Executive Transitions: Remember, Your Team Is Your Brand

When I help a C-level executive transition to a new leadership role, I often need to remind her that her team represents both her brand and the organization’s brand. Not giving your leadership team a clear idea of the brand you want to establish for your organization and the behaviors that manifest this brand can undermine your efforts and create confusion in your team.

It is striking how few leaders clearly articulate the critical brand attributes they want their organization to manifest. If the organization’s brand is poor, fix it quickly; within six months to a year, the brand you inherit becomes yours.

Every new CxO should, early during the transition, have conversations to define the go-forward brand, set the context with critical stakeholders, and drive behaviors and actions that make the brand a reality.

A CFO might say: “I want my finance folks to be trusted, confident and insightful when being a partner to the business.” These descriptors are helpful in creating a brand statement

Define the Brand

A first step to triangulating on a new brand is to interview existing stakeholders and customers and take an inventory of terms they would use to describe your existing organization. For instance, you may hear that finance is usually a naysayer to the business, it’s unable to support critical investments, or it can’t provide critical information or useful insights for critical decisions.

Negative as well as positive descriptions offer opportunities to transform future interactions and reset the brand. In this instance, providing timely, insightful and accurate information may become part of your desired brand.

A second approach is to consider your goals for the organization. For example, CFOs often tell me they want to make finance an effective partner to the business. This may be the overarching goal. But as the brand defines how you are perceived in the delivery of the goal, you next need to ask yourself what terms you are likely to use in describing the delivery of this overarching goal.

A CFO might say: “I want my finance folks to be trusted, confident and insightful when being a partner to the business.” These descriptors are helpful in creating a brand statement.

A third approach is to brainstorm with your team on how to define critical brand attributes. This approach, most importantly, involves your team in the brand-definition process, enabling it to take ownership of the result.

Engaging the team to frame brand attributes also expands the set of descriptors for the brand. For example, members of the team may add the need to be perceived as a fair and objective organization.

Adding these descriptors, you could now frame the new desired brand: “The finance organization consistently delivers timely and accurate financial reports and insightful analyses to support business decision making and value creation. Finance is a confident and trusted partner to the business that is fair, objective and transparent in its processes.”

Set the Context

A key responsibility of the new executive is to analyze and potentially reset the context of the brand in the company. This may require breaking prior patterns of the organization’s interactions with critical stakeholders and internal customers.

For example, as a new group CIO, you may find a business leader has created a shadow IT organization in the business unit leveraging the cloud and other technologies—neither involving nor ignoring your staff in these initiatives—which could prove a challenge for your team in achieving its brand aspirations.

The solution is to explore renegotiating your staff’s participation in this business unit’s IT-related initiatives.

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