The #1 Question for a New CEO

Based on recent experience, what is the #1 question asked about a new CEO?

“What will change?”

Or specifically in our case: “What will be different now that Jana, the American is in charge, rather than Lukasz, the founder?” Three answers given most often:

  1. I’ll add more process (sometimes said in the negative sense, “I’ll add bureaucracy”)
  2. I’ll be more US market focused (including will you move the company to the US)
  3. English will be our corporate language

These aren’t my answers, but the ones given most often from what I’ve read and heard… sometimes created or assumed by an outsider, sometimes implied or directly said by an insider.

So, what are my answers?

  1. De-centralize management. About a month ago, Lukasz asked me if I would have done a project the way it was being done. I told him no. He asked why I “let that happen”. I explained why I believed the project was within the tolerance levels of “right”, and that as a leader my role was to set the end goal, give guidelines as how we work as a company, and then support the team in getting to the goal themselves. Guidelines are often expressed as process, so yes, likely this will include some process.
  2. Take us beyond Web 2.0. While I am excited about the North American market due to both its t-shirt culture and giddiness over self expression, what I like is our opportunity beyond the Web2.0 leaders into the mass market in all of our markets. Based on the company’s success, it is often overlooked that we have an incredible growth opportunity here in Germany, in France, in the UK, in the US, in all of our markets. It is our turn to cross Geoffrey Moore’s chasm from the early adopters to the early majority.
  3. Say no more often. De-centralizing management and crossing chasms is a lot of work. We need to focus and deliver with exceptional quality across our priorities in order to succeed to the level available to us. To focus, we need to do less… and to do that, we need to say no. So, yes, perhaps the amount of English will increase… by the word “no”. 😉

So, what is on my shirt today? For some reason “Hazy Shade of Winter”, written by Paul Simon, resonates with me when thinking about our current stage. The song goes from “look around, leaves are brown” to “look around, grass is high”. It is easy to see the brown leaves as we go through the process of change, but we need to stay focused on where we are headed… high grass, ripe fields.

See what’s become of me

This would have been a great shirt for my 20th high school reunion this Summer! 🙂

P.S. Some folks were confused about the whole “90 days” thing. I didn’t mean I would blog EVERY day, but I will blog more than once per week and discuss directly the things that are happening during this change. Oh, and feel free to ask me questions… that you want to know about during this change. I’m game for Q&A!

10 thoughts on “The #1 Question for a New CEO

  1. I always have questions 😉 Mine doesn’t fit into the things I want to know during the change because it’s something I always wonder about, but I figure you opened the door so why not sneak through:

    How do you know when you are approaching issues on the right level? How do you know when you are being macro enough in your thinking? I think you touched on doing that, when you talked about setting the end goal for teams and guiding them, but stopping well short of determining how they execute to reach the goal. It takes big picture thinking to make that work… I’d love to see you post more about that.

  2. Todd says:

    And to think I knew you when you were carrying around a Burning Man book and taking scooters up and down a Kendall Square office!

    Congratulations on the move!

  3. Artie says:

    I love your example on DeCentralize Management. It works great even for non managers. When I run a project myself I’ll purposefully let people do things their own way as long as I’m sure it will still work. It may not be the best way in my mind, but people work much harder when they have the power to do things their own way. Couple that with the fact that they grow and learn more this way and its a great way to groom future leaders.

  4. The root of your writing whilst appearing reasonable in the beginning, did not really settle perfectly with me after some time. Someplace throughout the paragraphs you actually managed to make me a believer unfortunately only for a very short while. I however have got a problem with your jumps in assumptions and one might do well to fill in those breaks. In the event you can accomplish that, I will undoubtedly end up being fascinated.

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