Stepping Off The Beaten Business Path and Choosing Not To Hire A CEO
In business, there are tried-and-tested blueprints most entrepreneurs use as a roadmap for getting their company off the ground. Sure, you will go through trial-and-error periods when it comes to perfecting your product, solidifying your messaging and determining your niche in the market, but generally, companies can fit themselves into these blueprints. Yet if a business wants to achieve true innovation, should it not instead alter these blueprints to fit the company? In that case, sometimes stepping off the beaten path is necessary.
When I co-founded the web experience platform Solodev in 2007, I knew one thing for certain — I did not want to be the CEO. Still, my co-founder and I followed the traditional business trajectory and quickly filled the role. Unfortunately, we soon realized we made the wrong decision in rushing to fit in with the status quo. Since Solodev was not yet in a place where we needed a CEO to help us go public and communicate between the board and shareholders, our “CEO” became more like our chief salesman — a role that was already filled by another leader. As a bootstrapped company still in its early stages, a traditional CEO just did not make sense for us, and so we had to reorganize.
Even as we have grown into a SaaS-based company and cultivated key partnerships with major companies like Amazon Web Services, Solodev has still not brought on a formal CEO. While this decision may be unconventional, it has continued to work in our favor. Why? One of the biggest reasons is that it takes the pressure off one person as the ultimate decision maker or problem solver, allowing for a more democratic approach to business.
Empowering Department Heads
Without a formal CEO presiding over Solodev’s operations, we have established a roundtable of department heads, thus creating a looser, more democratic way of running our organization. By following this example, companies equally distribute the pressures of executive-level decisions so they do not fall on one person. Such a structure empowers the heads of each department to leverage their expertise in making recommendations and, together, come to a decision.
In our case, a strong executive team has proven more effective than leaning on one individual. Not only does it give everyone more input and insight into the workings of the company, it also makes everyone much more invested in agreeing on the right decisions. Additionally, department heads who are held equally accountable for business decisions spend more time communicating and getting to know one another, resulting in increased trust. Excellent communication and established trust are essential when these department leaders are assembled to handle time-sensitive issues as they arise.
Anticipating the Unexpected
The most successful companies are those that do not rely on one particular individual in order to continue operating effectively. For example, what happens to the company if one key leader must take an unexpected leave? Will operations continue to run smoothly? At Solodev, we always consider this when making strategic decisions. We do this so no one team member is relied on so much so that if they were gone and a crisis arose, the company would crumble.
By spreading the responsibility of decision-making across multiple employees, companies will never find themselves in the position of being extremely dependent on a single individual to achieve or reach meaningful benchmarks and milestones. If a company makes the choice not to have a formal CEO, responsibilities of a CEO can be spread across a strong executive team. This empowers and equips teams to make tough calls when necessary, instead of waiting for one person to find a solution for every crisis that pops up.
As a rapidly growing tech company, Solodev goes for the “divide and conquer” approach to big issues we face as a company. This brings in additional insight from different minds and allows us to have a comprehensive view of any particular issue so when our team does make a decision, it is one based on a multi-disciplinary understanding of the issue rather than a singular view or understanding. If you are part of an early stage growth company in the process of making decisions related to how your company is going to be run, do not just say, “Yes” to the titular role of CEO just to have one. Ask yourself what is most important to your company. What metrics does your company use to measure success? Consider the logistics of your organization being run by a single individual or by a team of the most talented leaders in their respective departments. You may just find this new leadership model for growth stage companies will suit you better than conventional wisdom.
Shawn Moore, the founder and CTO of Solodev, is the driving force behind the Solodev web experience platform, which received 2016 People’s Choice Award for Best Cloud CMS.