Communication challenges with a new CEO

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Q:  I was hired by a Cambridge-based firm about 20 years ago.  I started in an entry-level role and have worked my way up.  I have had about five different managers in that time.  Each one was talented, but in different ways.  My role now reports to the new CEO.  He doesn’t like to meet with people, instead he sends messages via text, email or Slack.  He avoids difficult conversations and ignores topics, and tries to postpone these meetings.  I am not sure about his relationship with our board, but I do think they are questioning his capabilities.  Now, after 20 years of service, I am thinking about leaving.  I get calls from headhunters almost weekly.   Any thoughts on making a career move after 20 plus years at one firm?

A: Twenty plus years is a long time!  Congratulations.  Each and every manager has a different leadership style.  Some are great communicators, while others are not.  You don’t share how long the new CEO (Chief Executive Officer) has been in this role, but I would give it some time, especially if your new CEO has been there less than six months.  New CEOs often have a lot on their plates when they first begin a new role.  They are trying to understand the business, their board members, their direct reports, the company’s goals and strategies as well as the culture of the organization.  Additionally, there may be one or more crises that your CEO is trying to diffuse or solve.  Sometimes the organization does not know what C-level leaders are faced with on a daily basis.  Most smart CEOs listen more than they speak during the first few months.  Many CEOs will explain that they are “drinking from the fire hose” during the first few months of working as a CEO, particularly if the role is with a new company.

Usually most new CEOs try to meet with a range of employees, from those at the most junior levels to those at the most senior levels.  Some CEOs may also want to meet with customers, clients or vendors.  With remote and hybrid schedules, it is a bit more challenging to develop a rapport with a new manager.  I would ask to meet with him, and try to establish a regular time to meet.  Perhaps you could suggest meeting once every other week, or a similar schedule.  Explain that this regular meeting is important to you, and that you understand that texts, emails and Slack messages are fine for communication between these meetings.  Once you build a relationship, a weekly meeting may be too frequent, and you may be able to reduce the frequency to twice per month, or every other week.  If your CEO travels frequently, this also can interfere with scheduling regular meetings.  You also may want to try to offer flexibility, including face-to-face or virtually.  Ask if he has a preferred date or time, which will signal that you are being respectful of his time.  You cannot force someone to meet with you.  If he chooses to continue to avoid you, then this relationship is likely headed to a challenging impasse.  At that point, you may want to begin searching for your next role.  Communication is a basic requirement of any employee/manager relationship.  If your manager is unwilling, even if he is the CEO, the relationship may be a difficult one.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.