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“In business, what’s dangerous is not to evolve.”Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

The Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) job is as difficult as it is important. The CEO is responsible for the overall success of a business entity and for making top-level managerial decisions. Although they may ask for input on major decisions, the ultimate and final decisions lie on their authority. Name the top CEOs in the world and one will find a few things they have in common that distinguish them from the rest; It starts with their mind-set and what they do differently that set them apart. 

Understanding the Peerless Role of a CEO

Little is solidly understood about what CEOs really do to excel. For all the scrutiny of the CEO’s role, McKinsey’s long-time leader, Marvin Bower, considers the CEO’s job so specialized that he felt executives could prepare for the post only by holding it. Many CEOs today express similar views in their experience, even asking other CEOs how to approach the job doesn’t help, because suggestions vary greatly once they go beyond high-level advice such as “set the strategy,” “shape the culture,” and “get the right team.” 

The incomparable role of a CEO is the most powerful and sought-after title in business, more exciting, rewarding, and influential than any other.  Talk of the biggest moves of a company and that is what the CEO controls, accounting for 45 percent of an organisation’s performance. Despite the dazzle of the role, serving as a CEO can be all-consuming, lonely, and stressful. Just three in five newly appointed CEOs live up to performance expectations in their first 18 months on the job. The high standards and broad expectations of directors, shareholders, customers, and employees create an environment of relentless scrutiny in which one move can dramatically make or derail an accomplished career.

A Paradigm for CEO Excellence 

A leader is bound to set the direction for the company and have a plan in the face of uncertainty. One way that CEOs try to reduce strategic uncertainty is to focus on options with the firmest business cases. Research shows, however, that this approach delivers another sort of outcome: the dreaded “hockey stick” effect, consisting of a projected dip in next year’s budget, followed by a promise of success, which never occurs. The CEO decides ultimately (where do we want to be in five, ten, or 15 years?). Good CEOs do this by considering their mandate and expectations (from the board, investors, employees, and other stakeholders), the relative strengths and purpose of their company, a clear understanding of what enables the business to generate value, opportunities and trends in the marketplace, and their personal aspirations and values.

Strategy: Make bold moves early. 

To move “boldly” is to shift at least 30 percent more than the industry median. Making one or two bold moves more than doubles the likelihood of rising from the middle quintiles of economic profit to the top quintile, and making three or more bold moves makes such a rise six times more likely. CEOs who make these moves earlier in their tenure outperform those who move later and those who do so multiple times in their tenure avoid an otherwise common decline in performance. A good move is matching talent with value. The best CEOs take a methodical approach to matching talent with roles that create the most value. 

Learn the art of effective resource reallocation

Resource reallocation isn’t just a bold strategic move on its own; it’s also an essential enabler of the other strategic moves. Companies that re-allocate more than 50 percent of their capital expenditures among business units over ten years create 50 percent more value than companies that re-allocate more slowly. To ensure that resources are swiftly reallocated to where they will deliver the most value rather than spread thinly across businesses and operations, excellent CEOs institute an ongoing (not annual) stage-gate process. Such a process takes a granular view, makes comparisons using quantitative metrics, prompts when to stop funding and when to continue it, and is backed by the CEO’s personal resolve to continually optimize the company’s allocation of resources.

Give Equal Attention to Performance and Health

Ask successful investors what they look for in portfolio companies and many will tell you they’d rather put money on an average strategy in the hands of great talent than on a great strategy in the hands of average talent. The best CEOs put equal rigor and discipline into achieving greatness on both strategy and talent. When it comes to putting great talent in place, almost half of senior leaders say that their biggest regret is taking too long to move lesser performers out of important roles, or out of the organization altogether. Many CEOs also say they regret leaving adequate performers in key positions and failing to realize the full potential of their roles. The best CEOs think systematically about their people: which roles they play, what they can achieve, and how the company should operate to increase people’s impact.

Combine speed with stability

“Agility” is one of the most widely used and misunderstood management buzzwords of the past decade. For many leaders, agility evokes speed in decision making and execution, as opposed to the deliberate pace dictated by the stable, standardized routines of large organizations. The facts show that agility requires no such trade-off. On the contrary, companies that are both fast and stable are nearly three times more likely to rank in the top quartile of organizational health than companies that are fast but lack stable operating disciplines. Excellent CEOs increase their companies’ agility by determining which features of their organizational design will be stable and unchanging (such features might include a primary axis of organization, a few signature processes, and shared values) and by creating dynamic elements that adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities (such elements might include temporary performance cells, flow-to-work staffing models, and minimum-viable-product iterations).

Pursue Teamwork: Put dynamics ahead of mechanics

The dynamics of a top team can strongly influence a company’s success. The best CEOs take special care to ensure their management team performs strongly as a unit. The reward for doing so is real; top teams that work together toward a common vision are 1.9 times more likely to deliver above-median financial performance. In practice, CEOs swiftly adjust the team’s composition (size, diversity, and capability), which can involve hard calls on removing likable low performers and disagreeable high performers and on elevating people with high potential. CEOs should also calibrate individual relationships, maintaining distance to be objective but enough closeness to gain trust and loyalty.

