It is critical for a CEO to be self-aware so that s/he can focus on doing the right things even if they’re not popular
Most businesses have two real assets—brands and people. This is even more true for FMCG businesses because the value of an FMCG business is in its brand value. If there is a great brand but poor people, the business will suffer. On the other hand, if there is an average brand but great people, the business will grow. People are at the cornerstone of any great brand business. The first question for a CEO is ‘why do people come to work?’ The reasons are varied and many. People come to work because they believe that the purpose of the company is motivating. People also come to work because they have good colleagues and they are convinced that they will end up with something better in the evening from where they started in the morning. This means that the first thing that a CEO needs to think about is the culture of the organization. The culture that we’ve been trying to promote within our company is one of openness, transparency and of a non-hierarchical structure.
One of the programs that we drive is called ‘C.E.O’, which stands for Collaboration, Execution, and Ownership. The CEO program is for the top leaders of the company. In my experience, ‘ownership’ is always the most difficult part in leadership. Small companies have an entrepreneurial mentality or a ‘founder’s mentality’ that is difficult to replicate in a large organization. For a CEO in a large company, one of the key puzzles is to answer the question of, “how to build a founder mentality?” The second key business priority for me is the development of people. All investments in plant and machinery depreciate but all investments in people appreciate. There are several talent initiatives which we drive. A CEO has to use as many interactions with talent as possible, including face-to-face interactions, e-mail communications and newsletters. As a CEO, I try to talk to as many people as possible, encourage and energize people in meetings and write out my key lessons of the week through weekly letters. A meeting is a great way to coach people and I try to use this opportunity to coach in every meeting.
A key area where I also invest my time every week is the weekly newsletter. In the past 45 weeks, I’ve diligently sent 45 newsletters to my staff on my ‘learnings of the week’, and what I think everyone should be doing. Besides that, we conduct ‘floor town halls’ where two to three members of the Leadership Team and I step into the floor to talk to every person on the ground. I try and include as many people as possible in these floor town halls. Even people in other locations get wired into these through web casts.
I spend a minimum of 12-14 days a month in travelling and meeting people. A CEO has to treat people with respect, have trust and approach every individual in the organization as an adult. Trust is a combination of character and competence. Competence can be built but character is innate and leaders get found out when they aren’t authentic. In today’s world, it is a good approach for the organization to consider employees as volunteers. Volunteers consider key parameters in an organization, including quality of leadership, reputation, and culture. A CEO should also consider how to make a favourable impression of the organization’s brand in the broad ecosystem, including partners and external agencies. I consider an organization with a good culture as one that has respect for individuals, is trusted, is very responsive, and focused on who they are serving.
It is critical for a CEO to be self-aware, so that s/he can focus on doing the right things. A CEO’s job is to win respect because respect lasts much longer than popularity.
D. SHIVAKUMAR is the Chairman & CEO of PepsiCo India