The Chief Executive Starts the Cascade of Expectations

Chapter 2, pages 38-40, from Lead with Love by Gerry Czarnecki

If you are the CEO of your organization, your challenge for expectations is quite different from the challenges of those who work for you. Your focus will be on the broad guiding framework that is often referred to as “vision.” This visioning process is an essential element of any successful organization that is “Built to Last” or tracking from “Good to Great.”

The top leader in an organization must assume full responsibility for the entirety of the organization’s aspirations and expectations. Most successful organizations have some repository of documents that outline the critical aspects of the enterprise-level expectations. These expectations are typically the mission, vision, values, goals, and strategies that will guide the enterprise-wide efforts. Much has been written about these in the literature of management, so we will not belabor the subject. On the other hand, these do set the tone for an organization and, most important, are the framework upon which all the subordinate leaders build their expectations.

When focusing on organizational expectations, there are a few core concepts to keep in mind. Although much of what the “non-CEO leader” does is to execute the overarching plans of the organization, it is crucial that those leaders understand and accept the core overarching guidance from the top leadership.

The high-performance organization will always have a clear view of its aspirations. Aspirations are those statements of objectives that suggest what the organization wants to be or to be perceived to be. They tend to be very long term, and they tend to reflect ideals. As an example, an organization might aspire to be the most admired company in its industry, or it might aspire to be the most profitable company that also is known for its commitment to the community. These aspirations often reflect a coalescing of a variety of values held by the stakeholders.

 Just below aspirations in the hierarchy of thought is the vision of the organization. Here, the leader of the organization focuses on what he wants the organization to be in its future state. This vision is more about the actual business than it is about perceptions of the business by the stakeholders. The vision of an organization might be that the company will be the undisputed leader in research and development, allowing it to be a key innovator in its industry. Or, the vision might be to be number one or number two in each market it serves, or to be the premier provider of insurance services to the consumer markets in the United States. The vision is usually long term and is usually a challenge to the organization to reach a specific long-term goal.

Organizations must have an identity—that is, they must know what they do. That is what the mission is. It is a definition of what it is the organization does to serve its customers and how it grows and/or makes money. The mission could be as simple as: we make automobiles for the broad consumer middle market; or it could be as specific as: we make semiconductors for the cell phone and PDA market. It is important because many times organizations get distracted from their core mission and find themselves adrift in so much extraneous activity that they cannot effectively serve the markets they had intended to serve.

If the mission is what we do, then the values reflect how we as an organization behave when we carry out the mission. Many believe that with the right set of values, organizations can rely on those values as the underpinnings for all actions. Values can be as simple as: we will always tell the truth; or we believe that every associate is valuable, and hence, we will assure ourselves that each is evaluated frequently and rewarded according to her ability to contribute. All too many organizations do not take the time to establish clear values, and consequently, the cultures of those organizations are muddled and confused. Values can and will define a culture. So it is essential that the leader take very seriously what value system is required to have a culture that will achieve the goals of the enterprise.

Goals define what we will achieve in the enterprise. These are the drivers for many of the expectations that leaders in the organization will have to execute. They must be clear, achievable, and measurable. More on that later.

Strategy is the pathway for an organization to follow in order to achieve its goals. Strategy is the “how we will get there,” while action plans are the “what we will do to get to the goals.” Strategy might be that we will have the core competency to innovate so that we are always first to market with new technology; or it could be that we will never be first to market, but we will follow quickly with new products as the competition innovates. The action plans will be the projects or tasks that we will need to do to assure that our organization is capable of following its strategy. The action plans will also be simply what we do to take a new innovative product to market or how we will copy a new product or service when the competition innovates.

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