As a CEO, one of the most difficult and important decisions you must make is managing the talent on your team. You are responsible for creating and maintaining a culture of excellence, which means that you must be willing to make tough decisions about your employees when necessary. However, many CEOs, particularly those new to the job, struggle to take swift action when dealing with “bad apples” on their team or leaders who no longer fit the company’s cultural norms. These bad apples take many forms; bull in the China shop, malcontent, empire builder, and underminer, to name a few. This blog will explore why some CEOs hesitate to handle talent issues and the benefits of making quick, aggressive moves.
One of the main reasons some CEOs are reluctant to remove leaders from their team is that they fear losing institutional knowledge. This is especially true for first-time CEOs, who may feel they cannot afford to lose the expertise and experience of a long-time employee. However, while it is true that losing institutional knowledge can be costly in the short term, keeping a bad apple on your team can be even more damaging in the long run. A toxic employee can cause low morale, decrease productivity, and even drive away other talented employees. By contrast, removing a toxic employee can improve morale, demonstrate your commitment to a positive workplace culture, and show your team that you are willing to make tough decisions for the good of the company.
Another reason some CEOs hesitate to handle talent issues is that they may not want to deal with the conflict and discomfort that can arise when confronting a team member. It can be uncomfortable to tell someone they are no longer a good fit for the team, especially if they have been with the company for a long time. However, delaying or avoiding these conversations can worsen the situation and lead to legal or financial consequences for the company. It is important to remember that your job as CEO is to protect the company and its employees and that sometimes means making difficult decisions.
As part of a recent coaching engagement, I conducted a new leader assimilation for a CEO. During the new leader assimilation, the CEO shared her greatest failure in her first CEO role. She had a passive-aggressive business unit leader on her staff who was clearly impacting the new leadership teams working rhythms. The CEO was new to the industry, and the business unit leader had valuable industry experience, established customer relationships, and perceived alliances with the Board making it hard to act. The business unit leader had zero allies on the leadership team and openly bad-mouthed peers. Word made it to the Board that this individual was undermining the new CEO and creating an unhealthy culture. The CEO knew this was an issue and did not act quickly enough to avoid eroding the confidence of the Board. Unfortunately for her, the Board, having lost confidence in her leadership, believed that if she couldn’t handle a simple talent issue, she probably couldn’t handle more serious business issues and removed her from the role. Tough way for her to learn, but she applied the learning perfectly with her new team making it clear she would never make the same mistake again.
Making a quick, aggressive move to address a talent issue can also improve your credibility with the rest of the team. When you show that you are willing to take action to improve the workplace culture and maintain high standards, your team will respect you more and feel more confident in your leadership. This can help to accelerate the organizational transformation and make your job much easier in the long run. When your team knows you are willing to make tough decisions, they will be more likely to follow your lead and work harder to achieve your goals.
In conclusion, managing talent is one of the most important responsibilities of a CEO, but it can also be one of the most challenging. While it is understandable that some CEOs may hesitate to remove long-time employees who no longer fit the company’s culture, delaying or avoiding these tough decisions can be even more damaging to the company or the CEO’s career in the long run. Making quick, aggressive moves to address talent issues can improve credibility with the rest of the team, accelerate organizational transformation, and ultimately make the CEO’s job much easier. As a CEO, it is important to remember that your job is to build a cohesive leadership team, and sometimes that means making tough decisions for the good of the team.