An article in the January 6 issue of the New York Times, “In With the New Mission Statement,” opens with this bit of advice: “Forget the New Year’s resolution. This year, try creating a personal mission statement instead.” The basic point of the piece is that resolutions at the onset of a new year might be well-intended but tend to be unsustainable as the weeks pass in the face of inevitable demands and pressures, basically because they are too shallow. Instead, a more fundamental statement of intended impacts based on core values is needed – in other words, a serious mission statement.
Working with transportation CEOs over the years, I’ve been impressed by the practical value of a detailed CEO mission statement that identifies the CEO’s intended value-added over the coming year, in terms of the very concrete outcomes/impacts that the CEO herself – not the transportation authority generally – intends to spend significant CEO time and energy achieving in the coming twelve months. One way to craft such a CEO mission statement is to go through a fill-in-the-blanks process in key CEO leadership areas: Above and beyond the normal day-to-day leadership functions I perform as CEO, I intend to focus significant time and energy over the coming year on (specific outcomes/achievements). For example: In the CEO leadership area support for the board, I will ensure that the recommendations in the action report following up on our board-executive team governance work session are fully implemented within the first six months of the year. In the CEO leadership area of internal management, I will ensure that the upgraded contract management system that the board’s performance oversight committee approved becomes fully functional by the end of the third quarter of the year. In the CEO leadership area of external relations, I will ensure that our eroded working relationship with the chamber of commerce is repaired and that we begin to work together as real partners by the end of the year. And so on.
I’ve learned from practical experience that this kind of “CEO-centric” statement of intended CEO impacts is not only a great way to strengthen a transportation CEO’s executive leadership, but also a valuable tool for board evaluation of CEO performance, and hence for maintenance of a solid board-CEO working relationship. The reason it’s such a powerful tool is its focus on specific CEO leadership outcomes that can be objectively assessed by the board, rather than those highly subjective questionnaires that board members are, unfortunately, often asked to fill out as part of the CEO evaluation process.
I sometimes encounter resistance from a handful of CEOs in programs I present around the country to this idea of negotiating “CEO-centric” outcomes with the board because it feels like inviting board micro-management of CEO performance. As I tell program participants, CEO-produced outcomes are the board’s business and, hence, not an example of micro-management. More importantly, the tool has proved to be a powerful cementer of the always fragile board-CEO partnership, and so it’s well worth using.