pros and cons of accelerated growth, versus slower and more controlled growth. In the end, the group came to some strong conclusions on what to do and not do that were completely customized to this CEO’s specific business, its ownership, its industry and his strengths as CEO. This exercise reminded us all of the power of the collaborative process and the importance of vetting big decisions with other credible colleagues who know you and your business. Making decisions in a vacuum is a sure-fire way to fail.

While these are five mistakes you don’t want to make, the reality is you are going to make mistakes in the CEO role (you’re human, after all). But when a great CEO realizes they are heading down the wrong path, they pivot…they quickly course correct and learn from the past to inform their next steps and encourage their team to do the same.




Are You Tracking Projects or Tracking Results? Tell the Truth.

By Melissa Raffoni
Founder & CEO, The Raffoni Group

I love process. I love project management. I love organization. I love communication. But, I’m a little down on some of the more sophisticated planning processes that I keep bumping into when we are asked to assess strategic planning that is already underway.

I sincerely don’t mean to sound flippant, because I am all for aligning the front line and have all due respect for Hoshin Planning and the Balanced Scorecard (both of which have greatly influenced my thinking and methodologies), but I have to ask where the strategy is in the following objectives...

  1. Meet our financial targets

  2. Take care of our customers

  3. Launch great products

  4. Improve our processes

  5. Take care of our workforce

When we knock down 18 various projects with 50 tasks in each and feel awesome about our progress, can we always point to the actual business results and/or significant shifts in the business strategy that have resulted in an increased company value?

I want to be very clear. If you have a planning process that makes employees feel productive and helps them to see the connection between their everyday work and the bigger picture, by all means, consider that a win, because it’s VERY HARD to do that. But, as a CEO or an executive leader, the question to ask is whether or not the development of true strategic goals and the accountability to real measures (not just tasks and dates) is happening?

If you are questioning this, then I encourage you to rethink your planning approach and leadership governance. It may call for simplification and/or a separate treatment of strategy from operations, which is our strong point of view.  

Here are a few tried and true tips to follow:

1. Don’t create your strategic goals with the question, "How am I going to communicate this to the organization?" floating around in your head. If the strategic goal is to shut down a business unit or anything else that is uncomfortable, so be it.

2. Separate your strategic goal discussions from your operational objectives discussions. One way to view strategic goals is that they are "non-business-as-usual," in other words, things that require collaborative or out-of-the-box thinking because they haven’t been tackled before. If you do this, your conversation will switch from, "Did we get it done? Okay, check the box," to, "How can we make this happen?" That's an entirely different tone and way of collaborating.

3. Focus on result measures first and tasks second. Here's a simple example: Don't measure the successful launch of a product by the accomplishment of building, testing, and taking the product to market. Instead, measure the number of successful rankings from beta testers, the number of initial customers who agree to purchase at launch, and of course, revenue. I'm not saying to neglect the important tasks listed above, but rather am suggesting that you avoid being mired in them and keep your eyes on the real prize. 

Getting things done, aligning the organization, and year-over-year functional improvements are clearly necessary for running a good business. The challenge is figuring out how to keep this engine going and also allow time to focus on new strategic business drivers that can change the game for your company and keep you ahead of the pack.

A CEO's Take: How to Get Your Team Aligned Around a Practical Approach to Strategy

By Mark Goldstein

I don’t have to tell you that the job of a CEO is hard. And aligning your leadership team to work toward an agreed upon and collectively owned strategy is some of the hardest work of all. When I served as the CEO for two very different companies, I learned the best way to bring this alignment about is through offsite strategy workshops. I view a practical approach to developing strategy as a team, which I outline in this article, as essential to the success that we were able to achieve in both companies.

You may have less than positive feelings toward strategic planning events. I know I did. How many have you been involved in? How many of them left a lasting positive impact on your organization? Six months later, were they viewed as time well invested or perhaps a waste of the most precious commodity of any leadership team? Did they lead to greater alignment or less? While these events can certainly be a waste of time and money, if done right, they will lead your team to alignment and growth. Here’s how I saw this to be true…

When I assumed the CEO role for the first time, I was taking over from a very successful founder who was ready to retire. He didn’t want to sell the company before he gave a new CEO the chance to grow it and broaden its value proposition. The company was hugely successful, still owned by its founders, and very profitable. It was not broken!

