Skip to main content
Your Employee Matters


By May 1, 2013No Comments

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to do hundreds of three-hour workshops for CEOs about personnel practices. In light of this experience, I’d like to share 10 challenges that CEOs and executives face when it comes to personnel management.

The difficulty in finding new talent. The good news is that most of these employers expect to do more hiring than firing this year. The challenge is that most of the good employees are already taken. Perhaps the biggest mistake is thinking that you find these people, as opposed to attracting them. To attract talent, you have to position yourself as an employer of choice – a great place to work. Companies such as Costco, Southwest Airlines, and my beloved In-N-Out Burger do this so well that they don’t need to go find anybody.

Problems in retaining top talent. This is the flipside of the conversation above. In the marketplace of talent swapping, some companies will win, while others lose. To what degree do you have a philosophy, strategies, and tools to make sure you are retaining top talent? Do you understand why people either come to work for you (through a post-hire survey) or why they leave you (an exit interview)? Do you tap into their opinions and concerns with surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations? Remember: Turnover is contagious.

Lack of managerial leadership. When we run 75 miles an hour and promote people into management, chances are that this happens with little or no training. Fact is, half of managers in your industry are above average and half are below average. Guess who gets more training? You need to train managers in business acumen, communication, basic compliance, team building, and systems understanding. Most important, they need training in time management so that they can spend 80% of their time adding the value they can – and only 20% doing administrative tasks.

Low employee engagement. This is easy to understand when we’ve just gone through a difficult recession, which has limited raises, cut benefits, and stunted growth opportunities. On top of that, it feels that we have a federal government that fosters an us vs. them mentality with the workforce. Perhaps the question for leadership is “how can we help our employees?” How can we help them become more productive so they can grow in their careers? How can we help them find greater meaning in the work they do every day? How can we help them gain more control over the direction of their career? As Shakespeare stated so eloquently, “To work we love with delight we go.” What would it take for your employees to love the work they do every day?

Failure of management to benchmark or improve performance. Performance management is one of my favorite subjects. To begin with, do you have a specific goal for improving performance? Sure, you want sales to increase by 10%, but do customer service reps, the receptionist, and the CEO have a goal to increase their specific performance by 10%? The next question is: What are you trying to improve? What aspect of performance is most important? If you have a high growth company, perhaps what matters most is quick hiring, onboarding, and training performance. If you’re a restaurant, perhaps your food is great but your wait staff is abysmal. Focus on your strategic objective.

Here’s a question I encourage everyone to ask those who report to them and, if you’re the one doing the reporting, to ask yourself: “What are the three most important things this employee does every day?” What good is a performance management approach if you can’t be on the same page as this question? When you have determined this, ask: “How would you know if you were doing your job well without having to ask me or without my having to tell you?” Once the employee can answer this question to your mutual satisfaction, you have legitimate benchmarks. The question then becomes: How can you improve? What training, resources, support, etc. do you need to supply this employee so they can perform at their best? Remember, as both Peter Drucker and Dr. Deming said: Nine out of ten employees want to do a good job every day; it’s the system they find themselves in that creates problems.

Misaligned compensation, benefits, and incentives. Here’s another of my favorite subjects. Exactly why do you have healthcare, 401(k) or other benefits? Do they help you to hire better talent? If so, how would you know? Do benefits help you retain talent and improve performance? How would you know? If these benefits don’t tie into your strategic objectives, the chances are that you’re wasting many of them – and at a hefty price tag. I’ve begun working with a genius who is turning the benefits sales process on its head. By running algorithms of employee data and healthcare expenses, he can define the optimum benefit mix for an employer, which it then takes to the marketplace – as opposed to the marketplace telling the employer what plans are available for their demographics. Finally, how benefits are managed can impact productivity. For example, sick pay can actually grow healthcare expenses and reduce productivity. Not surprisingly, San Francisco and now Portland actually require employers to offer sick pay. How about providing wellness pay or paying people for being at work? Bear in mind that any incentive you use has both negative and positive consequences.

Failure to execute strategic initiatives. We live in a rapidly shifting business environment that requires us to manage change quickly and successfully. If you haven’t done so, please watch the recorded webinar I did on Change Management and have your entire management team do the same. (If you don’t have access to HR That Works, let me know and I’ll send you a link to it). The webinar makes two major points: First, one of the traps of the hero is over-commitment. This holds true of both individuals and the company as a whole. When we over-commit, we tend not to live up to our commitments – which generates mistrust. Secondly, strategic initiatives require buy-in. Just as in sales you want to make the purchase the buyer’s idea, when it comes to change management, you want it to be the idea of your supervisors and employees. Give them some ownership of the idea and you’ll find them onboard with it. Because change will remain a constant, we’ll need to keep, coaxing, encouraging, and inspiring each other towards growth. When we stop the over-commitment and focus on execution, we’ll keep growing the bottom line.

Finding time for management. Too many executives and managers mismanage their use of time so badly that they’re on overload and unable to take on any growth objectives. Most top CEOs I know take at least a few days a month away from the job so that they can work on the business instead of just working in the business. Google is smart enough to allow its employees to do this one day a week. As Stephen Covey reminded us in the Seven Habits of Successful People, you need to keep sharpening the sword. Everyone in your company needs to understand and execute time management techniques. I’ve produced an HR That Works Time Management Training Module that can help you and your managers with this.

Lack of commitment to or interest in human resources. I realize that many business owners and executives feel that HR is boring, or worse. They didn’t have to know anything about it to start a business. Even though they often have little or no idea on how to run an HR department or function, in one-on-one meetings with their peers in Vistage, executives usually describe personnel issues as the major challenge facing them. The fact that employee relations just isn’t their thing provides an incredible opportunity for HR professionals to offer the expertise needed.

Failure to understand the bottom-line potential of HR. Business owners are revenue animals who often don’t see personnel practices as generating revenue. This has been a long-standing uphill battle for HR. There’s a reason why Fast Company magazine years ago published an article, “Why I Hate HR.” In reality, many companies have great HR practices which form the foundation of their bottom line success. For example Jack Welch stressed the importance of HR practices as an economic driver in his years at GE. In fact, he’s still talking about it.

If you own, run, manage, or advise a company, addressing these HR challenges provides a unique competitive advantage!