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Let your employees get their work done their way

...and other New Year's resolutions from successful CEOs


CEOs have always been charged with setting the company’s strategic direction, deciding which long-term growth opportunities to seize, and building greatness out of those choices. They’ve also served as the public face of the organization and as the steward of the company’s values and culture. None of those responsibilities has changed over the years, but the way CEOs talk about them has changed.

In the past, no matter the question, sales and marketing were the answer. Now the talk is all about people, as it should be. In follow up to my 2016 CEO Outlook breakfast, I’d like to share some current executive wisdom, beginning with this: “No one shows up to work naked and we never told them how to dress.” So what was President and CEO of Saunders Construction, Gregory Schmidt, saying? The obvious point was that companies need to trust their employees and allow them to get the work done their way. No need to micromanage—a point many executives, managers and supervisors still don’t seem to get.

Greg went on to say that the pace of organizational change is here to stay and we need to constantly prepare for it, with connectivity and communication as key tools. Thought leadership comes from within your organization, as should opportunity, so get your people moving. One way Greg supports those views is by providing unlimited PTO (paid time off), the ultimate way to put your money where your mouth is.

John Kelly, Chair and CEO of CereScan, was right out there too with the Cherokee proverb, “Listen to the whispers and you won’t have to listen to the screams.” When you truly hear what people are saying you can manage disruptions before they become major problems. Build a culture where one person stands upon the shoulders of others (more productive than endlessly competing).

ABR, always be recruiting, was Polly Lestikow’s advice. She’s the co-owner of Closet Factory, where they maintain a rigorous hiring program based on a “no excuses policy” for getting hiring done and building a pipeline. Yes, mistakes are sometimes made, but her policy is to quickly let bad hires go—before they interrupt productivity and lower morale.

Once hired, Kevin Melendy, CEO at Hands on Lab, advises that you make an impact on people quickly while embracing the differences that demographic shifts are bringing to the workplace. As the leader of your organization, it’s your emotions that set the pace and your actions that people respond to, so be aware of what you say and do. Get out of people’s way and allow them to contribute and thrive.

When it comes to making technology decisions, Kevin buys only if it saves or makes the company money. If not, why bother? Heather Haugen Ph.D., CEO of The Breakaway Group, added that you can’t assume your people understand how to use new technologies. So educate them, otherwise how can you benefit from your investment? Education brings confidence and fosters collaboration and the passion to fuel growth, strong components of the Breakaway culture. As CEO, Heather separates the controllable from the non-controllable, and pays close attention to the harder issues.

Sales and marketing strategies will always be important factors in your success, but all of us listening to this group of highly successful CEOs got the message that it’s your strategies and beliefs around people that are the top concern. We hear it all the time now, but it’s absolutely true that your people are your most critical asset. For a better 2016, I hope you’ll find some of this advice useful in developing your New Year’s resolutions.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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