How many CEOs do you know who have been punched in the face at work?
I was. But the incident occurred long before I became a CEO.
One summer during college, a couple of friends and I worked in the warehouse of a well-known clothing designer. Typical of our age, we were eager to do things differently. In fact, we performed our tasks so efficiently that we exceeded our quotas and had free time each afternoon.
Once, while loading a truck with filled orders, a beefy foreman who was angry about our breaking the norm punched me in the face. I certainly didn't see that coming. In fact, we'd been waiting all month for the boss to compliment us on how we'd found a smarter way to do the job. I'd expected a word of praise, not a sucker punch.
I've thought about that job a lot over the years. The idea of nurturing "talent" at my summer employer had clearly been a foreign concept. But surprisingly, when I entered the workforce post-college, I was shocked to find that talent leadership wasn't much more advanced at many companies.
My experiences have shaped my vision on leadership, which have led me to find unique philosophies regarding how to create a truly talent-focused organization.
I view talent management in terms of a "life cycle" because the investment you make in people pays off, not only immediately but years into the future. Organizations with a focus on talent attract the best talent, and when these team members are inspired they have the most satisfying careers. In turn, top talent produce the best work and grow to become the future leaders -- and frequently future clients.
In my experience, three steps are essential to effectively manage the talent life cycle:
1. Don't hire a head of HR. Human resources is an antiquated idea that speaks to the operational elements of employee management. Few companies provide clear goal setting, meaningful training, true development plans and timely feedback. HR focuses on salaries and benefits. A CEO needs a talent leader whose values reflect that of managing the talent life cycle. And a successful company must treat talent as a priority and foster a culture where every leader makes talent his or her top priority.
2. The boss doesn't have the answer. Hierarchy and tenure are also antiquated concepts. Experience matters and seniority must be respected, but it's a foolish company that discounts the energy and ideas of its junior talent. Initiative should be fostered at all levels and talent should be rewarded for fresh ideas and innovation. Pair junior employees with experienced mentors, but also pair senior leaders with junior staff who bring new insights and experiences. Do everything possible to help staff align their careers with the success of your company. Nurture talent in every way and get out of the way so they can help you raise your company's game.
3. Your office should be empty. The last place an executive should be is sitting behind a closed door in his or her office. It's an old cliché -- but so very true -- that great leaders spend time on the floor interacting with employees. I travel regularly to each of our agency's offices and spend time with staff from across the disciplines. Having face-to-face connections with employees that are meaningful, show transparency and cultivate personal relationships are key.
These connections should happen between all execs with employees at all levels, and the CEO sets the tone for that. I look for every chance to bring together groups of employees -- across client teams, capabilities and levels for a chance to understand what's on their minds and facilitate connections between staff members who don't normally interact. I even make it my business to meet with employees who are leaving our company. If someone is leaving for a new opportunity, I want to hear what he or she will be doing, take part in the excitement and wish him or her well. If someone has been asked to leave our company, I want to help that person find his or her next gig somewhere that may be a better fit.
Most importantly, keep an open door and an open mind.
I'm well aware that there are agencies that do well by being purely numbers-driven, treating staff like a commodity.
But this is the way we want to lead. We're proud of it. And it works.