Surviving Your New CEO

Turnover at the top means upheaval below. Here's how to keep your job when the new CEO arrives

The Idea in Brief

When a new CEO arrives, most senior executives worry about their jobs. Rightly so: chances are high they'll soon find themselves out the door. Worse, they're likely to land in a lower position or work in a smaller firm.

How to avoid these fates? Accept that many new CEOs make people decisions within 60 days—so first impressions count, say Kevin Coyne and Edward Coyne, Sr. If you want to stay, let your new chief know you're ready to be on the team, and ask how you can help realize his vision. Then demonstrate your support through additional means—such as mirroring his working style and presenting an honest game plan for your area of responsibility.

The danger of being pushed out by a new CEO is real. But so are the opportunities—if you swiftly establish your value when the new chief arrives.

The Idea in Practice

The authors suggest these strategies for making a good first impression on your new CEO:

Show Your Goodwill

Absent strong signals from you, the new CEO will draw his own conclusions about your views. Take the initiative to talk about your responsibilities with him and your willingness to help him realize his vision.

Leave Your Baggage at the Door

Don't burden the new chief with talk about any aspects of your own agenda—including your compensation, long-term plans at the company, or conflicts with other executives. And counsel your spouse to be scrupulously politic about your agenda.

Study the New CEO's Working Style

It's difficult to discern your new boss's proclivities through observation. Ask about them directly.

One plainspoken executive who gossips predicted would be an early casualty of the new regime asked his CEO how she wanted him to disagree with her. Specifically, "What kinds of facts—frontline stories or statistics—cause you to change your mind? Can I disagree in public or only in private? If I fail to convince you of my case, should I try again or just accept your decision?" He prospered throughout her 12-year tenure.

Understand the CEO's Agenda

The new chief's fate depends heavily on the company's stock performance during his first year of tenure. So, provide constructive suggestions about actions he can take quickly to increase shareholder value.

Also confirm your understanding of the CEO's agenda directly with him. Don't rely solely on talking with board members about their possible directives for the new leader.

Present a Realistic and Honest Game Plan

Don't sugarcoat strategic plans for your division. A too-rosy report might make your boss ask herself, "Who are you trying to kid?" If you don't show the negatives, she may suspect that you don't know them or that you'll try to hide things from her.

Be on Your "A" Game

Secure face time with your new boss. The best way is to take on a special project in which you must interact extensively with him over a short period of time. He'll appreciate spending time with you. And if his initial impressions of you were less than stellar, you might be able to turn his feelings around.

Offer Objective Options

Objectively explain previous budgeting decisions for your division, the rationale behind them, and how your new CEO's priorities might warrant a reassessment of some of those choices. You'll help the boss translate her vision into tangible decisions.

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