Why the CEO Sets the Tone for Talent Strategy

In the second article of our four-part series on crafting an effective talent strategy for today’s enterprise environment, we look at how talent begins and ends with the example set by a company’s chief executive.

by Guerrero Howe

Talent strategy begins at the top, and the tone for an organizational culture is greatly affected by the CEO. As Ed Wise attests, the talent is just as influential for the CEO. Without the right talent, he says, neither the company nor the executive could get where they need to go. “Growth is dependent on your ability to hire other equally or more talented people to get you to the next level,” says Wise, noting that the most brilliant mind in the world couldn’t develop an industry-leading organization without an equally brilliant team.

While it’s true that a CEO can establish and even embody the ideals of a successful organizational culture, it can be a real challenge to maintain that focus in a dynamic, growing organization. During his tenure at CDM Group, Wise decided to define the organization, to determine its inherent values and mission statement. Then, rather than hiring qualified employees and attempting to train the right values into them, Wise led his team to hire individuals with matching values. “I’d much rather hire for behaviors and personality and desire, and then train for skill,” says Wise, who now serves as the CEO of Omnicom Health Group.

Ed Wise, CEO of Omnicom Health Group

In fact, Wise extended a culture of openness throughout the company, leading by example. He willingly discussed his own weaknesses and goals for improvement with the staff, and encouraged others to do the same. “You can’t expect people to believe you’re trying to grow as a leader if you act like you’re perfect all the time,” he says. “We’re taught as children that less-than-perfect is bad and exposing yourself and weakness is a bad thing, but we need to change that attitude.”

In the last five years, CDM Group has seen substantial growth in rebound employees—returnees who champion the company culture ardently as their reason for returning to the company. This culture starts from the top, and Wise is proud to have built a culture that excites and attracts talent. “Providing a place that has meaning and has a set of beliefs that people feel good about is one of the things that has provided me the greatest reward,” he says.

Often people start their own companies or take on the role of CEO because they enjoy making things better and being involved in the nitty-gritty details as well as visualizing big-picture changes. Though it might not be every CEO’s top priority, talent development can benefit greatly from both of those perspectives, and can in turn make a major impact on the business. That’s certainly been the case for Nancy Lakier, CEO and managing partner of Novia Strategies. The national healthcare consulting firm maintains a clear, powerful culture by embracing four key tenets.

Nancy Lakier, Novia Strategies, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Partner

While Novia Strategies faces unique challenges, the lessons learned from installing these tenets can inform CEOs aiming to better define and understand their own corporate cultures. Lakier determined that the organization must first do good work, to ensure that there’s a positive outcome for their clients—even potentially at the expense of the bottom line. The second tenet details how putting together teams properly and working egoless can make a big difference. “Not everyone has to know everything, but individuals are going to complement each other,” she says. When this leads to success, the third tenet assures that employees are rewarded for good work, and the fourth is that this success is managed in a fiscally responsible way.

There is a logic to these values, but that’s not to say that they are universally applicable. Merely being intentional about the values instilled in the company, as Lakier has been, can make all the difference. As she points out, the organization’s success wouldn’t be possible without bringing teams together, managing them toward their best work, and listening to good ideas. “It really is the work we do, but also the people in our firm,” Lakier says. “We have such great people. I find that I learn from our staff every day.”

In part three of our series, we look at how other C-suite leaders can craft a talent agenda from their seat. Read Creating a Talent Strategy: Perspectives from Finance, IT, Legal, and Operations now.

Share the entire series with your team as a white paper. Download “Every Executive Impacts Talent Strategy (Even You).”