by Meg Crosby
1. What is our People Strategy?
The most foundational and important people-related question every CEO should ask is “What is our People Strategy?” That is, what is our strategy for mobilizing, energizing, and growing our people? Having (and executing on) a People Strategy is just as important as having and following a Financial Strategy — and is necessary if a company wants to reach its full potential. People have always been the engine that powers the business; but mobilizing, energizing, and growing your people has never been more important than it is in the current knowledge economy, where businesses increasingly rely on the brainpower of their employees more than their physical abilities. As a result, it is critical that every CEO have a well-defined strategy for attracting, deploying, developing, and rewarding talent to accomplish their business objectives.
2. Does every employee know our vision?
A company’s vision is the direction or common purpose around which the organization should be aligned. It is a company’s North Star. Organizations perform better when employees can see how their daily work contributes to the overall success of the company — when they can see themselves as important to achieving the vision. Successful CEOs communicate a clear vision throughout the entire company and then align the business activities with it. For many companies, however, there is not a clearly defined and articulated vision. There may be a ‘felt sense’ of a vision, where some people generally know the direction of the company. In other cases, there may be a clearly defined vision that is only known and discussed at the executive level. As a result, the people are not energized around a common purpose and aligned and moving in the same direction.
3. Are we actively reinforcing the culture we want?
High performing organizations understand that their culture is the secret sauce to their success and are intentional about reinforcing their winning formula throughout the company. Strong cultures ultimately police themselves attracting and retaining talent that fits with the culture and expelling talent that does not. So, CEOs need to make sure the culture they have is the culture they want. Hiring, onboarding, performance management, training and development, compensation, and employee recognition programs are all touch points with employees where they learn what the company values and the criteria they are supposed to use to make decisions. These are all opportunities for companies to drive and reinforce the culture you want.
4. What am I doing daily to mentor and develop talent?
Developing talent ensures the long-term sustainability of the business and is a key responsibility of the CEO. As A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Proctor & Gamble, put it, “There is no substitute for personal involvement with the people who are being groomed for the future. I know the top 500 people in the company and I am personally involved in career planning for the 150 who are potential presidents or function heads. I review their assignment plans at least annually, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and put them in front of the board at meetings, lunches, and other company events. Little if anything else that I do as CEO will have as enduring an impact on P&G’s long-term future.”
5. Do my employees trust me enough to tell me the truth?
The larger an organization gets, the more challenging it becomes for a CEO to know what is really happening throughout the company. Layers of management act like information filters such that by the time the CEO hears an important message its sense of urgency, poignancy, or even accuracy may have been lost. Like it or not, it is difficult “to speak truth to power.” Candid feedback only occurs when there is a level of vulnerability-based trust that allows the giver of the feedback to feel safe when delivering a tough message to the CEO. It takes time and effort to build trust. CEOs can start by soliciting, listening to, valuing and, wherever possible, acting on employee feedback.
Meg Crosby is a principal with PeopleCap Advisors.
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