My focus at this time was to realign the team I inherited, along with some newly hired execs, around a more growth-oriented trajectory. I didn’t want to risk breaking anything fundamental in the process or leave a serious blemish on how my new leadership team viewed me. Using brute force to realign my team was entirely inconsistent with my approach and style, so I decided, despite my past experiences of ineffective strategy workshops, I needed to give the process another shot.

As CEO, I was in a position to clearly articulate what I did not want this process to look like, and with assistance of The Raffoni Group (I was a client at the time), to describe what I did want it to look like. I was crystal clear on my main objective—to end up with a well-articulated strategy that the entire leadership team genuinely helped to create and own. I wanted the strategy to be measurable and accompanied with concrete action plans, and I needed a plan to govern the leadership team around the strategy, without neglecting other operational priorities. And finally, I needed a plan to align the entire company around our new growth-oriented trajectory.

The team and I engaged in the process and experienced great results, so much so that I continued to use it in this company and brought it with me to the next. In my second tenure as a CEO, I found myself leading a company that was the product of multiple acquisitions that left it unintegrated and with several sub-cultures. In this case, we developed a new set of cultural norms, but we kept this distinct and separate from our strategic goal setting.

You may be asking, what about vision, mission and culture? Did you cover these in the process? While these are all important, I view them as a means to an end, and not part of the key deliverables from an offsite meeting focused on developing strategic initiatives.

There is certainly a vision component in this practical approach. The CEO is responsible for setting the vision and should kickoff a strategy workshop presenting his or her view of the next three years. This must include an inspiring reminder of the opportunity that the organization is striving to realize.

The top four key deliverables resulting from a successful strategy development workshop are:

1.    CEO’s vision for the next three years. A rolling three-year time horizon for an ongoing strategic goal-setting process is ideal. The work of the CEO to crystalize this vision should come in advance of the strategy offsite.

2.    Strategic goals with measures of success and one-year targets for each measure. Each goal should have a leader or executive sponsor, a team, and an action plan. The number of strategic goals should be three to no more than five, depending on the capability and maturity of the leadership team.

3.    An internal governance plan that will describe how the leadership team will work with and support each other, thus collectively leading the company in a unified direction. This should include an ongoing commitment to dedicated strategy “check-up” meetings and any other meetings needed.

4.    An organizational alignment plan that will describe how the entire company will be engaged.

While this is a lot to accomplish in what is typically a two-day offsite, it can be done. Include these key ingredients to ensure success:

1.    Participant pre-work – Put this at the top of the list. All participants should be made aware of the deliverables up front and be asked to spend several hours completing participant pre-work that will have a direct tie to these deliverables. This also has the added benefit of avoiding hidden agendas.

2.    CEO presentation – As mentioned above, the CEO kickoff presentation should be prepared ahead of the meeting, and when presented, be clear and crisp. This is the CEO’s opportunity to set a direction that the team can rally around. After this presentation is delivered, the CEO transitions to a participant alongside the rest of the leadership team.

3.    Take it offsite – The strategy workshop should be offsite and away from daily interruptions. No laptops and no phones at the table if possible, if not, then put them on vibrate.

4.    Professional facilitation – Have a skilled facilitator to lead the process from cradle to grave, whether this is someone internally who has been trained in facilitation or hiring a firm, like I did when in the CEO role. This person’s role should include interviewing the CEO and all other participants, assisting with the CEO presentation, compiling the pre-work, facilitating the workshop, and ensuring that the team completes the agreed upon deliverables.

When it came time for me to enter the semi-retirement phase of my career, I quickly concluded that facilitating strategic planning workshops is one of the ways I wanted to spend my time. Given my passion for this approach and my desire to advise and mentor CEOs, it was an obvious choice for me to move into a role of doing both. I’ve come a long way from those early days of not seeing results from these strategy sessions – now I can’t imagine any company finding true success without them.

