The Two Critical Roles of the CEO

Mark J. Komen, President

Kodyne, Inc.

Plymouth, MN

Believe it or not, CEOs have only two critical jobs:

  1. Create a vision for the business
  2. Communicate that vision to staff and customers

That doesn’t sound like much to do but it means EVERYTHING to the success of the organization.  These things encompass what the organization will be doing, how decisions are made, how the company manages risk, what the culture needs to look like to support the vision, who is selected for management positions, how information is shared, compensation plan designs, go-to-market strategies….IT’S A LONG LIST!

Come to think of it, if I were to expand this list of CEO roles, I would add these to round out the top five.

  1. Create and foster the organization’s culture
  2. Lead the development of strategy
  3. Hold people accountable to plans

The buck has to stop somewhere.  If the person at the top isn’t going to stop it, then, chances are that buck will fly out the window into someone else’s wallet.  However, so much rides on the top two items on the list that I really push my clients to create clear visions and communicate them effectively.

Everything links to vision – that picture of the organization’s future that will guide it for the next five years or more.  In privately held companies, only the CEO or owner can create the vision.  In my strategic planning work with privately held businesses, I encourage the owner to invite comments from staff members on the vision he or she creates.  After all, the staff will be counted on to make that vision a reality.  Buy-in is important.  But in my opinion, that buy-in comes AFTER the owner decides what he or she wants for the future of the business.  Plus, the company’s vision needs to link to the owner’s personal vision of how they want to live their lives.  More on that topic in another article.

For non-profits or publicly held companies, the vision still has to come from the top and I believe it’s the CEO’s job to drive or guide the creation of that vision, perhaps with input from the management team or Board of Directors.  Building a company without a vision is like designing a car with no purpose in mind.  What are we building here – a passenger vehicle?  Race car?  Off-road play-toy?  All of these vehicles operate in different environments and require different specifications, design approaches, materials and skills to create them.  Leading a company without a vision is like driving the car with no destination in mind, which wastes resources, misses opportunities and provides no focus for staff efforts.

Next is the critical (and always on-going) job of communicating that vision to staff and customers, and even suppliers, so they know what the company is all about and what they can expect from the organization.  Who better to be the spokesperson for the organization than the person at the top?

What are the keys to effectively communicating the vision?  The work culture you build, the people you hire and promote, the strategies you use in the marketplace, the way you plan and execute work, the style in which you serve your customers and interact with suppliers, and the consistency of your words and actions as communication flows throughout your organization.  That’s why I say those two roles of the CEO are the most important.  They represent a big challenge but one made easier by being clear, acting in a consistent way, and moving forward with purpose.

Copyright 2008.  Kodyne, Inc.  All rights reserved worldwide.