For anyone who's part of a senior leadership team, a change in CEO can be as exciting as it is scary. But ‘preparing the ground' for this transition can make a huge difference to your own relationships inside and outside the business, and more importantly, give the new leader the best chance of success.
In the military, it would be unusual for a Commanding Officer (read, CEO) to be in post for longer than 2.5 years. So, there was plenty of opportunity to practice! Interestingly, for those in the Specialist Intelligence world, we used the same influence processes and tools to ‘Prepare the ground’ as best we could for a new CO, as we did to understand complex networks of insurgents to effect large scale, strategic influence in the battlespace. The steps described below are one slice of this influence strategy tool kit, borne out of operational military experience.
SET SOME GOALS
So what do we mean by 'preparing the ground'? Quite simply, it is influencing stakeholders for the purpose of capitalising on the change when it happens for mutually beneficial gain. At the Applied Influence Group, we consider the business outcomes of influence in 3 ways (client related, internal to the organisation, and external to the organisation) and this context is no different. Therefore, examples of business outcomes you might seek are:
- Any client concerns regarding a potential change to agenda or direction are understood and removed
- The expectations of strategic suppliers are understood and managed
- Employees’ fears surrounding the repercussions that might directly affect them are dealt with to avoid affecting individual or group performance
The first rule of influence is always to understand, so once you’ve identified the business outcome you want to affect, you can map the landscape in order to influence it.
Let’s take the first example: understanding and removing any client concerns regarding the change of CEO. How might you map the relevant stakeholders to know who you need to influence and how?
Step one. Consider which stakeholders have the most impact over this issue (i.e. concerns regarding the change).
This isn’t just about those that hold the greatest authority or decision-making power, but identifying key stakeholders that could influence decision makers, even those that sit outside the client organisation. We often find that PAs and junior stakeholders sit on here.
Map the stakeholders on a diagram that looks much like an archery target with 3 circles; those that have the most impact over the issue in the middle, and the lesser the impact the further out you go. To represent each stakeholder, you can draw a small circle with the person’s initials in the middle, or have a look-up table if it gets too crowded.
Step two. Understand the relationships between stakeholders.
You might develop your own system for representing the relationships, but at the very least denote a strong relationship with a double/thick line, a known relationship with a single line and an assessed relationship (you don’t know for sure) with a dotted line between two stakeholders.
Step three. Consider your existing influence over these stakeholders.
Add in the ‘you’ factor. The criteria used for this is up to you, but be consistent. Identify those that your organisation/team have strong, average, weak or no influence over.
Step four. What can you see that you couldn’t before?
Is there a stakeholder with high impact on the issue (a decision maker for instance), that you know to have existing concerns about the change, but with whom you have limited influence?
Can you identify another stakeholder that has a strong relationship with this decision maker, with whom you have strong influence over that can become a bridge to reach them?
Or, can you identify that you have no bridge to this decision maker at all and therefore need to increase your own influence over other stakeholders around them.
Can you identify a stakeholder that you have strong influence over and has high impact on the issue and strong relationships with detractors, that can become an influence agent on your behalf?
Once the new CEO is in, you might want to re-map the same issue to see what's changed.
How has your organisation's influence over the same stakeholders changed in that time? Has there been a shift in relationships or new 'nodes' of influence been created? Has there been an increase in the number of influential stakeholders that still hold concerns?
Monitoring a particular issue (like client concerns) using this mapping tool can highlight potential problems for your CEO before they occur.
Looking at these maps and asking ‘what can you see?’ will start to reveal your path to successful influence and set your new CEO up for success.
To find out more about the Applied Influence Group, please visit our website.
Managing out – You need to be on top of the outside-in world. Who do you think are the key stakeholders and advisors to the new CEO? What are the expectations of the market given the change at the top? How do you plan to inform your external thinking given the increasing demands and changing expectations that lie ahead. Are you tapping into your network of relationships to help you? Managing across – You are part of the previous CEO’s leadership team. You are a key influencer and carry weight and power that will be noticeable to your peers. They will be watching to see how your relationship develops. You know that the new CEO will be making an assessment regarding who’s 'on the bus'.