The Question Every CEO Should Ask The Company’s HR Leader

Liz Ryan, Forbes

What do CEOs and their HR chiefs talk about? With luck, they talk about everything — about hiring, and the state of the organization, and upcoming events. I hope they talk about who’s getting promoted and who’s leaving and what’s new and how the team is holding up.

There’s one question every CEO should ask his or her HR leader every time they meet, and that question is “Do our employees love working here?”

That is an easy question to answer. The HR VP can say “Not enough of them do, honestly,” and then s/he and the CEO can talk about how to improve the culture in the organization.

The HR VP can say “They love it here, and I’m working directly with the few people who don’t love it — some of whom are not a great fit for us, and the rest of whom have pointed out issues that we really need to fix, and that we’re going to fix this quarter.”

Those are the only possible answers. If the answer would be “No, people don’t love working here” then it’s highly unlikely that the CEO would have asked the question in the first place.

In the business world and other workplaces, we are re-orienting ourselves to the idea that every one of our employees is a volunteer. Sure, we pay them a salary, but any organization would pay them the same salary.

We’re not going to get people excited just by paying them a salary that they deserve in the talent market anyway. We have to assume that our employees could work anywhere, but they chose to work with us. We have to honor that choice every day.

Employee Engagement Surveys are an expensive and insulting waste of time. Anyone with two functioning brain cells can see through the Employee Engagement Survey, a sad CYA exercise that doesn’t get at the heart of the question “Do you love your job?”

An HR person should ask that question fifty times a day. S/he can say “It’s my job to make your job easier and more fun. What do you need from me?”

When people ask me “What is your view on the changing work ethic?” I say “An employee’s job is to give his or her best at work every day. A manager’s job is to give the employee a reason to come back to work tomorrow.”

We have to make the goal “Our company will be an amazing place to work” our highest goal — higher than our sales-growth goal or any other financial metric. If we don’t do that, how could we expect our employees to work as hard and as passionately as our customer-satisfaction goals and our financial goals will require them to work?

We have to work every day to make our organizations amazing places to work. What does that mean, exactly?

  1. It means that we listen to our employees whether they’re sharing ideas with us or letting us know how we screwed up. We don’t turn them off just because we don’t want to hear what they have to say.
  2. It means that we tell our employees how big a contribution they make to the company’s success. The team of people we work with is responsible for 100% of the good things that happen for us. They deserve 100% of the credit. If we’re stingy with praise, we don’t deserve our people. If managers keep the credit for themselves, they don’t deserve to represent our brands.
  3. It means that we talk openly about fear and trust, and about blockages in the energy that deplete our Team Mojo and keep people stressed and unhappy. It doesn’t matter what sort of blockage we’re dealing with — bureaucratic red tape, political struggles, out-of-date systems or a VP who shouldn’t have the position that s/he does — we have to talk about it. The stickier the topic is, the more it needs to be aired and resolved.
  4. It means that we treat our employees like valued collaborators rather than cogs in our machine. We value their personal lives outside of work. We talk with them as humans rather than measuring everything they do and holding them up to countless yardsticks.
  5. Lastly, it means that we are always asking “What can we do better?” and taking the advice we get.

We don’t think twice about delighting our customers and overwhelming them with outstanding service and attention to their needs. Why would we treat our employees any differently?

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