Mar
31

The Number One Thing CEOs Wish They’d Done Differently

by  Lisa Petrilli  |  Leadership Development

I’m quite fortunate to be part of the team at CEO Connection, working closely with our CEO members on a daily basis.  One of the real perks of my role is the opportunity to meet with small, intimate groups of these executives five times a year in different locales around the world

At these meetings they have a chance to truly reflect on – and be open and honest about – mistakes they’ve made, and they share experiences and insights that enable them to leave with renewed and energized visions and strategies.

Talent First

In each session the question invariably arises, “What do you wish you’d done differently when you first took the job?”  And in each session the response is overwhelmingly the same, “I wish I’d moved faster on talent decisions.”

Why? Because often their gut tells them that the people are not aligned properly with the needs of their roles, and that the roles are not aligned with the business needs that are driven by the organization’s new vision.  But there may be fear about sending disruptive signals by making dramatic changes, and by making them quickly.

And yet, upon reflection, that is hands-down what they wish they’d done.

7 Keys

I believe that by doing the following seven things it is possible for CEOs and other C-suite executives to address talent alignment issues in a proactive and positive way, so that the organization is galvanized for forward movement toward its vision as quickly as possible:

  1. Make managing and growing your talent a top priority.  This means making it one of the top three items in every staff meeting and every strategy discussion.
  2. Communicate openly about the importance – and the benefit to everyone in the company – of having positions aligned with the vision and strategies of the company, and of having the right people in those positions.
  3. At the same time, be committed to finding roles for the current employees that best align with their strengths, and thus “set them up” for success.
  4. Be open about your willingness to work with employees who may be in positions that are not a great fit – to help them via coaching or mentoring – so that both they and the company are better off because of the process.
  5. Make sure that talent decisions align with the values of the company.  Top performers that disrespect others and play by their own rules – and may have been allowed to do so under previous leadership – must be dealt with because of their impact on the organization’s culture.
  6. Remember that everything communicates.  Not addressing talent issues of non-performance speaks volumes.
  7. And remember the power you have to communicate, through words and actions, a genuine desire to see everyone succeed – and to mean it.

What advice do you have for CEOs who are reluctant to make talent decisions, but who know in their gut they must be made? I’d be honored to hear from you.

 

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What People Are Saying

Martin Pazzani  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

When I think about my own ‘things I wish I’d done differently’ list, it invariable comes back to talent issues. Hesitating to make key changes because you believe you can reform or persuade a problem person costs time and money, and sends mixed signals.

Kevin Morris  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Great post, Lisa! We see very similar patterns in conversations within our own CEO Peer Groups.

One of the best stories on this subject is of Ricardo Semler when he took over his father’s company, Semco. If you’re familiar with his book, Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace, you might recall how as a 21 year old with a dramatically different vision for the company, he fired 60% of the management staff on his first day! It may have been some naivety there, but looking back, it turned out to be a a major factor in him reinventing the culture, brand, and bottom line!

Thanks for the great post.

Kevin Morris
http://www.ceoglobalnetwork.com
twitter.com/ceoglobal

Susan Mazza  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Great insight Lisa. When we are in a new role I think we need to really listen to our gut. It is only a matter of time before we absorb enough of the culture that we can get blinded ourselves. People expect a new exec to make changes – there can be a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” kind of experience that can throw a monkey wrench into progress.

I also think that a new exec needs to move just as swiftly in building the team of aligned and committed leaders who is going to lead the company or organization into the future if they want to fuel momentum with their swift action. People will be watching those they already trust to determine if the messages you are trying to send are for real. Unless these leaders are reinforcing the messages you intended to send with your decisions (both openly and behind closed doors) in their actions and their words, inertia will set in.

Lisa Petrilli  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Susan.

I agree with your insight about the perilously short time we have in a new culture before we absorb it and lose our “outside view” – excellent insight and reason for acting quickly.

And I also appreciate your thoughts about the importance of the team of leaders that the CEO has around him/her, and how critical it is that they are aligned with the CEO’s message and support and share that message.

These are great thoughts and I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to share them! All the best to you.

George Bradt  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

You know I agree with you on this. Some builds on some of your seven points:

1. Make managing and growing your talent a top priority. This means making it one of the top three items in every staff meeting and every strategy discussion.
– Makes sense on a tactical basis. Also important to have a long-term talent strategy that links with your long-terms strategic plan. It’s not just about dealing with existing talent and help develop, but also anticipating future talent gaps and planning to fill them.

2. Communicate openly about the importance – and the benefit to everyone in the company – of having positions aligned with the vision and strategies of the company, and of having the right people in those positions.
– This is definitely one of those areas where actions speak louder than words. Yes communicate it openly, and then act.

3. At the same time, be committed to finding roles for the current employees that best align with their strengths, and thus “set them up” for success.
– Yes. And some of those roles may end up being with other organizations.

4. Be open about your willingness to work with employees who may be in positions that are not a great fit – to help them via coaching or mentoring – so that both they and the company are better off because of the process.
– If the position is not a fit, the most important thing is to move them into a position that is a good fit – far more valuable than trying to sand off the edges so they fit better where they shouldn’t fit at all.

5. Make sure that talent decisions align with the values of the company. Top performers that disrespect others and play by their own rules – and may have been allowed to do so under previous leadership – must be dealt with because of their impact on the organization’s culture.
– Values are one of the components of a BRAVE organization, along with Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, and Environment. More on that in my recent article on Forbes: http://blogs.forbes.com/georgebradt/

6. Remember that everything communicates. Not addressing talent issues of non-performance speaks volumes.
– One of those CEOs at one of the CEO Connection’s CEO Boot Camps said, when he finally did address talent issues, people asked “What took you so long?”

7. And remember the power you have to communicate, through words and actions, a genuine desire to see everyone succeed – and to mean it.
– Yes, but succeed as they define success, not as you define success.

Lisa Petrilli  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Martin,

Thank you so much for validating that this is the top concern via your own experiences. I sincerely appreciate your perspective – and it’s always great to hear your insights! All the best to you.

Lisa Petrilli  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Kevin. I had never heard of the book – so this is definitely something to add to my reading list. Sounds like quite a bold vision he had – and how impressive at such a young age. I wonder if it made him more comfortable making such bold moves and taking (what others would perceive to be) higher risks. I guess I’ll find out when I read it…right? :)

So thankful that you stopped by and commented – all the very best to you, Kevin.

Lisa Petrilli  |  31 Mar 2011  |  Reply

George – can I gush about how wonderful it is to have you here commenting on my post? You know it’s a thrill to work with you and the entire membership.

Your builds are excellent and add great value to the post – I encourage readers to really dive into them. What really hit home for me was your addition to #7 – brilliant point!

Thanks again, George.

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