How CEOs can attract and retain top talent

What CEOs fear most is the thing they can change. Here are some ways every top leader can personally, positively and directly influence the talent pool.

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In the face of this year’s political disruption, corporate fears of recession and cybersecurity are legitimate. Not surprisingly, a 2017 global CEO survey reflects those worries. More surprising, however, is an even bigger C-suite concern: ensuring the quality of their people.

Attracting and retaining top talent are now the biggest fears of U.S. executives, and with good reason. The next generation of leaders is most likely to be facing ongoing, broad and ill-defined challenges from the unrelenting digital transformation and the competitive demands it spawns.

Unlike global financial crises or cyber disaster, our talent pool is something that every top leader can personally, positively and directly influence. But how? Like everything we strive for, it takes clear objectives and an achievable means of getting there. The objectives—attracting and retaining talent— are the same and while the tactics may look different in different organizations, we favor a strong foundation like the set of leadership behaviors recently identified and defined by the team at ghSMART, the leadership advisory firm responsible for the CEO Genome Project.

In its 10-year study of executives, high performing and less so, the CEO Genome Project scientifically identified the following four specific behaviors as directly leading to executive success:

1. Swift, confident decision-making. As we’ve heard more and more lately, a high IQ alone does not make for a high-performing leader. In fact, intellectuals sometimes suffer from indecisiveness. While baseless confidence isn’t a success factor, being able to analyze situations and act quickly is. There are models for this process. Do yourself a favor: learn them, teach them.

2. Deft engagement of stakeholders. Soliciting input and getting people on board for your decisions—without necessarily sharing the decision-making itself—is a science. Communicating this is an art. Few leaders do either of these naturally, but those who do are in demand.

3. Proactive adaptability. Having a playbook is important. Being able to work without one, even more so. Our rapidly changing global marketplace and technology-driven society require preparation for situations for which you can’t truly prepare. Successful CEOs have ways of approaching their work that account for these scenarios. And when they fail, you’ll see a growth mindset that methodically evaluates and adjusts for the next time.

4. Consistent reliability. Major successes are notable, but continual smaller success are, well, safer. Boards like safe, consistent growth more than one-time blockbusters. To deliver ongoing results requires patient preparation and assessment before decisive decision-making. Just as important, however, is how this process is communicated to stakeholders and board members.

The vast majority of us, from programmer to CEO, are not born with these skills. It takes education to develop and hone such behaviors and habits. Organizations that attract, develop and retain talent with these skills follow a path of unflinching dedication to employee education across the organization, at all levels. Again, the magic number four enumerates such an infrastructure:

1. Implement internal leadership and mentoring programs. Whether it’s the four behaviors we’ve just outlined or an entirely different set of skills that you identify as most needed in your organization — strategic thinking, empathy, negotiation— you need to do more than simply expect it. Be the driving force that makes your organization a place where good talent gets structured guidance to reach their maximum potential.

2. Become a leader in educating your workforce. Employees who see your organization as dedicated to helping them improve—for the benefit not just of the organization but for their personal futures, anywhere—will do more for you and stay with you longer. Employees who desire self-improvement are the ones for whom you want to do the most—which leads us to...

3. Choose people with a history of and penchant for continuous learning. Does your interview process include inquiries into a candidate’s efforts to grow? When looking for the best candidates, have you tapped relevant sources--like executive leadership programs that tap the types of talent and teach the types of skills that you desire most?

4. Get known for being a leader in educating your workforce. Once you’ve begun developing your programs, establishing your leadership, and seeing examples to tout your efforts, leverage them. Engage your PR, brand and HR teams to build a reputation that draws in the types of employees your business needs.

An ongoing concern for high-performing human resources is really a boon for every executive who holds it. We should be worried about developing the leadership skills of our talent. We should be concerned with creating a workforce that meets our demands and seeks us out. We should be doing something to ease our own concerns. And, with a plan, we can.

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