Let’s assume you’ve just been appointed as the new CEO of Uber.
You’ve got a full agenda to tackle immediately including hiring a slew of C-suite executives, satisfying the company’s co-founder who is watching your every move from his chair on the board, and quieting the demands of thousands of drivers who want the co-founder to return as CEO and want you gone. Plus, you have legal cases to settle, investors to please, and competition to keep an eye on.
Do you think you can handle the job? What is the first thing you should do?
New York Times best-selling author Michael Levin recommends you take the advice of “CEO whisperers,” Tom Biesinger and Ross Wall. Biesinger and Wall are international business consultants who specialize in guiding CEOs through all-too-familiar crises that often arise in their business tenures.
So, what do they believe you will face as Uber’s new CEO?
Biesinger says that your every move and decision will be under the microscope. He warns against committing the “New Sheriff in Town” mistake that most CEOs in similar situations make. This mistake is when a CEO attempts to completely overhaul a company’s current culture by bringing in their own team and launching a big change initiative before establishing their relevance as leader.
“This starts a massive and time-consuming tug of war between the new guard and the old guard where the only winner is the competition,” Biesinger states.
Biesinger and Wall say that as Uber’s new CEO, you will be in charge of everything but cannot completely trust anyone. So, how should you move forward? What should your first steps be?
1. Understand what you have. Create complete transparency.
Before making any major moves or big decisions, Wall advises that you take time to evaluate what you have in terms of a team and work to create complete transparency with your board. This will help you to better understand Uber’s business imperatives and better inform the agenda you will need to set.
Every company and its culture has certain things that it values and rewards. Biesinger and Wall call such things the “currencies” of the company (e.g. titles and salaries that executives use as a standard of exchange to measure and trade power), but those aren’t the only “currencies” companies have. As the new CEO, you have to figure out exactly what Uber’s “currencies” are.
“The new person must discover the network of informal power that often paints a clearer picture of how the enterprise actually runs,” Biesinger says. “This informal power can change with varying circumstances, but people always know what it is at any given time.”
2. Decide who stays. Decide who goes.
This is not the most pleasant of tasks, especially when it comes to deciding who must go. But because you are inheriting an already established team and not creating one from scratch, it is imperative that you distinguish between those who are worth keeping and those who are no longer a good fit for the company.
Wall suggests that a simple but useful way to determine this is by making a list of your executive members and then rating them as Positive (+), Neutral (0), or Negative (-) toward you and your leadership. Observe their attitude, behavior, and work ethic for a few weeks to confirm or change your rating of them. Do not try, however, to turn a Negative (-) executive member into a Positive (+) executive member. It’s best to just get rid of them.
“In attempting to determine where to invest their scarce time, most CEOs attempt to quiet the squeaky wheel or turn the negative people into positives,” Wall says. “This is a tactical error, as you waste so much time trying to persuade the negative ones that you run the risk of losing the positives and neutrals.”
Instead of focusing time and energy on the negatives, focus it on the positives, who can then help you influence the neutrals to support your leadership.
“This creates a critical mass of momentum,” Wall adds, “that forces the negatives to make a choice: join the party or be left out in the cold.”
3. Establish the agenda. Your agenda.
Whenever a company is not operating effectively and efficiently, Wall says that competing agendas and poor leadership from a CEO is almost always to blame.
In establishing your agenda as Uber’s new CEO, Biesinger and Wall want you to know the difference between a formal agenda and the informal (actual) agenda.
“A formal agenda is what you are happy to publish for public consumption. It focuses on what you actually intend to do during your tenure as CEO. The formal agenda, however, is very seldom the actual agenda.
“The informal agenda includes details about whom you intend to use and in what capacity. These decisions are initially based on alignment and loyalty, with the most significant roles going to those who are the most widely trusted. Setting the agenda is the first step in increasing your relevance within the organization.”
As Uber’s new CEO, you have little time to get all this done, plus so much more. Are you sure you still want the job? Are you confident you can drive Uber in the right direction?
I guess we’ll soon find out.
Danita White for TechFunnel.com