Leading a Successful Transformation


CHS TransformationI have a friend who says the easiest CEO job in the world is leading a turn around. Why? Because at the point where something needs to be turned around, there isn’t any resistance. You just need to figure out what to do – and do it!

My friend isn’t crazy or lucky. What she is, is a great communicator.

When everyone understands the need to change, then a transformation is simple.

Sometimes the need for change is just compelling: “if we keep losing money we will go out of business”.  It doesn’t get much clearer: no organization, no job. Then it’s simply: “Tell what I need to do to keep my job!”

For the organizations I’ve run, figuring out how to stop from going out of business has been pretty simple: stop wasting money; focus on the core business; learn how to sell more.

The challenge has been communicating the need to do it. Why? Because nobody trusts transparency when it’s only used to make someone change. So organizations who have suffered without transparency, without trust, without empowerment struggle the most when all of a sudden the need for change is thrust upon them.

Here’s a simple lesson I’ve learned. Don’t save open, transparent communication for a rainy day. Use it always. Then, when a business is running well, it will run even better. And when a business needs to transform, the need to change will be easily understood.

Leadership is communication. So are transformations.


Telling My Organization’s Story

‘Tell your story. Please tell your story.’

For the past year that’s what my advisers have been telling me. By ‘my story’ they’re talking about the story of The Canadian Hearing Society. CHS as it’s known is the brilliant, resilient, and incredibly dedicated organization founded 77 years ago to support the Deaf and hard of hearing in Canada.  Today, The Canadian Hearing Society is the undisputed leader removing barriers to participation for the nation’s Deaf and hard of hearing. I’m fortunate enough to be its CEO.

Over the past three years, CHS has gone through a dramatic governance, strategic and leadership transformation. Lead by our Board of Directors, we’ve identified and eliminated risks; set a bold strategic vision for the future; and, attracted all-star leaders to make it all happen. Along the way there have been all sorts of challenges that any organization going through a transformation might expect to face – and perhaps a few they might not!

And our momentum keeps growing.

I hope you will read this story. If you are interested in governance, Deaf, hard of hearing and corporate transformations there is lots of neat learning here. I’m glad we wrote it all down! Here’s a quick sample. We’re proud of our impact!

  • Counselling Services at CHS are comprised of three distinct and highly unique services: CONNECT Counselling, General Support Services and Hearing Care Counselling. In 2016/17, Counselling Services saw more than 6,000 clients, conducted more than 44,000 visits and provided more than 57,000 hours of service.
  • CONNECT provides professional counselling services to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals of all ages, and their families, dealing with mental health issues, addiction, relationship problems, domestic violence or other serious challenges. The average clients’ age is 46 years old, 71% are Deaf, and 72% live in poverty.
  • General Support Services (GSS) counsellors offer guidance, advocacy, support and counselling to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals who request assistance to manage everyday life events including completing government forms and developing strategies to cope with hearing loss. The average clients’ age is 49 years old, 66% are Deaf, and 75% live at or below the poverty line.
  • The Hearing Care Counselling (HCC) Program provides free counselling services to help cope with hearing loss, improve communication with family and friends, stay active and involved and remain safe and independent at home. The average clients’ age is 82 years old, 94% are hard of hearing, and 61% are female.

Here’s a link to the story on our Canadian Hearing Society website.

How to Look After a Leadership Team

Looking after a Leadership Team

There are two kinds of senior leadership. Both work. At least for a while.

The ‘smartest person’ depends on having all the answers and providing all the direction. This leader attracts followers.

The ‘facilitator’ depends on the CEO being surrounded by other smart people and holding them accountable for helping to set direction and making things happen. This leader attracts other leaders.

From a results perspective, the ‘smartest person’ often starts well. But it can fade fast. It’s hard knowing everything, and having to make all the decisions bottlenecks most of today’s fast-paced businesses.

Leading by facilitating is more sustainable because it shares the decision making and leadership load with other smart leaders. Trusting others can be scary. However, the thing about smart people is they often surprise you and they learn from their mistakes.

So, what does it take to look after a team of good leaders?

  1. Trust in their motivation.
  2. Respect for their expertise and skills.
  3. A clear set of expectations.
  4. Clear accountability for results.
  5. Encouragement to act, even take a risk.
  6. Help eliminating roadblocks and barriers.
  7. Recognition for a job well done.

Leading other leaders takes a lot of confidence. I think it takes more confidence than it takes to be the smartest person in the room.

How many hours should a CEO work?

negative-space-people-airport-CustomI notice not all CEO’s put in the same hours. I wonder what the difference is?

Drive? For sure. We’re all made up differently. I’m sure we have different visions of what needs get done, and when.

