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CEOs: Check under the hood


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The day I wrote this, I had two interactions with a company that sent a shiver up the CEO’s spine when I told him about them. In both cases, a relatively “junior” person (I don’t like the word “junior,” but it gets the point across) took initiative to look out for the company but got it just a bit twisted and ended up tarnishing the organization’s image.

I’m confident that both people were trying to do the “right thing,” so I didn’t get angry (frustrated, yes, but not angry). But I needed my problem solved, so called the CEO, whom I knew. He was a bit torqued at the situation, and we had an interesting conversation.

Many years ago when he worked at a different company, his boss called him on the carpet for eating breakfast twice in one day. He’d gotten up really early for a conference call and ordered toast, and then he later met clients for breakfast. She made him write her a check for the toast. After he became CEO of another large company, he resolved that bureaucratic blunders wouldn’t happen on his watch. They have.

I suggested that perhaps he’d been successful but was unable to reach perfection in this regard, but he responded, “What if this happens 20 percent of the time rather than 1 percent of the time?” The fact that he worries about this is one of the reasons he’s such a good CEO.

When you’re insulated from day-to-day transactions — whether they’re with the external world (for example, clients and suppliers) or with your co-workers — it’s extremely easy to believe that because your heart and head are in the right place, it’ll all work out. It doesn’t, of course, and you must make corrections.

I haven’t watched Undercover Boss on television, but from the trailers, I believe I understand the premise. I suspect that none of them has every gone undercover and thought, “This is exactly what I expected!”

How often do you do a deep dive into your organization to see what goes on in the trenches? This doesn’t have to be a punitive endeavor. In fact, if there are consistent front-line problems, you can usually look to the generals for the cause. The right culture, processes and people will get rid of most bureaucratic behavior, but sometimes you just need to look under the hood!

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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