10 Things CEOs Can Do to Protect the Talent Pipeline

October 25, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

CEOs care deeply about people metrics and talent management. In fact, according to PwC’s 2013 CEO Study, a majority of CEO’s are “particularly anxious” about the shortage of key skills in their companies, and the fierce competition for global talent. And in the Conference Board’s 2013 CEO Challenge, CEOs around the world rated human capital as their #1 challenge for the coming year.

Perhaps this is because they have become acutely aware in recent years that the ability to hire, develop and retain top talent is a competitive differentiator. Or perhaps it is because they know, as one CEO in PWC’s study put it: “Human capacity is key to any company’s growth.” Yet, in another 2013 study, when researchers from the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business asked board directors about the strengths of their CEOs, “mentoring and developing talent, ‘listening’ and ‘conflict management’ were the skills least mentioned as strengths.”

CEOs themselves play the most critical role in safeguarding and attracting talent in their organization. As Lisa Petrilli puts it in her C-Level Strategies Blog: “CEOs set the bar, standard and example for recruitment, retention, reward, motivation and development.  If they make talent management a clear priority then the entire organization makes it a priority.”

To that end, here are ten action items CEOs can take to help create a culture that employees will emotionally connect with and never want to leave.

  1. Provide vision
    Teresa Amabile recently wrote on the Harvard Business review blog about the importance of offering employees meaning and purpose in their work. She suggests that leaders offer a well-articulated mission statement – one meant to inspire workers (and not simply to articulate your intent to turn a profit). Vision begins at the top, and is a key place that a CEOs leadership can shine.
  2. Communicate often
    As Aon Hewitt writes in its white paper on Engagement: “Communication is an important element in building the perception of leader effectiveness. Leaders must communicate the reality of the business and the impact it has on the organisation, while recapturing employees’ hearts and minds.”
  3. Listen even more often
    Listening is a key to employee engagement, and it is especially important for C-level leaders to establish two-way communications that extend beyond the board room or the leadership team. As former Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer puts it: “Organizations that don’t listen will fail, because they won’t sense a changing environment or requirements or know whether their customers or employees are happy. In an incredibly information-intensive, dynamic environment, you have to listen or else—to mix metaphors—you’re blind.”
  4. Set goals – and priorities!
    Setting goals is a critical part of any CEO’s job, and an intrinsic part of our ability to succeed in our work. Without goals we can have no feeling of accomplishment. And without accomplishment there can be no engagement. But it is also important for CEOs to set priorities that help teams to be most effective in achieving those goals.
  5. Diversify power
    According to PwC, distributing power within organizations is an important way in which CEOs can empower employees and ensure equity and innovation throughout the organization. And autonomy and achievement are key components for the psychological state of “flow” , which is in turn what can drive happiness at work.
  6. Facilitate collaboration
    Collaboration helps to cement relationships and increase the emotional engagement that employees have with one another and your organization. More than this, collaboration is communication, and great communication among workers and groups is highly beneficial for every organization.
  7. Encourage failure
    If your employees are not failing, then something is wrong in your organization. CEOs need to create room for teams and individuals to take on challenges and risks. It is good for disruption and innovation, and it is great for an individual’s feelings of autonomy, support and ultimately achievement.  This sort of room for development and growth is key to keeping truly talented employees happily on your payroll.
  8. Recognize effort
    Campbells Soup CEO Doug Conant is famous for sitting down each day to write personal messages of thanks and recognition to his key employees. ““To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace,” said Conant.  Recognition has been proven to be a significant driver of engagement.
  9. Mentor future leaders
    This may be one of the most critical activities to develop leaders from within your organization, and build your talent pipeline, yet it is shocking that many CEOs are still not mentoring high potentials and future leaders in their own companies.  Identify the cultural energizers in your company and if you’re not mentoring them—start.
  10. Build trust
    If I were writing in order of importance here, this would have been first on my list. I’ve put it last because in a way, all the other things on this list will help you to build your employees’ trust in you. And if you do it well, they will follow you anywhere. In a recent Forbes article, Ken Blanchard summed it up well: “When leaders treat their people as their business partners and involve them in making important decisions, those people feel respected, and respect leads to trust. If you respect your people and they trust you as a leader, they will give their all to get the best results they can for your organization.”

If you are a CEO, consider paying some attention to these 10 principles. If you work closely with a CEO, consider helping to guide them toward some of these ideas. Your employees—and your bottom line—will thank you for it.

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