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All the Right Moves: New Report Details Strategies on Reaching the C-Suite


strategies on reaching the c-suiteA new report offers statistics and suggestions on successfully transitioning to the C-suite. For executives positioning themselves to make a corporate level move, this is news you can use.

I work with professionals and executives looking to make their best career transition. One way I help my clients stand out is by helping them understand what they need to rise to the top—and stay there. A new survey by McKinsey and Company offers some key insights into achieving a C-level position.


Transition is not just a phase—it is a job

The McKinsey survey takes a broad look at the conditions that new C-level executives face. Similar stressors and challenges face new hires, regardless of whether they are hired from within, without, or move laterally.

Take the case of Brian Cornell. Hired from PepsiCo, Mr. Cornell took the reins at Target, the first outside CEO in the 112-year history of the company. Since being named to lead the firm, Mr. Cornell made it a point to “listen and learn,” leveraging his outsider status as a selling point for a struggling company seen as too insular.

Like many C-level professionals, Mr. Cornell is expected to create a brisk turnaround environment while negotiating his own transition into the company. So far, Mr. Cornell, through pulling the company out of Canada and refocusing on essentials, is well on his way to success on both counts.

The McKinsey survey explores the geography of transition to a C-suite position. Unlike other jobs that pivot on skill and qualifications, C-level hires must transform into a different organizational asset. Understanding the territory of a C-suite transition can make the difference between a faltering first step, and a strong first year.

Whether you are a new C-level hire, or on your way there, map these areas first:

• Business: Transitional tasks associated with the business aspect of the C-suite include understanding priorities, what to do, and what not to do. An essential task during this period is to develop a forward vision and promote alignment to that vision across the organization.
• Culture: While internal hires already have knowledge of company culture, their familiarity with a company can also create challenges. Cautiously access company culture. As with business priorities, know what aspects of company culture to address at the outset—or to leave alone.
• Team: Assemble a supportive, informed, and strategic group of direct hires at the outset. A well-functioning team offers the necessary structure and forward momentum.
• Self: Through instruction, experience, or coaching, learn the unique skills you need to fulfill expectations.

A successful transition is the first project of any corporate executive. Your performance throughout that transition depends largely on how well you prepare for it. Always study the terrain before starting the trip.


The first 100 days—or not?

The first three months on the job offer insight into the effectiveness of any hire. But the transitional phase of a C-level hire can stretch past the first year. Consider these points:

• Many companies do not have resources in place to successfully onboard a C-suite hire. Only about 27 percent of respondents to the McKinsey survey reported receiving adequate support to move smoothly into their position.
• A majority of respondents noted finding the sweet spot of transitional success between 31 and 100 days.
• Successful response to initial strategic tasks took some new hires between three and 18 months, while the majority found success between three and 12 months.

While most companies look for accountability at the outset of a routine hire, C-suite hires typically have time to put their 100-day plan into place. Keep in mind, however, that those like Mr. Cornell – i.e., hired to reverse an economic downturn – immediate action is expected.


Priorities for the C-suite

As I discussed in an earlier blog, there are well-known strategies for positioning yourself for the C-suite. Professionals in generalist and high-visibility positions are more likely to get the nod when an overarching organizational grasp is needed.

When you arrive at the C-suite, or an opportunity to advance appears, keep these concepts in mind as you make your way through the transition:

• Understand the framework: Use research, interview, analytics, and other information to create a context for understanding your position and vision for the company. Alignment with company goals is possible only when you comprehend the pieces of the larger system. Each company, and each position within a company, is different. Sure-fire methods that worked for you during a previous transition, or job hunt, may fall flat if you do not do your homework.
• Create your priorities: Know your business and personal priorities at the outset of the hiring process. From the interview, through hire and onward, revise and refine these points as objectives are met, your team solidifies, and the ground continually shifts. Remain adaptable enough to meet the needs of your position, stakeholders, employees—and your own life.
• Know your messaging: Be aware of your story and how it is told. Media reports—positive and negative—have a powerful influence. Understand the key messaging of the company, and develop and display a calm and confident voice under pressure.

From the day you decide to initiate a corporate search, thoughtful attention and careful homework are needed. Use purposeful action and organizational knowledge to effectively traverse the landscape from interview to C-suite executive.

Contact me when you are ready to create a strong, strategic search for the C-level position you want.


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