For more detailed specifics on how to run a high-impact offsite strategy workshop, read Melissa Raffoni’s article 6 Tips for Running Offsites that Aren’t a Waste of Time.

Preparation Makes Perfect: 5 Tips for Preparing for Your Strategic Planning Session


By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

It’s time for your annual offsite planning session – a costly event. Hotel fees, dinner bills and the greatest expense — eight executives out of the office for one, two, maybe three days! The key is to get it right. This is the time to get your team aligned, set clear goals and figure out who is going to do what to ensure a killer year. Here are some tips to make the session highly effective and worth the expense…

1) Make sure the session objectives are crystal clear and tied to documented deliverables. When I interview executive teams prior to leadership team off-sites, I always start by asking them what they know about the meeting agenda and objectives. Their answers range from, “We are going to define a 10-year vision” to, “We are going to restructure.” I often hear these vague expectations even after an agenda has been set out in advance. That’s because everyone is skimming the agenda and has their own ideas of what would make the meeting suit their individual needs. Given this dynamic of human nature, it’s incredibly important to level set with your executive team on the meeting objectives and agenda BEFORE the session. This will ensure that the meeting is not thrown off track and that everyone leaves satisfied and fired up about what’s ahead.

Start and end the meeting with the objectives and the agenda. At the end of the session, your deliverables should clearly map back to the objectives. If the goal of the day is to identify key strategic goals, make sure they are documented. If your goal is to review your leadership governance plan, get it on paper. Note: Consider using last year’s forms or create templates advance.

2) Use pre-work to make your life easier and the meeting 10x more effective. If you can get the team to complete pre-work questionnaires in advance, it will have a big impact of your meetings effectiveness. Ideally, find someone skilled to compile the data. Yes, compiling is challenging but it forces you to word smith and summarize up front. It also gives executives draft documents to work from versus starting from scratch. Additionally, it minimizes much of the “getting things off the chest” chatter and creates more time for meaningful discussion. And lastly, it ensures everyone is heard in the written document.

3) Commit to governance. Set up a cadence of regular full-day strategy meetings. For years experts have said that one of the main failures of leadership teams is the execution of strategy. A mantra of many CEOs is that they don’t spend enough time working on the business, but rather deep in it. Loads of complex methodologies have been created to cascade goals, mange projects, track metrics, and the like. My advice is simple: at a minimum, set clear strategic goals and insist on a regular cadence of dedicated strategy meetings – ideally taking up a full day. If the meeting is on the calendar, you will create a “Oh #$@&, I have to present!” urgency in the team, forcing them to think about important topics that require them to step out of every day activities. This clever technique forces them to work on the business.

4) Use “cases” to make your strategy meetings count. We recommend the use of a format for strategy meetings that is similar to what we do in our CEO Collective peer groups. The presenting executives are responsible for writing and reading a “case” to the team about a specific challenge they are facing. They then invite clarifying questions and finally, accept concise feedback from each team member. Using this process ensures adequate preparation, problem solving vs. status reporting, and equitable contribution by all. Additionally, it drives ownership, accountability and feedback, and helps leaders to improve their communication skills.

5) Bring a strategic facilitator onboard to prep the CEO for the meeting. A fatal flaw of many CEOs is this: They attend their off-sites unprepared, only armed with the plan of brainstorming with their team. Before entering that room, every CEO should know where they want to take the team AND – here’s the catch – also remain truly open to changing their minds. A well thought-out CEO presentation makes all the difference (see my recent blog post on this topic). CEOs who brainstorm without an agenda, often confuse their team who are craving direction. A strategic facilitator can do the obvious by running the meeting, but the work leading up to that time is equally valuable. An outside expert can help the CEO to answer the questions he or she needs to before the strategy session helping him or her to set direction, motivate, create urgency, bring clarity, challenge, make decisions and thoughtfully guide the team through the session.