Decision making: Defence against biases.

Cognitive and organizational biases worsen everyone’s judgment. Such biases contribute to many common performance shortfalls, such as the significant cost overruns that affect 90 percent of capital projects. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely, one of the foremost authorities on cognitive biases, admits, “I was just as bad myself at making decisions as everyone else I write about.” Nevertheless, CEOs sometimes feel as though they’re immune to bias (after all, they might ask, hasn’t good judgment gotten them where they are?). Excellent CEOs endeavour to minimize the effect of biases by instituting such processes as pre-emptively solving for failure modes (premortems), formally appointing a contrarian (red team), disregarding past information (clean sheet), and taking plan A off the table (vanishing options).

Social purpose: Be part of the bigger community

Many corporate social responsibility programs are little more than public-relations exercises; collections of charitable initiatives that generate good feelings but have minimal lasting influence on society’s well-being. Excellent CEOs spend time thinking about, articulating, and championing the purpose of their company as it relates to the big-picture impact of day-to-day business practices. They push for meaningful efforts to create jobs, abide by ethical labour practices, improve customers’ lives, and lessen the environmental harm caused by operations. Remember, visible results matter to stakeholders.

Personal working norms: Do what only you can do

CEOs can easily become overwhelmed, which is understandable given the sheer breadth of their role. As the dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria has said, “CEOs are accountable for all the work of their organizations. Their life is endless meetings and a barrage of email. Plenty of research also suggests that many CEOs are beset by loneliness, frustration, disappointment, irritation, and exhaustion. While no CEO can escape these emotions completely, excellent CEOs know that they will serve the company better by taking command of their well-being

Becoming an exemplary CEO requires authenticity. Remarkable CEOs indulge in merging the reality of what they ought to do in the role with who they are as human beings. They deliberately choose how to behave in the role, based on such questions as: What legacy do I want to leave? What do I want others to say about me as a leader? What do I stand for? What won’t I tolerate? The world’s best CEOs answer these questions according to their strengths and motivations, as well as the company’s needs, and create mechanisms to track how they are doing. By expressing these intentions as part of the rationale for their decisions and actions, CEOs can minimize the risk of failure.



In an era of accelerating social, economic, and technological changes, organizations are continuously challenged to make increasingly complex decisions in the face of an uncertain future. This is why the value of creative and strategic thinkers capable of solving complex problems has never been higher.

Problems are often opportunities in disguise and are almost always portals for learning. A methodical approach based on business problem-solving steps increases the odds of developing long-term solutions that can satisfy management, employees, and customers. A comprehensive approach to problem-solving can be applied to almost every kind of problem— from personal decisions through to business strategies and on to some of the most complex challenges facing society today.

Following a set of clearly delineated problem-solving strategies are essential to avoiding the temptation of acting rashly and making decisions that aren't in the best interests of the organization, customers, and investors. Taking a systematic approach to business management problems and solutions are not ultimate solutions to eliminate problems in the future, but remain long-standing important tools to keep future situations from turning chaotic.

The Skill of Problem Solving Becoming an Industrial Skill in Demand

In a world more complex and uncertain, The World Economic Forum has made an outstanding revelation that lists complex problem solving as the number-one skill for 2020. Work by McKinsey's leadership group also shows that organizations that have the problem-solving capability in the top quartile earn about 3.5 times higher total return to shareholders than those in the bottom quartile. Thus, underpinning the fact that problem solving is not just an individual skill but also becoming an accelerating institutional skill in demand.

Good problem solvers are made and not born! An effective method of understanding problem solving is realizing that problem-solving does not require necessarily dealing with problems that only involve good knowledge of accounting or business.  Becoming an outstanding problem solver is within an individual’s grasp of a range of problems that are typically addressable in day-to-day living; including the factors that underpin individual, business, and societal problems.

Establishing the Essentials of Clever Problem-Solving

Rob McLean, director emeritus of McKinsey’s Strategy and Corporate Finance Practice, eluded in an interview with Chris Bradley on his new book; Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything that, “Bulletproof problem solving is an expression we used at McKinsey that meant that what you came up with to present to the client was ironclad. It really was a test of just how rigorously you’d gone about defining the problem, breaking it down, and doing the analysis”.

A careful investigation of the aforementioned statement by Rob McLean reveals three unparalleled factors that encompass the elements of substantial problem-solving. These are, with emphasis on the word “rigor” as hammered in his submission, defining the problem; breaking down the problem and doing the analysis.

