What Does the CEO Think About You?

Feb 6, 2008

You would probably be very surprised to know what the CEO of your organization thinks about you. Rather than having a negative view, most CEOs I have spoken with believe you have almost magical powers. They assume you know where talent is located and how to find it. They assume you are well connected to the business goals of the organization and are striving to find candidates who are good cultural and technical fits.

They also assume you know the language of business and both understand and speak it fluently. It is a language centered on business concepts and a handful of assumptions they make daily. Many of our issues may simply be that we don’t speak or understand that language as well as they think we do.

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

For example, I might hear a recruiter say, “I felt that the extra time spent with that candidate was worth it because he 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 hires faster.”

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

Here are four other things a CEO thinks about you:

CEOs Think You Know and Respond to Their 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.”

Sometimes, this is hiring people as fast as you can; other times, it’s hiring only the absolutely A+ players. And sometimes, it’s not hiring at all. Priorities can change quickly, and CEOs expect that you know that and are prepared to react accordingly. Most CEOs would be shocked to learn that their recruiters or their HR department had not anticipated a change in priorities and made adjustments. If we are connected to the business strategy and understand the priorities of the business units we support, this should be automatic. Yet, how often do you find yourself scrambling to get on board well after a situation has arisen?

Having an Investor Mentality

Do you think the same way 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. CEOs have learned how to balance internal needs with investor sentiment. They focus on improving business processes and finding ways to cut costs. They assume you think and act the same way. They are actually confused when you request expensive tools (e.g., Applicant Tracking Systems and Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)) without showing how they will add to the profits or improve the investor perception.

Their focus is often on how an investment will add to the bottom line or how a decision will save costs. You have to understand that your CEO thinks you are doing the same.

Focus on execution and on saving money, and present the request for the HRIS as a way to reduce the need for support staff. Show how the system pays for itself over some time period and, if the math doesn’t work, drop the idea.

Quality Counts More Than Ever

Yes, every CEO I know believes in and supports total quality. General Electric’s Six Sigma program and the Black Belt training are ubiquitous. Again, your CEO most likely will assume you are also emphasizing quality and establishing your own “black belts.” Have you asked yourself what an absolutely first-rate, 100% “defect-free” recruiting process would 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?

Knowing How You Fit into the Strategy

The CEOs I work with assume that all departments know how they contribute to the big picture. You are expected to present what you 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 a strategy, the strategy will fail and, along with it, the organization. That is why I see some firms challenging recruiters and HR when it comes to formulating and carrying out a talent strategy. They are looking at you to lead the effort.

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.

While it may be comforting to know that CEOs are more positive about you than you thought, you have to earn this continued respect. It will take continuous focus and communication to ensure that your CEO maintains that impression over the next few months of economic turbulence.

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