How to Improve Your Strategic Scorecard

By The Raffoni Group Team

In the article, What Is a Strategic Scorecard and Why Should You Care? we discussed the importance of having a strategic scorecard. They are an essential way to track the progress made in achieving strategic goals and help teams focus effort and improve problem solving. Keep in mind that strategic scorecards are not the same as operational dashboards — tools to manage operational/functional goals — although they do have some of the same elements. To have an effective strategic scorecard requires clarity regarding four essential elements: goals, measures, targets and actions.  

1) Goals: Goals are quite simply singular statements of "what" is to be accomplished. Most executives understand goals well; they have scorecards containing goals such as "Grow Revenue", "Reduce Costs", "Improve Teamwork" to name a few. In addition to those high-level phrases, it's also useful to support each of them with a few statements that provide direction on how this goal can be achieved. In the case of "Improve Teamwork", it's also useful to have description illustrations such as, "spend more time collaborating on group problem solving" and "establish employee-led group to identify ways to enhance morale." A few well-thought-out goals, supported by goal statements, help clarify what the real intent of the goals are.

 2) Measures: Measures quantify the efficiency and effectiveness of an action. For every goal, there should be one, maybe two, measures to provide a metric that enables managers to understand if the goal is being accomplished. In the case of "Improve Teamwork" a simple measure might be "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork." The thinking here is that if employee satisfaction with teamwork is increasing, the goal of improving teamwork must be getting accomplished. Be careful to avoid using measures that are easy to collect but don’t provide a good gauge of performance with respect to the goal. While “Employee Turnover” might be readily available, it isn’t a good proxy for teamwork.

 3) Targets: Targets specify the level of performance improvement that needs to be achieved. A simple rule is where there is a measure, there must be a target. Targets can be challenging to set but the process is eased when they are set based upon business demands (e.g. Costs must be reduced 10% to maintain margin) or competitive benchmarks (e.g. 50% of our top competitors revenue is to repeat customers). Sometimes getting the baseline or the starting point can be the most difficult. In order to "Improve Teamwork" it's essential to know what the "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork" score is at the outset. A survey of the work section might indicate that "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork" is 5.5 out of 10. This initial reading provides a baseline to set the target that over the short-term—a year for example—might be a score of 7 but over the longer term, such as three years, might be 9.

4) Actions: Actions are the specific steps or projects that will drive performance from the baseline to the target. They may be quick hit steps or longer term initiatives, but either way they scope what needs to be done and they provide accountability. Through regular action plan reviews it's possible to determine if the actions are driving results not just effort. Looking back at the goal definition helps to identify the actions that could be implemented. With the example, "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section Teamwork," say the number needs to reach 7 in one year and 9 within three years. A quick action might be, "Establish employee-led group to identify ways to enhance morale." This would only take a short amount of time to set up and might prove enough to move teamwork performance from the baseline of 5.5 to the target of 7. Reaching the longer term goals of 9 might require a longer term action such as, "Set up and deploy a company-wide problem-solving process." This wouldn't be a quick hit program, but if done correctly might have a major impact on "Improving Teamwork" as well as overall company performance.

5) Owners/Teams: These are the individuals and groups that serve as accountable executives in driving strategic progress. Typically goal/action plan ownership is given to the executives or those in the areas of the organization most aligned with the content of the goal or action plan. Assigning ownership is critical because it clarifies and improves accountability. In our example, the goal of, "Improve Teamwork", the measure, "Employee Satisfaction with Work Section" and the action, "Establish employee-led group to identify ways to enhance morale" are probably well aligned with Human Resource leadership. They would constitute the owners and teams needed to drive progress in this area. 

This approach might seem highly structured and to be fair, it is. But the process has been proven time and time again and, if followed, works very well. Be sure to set goals, measures, targets and actions as a set, being as careful as possible to design them in direct support of the most pressing business needs. You’ll find that your focus, problem-solving abilities and overall results will measurably improve.



What Is a Strategic Scorecard and Why Should You Care?

