CEO-to-CEO Hot Topic: Talent

I recently went to the CEO-to-CEO conference held at the New York Stock Exchange. I was the only chief executive in attendance that leads a human resources professional services or HR technology firm.

The group that was there was made up of chief executives from all types of engineering services businesses, healthcare companies, manufacturing companies and so on.
The number one thing that they talked about at these roundtables was how to engage talent to perform better. Everybody was talking about it. We discussed how to lead our teams better, how to engage them, how to get them to innovate, and how to break down barriers that stifle progress.

Talent and people were the watchwords of the day. I actually don’t find that very surprising. I’ve been to conferences like this before, and typically when business leaders get together they talk about the leaders that work with them. When I go to the World Innovation Forum or World Business Forum that’s produced by HSM and the makers of WOBI, our providers of leadership training for our customers, the same topic is discussed at length.

In addition to talent and talent acquisition, the topic of analysis, decision-making, and data seemed to also pop up. The chief executives talked about their engagement surveys and how they were reaching out into their businesses to understand what was going on, and then reacting to that to make change. We discussed the importance of data and how powerful it can be for decision-making, but the subject of business intelligence wasn’t talked about with a fine point.

A wide array of companies was represented in that room. Some companies were so large that they had thousands of employees, which are typically the types of companies that we work with in their human resource development. Yet others were as small as my business or just a few times larger and they had similar issues.

What I found interesting is that, of the eight hours we talked, I would estimate almost four hours were spent discussing talent and engaging it in one way or another.  The concerns of the chief executives were mostly human resources-related even though I was one of only a few HR centric folks in the room.

This tells me that human resources development has a seat at the table as a major talking point, but we don’t yet have the vocabulary to help it stay there. These leaders were talking about people, leadership and productivity, but they are all complaining about how they don’t have what they need to handle those things. As I reflect on it now, I don’t recall anybody even mentioning the human resources department.

As we were discussing innovation at a long table that reminded me of the dining tables at Hogwarts, we were going back and forth about how to drive innovation within our businesses amongst our leadership. After getting the attention of the moderator, I asked all the CEOs in the room how many of them ask during an interview about how that candidate drives innovation within a team. This question prompted a series of blank stares.

The lack of response again reminded me of how human resources strategy wants a seat at the table but most CEOs don’t understand the vocabulary they need to let it stay there. How am I sitting at a table with 40 chief executives and none of them during an interview ask about innovation when clearly they need innovation in their businesses?

At the end of the day, I was sorry that I had to step away from that session in order to attend a webinar on cost-per-hire (although that was a good webinar). We ended the conference at the New York Stock Exchange having conversations on the exchange floor while sipping drinks and enjoying appetizers. The conversation was great, the company was fantastic, and the dialogue was valuable.

The topic of human resources needs to find a way to get into rooms like this and be a central part of the dialogue we share. When I go to these HSM events, I’m always surprised to learn how few human resource managers are in the room despite the fact that the primary topics are leadership, talent, team development, and engagement.

I truly believe that HR can have a seat at the table. We just need to find the right room for it.

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