Effectiveness? Maybe, but not necessarily. I feel like I’m highly effective. I just have lot to do and it takes a while.

Stamina? Yes. I know CEO’s who need to break away to stay effective. I believe that taking a break can help but I don’t crave it personally.

Other priorities? Definitely a factor. When I hear all the other things some CEO’s are involved in, I wonder how they get any time to make anything happen anywhere (they must be really effective!).

So, we’re all different. As I think about it, what have I learned about the correct amount of time a CEO should be spending at the job?

  1. It’s personal. What’s too much for some is too little for others.
  2. We need to be careful. I think the thing that worries me most is the family time that gets run over when a CEO is at the office or on the road all the time. I’ve seen that one come back to bite lots of people.
  3. We need to be careful. The other thing that worries me is burning out. It does happen, frequently to people with high drive who didn’t realize they could exceed their physical and mental capacities.
  4. If there are ways to reduce the amount of job time, we should learn them. There are two obvious benefits – get even more done(!) and time available for something else.
  5. It’s worth doing a personal job-time assessment on a regular basis. Considerations: is too much (or too little) time on the job is just a bad habit?; does the job really require it?; are the rewards worth it?; is capacity shrinking with changes in personal life (kids, age, etc.)? It’s worth recognizing these things and either adapting – or making a conscious decision to carry on.

Job time affects us and the people around us. Figuring out how much we think it matters can make a world of difference for everyone.

How I get the most from outside advisors

Outside Advisor BlogIn my capacity as CEO I use a wide range of advisors.

My most trusted advisors are my Leadership Team.  I trust them the most because I know them the best – and they know me. We’ve worked long hours together. Sorted problems and opportunities together. Eaten meals together. We’re close and I count on them for their skills, insight and expertise. Also, they report to me and my direct influence over their priorities and performance is different than the dynamic I have with my outside advisors. Or is it?

My most trusted outside advisors are also smart and expert at what they do. Some report to me – if I’ve directly and formally engaged them – some don’t.

There are a couple of things I keep in mind in managing my outside advisors.

  1. They have expertise I don’t have. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t need them – therefore, I need to pay attention to what they’re advising me – even if I’m not always on-side.
  2. They have other work they could be doing. I don’t believe any of my most trusted advisors are simply ‘in it for the money’. If I were to treat them poorly enough or regularly downplay their expertise, I bet they would all move on to something more meaningful. I must treat them with respect. Show them concern and consideration.
  3. They are fairly paid for what they’re doing for me. I see to that. Therefore, I can have high expectations for their performance – and I can hold them accountable to deliver.
  4. We don’t work together 24/7. Therefore, the opportunities to get to know each other – for sharing, learning and problem-solving – don’t happen spontaneously. Those opportunities must be organized. Created. Simply winging it won’t work consistently and may even fail at the most inopportune time.
  5. Other than by association, none of them have any direct vested interest in the long-term success of my organization. Sweat equity doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, my direction to them must be clear, the expected outputs well understood, the timing precise and the compensation fair.

Bottom line, if I want the best performance out of my advisors – both internal and external – I need to treat them all the same  – with respect, caring, clear direction and accountability.


Comments on the CEO as Chief Communications Officer

CEO-blog-1One of the earliest pieces of advice I was offered as a new CEO was to never deliver the bad news.  I could not have received worse, or more outdated counsel.

CEO’s today cannot afford to hide behind press releases or an appointed spokesperson
for the organization.  They must demonstrate strong and accountable leadership by taking responsibility, internally and externally, for the wins and losses of the company.

Boards of director’s have a responsibility to ensure that their CEO is able to perform their public role, and bring to the organization strong communications and public relations skills.  Regardless of sector or industry, when your company is under the spotlight, you have a responsibility to step forward as the CEO and represent actions of your company.

The media expect the CEO to play this role and so do your employees, shareholders, investors and the general public.  CEO’s must, at all times, demonstrate that they are in charge, and must exemplify grace under pressure.

They must be courageous and stand tall and communicate all of their organization’s key messages, in particular, in a time of discourse or crisis.

When it comes to your employees, they should not have to read about their workplace through the media, but should hear about significant company events and activities directly from the CEO.

With today’s technology, real time information should be provided to all your staff teams, notwithstanding their physical location.  As the CEO, you should be making use of videoing your messages for the staff, utilize Skype services, Twitter and Facebook.

The tools for a CEO to communicate en masse have never been more accessible – you just have to do it!

Today’s CEO must understand that this is, and always has been, part of your responsibility and will be held accountable for all messaging, so you must make the time to develop and internal and external communications strategy, and keep it current.

For many CEO’s, communications is not a natural core competency, and takes them out of their comfort zone.  Everyone is not media or public relations savvy.  However, it is now a fundamental role and responsibility for today’s real leaders.

