Congratulations! You’re the new CEO of Uber.
You’ve got your hands full—a C-suite to hire, the founder looking over your shoulder from his perch on the Board, 1,000+ drivers signing a petition to bring him back and get rid of you…are you sure you really want this job?
Tom Biesinger and Ross Wall could be called the world’s “CEO whisperers.”
They are international business consultants specializing in guiding CEOs through the often all-too-predictable crises in their often all-too-brief tenures.
So they would know better than most what the next Uber CEO will face, and what he or she needs to do first.
“Every move and decision will be under the microscope,” Biesinger says. “Most CEO’s in similar circumstances make the ‘New Sheriff in Town’ mistake of bringing in their own team, and launching a big culture change initiative before establishing their relevance.
“This starts a massive and time-consuming tug of war between the new guard and the old guard where the only winner is the competition.”
A new CEO, say Biesinger and Wall, is in charge of everything but cannot completely trust anyone. So how do that person move forward under those challenging circumstances?
“Understand what you have in terms of a team and create complete transparency with your board and executive,” advises Wall. “This will help you to understand the business imperatives and inform the agenda you will set.”
Biesinger and Wall speak of the “currencies” in every company -- what the company and its culture value and reward. These are the things like titles and salaries that executives use as a standard of exchange to measure and trade power, but they aren’t the only currencies. So the new CEO has to figure out exactly what the others are.
“The new person,” Biesinger advises, “must discover the network of informal power that often paints a clearer picture of how the enterprise actually runs. This informal power can change with varying circumstances, but people always know what it is at any given time.”
Then comes the painful task of deciding who stays and who goes.
“You’ve got to work out who’s who in the Zoo,” says Wall. “Your team will be inherited (for now) and you need to work out the keepers and plug the obvious gaps in finance and operations.
“A simple but useful exercise to undertake at this point is to list each of your executive members and rate them as Positive (+), Neutral (0), or Negative (–) toward you and your mandate. Observe them over a few weeks to confirm or change your intuition.
“In attempting to determine where to invest their scarce time, most CEOs attempt to quiet the squeaky wheel or turn the negative people into positives. This is a tactical error, as you waste so much time trying to persuade the negative ones that you run the risk of losing the positives and neutrals.”
The pair advise CEOs to focus instead on the positives, who in turn can help you influence the neutrals.
“This creates a critical mass of momentum,” Wall adds, “that forces the negatives to make a choice: join the party or be left out in the cold.”
Finally, establish the agenda – your agenda.
“Any time there is misalignment in an organization,” Wall cautions, “it is the result of competing agendas and poor leadership from a CEO.
“A formal agenda is what you are happy to publish for public consumption. It focuses on what you actually intend to do during your tenure as CEO. The formal agenda, however, is very seldom the actual agenda.
“The informal agenda includes details about whom you intend to use and in what capacity. These decisions are initially based on alignment and loyalty, with the most significant roles going to those who are the most widely trusted. Setting the agenda is the first step in increasing your relevance within the organization.”
Whoever takes over Uber will have practically no time to get all this done. Which begs the question: what kind of glutton for pain and punishment wants the job?
Can anyone drive Uber in the right direction? We’ll find out soon enough.