The CEO's Job

Contrary to popular belief, "CEO-ing" is definitely an on-the-job training experience. Just when you might think you've seen it all, the role presents new challenges, or formerly unseen nuances associated with the particular industry and team, or new disruptions that weren't anticipated. I am confident the vast majority of CEOs today would concur with this perspective given the unprecedented conditions and challenges they presently try to navigate.

Yet, there are a few foundational constants in the CEO position. The CEO, whether in good times or tough, has three basic responsibilities:
  • Setting the organizational plan
  • Fielding the team
  • Judging and acting on performance

The Job of the CEO

Setting the Organizational Plan: Few would argue that setting the organizational plan is "Job Number One." Unless everyone in the company knows where the company is heading and what their role in that effort is, little chance of success exists. The plan creates context for all subsequent actions and decisions, both day-to-day and long-term. As importantly, the plan also predetermines the talent and experience needed to execute the plan.

Fielding the Team: This is where the Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) is invaluable—he or she identifies highly qualified job candidates for consideration. Identification, and then selection, of the team is the lynch pin between plan formulation and successful execution. Unfortunately, many CEOs delegate or abdicate key associate selection or at best spend insufficient time analyzing the needs of the company in key positions and then matching candidate's skill and ability to the company’s needs.

The process of "fielding the team" begins with understanding the skills, talent, experience, training and disposition needed in the various roles to realize optimal organizational success. Setting this stage for success should be a rigorous process and top priority of the CHCO in partnership with the CEO once the "Plan" is set. Appropriate time and effort should be invested to think through the demands and challenges of each critical position, the expertise and experience required, the activity pace of each position, etc. Ideally, the CEO and Chief Human Capital Officer team (and possibly others) would holistically evaluate every key position to provide a higher-quality review and more accurate assessment.

Next, a thorough assessment by the CEO of all the job candidates available to fill key roles and selection of the right job candidates is critical. There can be a natural reflex for the CEO to look internally at a known pool of "go-to" job candidates or at a very narrow list of known external job candidates and make the selection from this limited population. While this may be convenient and expedient, it is usually misguided.

The problem with this approach is two-fold. First, it is incestuous. Hiring "within the family" can be perceived as beneficial because the hiree knows "the way we do things here." But therein lies the problem. Doing what was done yesterday, even if it didn’t work as well as hoped, seems to be low risk even when one intuitively knows otherwise. "Outsiders," at least the good ones, are rarely enamored with the status quo. They have seen it done differently and want to put their stamp on something. It takes courage to find an "outsider" and then give him or her latitude to change things. As we can see today, finding new ways to address current challenges is essential to ongoing success. The old rules don’t apply and the old ways of doing things simply won’t suffice.

Secondly, finding outsiders takes a heck of a lot of time. Identifying job candidates, screening, negotiating terms and compensation, training and orienting, etc. all takes effort. CEOs, like everyone else, will often follow the path of least resistance. Good CEOs fight this temptation every day. But there are going to be days when even the good CEOs find it attractive to opt for the easier way. Again, the discipline and focus of the Chief Human Capital Officer is essential in this regard. Maintaining the focus on the original purpose, the committed process and the value realized by a diligent and completed search and evaluation will more than yield a meaningful return for the time spent. This is one of the many times when the CHCO needs to take the lead and control the process.

Judging and Acting on Performance: With the team in place, the CEO must establish and communicate how results and contribution will be evaluated…and then adhere to it.

The Chief Human Capital Officer's role is to assure that the identification and selection of talent, and the matching of talent to positions, is not done in haste or lazily and that it is completed. Especially today when so many very talented people are available to companies, being judicious, selective, patient and diligent is a must. The CHCO should partner with the CEO to adopt a process to ensure organizational plans will be executed by the best team available to achieve desired outcomes. And when results aren’t what they are supposed to be, the CEO and CHCO have to be immediately on point to determine what the next steps should be.

Partnership Between the CEO and the Chief Human Capital Officer

The partnership between the CEO and the Chief Human Capital Officer is essential. These two executives should work closely together strategically and tactically to chart the course for the future and ensure the (human) capital is in place to take advantage of emerging opportunities.