Practical steps on how to take control at C-level

control at the C-level

Step 1: Acknowledgement (not denial)

In self-help, the first step to recovery (from anything from bereavement to compulsive gambling) is acknowledgement that there is a problem. So that is where we will start.

Acknowledgement is the acceptance of the truth or existence of something and/or the recognition of the importance of something.

Denial is a statement that something is not true, perhaps the refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness, and is often used as a defence mechanism.

Step 1 is to take the problem to a point of acknowledgement instead of leaving it in a soggy pit of denial. You might do this by:

  • Researching external guidance or insight. Who is your accountancy firm/systems integrator and what do they have to say on the matter of change and projects?
  • Talking to other similar organisations if you have an opportunity – in industry communities, or at conferences, etc.
  • Running an open meeting or workshop to uncover any issues or concerns the executive may have.
  • Analysing poor performance with regard to change and asking the question, ‘Why?’

Step 2: Challenge yourself (and your organisation)

Once you reach a state of ‘acknowledgement’ then the challenge and the question of what needs to be done can be presented to the executive team. Just how bad is the problem, and who cares enough to try and make a difference?

This is the ideal way to move on to the challenges facing your organization but you may have to merge steps 1 and 2 if only partial acknowledgement of there being a problem is achieved.

Some potential problems might include:

  • Investing in the right portfolio dashboard.
  • Investing in professional project sponsorship and executive leadership.
  • Investing at the C-level in a chief projects office and, ideally, a PMO.
  • Investing in the means to know the true status of your strategic change/project investment.
  • Investing in professionalising the project capability and competence within your organisation.

Step 3: Assess reality (really be honest)

The GROW (*) model is a simple method for both goal setting and problem solving.

If your organisation reaches a happy state of ‘acknowledgement’ of the problem and has reviewed the ‘challenge’ (or challenges) then it is now time to set a goal in place to make change better.

One of the foundations for such goals to be achieved is to also achieve an honest (no matter how tough and unappetising that may be), clear and no-stone-unturned reality check.

This is the second stage of the GROW model (see table below).

Step 3 is to make understanding of the facts a reality within your executive team.

Ideas for achieving this include:

  • Brainstorming the situation with your executive team.
  • Opening up the situation to input from a wider employee base. Those at the coalface often know a lot more than you might think, and care a lot more as well.
  • Considering history, what has prevented you from realizing and/or altering the way you oversee ‘change’?
  • Taking insight from external references, such as books, articles, papers, etc.
  • Considering what the future would ideally be like, the goal in the GROW model, and working back from that future state to the now to highlight obstacles.
G The goal is the end point, where your organization wants to be.


The goal has to be defined precisely, so that it is very clear when it has been achieved.


R The current reality is where your organization is now What are the issues, and challenges, and how far are they away from their goal?






There will be obstacles stopping your organization getting from where it is now to where it wants to be. What are the known obstacles?
Once obstacles have been identified, your organization needs to find ways of dealing with them if it is to progress. What options do you have to overcome each obstacle?


W The options then need to be converted into action steps which will take your organisation to your goal. These are the way forward.



Step 4: Get some help (today isn’t too early)

If you do find yourself alone in this situation, then why not get some help? Even if you are not alone you may still need some help to reach a point of general agreement and in developing a forward plan to move from the ‘as is’ state to the much preferred ‘to be’ state of good change leadership.

Step 4 involves conceding that you need help, and getting it. Places you might turn to include:

  • Any experienced organisational change agent. (including me)
  • Your accountancy firm/systems integrator (if you have lots of money to spend of course … no only kidding, they do have a real depth of skill in this area and could be the right choice for your organisation, I should know, I used to work for one of them).
  • Other organisations that may have been through a similar process.

Step 5: Secure your future (and the organisation’s change programme)

Once enlightenment is achieved, reality accepted and a plan put in place to bring about a new understanding of change inside your organisation then your job, and that of the executive, is to lead.

The best way to do this is to remember a key truth: children learn by example, and so does your team.

Step 5 is therefore leading by example. You and your peers need to embrace the new ways of leading and managing change, and show true enthusiasm for this new order. Model the way you want your team to behave by:

  • Embracing the new ways;
  • Showing and sharing enthusiasm;
  • Being creative in the ways you encourage others to change;
  • Being open to feedback and comment, with the aim of becoming even more successful in the future.

(*) The GROW model, developed in the United Kingdom, was used extensively in corporate coaching in the late 1980s and 1990s. While no one person can be clearly identified as the originator, Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore all made significant contributions. Max Landsberg also describes GROW in his book The Tao of Coaching.

Extract from How to get fired at C-level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all, out now, priced £14.99 by Peter Taylor.

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