Common CEO Mistakes – Personnel

I recently had the honor and pleasure of serving as a panelist for the New Jersey Technology Council’s CEO Forum. The topic: Sharing Mistakes Made by Fellow CEOs.

I was assured that I was asked to be a panelist not because of my past mistakes, but because in my business I get to interact with so many CEOs in a wide variety of industries, and at companies ranging from large multi-nationals to smaller entrepreneurial companies. In that capacity, I hear a lot of “war stories” from my fellow CEOs.

The conversation was lively and enlightening. Since this was the Technology Council, most of the CEOs present were from the realm of software, electronics and equipment, and related service industries. But regardless of the company or industry focus, it was clear right away that most had experienced many of the same issues in their professional lives.

In looking through my notes and reviewing the discussion, it was apparent (to me, at least) that the “mistakes” that we discussed fell into four broad categories: Personnel, Planning, Product and General Business.

It would be impossible to go into detail in one short blog post about everything that was discussed at the forum, but there were several issues that seemed to resonate with all CEOs present. As a result, I thought I’d take each category and do a separate post on each.

Let me start with personnel, employee and hiring issues. Here are the top three things that the CEOs present all seemed to agree were issues that, in many cases, they had to learn the hard way.

  1. Hiring a resume and not a person. We’ve all been there, swept off our feet by the “perfect” resume. You can’t WAIT to talk to that person – he or she seems to have every experience and quality that you believed you wanted. In fact, their resume looks like it was sent from on high directly to you to fill that pressing need. But the problem is (I know you saw this coming from the heading) you don’t hire resumes. You hire people. So, the lesson is, don’t allow yourself to be seduced by a piece of paper. That paper won’t be the one you need to show up every day to add value to your organization and to make everyone around him or her better. Make sure you are hiring the right person, someone who shares your work ethic, your values and your philosophy.
  2. Not establishing and nurturing your “bench.” You’ve seen this over and over again with sports teams that have one, maybe even two or three superstars, and yet they can’t seem to win a championship. Sure, Michael Jordan deserves a ton of credit for all of those NBA championships. But he’ll be the first one to point to Scotty Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman and the others on his team who complemented his skills and made a winning team. The lesson here is to make sure you are constantly on the lookout for people within your organization who have the potential grow and to do more and to step up in important situations. And then nurture them. Provide them with opportunities for professional growth and development. And work to keep them focused and happy.
  3. Waiting too long to make cuts (and it’s corollary, staffing up too quickly). A mentor of mine once told me that it is human nature that someone in your organization is usually “written off” in your mind long before you make a change. His advice: good managers are the ones who can shorten that gap and take decisive action. Along these same lines it is a mistake to hope, against hard evidence, that sales will turn around so that you don’t need to make painful cuts. The “hope system” is no way to run a business. Smart CEOs and good managers know that the sooner they acknowledge reality, the better off their organization will be. Moreover, they recognize that as painful as cuts may be, it is a disservice to the high-performers to allow the organization to be weighted down by the underperformers. There is a saying in management: Hire slow and fire fast.

I hope you find this useful. As I said, I’ll write about the three additional areas of CEO concern in subsequent posts. But take a moment to let me know your thoughts on the issues above, or to add to the discussion with additional CEO personnel mistakes. I’d love to hear your thoughts, even if you aren’t (yet) a CEO.


About John Lonsdorf

John is a recognized leader in the public relations and marketing communications fields and a 2019 inductee into the New Jersey Advertising Hall of Fame. He founded R&J in 1986 and has led the firm through several strategic re-brandings while building the agency into one of the region’s leading strategic communications consultancies. John has authored numerous articles on brand building and the role of public relations and the importance of integrated marketing, and has been a speaker and presenter at national conferences and symposia, in addition to sitting on several industry and not-for-profit boards. John impacts each account at R&J through his laser focus on strategic direction and his drive to provide clients with the maximum returns on their marketing communications investment.

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