By Melissa Raffoni

Ask any CEO, “What is your company's strategy?" and I bet you’ll get a variety of answers depending on that person's definition of the word strategy – ranging from Michael Porter’s classic teachings on the barriers to entry, differentiation, and focused trade-offs...to Webster's basic definition of simply having a plan to achieve a particular goal.   

Define it as you will, my intent in this post is to encourage you to go beyond the definition and understand the importance of building a Strategic Scorecard to support your strategy.

What is a Strategic Scorecard? It's a document—a communication tool —that clearly lists carefully articulated strategic goals with associated measures of success and accountable owners. 

 A Strategic Scorecard is:

  • On one page

  • Built through the collaboration of the company's leadership

  • Focused on strategy not the day-to-day business operations or "business as usual" activities

  • Clever, unique and grounded in solid strategic principals aimed at helping the company to succeed in the market

  • Worked on with regular cadence during a dedicated strategy meeting

What can it do for you? A Strategic Scorecard accomplishes a lot of objectives, but three important ones include:

1)  It acts as one of the tools for building alignment and agreement among your company's leadership and appropriate level of staff.

2)  It provides a basis for communication, reflection and problem solving, inspiring questions like…Did we get the strategic goal right? Are we on track? What do we need to do differently to get on track? Should we double down? 

3)  It brings rigor and discipline to teams, helping them to focus on "working on the business" in the midst of their busy day-to-day work lives.

Creating a strong Strategic Scorecard can be a challenge for teams, but it is well worth the effort. It's key to remember that the use of the Scorecard is just one piece of building in an on-going and evolving planning, communication, and accountability process that will help your team to be more effective.  

If the effort you put in to create your Scorecard is solid, your outcome will be a clearly aligned and motivated team, a higher probability of execution success, and most importantly—stronger business results. 

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5 Essential “To Dos” for Every CEO’s Summer Plan

By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

CEOs, as you kick off that glorious time of year known as summer, here are five things to do to make sure you are set up for success, both for the business and for yourself.

1) Pay attention to and celebrate employee vacation plans - Employees want to know that their leadership team cares about both their career and overall well-being. Many employees take a summer holiday. Make sure to ask them what they are planning and encourage a great trip. Give your support to their absence. Share their excitement. I know it’s tough to lose somebody for a week or two, but, it’s important to rise above and put employee health first. And remember, when they come back, they will be rested and ready to jump back in!

2) Make sure “OOO” protocols are in place - When I first heard OOO- I didn’t know what it meant.  What does that tell you?  Out of office protocols are key. One way to improve your peace of mind when employees are on holiday is to put solid protocols in place for stakeholders (internal and external), making it clear both when they going and how they will delegate work to others. Other visible reminders, like email auto replies and calendar blocking are a must and should be added to the protocol list. Emphasize to your people that advance planning is important for the business, their colleagues and customers. You don’t want to realize you missed an important knowledge transfer for a big release when your top engineer is on safari in Africa.

3) Engage in “full-on” prep for your strategic planning offsite - If you haven’t started it already, now is the time to plan for your C-suite strategic planning offsite. This includes rethinking your overall leadership team strategy and who should attend, clearly articulating your planning objectives, developing pre-work for attendees, designing the agenda, and most importantly, working through your CEO vision and presentation. And of course, I suggest you consider a facilitator versed in strategy for your session.

4) Build a summer networking plan - Summer is a great time to grab a coffee or a drink. Whether it’s with a partner, talent who you have been passively recruiting, a key customer, or a mentor. Make a short summer coffee/cocktail list and find some great spots to meet up.

5) Take a break, and if you can, travel - With the increasing demands on all humans, “disconnecting” is not only more necessary, but more understood and embraced. Make a commitment to disconnect. It can be alone, with friends, family or your significant other. It can be for two days or three weeks. Just commit to something. It will not only be good for you (read my article about why CEOs should travel here), but will set an example for others. If you are up for an extra challenge, go longer and see how your C-suite leadership team does without you. Make it a test to see if you truly are leveraged!  

