Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's on the CEO's Mind?

I just returned from providing the keynote address to a group meeting of 130 CEO's. Pam Bilbrey and I discussed the concepts in our new book, "Ordinary Greatness." These CEO's were from around the country and had gathered in Savannah, GA to discuss trends, hear from speakers, and collaborate on strategies related to the difficult economic conditions.

We talked to them about the need to retain their best people, how to be sure their investment in those people was being maximized, and how to teach their leaders to spot and develop greatness everywhere in the organization.

In speaking with the CEO's in some of the sessions, at breaks, and after our presentation, it became obvious that these were the issues that were front-of-mind to those in the executive suite:

1. Survival. Most CEO's right now are most concerned about getting through this time of cutbacks, budget cutbacks, and capital crunches. There was a real feeling that if we can get through 2009, the worst of this will be behind us. I hope they are right!

2. There was a lot of concern that when things do pick up, they may lose some of their best people. Right now there has been such a focus on survival and budgets that some of the things we have to do to retain our best people have been ignored. Recognition, employee involvement in decision-making, and training have all been cut at most companies, so when competitors begin to hire again, will we lose our best people?

3. They are very concerned that some of their worst-performing employees are just hanging on because they can't find anything else. You know, there is such a thing as good turnover -- when poor performing employees leave. And that is not happening right now. As one CEO said to me, "The only thing that scares me more than my best people leaving is my worst people staying." More important than ever to be sure the hiring model the company uses ensures the right people get in the door.

4. The time for touchy-feely "do it because it feels good" people solutions is over. There must be a botom-line answer for every proposed action. I think that's why we were so well-received. The issues we discussed related to making the business more profitable by being sure that every employee is engaged and employing maximum effort. We stressed value and profitability, so I know we were speaking their language!

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