The new CEO 2: ‘Who do I trust?’

During their first few weeks, a newly appointed CEO will have lots of advice from subordinates keen to make their views heard. Some of these aim only to improve efficiency and the service provided to customers, learning from past mistakes. Many, however, will be defending vested interests, seeking personal advancement or riding favoured hobbyhorses of dubious pedigree. So who should the new CEO trust?

The new CEO can be certain of two things: there will be weaknesses inherited from the past and, as always, significant things will need to change in future. So the most important voices to listen to will be those of the ‘practical innovators’- particularly those who are influential and respected by colleagues. Put the org chart to one side and focus on identifying these key individuals, bearing in mind that unlike the formal leadership structure of a traditional organisation chart, in reality, there is not a single or small group of leaders in organisations but lots of them. Some leaders influence the views and behaviours of many people and some of just one or two. More than 75% of these leaders are probably not in the management hierarchy at all.

Org Chart and networkThese key people who are also innovative by nature make up only about 3% to 5% of total employees. Their potential is usually latent: sadly under-used, because typically the entire management hierarchy from top to bottom can only identify about a third of them.

So how does the new CEO set about identifying these golden needles in the organisational haystack? The answer is to use experienced consultants specialising in informal networks. There are a small but growing band of these, the best of whom have experience of successful change programmes using informal techniques.

The four steps to identify these key leaders are:

  1. Start with a 100%, preferably online, sample of those in relevant work areas using basic questions, such as: who are the top 5 most innovative colleagues? Who are the top 5 best communicators? Who are the top 5 work knowledge ‘experts’ in your experience? Who are the top 5 most influential people? Who are the best work collaborators across organisational boundaries?
  2. Then use informal network analysis software to home in on the target sector leaders to meet different change situations. For example, the most frequently mentioned individuals across both the innovative and good communicator questions are likely to include most of the change-positive influencers – the organisation’s real change agents. Similarly, mapping the highest-scoring ‘best collaborators’ with the people who influence them is likely to include the key people needed for a major collaborative initiative across organisational boundaries.
  3. Then use a technique known as ‘network walking’ to ‘invert the networks’ and see who the top, say, 10% of sector leaders in each category actually influence, both within and outside their work areas. This is a fine tuning exercise to minimise ‘friend and family’ nominations and to identify these informal leaders in as many areas as possible, including areas with relatively few employees.
  4. This top 10% of relevant influencers and sector leaders are then invited to attend a series of short ‘discussion & analysis’ meetings, where their input is used to identify the top 3% to 5% of colleagues who have the greatest potential to contribute to designing business changes and winning the hearts and minds of colleagues in all relevant areas and levels.

The new CEO now knows who to trust.

Neil Farmer