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The CEO Conundrum – Balancing Strategic and Tactical Responsibilities

You might call it “the CEO conundrum”. Corporate executive officers strike a delicate balance between business visionary, big-deal closer and operations manager. The challenges now facing CEOs is certainly changing and becoming far more difficult to pull-off successfully. The New Year has ushered the global business community into a new decade full of promise and teeming with opportunity, yet still fraught with perilous economic challenges and ever increasing regulatory complexities. It is no longer enough to have a sound strategy. CEOs must shape their companies to be highly agile, run lean, and have highly empowered employees at all levels of the organization. This article defines the CEO conundrum, explores the opportunity it provides us and offers three pieces of advice that CEO’s will want to read.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal article written by Cari Tuna and entitled “Balancing Job of Overseeing With Overdoing” discussed how CEOs are having to be more “hands-on” during the economic downturn, almost risking micromanagement. More and more, CEOs are getting involved in details normally left to the VP of Operations and VP of Sales, stepping in to help close big deals and obsessing over budgets and cash management. The demanding pace and attention to detail is required because businesses cannot afford missteps, especially right now. Hence, the conundrum for chief executives… remaining strategic while being tactical. Certainly strategic momentum and hence competitive advantages enjoyed by the business will ultimately suffer the consequences if the pendulum swings too far to the tactical details of running the business.

What Can be Done to Strike Balance?

Strategy and vision cannot be sacrificed to achieve operational excellence. Both can coexist and usually do, but businesses risk losing competitive advantage when the top executive is forced to focus too much on the day-to-day and can’t plan for what is over the horizon line. Strategic positioning requires careful planning with top-to-bottom synchronization involving all managers and employees of the organization.

The Three Things CEOs Must Do:

Let’s boil it down to three verbs that are essential ingredients to the winning organizational formula that will put top executives back in control to balance themselves between strategic and tactical involvement.

Empower

Part of the solution begins with creating organizational structures that empower informed employees with the latitude to make broader line-level decisions. Stronger line-level managers and employees benefit the entire organization and help to get executive management out of the minutia. How this is accomplished starts at the top, with well-constructed strategic plans that concisely relate to the operational budgets controlling the tactics of implementation. With proper management controls in place, this approach allows those closest to the action to respond more quickly when it is needed – always operating within predefined spans of control and in support of the strategic goals. The goals are well known and understood by empowered employees, as their direct managers will have effectively communicated these goals to them, accompanied by the expectations for how they can directly contribute – allowing them to embrace the vision and participate in the tactical execution.

Communicate

Strategy is formulated at the top and the CEO is directly accountable for establishing the direction and the process for strategic and operational planning to unfold effectively. As mentioned in the preceding section, communication of the plan goals is a very important part of that process. One approach to consider in the overall communication strategy is to translate plan goals into strategy statements that the organization can embrace and enact. The end goal is to effectively spread the executive vision more effectively throughout the ranks so that empowered employees will be energized to help their organization. As with the business strategy, the communication of the business goals must be carefully planned and well orchestrated to achieve the intended results. As Jose Palomino discusses in his book, “Value Prop”, we are an over messaged society already, so communication must target the right messages to the right people in the organization at the time that they need to receive the message.

Along with strategy statements, employees should be receiving the equivalent of mini-marketing pitches relating the value that will be delivered by the accomplishment of each plan goal. They should understand how they contribute to the overall picture and the consequence of goal attainment or mission failure.

Reward

Once employees are empowered to act and understand the organization’s strategic goals as they relate to their roles, it is their turn to perform. At this point, it is also management’s turn to oversee, facilitate, correct and reward. Organizations that are equipped with measureable plan goals are well positioned to effectively manage performance and reward achievement. Added ingredients for success are a strong culture and job responsibilities that are confluent with budgeting controls and reward actions taken in the best interests of the organization.

In Conclusion

Business leaders cannot do it all. They need organizations beneath them that can carry out the mission. Corporate executives have always had responsibility for the development of business strategy, but the execution of the strategy should be entrusted to talented, well-informed and motivated employees. Strategy and planning that empowers employees at the lowest possible level through aligned budget parameters and reward systems will build a stronger culture and a more successful company. It will also allow chief executive to set lay out the rails, and then set the organization’s wheels in motion.

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