End the CEO (as we know it).


It's great to be king, isn't it? You've made it to the corner office (or the C-suite, or the VP level, or whatever position carries clout in your world), and you're feeling pretty good. Minions follow your instructions. You offload some of the scut work you've been saddled with for years. People create PowerPoint presentation for you, instead of you agonizing over Helvetica vs. Arial when creating them for others. Maybe you even have an executive dining room.

Vineet Nayar, the CEO of HCL Technologies in India, disagrees. He wants to get rid of the CEO.

Of course, as he says, he doesn't want to kick him or her out the door. He means that we should move beyond the quaint notion that the CEO should be the supreme corporate leader. As Nayar points out, in the traditional way of thinking, the CEO is expected to play the following roles: Creator of Value; Answer Machine; Strategy Wizard; Approval Granter; and Performance Reviewer/Mentor.

But in the increasingly complex and fast-moving market, when companies span the globe, it's unreasonable -- absurd, really -- to expect that one person can fulfill all these roles, no matter how talented, skilled, and experienced. More significantly, trying to do so has a toxic effect on the company:

At HCL I came to realize that, first, I could not play any of those roles and, second, none of them creates very much value for the company or the company's customers. On the contrary, the supreme CEO robs employees of initiative, stifles their passion, and inhibits their ability to do their jobs well. If employees do not have to find their own answers, develop their own strategies, formulate their own plans, and assess their own performance, what are they? Automatons.

His long-term goal is to transfer the responsibility for change to employees. By allowing the people who really create customer value -- the employees -- to drive improvement, Nayar realizes that the company can become a nimbler, faster-moving organization that reduces the amount of non-valued added activities.

Nayar goes on to list several specific steps HCL has taken to move in this direction: peers review annual business plans, making them higher quality and more easily executed. An intranet portal allows workers to ask and answer each others' questions, creating faster learning cycles and spreading ideas widely. Employee reviews and feedback are visible to everyone, helping people improve more quickly. Etc.

Now, these may not be the right tools and tactics for you and your firm. But the key idea -- that the supreme leader (whether CEO, VP, Managing Director, whatever) by definition robs employees of initiative, stifles their passion, and inhibits their ability to do their jobs well -- is worth attending to. This idea is the power behind the A3 and A3 thinking. The A3 provides a structured method for transferring responsibility and authority to the people actually doing the work of the company. In so doing, it fosters initiative, creativity, and autonomy throughout the organization. It leads to continuous improvement and greater engagement.

It also lightens your burden. After all, why should you have to be the smartest guy in the room when you've got dozens/hundreds/thousands of talented, smart, hardworking people who can help shoulder the load?

So think about abdicating the throne. See if you can become a CEO who is willing to admit he doesn't know very much, answers as few questions as possible, and is always asking for help.

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