Ready for Next Level Biz Dev? Try Some Positive Psychology


By Caroline Ren
Partner Program Director, The Raffoni Group

When you hear the term business development, it’s easy to think of cold calls to lists of people who, for the most part, don’t want to talk to you or sales pitches that don’t always get the desired response from your audience. While these realities of biz dev can feel daunting, it’s what’s at the heart of the work that makes it exciting and rewarding. It’s all about building relationships and making positive psychology a differentiating factor.

It’s connecting with an individual who has a name, not just a title…to a personality, not just a business role…to someone who has an expertise and a need, not just a conduit for meeting your numbers. It boils down to one word: Trust. Trust allows you to build something greater together than you could have as individuals, turning a transaction into a long-term, high-value relationship.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Daly, a Vice President at Optum Health, UnitedHealth Group’s business focused on helping organizations improve the health of their workforce. That evening, he shared his views of business development in three letters: KTL. He boiled it down very simply, “…you work with people you know, you work with people you trust, and you work with people you like.” We had just met and within the course of the evening we hit it off so well that we decided to explore ways to collaborate to broaden our collective reach in the Boston area.

Successful business development certainly begins this way, but has to be followed by the right actions that can be linked to positive psychology. In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, coined the acronym PERMA to describe the five elements of this positive psychology theory: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.

Ask yourself how your business development efforts measure up to these critical success factors:

  1. Positive emotions - Do you make it your goal when building business relationships to generate positive emotions not only in yourself, but also for your clients and/or partners? Generating excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe in what your company does and what you have to offer is paramount to generating trust in your skillset and that of your colleagues. Equally important is your enthusiasm for the client/partner and the services they offer, which goes a long way toward building a positive relationship.

  2. Engagement - How are you engaging your prospective clients or partners? Are you making connections through activities that draw and build upon their interests? It could be as simple as inviting them to a sporting event of their favorite team, to a dinner with others in their industry, or just meeting them for coffee. On a deeper level, it is truly understanding their objectives and priorities, and creating mutual goals and a plan for how to measure the impact of what you are proposing, whether it be a partnership, service or a product. The level of engagement is often directly related to the depth and longevity of your connection.

  3. Relationships - How is your relationship with your prospective clients/partners? Going back to KTL, do they feel they know you, can trust you, and genuinely like you? Not quite there yet? Ask questions, listen to them, and really hear their needs and priorities. Show you can be trusted by doing what you say you’re going to do in a timely fashion and not promising more than you or your product or service can deliver. Make yourself indispensable by creating a relationship in which your clients or partners benefit from not only knowing you, but also by knowing your ecosystem.

  4. Meaning - Are you clear on what makes your work relationships meaningful beyond meeting your numbers or earning a commission? Identify a clear purpose for your efforts by asking the question, “Why?” until you have a clear perspective. Oftentimes, finding meaning translates to understanding the viewpoints and business needs of your clients/partners and finding ways to support those. Despite potential challenges, working with a clear purpose drives us to continue striving for a mutually desirable goal.

  5. Accomplishments - Are you experiencing mutual success with your clients/partners? In the case of biz dev, accomplishment is really what happens as the result of putting everything discussed above into practice. It is the success that you and your clients/partners can find together. By drawing on collective strengths, you can accomplish greater goals together than as individuals or individual organizations.

Overall, successful business development requires the ability to look beyond your own needs, and to make heartfelt efforts to understand the personalities, interests, goals and business objectives of those with whom you hope to do business. Why is biz dev a great place to be? Because you get to make meaningful connections with real people and work together to deliver mutual success—precisely what your business needs to thrive. When it all comes together, there’s nothing more satisfying.

7 Things Every New CEO Should Do Out of the Gate


By Melissa Raffoni
Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

Welcome to the seat of CEO, a position you’ve undoubtedly worked hard to get to. I imagine you are excited and perhaps a little fearful (if you are in your right mind) about what is ahead. This is a BIG job that can be thankless, but it also has so much possibility. It’s not going to be easy and you might lose a little hair and some sleep in the process, but the rewards of seeing your company grow and prosper, can make the challenges worthwhile.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve worked with a lot of new CEOs at the Raffoni Group. I can tell you that the ones who do these seven things below, right out of the gate, have more early-on success, which helps set the stage for a long and meaningful career as CEO.

