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Continued from Previous……

Nitin Nohria and Michael Porter study [link appears at the end] is a very revealing study, and we need to dig more into it. Let us look at some further findings.


CEOs are incessantly copied in emails. Most of these are supposed to be for information only. A small percentage really requires some action. However, the CEOs may feel pressured to respond because ignoring would appear to be rude. The risk in unmeasured response is that it may draw them unnecessarily into certain operational matters which they should not otherwise get entangled into.

On the other hand, emails from CEOs carry special significance. In the developed countries, the trend is rising that emails and work-related messages should not be sent in off-hours or off-days. But if CEOs work on off days and even during vacations, as this study revealed earlier, this is bound to happen.

The summary is that the CEOs should set proper norms for sending and receiving emails, to avoid undue hassle, wastage of time and effort due to uncontrolled email communication.

CEOs are Agenda Driven

CEOs of larger corporations oversee many organizational subunits, which entails countless types of decisions. It is always possible that the direction in which a CEO wishes to drive the corporation may be missed. It is therefore important that the CEOs have an explicit agenda of their own and they must pursue it relentlessly.

In this study, each CEO was asked to describe the agenda he or she was pursuing during the time they were being tracked 24/7, and to highlight the hours devoted primarily for advancing it. The study found that the CEOs invested significant time – 43% on average – on activities in pursuance of their agenda. There were wide variations in allocation of time – from 14% to 80% – but most CEOs agreed that the more time they spent on their agendas, the better they felt about use of their time.

Dealing with Unfolding Developments

Things keep on developing, sometimes as per expected outcomes, and sometimes in unexpected ways. These may be related to people, to projects, to markets, to customers, to operations and so on. The issues may be internal or external. The CEOs have two choices, and both have their implications. If they wait, the problem may become bigger quickly and tend to get out of hand. If they intervene immediately, it may make the problem bigger than what it is. There are no clear guidelines about when the CEO should intervene. The decision shall have to be taken on the merit of the cases individually.

A bigger development may be a full-blown crisis at hand. In recent times, cyber-attacks for ransom have happened frequently. Climate change is causing unexpected disasters. Markets may behave erratically, and competitor may wage a savage war suddenly. Every CEO must handle crisis situations as and when these come. In this study, most CEOs (89%) spent some time of crises, though on average it was small (1% on average) with wide variations in individual cases. In dealing with crisis, the CEOs must be highly visible and personally involved, because crisis-handling cannot be delegated. CEOs hold everyone together and create confidence that the organization will not only survive but emerge stronger than before.

Limiting Routine Responsibilities

A significant portion of CEOs work time (11% on average) was taken up by routine activities. Review meetings were a major component, and the discussion by researchers suggested that some CEOs – especially those who had been COOS – overinvested in reviews that could be delegated to direct reports.

Before we go further with this study, it is pertinent to look at the scenario in Pakistan. I shall talk about Pharma industry where I have worked all my life.

The MNCs had always had foreigners as CEOs/MDs. They were appointed from abroad, usually for a tenure. They came served, and went back, replaced by a successor. They got their advice from parent office and their strategies were largely guided by parent offices. In the last couple of decades, local employees were appointed as CEOs. There was a variation in it also. Some MNCs brought local CEO early while others lingered on. This change was part of a larger change. The MNCs divested their interests in our market in several ways. They changed the nature of relationship basically. The CEOs of MNCs have been seasoned professionals groomed over a period. Though wide variations could be seen in their steering of respective organizations, but they worked through direct reports who were also groomed senior managers. A certain level of delegation was inherent.

Local Pharma is a different story. Barring a few cases, the owner is the CEO. Every owner is an entrepreneur first and foremost. His leadership follows the agenda of entrepreneurship. They may or may not develop a layer of senior managers to run the company and may like to run everything by themselves. Mostly, there is no delegation, and the entire authority is vested into the CEO.

It would be interesting to run a study like this in Pakistan, or a similar place, and compare the findings.

To be Continued……

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