Testing times for CEOs

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Jim Chaplin, Chief Executive Officer

Many CEOs could be forgiven for feeling in need of a break. It has been an emotional, exhausting, unpredictable and invariably extremely difficult few weeks for those who are charged with running organisations. At the same time, it has also been challenging, rewarding, stimulating and offered the opportunity for many to learn new skills and experience a different set of issues in their inbox. For everyone, lots will have been learnt, not just about themselves, but about their senior teams, their boards and the organisations that they lead.

The bad news for those in charge is that the next few months are likely to bring even greater challenges and pressures and even less chance of a holiday! CEOs are going to be forced into making big and pivotal decisions at a time of much uncertainty when the solutions are unclear, the variables are enormous and energy levels have been eroded by the relentless demands on their time over the past few months.

In many ways, the paths that have been trodden thus far have been hard but clear: preserving cash, managing shareholders, accessing government funding, negotiating pay cuts or deferrals with staff and preparing contingency plans for different scenarios. The next phase promises to be considerably more complex.

If you happen to be a club in the top 6 of the Championship, for example, you could be looking at a best case scenario of playing Premier League football in September in front of a crowd in your stadium with all the accompanying riches that can bring; alternatively, you could be looking at a whole season playing Championship football in front of no spectators. How on earth do you prepare for two scenarios that are so radically different? Or indeed, any number of variations between the two extremes.

For some, the solutions will be more straight-forward and it will be a grim fight for survival. There will be no alternative but to continue to cut costs, delay or defer payments and to beg and borrow sufficient support from investors or lenders to get through to the other side.

For the majority, there will be a wider range of choices. The biggest rewards will come to those who are able to keep their best people employed, who can evolve and adapt their organisations so they are well placed to capitalise on opportunities as the world returns to some kind of normality.

Central to this will be the type of people that they will need alongside them. And this may be a different group of people from the team that went before. Most CEOs will already have identified those who have responded well to pressure, to change and to ambiguity. They will probably have spotted some gaps. And they will also have seen (or not seen!) those who have run for cover.

In this context, people decisions are therefore harder than ever. Hiring (or firing) people virtually, making substantive changes to organisational structures whilst trying to build a collaborative and positive culture that is fit and ready to face an uncertain future is an unenviable task. Success can only come from real rigour in thinking through the challenges, a deep understanding of your team and a proactive communications strategy.

Here at SRI, in the current environment we are finding that our role is increasingly focused on consulting CEOs on options, providing evidence and insight to support decision making and ensuring that there are robust, objective and fair processes in place to assess individuals and chart the future talent strategy. Reassessing the leadership and talent you need, in which structure, learning from other organisations who are excelling and investing in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team has never been more important. An adaptable, balanced, well-motivated and resilient team will give you the best chance of emerging strongly from this crisis. We’re here to help if you need a sounding board.


Jim Chaplin
Chief Executive Officer
T: +44(0) 207 092 6969