 The Systematic Processes of Dealing with a Relatively Unstructured Problem

Defining and Breaking Down the Problem

Throughout a number of problem-solving techniques or strategies found in books and other reliable sources, one important yet overlooked feature is evident; That is, a lack of systematic approach in dealing with a relatively unstructured problem, which results, in another problem of failing to ascertain the full length of the unpleasant situation. A real gap in the world’s educational system, Ghana inclusive, is a growing trend of churning out into the job market graduates who are undeniably clueless about the efficacious processes of solving complex organizational problems and; are not challenged to identify new and innovative ways of resolving emerging difficulties in the workplace. A good step taken by Google in recent times is prioritizing to hire creative problem-solving talents above all else; a phenomenon that is progressively gaining attention from more and more organizations worldwide.

The ability to define the problem, particularly in terms of what decision-makers are looking for or the ability to disaggregate the problem are missing ingredients in even the most preached about resolution game plan.

Recognizing that very few problems can ever be solved at the highest level, cutting edge resolution methods appreciate: the ability to define the challenges faced in organizations that demand a successful break down into addressable parts, an incorruptible outline of priorities, a well-thought-out and cautiously drawn work plan analysis and recommendations that lead to action. For instance, defining a business problem on competitive strategy goes beyond stating just the problem– What are the Competitive weaknesses? It encapsulates a break down into the difficulties of cost leadership that targets a broad market that offers the lowest possible price, inability to differentiate the high demand for the features that sets a product or service apart and; lack of direction to the factors that accentuate targeting a clear niche market and understanding the dynamics of the market.

Undertaking Careful Analysis of the Named Issues

Examining the problem is the process of investigating the causes of the incident, issue or failure which is done to uncover the improvements to systems, processes, procedures, design, and culture. Some problems are considered “wicked problems” because they often are unintended consequences of initial resolution procedures that rather aggravate matters. In effect, grasping the full knowledge of the problem is championed by investigating the cause and effect analysis of the error.

Though popularly seen as a difficult approach, it looks at for instance, whether the mistake emerged from merely an unintended human error or from the poor performance of a task due to negligence. Root-cause analysis is the sub-analysis that highlights failures that can be traced back to the very beginning of a project. An example is the loss of data that is overlooked at the initial stages of a project but builds a rippling effect over time, leading to an embarrassing failure of the project that hitherto would have been successful. The root-cause concept is the mother of the final step known as the fishbone, where a problem can be visualized into multiple root-causes that are further categorized. This process leads to the making of recommendations that fix the various aspects of a problem.

Making Recommendations and Setting Priorities

The last but not the least step that paves the way for implementation in exceptional problem solving is making the necessary recommendations. This starts with transforming the hypothesis into clearly worded suggestions that incorporate the core analysis required to prove a case. A well-defined recommendation puts into a story-line the methods of correcting the errors and how they ease the situation. Instances where there are uncertainties, strategic problem-solvers try to calibrate what the level of uncertainty is and whether that is going to impact the range of choices available. This is what is referred to as “higher levels of uncertainty.” The solution to this is to build capability by considering low-cost options that can be pursued. A good trick is to allow team structures that have diversity and allow different viewpoints to be brought together.

Instances Where Problem Solving Can Go Wrong

Rob McLean, once again in the interview with Chris Bradley on “Want better strategies? become a Bulletproof problem solver”, connects instances where problem-solving goes wrong to what he calls “missed opportunity”. He cites an example in his book where in the 1980s, IBM paid 20 percent to buy Intel, and it had another 10 percent of warrants in the company. It sold it for $625 million in 1986–87, and that was worth $25 billion a decade later. Similarly, it had the opportunity to buy 30 percent of Microsoft for $300 million in 1986. Ten years later, that was worth $33 billion. With IBM being a significant player in the business at the time, their understanding of the rules and depth of the market led to the creation of a staggering amount of wealth for the company.

The measures that can be taken to prevent problem resolution from taking the wrong path are: understanding the market dynamics and its evolving nature, identifying social and environmental factors that can pose as potential threats, and the need to encourage leaders who are prepared to look at quite-radical choices and real alternatives.

The Impact of Today’s Blend of Mental Muscle & Machine Muscle in Problem Solving

Strategists today have more analytical tools at their disposal than ever before. Without an attempt to replace the human way of doing problem-solving, these new analytical techniques allow for deeper and faster ways to effectively subdue problems from reaching the point of escalation. Machine learning or major regression analysis pushes for attention to be paid to the; mean, median, and mode to facilitate the setting of the hypothesis for the major piece of regression analysis or machine learning.

In an increasingly technological world, society can boast of a functional combination of mental muscle, which is the cognitive problem solving, and machine muscle that distinguishes between advantageous and less advantageous strategies.

From the extensive discussion on result-oriented problem solving, there is a course to appreciate the unique characteristics that adequately define and differentiate calculated problem solvers from the rest of the world. Their preeminent ability to anatomize a complication into bits that can be practically addressed in all aspects, thereby giving varying angles for step-by-step investigation and; a coherent plan of action towards firm-grounded resolution and constructive implementation. These are the qualities that persons seeking to become exceptional problem-solvers should aspire to possess.

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