What Keeps CEOs up at Night?

Five Things CEOs Can't Afford to Get Wrong

It’s remarkable how CEOs of both start-ups and mature businesses often share similar concerns. Below I summarize some of their top concerns and explain how a little forethought and the right advisor can help navigate those concerns.

PEOPLE: Talent acquisition and management is a top concern for all CEOs. For start-ups, it’s about attracting the right people and keeping them. Start-up managers worry about the impact of every hire on their organizational culture and team dynamics. One bad hire could cause mayhem.

CEOs of larger companies grapple with other challenges, such as responding to a changing operating environment and retooling their team across new services. Managing rapid growth can be difficult at any scale.

Tip: Be the place where people love to work. One of the best ways to attract talent is to proactively cultivate a positive public image through the media, win awards for best places to work, and secure positive reviews on Glassdoor and other recruiting sites. Never underestimate the importance of internal communications. Your PR team should be working closely with the CEO and heads of HR and marketing to plan when and how the CEO communicates with employees to make sure they are informed and feel valued.

PROMISE: When you make a promise to a friend, it’s a commitment between two people. When you make a promise to employees, customers, investors, partners and the press, well, let’s just say you better stick to that timeline. Experienced CEOs generally know this and are careful not to over promise. Start-ups often dismiss this cautionary note as “too corporate.” Consequently, with so many companies fundraising on Kickstarter and other online platforms, dashed promises hang over the heads of many entrepreneurs.

Tip: Loosely defined plans and uninformed decisions can bite back hard. Start-ups should surround themselves with a team of experts in public relations, human resources, finance and product commercialization. Align yourself with the right advisors from the get go so you don’t waste time, money and credibility cleaning up messes or dealing with what might be viewed as a public failure. Have a savvy communications professional in your pocket at those moments when the public is watching—and judging.

COMPETITION: One of the biggest concerns CEOs have is what’s happening with the competition and worse – what disruptive forces could make the business obsolete. As Jena McGregor of the Washington Post recently pointed out in an article, this is what some call getting “‘Uber-ized,’ having the ‘Uber Syndrome’ or even the process of ‘Uber-ization.’”

Tip: Being paranoid can be healthy. Andy Grove of Intel’s book “Only the Paranoid Survive” is chock full of good points around how to harness a healthy amount of paranoia to lead smart change. For start-up CEOs, there’s a fine line between being premature and waiting too long to turn the spotlight on yourself and your product or service. Fear of tipping off competitors is a legitimate concern, but showing investors that you have a solid offering with true differentiators, a talented team and a smart go-to-market strategy is essential to your success. A thoughtful communications plan will help you walk the line. For seasoned CEOs, it’s clear that the best companies are thinking ahead and investing in the research and development to disrupt their own industry. Be fearless; take the lead on change. Whether it is developing the future of your industry internally or acquiring partners to get you there – smart CEOs are always entertaining the right acquisitions and how to be part of the convergence of markets.

THE LAW: Managing myriad local, state and federal regulations can be daunting for any CEO. In fact, in PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, CEOs ranked over-regulation as their number one concern. We see this in the banking arena all the time. It’s also true in healthcare, consumer products, food and beverage, telecom and more. In banking, the big guys have the financial and institutional muscle to swiftly adapt, while community banks often struggle to keep up and often need a trusted technology partner to help them stay in the game. Investors who see regulatory issues as a major barrier to success may be quick to stymie a great idea from a start-up founder.

Tip: Knowing the regulatory pain points of your industry and the clients you serve will help you meet their needs. Hire a lobbyist to keep you informed, and use what you learn to fuel a thought-leadership campaign that highlights your insider knowledge. If you’re having a client conference, bring in the best expert available to talk about the issues, and while you have them, make sure they learn exactly how your company is providing what the market needs in an evolving regulatory environment.

FEAR OF FAILURE: Fear is a major driver for CEOs, even if they won’t directly admit it. Think about it— how often do you hear leaders say “failure is not an option?” Fear can work to a CEOs advantage when channeled properly—and can be highly detrimental when it’s not.

Tip: The CEO role can be a lonely place. Build a team that is strong in the areas you are not and keep them engaged in your world. When it comes to communications, involve your legal, HR, marketing and public relations advisors.

Bottom line for all concerned CEOs: look your fears in the eye, know that obstacles are inevitable (but not always detrimental) and trust your team to back you through the peaks and valleys of it all.

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