CEO for a Day: It's Not About Pleasing Everyone

Women of  HR were asked, “If you were CEO for a day, what would (or did) you focus on to improve an organization's productivity, employee engagement or ability to recruit?”  This is the sixth post in the series of responses.

I’ve been pondering on this subject for some time.  I have thought of some of the usual answers that we HR professionals might have, “Heh heh, CEO for a day!  Let me get out my list, and let’s start making some personnel changes!!!” “Policies, job descriptions, performance reviews – everyone.  NOW!”

But are those ‘evil’ HR thoughts realistic?

I just graduated from an arduous, 25-month, graduate-level educational program that my company invested in my attending.  As part of our third year on campus, we had to do a company simulation, first learning our way around the software and baseline company financials, then assuming leadership roles and making strategic decisions for almost two weeks.  Each day’s decisions were likened to one quarter of business.

Though I wasn’t selected as the CEO of our team, I did assume the Chief Credit Officer role, and each of the 5 of us had an integral role to play on our team.  Each of us would come face-to-face with strategic decisions over the next several days that would land us in financial difficulty and in harm’s way of surviving as a company, or would land us on the leader board with rising stock prices, EPS, and leading our simulated community of banks.

We began our daily (which was little under 3 hours each day – yes, we attended classes the rest of the day) review of the local & national (simulated) economy, our bank’s financials, and our competitor’s financials.  As well, our CEO needed to guide us with an overarching strategy for the day (quarter) as we went about our work.  We began working very independently of one another, making decisions to affect our balance sheet and income statement through our own areas.  Day 1: we guessed.  And we were mildly successful.

Day 2: Not so much.  Our bank teetered and failed to meet important goals, resulting in a not-so-hot set of financials – including many areas in red.   As each of us grew more comfortable with one another and with our roles on our team, the CEO’s need to effectively communicate, discuss, and determine the strategy with the team as a whole became critical to our success.

I won’t bore you with each day, except to say, as we “gelled” as a team, we became moderately successful.  In the end, all teams were called to action in terms of providing a shareholders’ meeting, and sharing plans to merge, acquire, or remain independent.  Each CEO had to negotiate with other teams, strategize, and then sell their management, and more importantly, the (simulat

ed) shareholders on a plan.

I learned a lot from this activity.  Mostly, the CEO job is harder than I realized.  It is not enviable.  Rarely, does the CEO please everyone, and sometimes must make hard decisions and take risks based on a broad spectrum of knowledge.  So, if I were CEO for a day, my immediate plan would be this:

  1. Communicate effectively with and get to know my top management team, quickly.  Determine if I have the right key players in the right seats.  And if I don’t, then I need to make the tough calls to move them out, down, or to seats that better fit them.  The top team must also work well together and understand overall objectives and how their decisions affect one another.
  2. Know the business of my business, and in particular, the financials.  Understand strategic decisions and how they can affect the balance sheet and income statement. (Important for HR success as well!)
  3. Excel as a communicator to all employees and shareholders.  Make the time to get in front of employees, at all levels, and interact.  And I mean really be there.  Hear their thoughts and ideas.  Implement ideas if we can, and explain if we cannot.  Deliver specific praise when possible – ‘catching people doing things right.’
  4. Share the vision of our company first with employees and then with the community. Describe the strategy in understandable terms for employees what my expectations are for performance and for accountability within the organization.  Utilize my experts in each area, rely on their decisions, and hold them accountable for their actions.
  5. Take a few risks.  Admit my mistakes, and move forward.

Whew, and now that my day as CEO is over, it’s back to the HR job – communicating effectively, helping managers be successful through effective utilization of their human resources, understanding the business of our business, strategizing about best use of resources – wait a minute, this sounds a lot like  the CEO….

About the author:  Dorothy Douglass is an HR professional who has served in HR and management roles for 20 years+ who considers herself  fairly tech-UNsavvy.  She is the VP of HR for MutualBank , has been with them for 10 years  and is in her third year at the Graduate School of Banking in Madison, Wisconsin. She is one of few HR professionals privileged to attend the full 3-year banking program rather than the 1-year HR program. Masochist?  Maybe.  But it's made her a better banker, for sure.


About the Author

Dorothy Douglass