CEO Problems

…which are not that distant from Noble Problems – after all, the first Emperor was a CEO before he took the throne he created…


Being a CEO is at least twice as hard as the next hardest position in a company.  It is really, really hard.  This is especially true with founder CEOs.

To make the job easier, CEOs should try to make as few decisions as possible.
Great CEOs should be pushing most of the company’s decisions to other people in the organization.  The CEO should try to never be a bottleneck for decisions.  This frees up the CEO’s time to focus on the most important decisions (and has the added benefit of growing people in the organization because of the trust that’s put on them).

[Nobles – especially High Nobles – who decide to micromanage everyone and everything have the remarkable ability to bring an entire sector to a screeching halt. – AP]

1. Core Strategy.  Developing, understanding, and communicating the core company strategy.  Making sure that everyone in the company understands the strategy.  Making sure the strategy is accomplishable. (…)

[What’s the goal? Military? Economic? Cultural? Familial? – AP]

2. Core Culture.  This is where some really small decisions are actually really important to the company.  I don’t think CEOs should delegate this (and it is really hard to think of any great CEOs who ever delegated culture). (…)  As Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

[Imperial Nobles set the tone, on their planet and in their demesne. This has implications… – AP]

3. Hiring and Developing Talent. (…)

Besides for these three things, CEOs should try to push all other decisions to the organization.


In summary, I spent about one quarter of my time on strategy — thinking, researching, consulting, defining and communicating the future for the company. (…)

I spent a quarter of my time supervising performance and risks – normal and regular business reviews, major project reviews and dealing with the inevitable crises and unexpected events. Over time, this proportion fell, because after 18 months or so I’d established a wonderful team of people who did this stuff much better than me.

[CEOs Nobles off-load as much as the can get away with. Maybe the PCs can help them with this… for a suitable consideration, naturally. – AP]

I spent another quarter dealing with building the strength of our people – evangelising (and hopefully personally demonstrating)  our culture, recruiting, taking the temperature of the mood of the people, consulting with my HR Director (my closest executive team member), succession planning, presenting to groups at every level on development programmes, and thinking and researching what made people in our business effective and successful (most important conclusion; be clear what you expect of people, equip them, and then bugger off out of their way – very important message for policy loving central functions). This time proportion grew, justifiably.

[This can’t really be off-loaded: so the more off-planet-oriented Imperial Nobles are going to be logging lots of time on starships and starports… – AP]

The remaining quarter was split more or less evenly between dealing with important stakeholders – mainly shareholders, but also government, key suppliers etc – and non-productive guff . Clearly, any person at work wants to avoid time wasters, but CEOs are probably afflicted by more than most by people who want to come and sell their latest idea, from investment bankers to industry lobbying groups.

[…and the occasional PC group  with a Big Idea! – AP]

  • I didn’t want to be a CEO. The people who have a burning ambition to get there, excluding founders, are probably not suited to the role. This is the tragical paradox of the agency management model;
  • Yes, it’s true – it’s lonely and everything is your fault;
  • If you do your job properly you will work every waking hour, and need to be disciplined about keeping your body and mind healthy;
  • You should aim to have a clear desk – seriously. You are the only person in the organisation with the heavy responsibility to ensure the long term survival of the enterprise.

[“Why yes Gavin, the survival of 10,000 years of interstellar civilization, 11,000 worlds, and trillions and trillions of Imperial Citizens rests on your shoulders – but never fear – if you get it only 99.5% right this year, a mere 500 billion people will die because of your failure!”

Once a year or so, the Referee really should set up an minor but telling incident that illustrates the sheer scale of the playground the PCs are in. Not too often, you don’t want to humiliate or intimidate them… just a hint, a peek behind the curtain.

A reminder that it’ good not to be the Man on the Iridium Throne. – AP]

  • Be very, very accessible. Wander around purposefully. (…)

[Hard to do on an Imperial Scale. Perhaps the Emperor can visit all the sector capitals once every 15 years, taking two years to do so… – AP]

  • Sack high performers who are a pain in the arse – again, seriously.

[Thinks immediate of My Least Favourite Archduke.

But then again, if Strephon had not insisted on reactivating full Archducal authority, including taxes and military authority – over all advice to the contrary – Dulinor would have remained in a mainly ceremonial position: able to make his own knights and barons (actually, a useful power) but not much more.

The Archdukes should have stayed ceremonial: gathering data and info, leading important ceremonies, chairing important Domain-wide commissions, circulating around their stars, and then coming to Capital once every three years or so to share their viewpoint and insights with the Emperor. Make the position non-inheritable, but a very high lifetime honour for talented, widely respected men sophonts who don’t quite have the political muscle to get a sector for their very own (and for their families to inherit…) – AP]

  • Look outward. The prison of an email inbox forces attention in an internal direction. Take your team on study tours. Look at parallel sectors. Talk to innovators in colleges. Read, read and read again (hooray for the iPad);

[“Learn, or be left behind…” – AP]

  • Be very sensitive of your symbolic behaviour, because people notice and ape your behaviour. Be nice, Smile. Say hello to people (they are making the money to pay your wages). Show people that the front line is the most important, not the head offices or support centres or whatever name you give them. If your office environment isn’t egalitarian, you’re in the wrong century.

[The Imperium ain’t egalitarian. On the other hand, familial and clan networks have a certain stability and instinctive, abiding respect that helps with running thousand-year-old empires, as opposed to a business that is unlikely to last three decades. – AP]

  • Remember that on a daily basis you are probably the least important person in the organisation (most CEOs get this wrong)

[All Emperors get this wrong. It is actually impossible to get this right, when you are the single most important sophont in Charted Space. If power corrupts all sinful men…

Lesser Nobles have a better chance to get this right: the lower rank the Noble, the more likelihood he’ll understand his real importance is.

Fortunately, most Nobles – even the Emperor – do understand that they have to protect the society as a whole, to keep everything on an even keel and have a solid foundation for their heirs to build on. – AP]

  • Even though your jokes probably aren’t that funny, it is your absolute priority to make working life rewarding for everyone that works in the organisation. Make it a happy, vibrant place.

[Some Nobles are better at this than others. Also, the Vilani definition of ‘happiness’ differs from the Solomani definition… (Never mind the nonhumans!) – AP]

  • Your success will be measured by growth and development after you’ve gone. If it tails off after you leave, you have been a terrible CEO. That’s why you have to think about your own succession from the first day you were appointed;

[Genetic breeding programs are discouraged in the Imperium, as a general rule: “very untraditional”. Now, marrying into the right families is a different story… – AP]

  • You are not defined by your job. You will go, and be forgotten, and seeking a legacy is a fool’s errand

[All Nobles leave a legacy, whether they want to or not. Might as well make it a good one. – AP]

 

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About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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