Take a course, hire a PR coach, embrace this part of the job. If the CEO is not acting as the key spokesperson and chief communications officer for the company, they are not performing as a leader, and this will ultimately impact the Board and the entire organization.

Article was originally written for www.boardroommetrics.com.

Views on the CEO as Chief Advocacy Officer

Today’s CEOs  —  sector and industry notwithstanding  —  have to take on many more complex roles thCEO Blogan before.  As chameleons adapt to every unique environment they are in, CEOs need, and are expected to possess a vast array of professional competencies balanced with strong personal characteristics to succeed in their roles.  Experienced leaders know full well that as the Chief Executive Officer you must also be the Chief Advocacy Officer of any organization you serve.

We look to today’s leaders to have an equal amount of personality to match their business acumen.  Giving a passionate speech is just as important as reading a balance sheet.  Staff, at all levels, look to their CEO to be not only a positive role model for the organization, but also their ultimate champion.  Leaders must look beyond the boardroom and remember to visit the shop floors, go to see all of their operating sites, show up at staff retirements and picnics; show interest in your staff teams and advocate for them when you can.

Organizational cheerleading is a lost art form and one that many CEOs should be embracing, and realize that more and more boards are searching for these types of talents and traits in their leaders.

The CEO needs to be the face and the voice of the organization, as well as their cheering section.  They need to be prepared to both internally and externally to articulate and live the vision, mission and values of the organization.  And, in advancing their company, need to spend as much time applauding the merits and importance of their people as they do rooting about the value of their product or services.

After all, if you, as the CEO, are not your company’s ultimate champion, then who is?

Article was originally written for www.boardroommetrics.com.

Thoughts on the CEO as Chief Fundraising Officer

The roles and responsibilities of a CEO are constantly evolving and your organization must adapt and develop with the needs of your client base, customers, and shareholders.  Revenue development is one predominant change in the skill set demanded of a CEO in any sector or industry.  No more can CEO’s simply delegate revenue generation; today, they are required to play a far more hands-on role.  Customers want to hear from the CEO directly; donors want to see the whites of their eyes.  People raise money and people, customers and sponsors respond when being solicited directly by the CEO.

Look at today’s advertising, CEO’s are selling and guaranteeing mattresses, cellular phones, department stores and yes, even banks and insurance companies.  Corporations need a face and a voice, and it is the Chief Executive whom, in this economy, should be playing that role.

In the non-profit and public sectors, it is most important for the CEO to also be the champion of their organization through fundraising efforts and means.  They need to advocate for the organization with corporate donors, individual donors and through special events.  In fact, in today’s highly competitive CEO market, it is extremely reasonable and appropriate for boards to insist that their CEO be comfortable and experienced in community-based fundraising and, even require credentials such as a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).

These credentials will assure a board of directors that their CEO has the skills and edge required to compete in a busy charitable environment.  When donor fatigue is high, the CEO needs to lead the charge for revenue, avert attrition and grow the base of both donors and dollars.

Sector and industry notwithstanding, the Chief Executive Officer is, among many other things, the Chief Revenue and Fundraising Officer for their corporation.  This is the type of core business competency which will differentiate them as a leader, and create greater value for the organization.

Article was originally written for www.boardroommetrics.com.

Thoughts on the CEO as Chief Relationship Officer

The CEO is the ultimate face of the organization, the ultimate champion of the brand.  Your mission, the vision, the value and the priorities of the organization must be clearly displayed every time the CEO is with a potential customer, investor, client, board member or colleague. The end goal is strengthening all relationships.

Therefore, ask your CEO these questions:CEO-blog-2-300x268

How is your relationship with your board?  Do you have the right leadership team? Who is responsible for the ongoing future growth of your organization?  Who is talking to new potential investors?  Who is talking to existing customers?  It should be you.

Are you too busy with daily operations of your organization to be building external relationships for the future of your business?  Who is looking for R and D opportunities?  It should be you.

Who is spending time with your board directors?  It better be you.

As CEO, you should see yourself as the Chief Relationship Officer. Don’t be afraid to empower your CFO and your GM.  Create a virtual COO if you aren’t large enough to hire one yet.  Looking for new customers, investors and relationships are always a part of the CEO’s role.  We don’t want you to be the sales manager – but we DO want you to be the ultimate champion of your company.

It’s not a popularity thing, but it’s the accountability to your stakeholders, partners, investors, directors and staff that is imperative. Create supporters of achievers in everyone that you come in contact with.  That is what the CEO is trying to do, always selling the concepts.  Interpreting ideas, methodologies and the ideals of the organization. The CEO should be your Chief Relationship Officer.

Article was originally written for www.boardroommetrics.com.