  1. Don’t be afraid to have a voice and a strong point of view – Yes, you want to build consensus and make those on your team feel valued, but first and foremost your job is to set direction. Many new CEOs are afraid to rock the boat. They seek a great deal of input upfront before making decisions. While input is key to engaging your team and building trust, don’t wait too long to deliver your CEO message. Having a new sheriff in town can and should be exciting for the team. You have an opportunity to lay out a new inspirational vision. Take this chance to talk about the company values that matter to you and what your expectations are. It is possible to do this while keeping in mind what is important to them, why they are here and what motivates them. The best CEOs balance team engagement with clear direction setting.

  2. Work swiftly to get the right team in place...and trust your gut – Moving slowly in a time of change is a guaranteed way to lose momentum. You take a risk if you wait too long to make changes to your leadership team. It’s important that you trust your judgement on what a great team looks like and listen to your gut as you determine who best aligns with your values and leadership style. You want to make sure you have a team in place that can succeed working with you. Part of this process is evaluating each team member’s skills, intellect and fit for the role and company. When and if you decide to make changes, be swift so you don’t create a frightened environment where people are waiting for the next ball to drop. If you choose the alternative of waiting a bit before shuffling the deck, give yourself a deadline, for example, “Within 6 months I will build a plan and execute on it.”

  3. Get into the numbers immediately and ask the hard questions – You need to know your numbers inside and out so you have a true understanding of where the business is at before you can be confident about where it needs to go. Key questions to ask yourself are: Is this model viable? Can you see a way to a compelling three-year proforma? Are margins where they should be? Are costs in line? Are customers segmented and managed appropriately? It’s possible that some of the answers to these questions will not be what you want to hear, but that’s where the adventure of the CEO role begins – working with your vetted and trusted exec team to navigate and make the changes required to get all the drivers of success where they need to be.

  4. Meet your customers - Your customers are the life blood of the organization. Meet them, understand their needs and what brings them to you. Hear it in their words. Part of your job as CEO is to ensure a solid value proposition so that you stand out from your competitors. Hearing the voices of your customers will help you to learn how strong that position is, as well as teach you a great deal about the company itself.

  5. If board governance is unclear, now is the time to set it – As the CEO, it’s important that you control the agenda and get what you need from the board. The purpose of board, agenda and decision-making authority must be clear or else you’ll waste cycles. Keep the meeting agenda tight and make sure you are presenting a plan that is both challenging and realistic, so you can see some real success and build strong credibility in your first year.

  6. Over communicate to rally the culture – You have a window to reset expectations and to drive change, which requires clear and frequent communication. Messages that are important need to be hit home to the team multiple times to stick. Make sure that your voice and point of view (discussed early in the article) is heard loud and clear…and consistently. Depending on the size of your organization, company meetings can be a great way to communicate. It’s also important that your exec team is on board and echoing these communications with those on their teams, allowing the messages to make their way down through the whole company.

  7. Build or find a trusted team of advisors that have nothing at stake in the business – We all need people to call for input. And now, more than ever, in the role of CEO, your decisions will have a major impact on the success of the company, the lives of your employees, and the future of your career. Who do you call? While relying on a few CEO colleagues may work for the short term, better to seek out a more formalized CEO peer group of true peers with a structured time to meet and a formal agenda to help each other succeed. With the power of a network of peers behind you, you can avoid some of the pitfalls that many new CEOs experience. Leaning on the collective wisdom of your peers can help you make better decisions, faster.

Do You Have Restless CEO Syndrome?

By Brian O’Donnell
CEO-in-Residence and Strategic Facilitator

Restless CEO Syndrome (RCS) is a fairly common condition. Symptoms can include frustration and impatience with your company as a whole, discomfort with the direction it’s taking, and aggravation due to misalignment with your vision. You may especially experience this restlessness when dealing with company performance, as well as the overall culture and attitude of your team.

