Why business is like ... A hitchcock movie

A new CEO heralds a new era. A new era heralds change, and change induces fear. So what can a new CEO do to break this cycle and avoid joining a company paralysed by the prospect of their arrival?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Alfred Hitchcock understood the mechanics of fear better than most and an appreciation of the techniques he used to terrify his audiences may provide clues for a new CEO keen to avoid doing the same to theirs.

Hitchcock famously observed that 'There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it'. As he explained, if you have three men in a room with a ticking bomb that neither they nor the audience know is there until it goes off, then the unsuspecting audience gets a surprise. 'One surprise! That's all.' Contrast this with a scene in which the audience knows about the bomb but the men do not. The men still talk inanely but now even the most banal things they say are charged with an underlying tension. Such is the power of suspense.

Literature is not in short supply on the subject of a new boss 'on-boarding', but almost without exception it advocates restraint, warning against hasty decision-making and impulsive action. Todd Stitzer, CEO of Cadbury Schweppes, says a new boss should 'announce their plan only after a period of intense reflection and analysis'. At first glance, this advice seems beyond contention - surely to do anything else would be foolhardy? But as Hitchcock would attest, delay does not dampen fear but increases it. And instilling a sense of mounting anxiety is clearly bad for staff morale. Try instead adding a dash of Churchill to your Hitchcock - his exhortation 'Action this day!' offers new leaders the best chance of getting off to a flying start.

- Jenny Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk.

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