The Language of Success

Aug 4, 2010

There is a common language used by top-level managers in every company. It is a language centered on business concepts and understanding a handful of concepts.

For example, CEOs instinctively move toward the action that will maximize profits and minimize costs or expenses. Investment is the first concept, and cost savings is second. To them this is as basic as breathing, and they often don’t consciously realize that they have moved in that direction. However, many HR professionals focus on costs or on how a candidate feels about a given action, and they emphasize these over the investment side or over the impact on profits in presentations and conversations.

I might hear a recruiter say, “I felt that the extra time spent with that candidate was worth it because they will now say nicer things about us to other potential candidates.” A CEO might, instead, phrase it this way, “Spending a few extra minutes with the candidate could result in our firm making two or three additional hires because of the positive comments we’ll get. That would mean we’d be able to spend less on advertising and make faster hires.”

They are really saying the same thing, but the focus and language are different.

Here are four other things an executive assumes you know and practice:

Assumption #1: Knowing and Responding to Business Priorities

A business priority is defined by Ram Charan, Harvard business professor and author of an outstandingly valuable book called “What the CEO Wants You To Know,” as “the most important action that needs to be taken at a certain point in time.”

Priorities can change quickly and CEOs expect that you understand that and are prepared to react accordingly. Positive response to change and understanding that there are no absolutes are key attributes of a business-focused manager.

Assumption #2: Having an Investor Mentality

Do you think like an investor in your company would think? Your CEO has to think like an investor and make choices — even unpopular ones that give investors confidence. They focus on improving business processes, and finding ways to cut costs. HR is often perceived as acting the opposite. They request expensive tools (e.g. ATS and HRIS systems) without showing how they will add to the profits or improve the investor perception.

This is the hardest of all the assumptions for us in recruiting and HR to deal with. We seem to be predisposed to focus on process improvements over cost savings or other metrics that CEOs understand. You have to understand what your CEO is thinking in order to have any chance of creating a successful way of influencing her.

Assumption #3: Quality Counts More Than Ever

Yes, every CEO I know believes in and supports total quality. It has become a mantra in the best firms, and most large (and many smaller) companies have instituted Six Sigma programs and black belt training. HR has to emphasize quality and establish its own “black belts.” What would an absolutely first-rate, 100% “defect-free” recruiting process look like? What would it “buy” your organization? Have any of us used this slower time to think about this and begin to set up a Six Sigma recruiting process in our firms?

Your CEO assumes that you are doing this (or maybe not, as you are just recruiters, after all).

Assumption #4: Knowing How You Fit into the Strategy

The CEOs I work with assume that all departments, except usually HR and staffing, know how they contribute to the big picture. They are expected to present what they will do to help the firm achieve its strategic goals, imperatives, or whatever you call them. Talent strategies are critical to every organization. If the CEO cannot get the talent she needs to execute strategy, the strategy will fail and along with it the organization. That is why I see some firms turning away from recruiters and HR when it comes to formulating and carrying out a talent strategy. They are instead asking a line manager, a project manager, or some other business-focused person to lead the effort. Numerous firms are replacing the vice president of HR with a non-HR professional for the same reason.

You must know how you fit into the overall vision of the firm and you must show how you can contribute to achieving business success. That means showing how what you do will increase the profits of your organization.

This is the language that your CEO knows and what he wants you to know as well.

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