No, the title of this article is not a mistake. Unlike the sign on President Harry Truman’s desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here,” the title of this article is meant to convey the notion that everything starts with the entrepreneur or CEO. Of course, they are also responsible for all issues and results, whether they are good or bad, as meant by President Truman’s sign.
As discussed in the article in this series, “The Chief Everything Officer,” the CEO of every size organization is responsible for everything and, in the early days, has to do virtually everything until others join. With tongue in cheek, CEOs never have to worry about having nothing to worry about! There is always a reason, often dozens of reasons, that stop them from getting a good night’s sleep. Every day brings on new crisis and tactical situations, many of which were not anticipated only days before.
Within all of the noise and clutter of daily activities, the CEO has to remember that they have three fundamental responsibilities that cannot be delegated to anyone else in the organization and should always be on their minds. These three responsibilities apply to all organizations, for-profit or non-profit, private or public, pre-revenue or Fortune 100. The failure to address these three issues will impact the organization’s success and, perhaps, even its survival. It is remarkable how easy it is for some CEOs to neglect these issues, assuming that others within the organization, at all levels, understand, embrace, and internalize them. The “buck starts” with:
- Clearly developing and sharing the organization’s long-term vision.
- Providing high level guidance for the strategy to pursue the vision.
- Setting the tone of the organization.
The first two activities, vision and strategy, may require a considerable amount of thought and weighing of alternatives but should be easy to articulate in a few short sentences that should be shared with everyone in the organization. The third activity, setting the tone of the organization, is just the opposite. The organization will reflect the demonstrated behaviors of the CEO. Unlike the first two activities, the tone that is demonstrated by the CEO, every day in every setting, is an on-going activity. Simple, innocent deviations such as exhibiting a frown when getting a cup of coffee in the break room, can fly through the organization before the coffee gets cold. The CEO needs to understand that they are always on-stage, there is no back-stage nor can a game face be exhibited on occasion.
From time to time, the company, under the direction of the CEO, can change its vision or its strategy and, after sharing it with all levels, change courses rather quickly. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the tone of the organization. An edict from the CEO such as “We will become more responsive,” or “We will increase quality,” or “We will do whatever it takes to satisfy our customers” sounds impressive. They may be decreed similar to what the Pharaoh, Ramses the Second (Yul Brynner), in the movie, the Ten Commandments, proclaimed with a drum roll, “So let it be written, so let it be done.” Everyone is likely to nod their heads in agreement, but these re-directions require time to internalize and implement. The time frame to actually make those changes can often take months or even years. Bad experiences seem to be stored in very long-term memory. Saying “We will change” doesn’t make it happen. Think of the uphill battle some organizations are having in changing their employee and customer opinions of the company.
The tone demonstrated by the CEO becomes a key element in the development of the company’s culture, which is discussed in a number of other articles in this chapter.
Ignoring any of the three key “starting” activities will invariably make the “buck that stops” with the CEO less than positive. Instead of stepping up to accept the responsibility of the miss-steps, take time to stop them before they start.