This condition stems mostly from a deeply felt responsibility to guide your company and to make the difficult shifts as your products, customer base and markets change.

All kidding aside, being restless is a challenge for many CEOs, no matter what their situation. In a recent discussion with a group of 10 CEOs, the challenges varied: One was planning for a business sale while another had just completed his...another was in the midst of a merger and one is starting a complete shift in business model...two were scaling up aggressively, while revamping their sales approach. Very different scenarios, but what they all had in common was a feeling of restlessness with the current state of their company.

What are some of the causes of RCS?

This condition stems mostly from a deeply felt responsibility to guide your company and to make the difficult shifts as your products, customer base and markets change.

As I was talking with the CEOs I mentioned above, one commented that, “Thirty years ago, CEOs were rewarded to ‘stay the course’ on steady and long-term plans, but now there’s a hyper focus on information, and seismic forces moving and changing market needs at unprecedented speed.” The group agreed that these factors put higher pressure on them to shift their businesses more quickly. All great causes for restlessness.

Two other causes that can’t be overlooked are hard-wiring and conditioning. Many CEOs by nature are hard driving towards goals and progress. They are always looking for ways to shake things up and move in new directions. And then there is the conditioning of early business experiences along their career path. As one CEO said, “The DNA of many CEOs is entrepreneurial early in their careers, and the muscle that develops from those early experiences is always there and drives a need for constant stimulation and movement.”

Is RCS a good or bad thing?

The Pros: The group of CEOs all agreed that having the impetus and energy to drive necessary change in the organization is critical. When things are going well, someone needs to look outward to understand what is changing in the marketplace and with the competition, and make the necessary pivots. That could be in terms of how they interact with customers, bring new offerings to the marketplace, enter new geographies – or make a significant shift in their business model.  The CEO is the one who can get the attention of the organization and rally it to the difficult changes that may need to be made. That restlessness is what drives CEOs to take the necessary risks to move ahead in today’s business world.

The Cons: On the other hand, restlessness can result in impulsive, ineffective and demotivating language and behaviors that have the potential to drive defensiveness, divisiveness and fear within your organization. We have all seen (or been part of) examples of companies where the CEO was constantly shifting goals, priorities and direction, leading to confusion in the organization, and an inability to make progress.  

I once worked for an extremely restless CEO in a publicly traded company who separated a large part of the business and deemed it a ‘non-going concern’ and put it up for sale...only to reverse his decision nine months later. The result was that the stock price went from $27 per share to under $1 per share in a period of three years. He was charismatic, outspoken, and well-educated. However, he created a work environment where people struggled to keep up with his constantly changing perspectives, and could never make any real progress.

How to make RCS work for you? It’s all about balance.

Making the internal drive created by restlessness work positively for you takes careful thought and process. As a CEO said to the group, “It’s a balance thing. You have to balance it out with patience, making sure the desire for change and shifts in the business are driven by key strategic reasons and given enough time.” Amen.

In our Strategic Leaders program, we specifically focus on engaging, developing and enlisting the support of the key leadership team so that they can participate and provide feedback on the changes the CEO wants to see (the reason for the restlessness). As a CEO, understanding what is making you restless when it comes to your vision for the company and the needed strategy is critical. You have to be able to clearly articulate the reasons and rationale for the organization to be able to support you.

If you feel the company direction needs to change, you don’t have the right people in the right places, or that the marketplace is shifting and you need to pivot your business model, then don’t just be restless, drive action. Just make sure you ground your action in a clear and compelling vision, and the logical strategies to get there. Also, articulate it in such a way that you can enlist the support of your staff and employees. You don’t want to be the CEO “charging the hill” with nobody following you.

While it may need to be dialed back a bit and tempered with patience, using some of your restlessness as a CEO can be the key to an organization's success. It’s your role to shine a light on needed strategy shifts and to lead needed change efforts in your company.

It’s okay if you have a case of RCS...you just need to find the best ways to put it to work for you.

Contact Brian O’Donnell at bodonnell@raffonigroup.com