Scaling Up book with rubber chicken and stuffed elephant.

In my work with CEO’s and their teams I see many examples of enlightened leadership, dedication, commitment and perseverance, as well as extraordinary courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

I’ve also seen plenty of mistakes and some failures.  While some missteps aren’t avoidable (being hit with a worldwide pandemic comes to mind), many others are avoidable and often preventable, especially in the People arena.

Here are the three biggest missteps I see CEO’s make in the Talent arena.  And – what you can do to stay away from the landmines, strengthen your People systems and create a stronger, and more profitable, company.

1) Keeping a once Talented Player past their Expiration Date.

I love this quote from former CEO of General Dynamics, Nick Chabraja. “Success comes from having the right person in the right job at the right time with the right skill set for the business problem that exists.” This statement is doubly true at the small and mid-market level, given the lack of “slack” in the system when you only have a small team to rely upon and every person’s performance is critical.

CEO’s however, especially those who are Founders, can be incredibly loyal to the people who got them to where they are – to a fault.  Time and again I hear from one entrepreneur about their unwillingness to have the difficult, yet necessary conversation with an employee who no longer fits.  With the company’s culture, the growth goals, the new strategic direction – you name it.  The result is the same.  Leaders find excuses for unacceptable performance and behaviors, don’t sit down and talk with the person, and sometimes have the whole situation blow up in their faces.

There is a solution. Have the conversation. If you have a Business Coach, work with them to draft your discussion.  Take some ideas from Nancy Eberhardt, author of “UnCommon Candor” and do a role play with a trusted business colleague – maybe someone from your CEO Roundtable Group.  Then, schedule it, have it and manage the transition.

Corollary – Failing to create a “Talent” pipeline with the same focus and energy that you build your Sales pipeline.

Finally, so that you don’t get stuck again with the wrong person in the wrong seat with no immediate options for a replacement. Take the same initiative to build your Talent pipeline of potential A players before you need them.  Let your colleagues and network know the type of people who do well in your Culture and why they should consider talking with you.  Be proactive in your approach to cultivating prospective employees for your team and you might find that next time you’ve got an “expiration date” approaching, you’ll be more willing to let them go.


2) Failing to clarify Expectations and Outcomes of a Position, not just the Responsibilities.

We know from the three decades of research spearheaded by Gallup on employee engagement that there are 12 elements of Great Management.  (If you’re not familiar with their work, their latest book, “It’s the Manager” is an amazing compilation of their findings over the years.)  The first element is “I know what is expected of me”. The second is “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my job”.  Yet only 50% of employees globally strongly agree with the first statement. Only 30% strongly agree with the second.

Having a clear, written job descriptions with responsibilities outline is certainly a start.  Every employee should also be clear on the goals and outcomes that they need to achieve (including numerical key performance indicators) in order to get an A on their performance.  A job scorecard as Geoff Smart describes in his best-selling book, “Who”.  They also need to have frequent quick check in’s with their managers. Weekly is best, where they have the opportunity to say (or write in an email or text) how they are doing against those outcomes, what they feel good about and where they are challenged or need help.  (For more best practices to stay on track with your team, check out the Five Conversations that drive performance in Chapter 21 of “It’s the Manager”.)

3) Ignoring what we know now about the science of human behavior.


Everyone knows that it’s easier to keep a customer than find a new one but how many CEO’s apply the same reasoning to their A Player Talent – or any of their Talent? We know now from brain science, thought-leaders such as Daniel Kahneman and David Rock as well as the three decades of research from Gallup what human beings need and desire from their jobs – and their relationships.  It’s not rocket science, but some leaders treat it that way.  We know that employees want the opportunity to learn and grow in their jobs, that they want to be cared about and respected and that they can trust the leaders in their organizations to act with integrity.

How do you do that? Well, see #2 above and start with a job scorecard, but being clear in your communications is critical too.  Take time once or twice a year to ask employees what they want to learn. Give them the opportunity to take on new projects to broaden their abilities or attend skills training is a start.  Understanding how their purpose links to your organization’s Core Purpose why do they do what they do – and what do they want to accomplish and helping them to link that to the organization’s goals is another step you can take.

Finally, showing that you care about them as a person by opening up the door for discussion. Around their life, their community, their family, their wellness and their future.  You won’t just save yourself time and money in the long run.  You’ll also get a more engaged, committed and productive team!


Is it time for you be avoid the potholes, be proactive and be a more Enlightened Leader?  Let’s schedule a call and talk about how we can assist you and your team to grow!


Cheryl Beth Kuchler


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