Unlike managers and employees, chief executive officers have fewer career options. Once a person is CEO, he or she can later become CEO of a larger company, a smaller company, a better company, a different company, but chances are the job title is still going to be CEO. (The obvious exception being a CEO of a small startup company who may accept a lower position at a larger company.)
The CEO also is judged on the overall success of an enterprise. A manager or employee, by contrast, may move up in title, transfer to another division, transfer skills to other industries or may become a consultant specializing in a particular area of expertise.
A top executive lives or dies by the results of an entire company, yet he or she must rely on individuals whose personal success may be determined by much narrower criteria. As chief executives exist by the numbers and are pressured to produce quantifiable success, they push that pressure downward throughout the organization.
But that pressure also creates opportunities that can reconcile the difference between the overall corporate goals and those of the individual, between what I call corporate truth and street truth. Corporate truth is what the chief executive announces to the world that the business is going to do. Street truth is the reality of the company’s managers and employees, who hear the message and determine how much of that pronouncement actually will be realized.
Playing to the top
The manager or employee who can help a chief executive demonstrate and document how well a strategy is being executed is clearly furthering the well-being of the boss, and is likely to be regarded favourably. That should play to the self-interest of any ambitious business manager or employee.
Making sure that the information a top executive needs is in the right place at the right time in the right context is sometimes derided as politicking or bootlicking. Clearly, there is some personal incentive at work. But supporting the chief executive also goes beyond simple “sucking up to the boss.”
To understand what information is important to others, managers and employees need a broader understanding of the business than that required by his or her individual job. And the pressure for quantifiable results can help force individual managers and employees to make the link between their own performances and how it affects the organization as a whole. That link can help give the employee that broader understanding that enables him or her to supply superiors with the right information at the right time.
In effect, this connection becomes a virtual circle. The senior executive needs the support of the troops to get anything accomplished. And supporting the needs of the senior executive benefits the manager and employee, not only by attracting attention but also by forcing the employee to gain knowledge — knowledge that will enhance his or her ability to support company strategy even better in the future.
This will not guarantee that the compensation of the employee even enters the league of that of the chief executive. But consistently sending knowledge up the pipeline can pretty well assure that the employee or manager will be making forward-motion career steps.
The employee or manager often is closer to the customer, and sees and understands those customers’ needs. This knowledge of customer need coupled with knowledge of the boss’s need can be used by employees and managers to move themselves forward, while also helping their organization satisfy its customers.