Rusty Rueff, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Rusty Rueff, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

We are delighted to welcome Rusty Rueff to our HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Today, Rueff operates as a freelance social curator; learning, writing, speaking, coaching, consulting and volunteering at an exciting intersection of technology, arts & entertainment, talent management, and faith. Previously Rueff was the CEO of SNOCAP and prior to that was Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Electronic Arts (EA) and Vice President, International Human Resources at PepsiCo. Full Bio

Why the Corner Office Job is So Hard and How HR Can Help

by Rusty Rueff

Over the past few months, the business magazines and newspapers have been talking about CEO’s who have decided to retire or step down.  The one that caught my interest was the resignation of Jeffrey Kindler, CEO of Pfizer.  Mr. Kindler claimed burn out and fatigue from his job.  Enough was enough. Mr. Kindler should not feel ashamed.  The CEO position is one darn hard job, regardless of how large the pay package.  Part of the reason is that the CEO role has too many constituents to serve.  One person has to deal with five groups simultaneously.  Each group often has differing interests and each demands to be on the top of the priority list.   Here are the five groups and some considerations on how the Human Resources team can be help the CEO get her job done effectively.

Shareholders. Regardless if the company is private or public, a CEO has to be present, visible and personable enough to satisfy the inquiring minds of shareholders.  This constituency wants to see and hear from the CEO regularly.  Shareholders want a CEO to communicate openly and transparently while parsing through competitive information, forward-looking statements, safe harbor laws and business and profitability projections.  At a minimum, the public company CEO comes before shareholders quarterly to say as much as can be said without saying too much—for legal or strategic reasons.

What communication can you arm the CEO with so that she has a story about the business, culture and people that shareholders want to hear?

The Board. The Board of Directors represent the shareholders and the investors of the Company and along with the fiduciary responsibility of the organization, they are the bosses of the CEO.  Any one of us who has a boss knows what it is like to satisfy this person. Imagine having 5-13 bosses at one time, all of which are at different engagement, knowledge and communication levels.  Also, if they are good Directors, they will have a strong point of view and often dissent from what the CEO and the Management team might want to do.  Just keeping a Board of Directors happy and up to date can feel like a full-time job.

How can you be a conduit for the CEO to the Board?  Offer to take on the Directors who need the greatest amount of time and information so the CEO can take care of other work.

The Frontline Employees.  Regardless of the success of “Undercover Boss,” on TV, the CEO can’t hide in the corner office.  The CEO must be out and about and be in personal touch with what is going on in the business.  The only way that can be done is to travel to, meet with, and open up a dialogue with the people in the company who are doing the work.  This means the CEO must be both accessible and also in touch enough that he can converse with employees about the issues that matter to them.  The CEO has to be versatile enough to go from the Board Room to the Shop Floor.  He must be authentic and able communicative with both groups– many times in the same day.

How can you provide the CEO with the information he needs to effectively communicate with the frontline employees?  Your CEO may not need a “handler” to help communicate, but he may need a process that can keep him in front of the team in a way that fits in his schedule and other priorities.  Find ways to make his time with employees productive.

The Direct Reports.  This is a group that most people just take for granted, but the CEO can’t.  The direct reports to the CEO are just like any other employees in that they have career aspirations; they need advice and counsel; they need direction and coaching; and they need performance appraisals, salary adjustments, discipline, recognition, praise, etc.  So while the CEO is trying to set the vision and direction of the company, she must still be the first-line boss to up to 10 people (more and it’s just asking for trouble).  It’s easy to look at the success of a CEO like Jack Welch at General Electric and the direct reports he had.  But, Mr. Welch spent many years grooming and developing a squad of future CEOs who he had to lead and manage at the same time.  Thoroughbreds are bred to run.  Turned loose, they will certainly run as fast as they can. Yet, Secretariat was not Secretariat without a trainer and a jockey. The CEO has to be both for her direct reports.

You are likely also one of her direct reports.  How much work is it to manage you?   You should be the easiest person to manage of all.  If she has to worry about you, then you aren’t helping.  Instead, become a person on the team who can be counted on to subordinate your ego and help out with the coaching and developing of the rest of the team.

Customers and Partners. While great sales and customer relationship managers can handle many customer interactions, there is still only one person who can seal the big deal with a personal handshake.  That is the CEO.  Customers and Partners need the CEO’s personal attention and want to know that they are top of the CEO’s mind.  Many a dinner is spent with a customer breaking bread and building relationships to close that deal of the future.  CEO’s often forfeit family time for customers because the company can’t survive without those deals.  The time and travel toll alone that customer visits take on a CEO is enough for many mortals to wonder why they aspired for the job.

What are you doing to build customer relationships and help the CEO keep it all in balance?  We should do all we can to help keep it together and not let him burnout physically, emotionally or relationally. That doesn’t mean we become servants. It does mean that we care, watch-out and be close enough that a trusting relationship has been built that allows you to speak the truth and that truth to be heard.  It also means taking care of ourselves so we have resources to be there when we are needed.

Yes, the CEO gets to make the final decisions and gets the accolades and rewards, but it’s not the walk in the park that many people want to believe it is. To whom much is given, much is required. With the privilege comes great responsibility and burdens.  Many handle it remarkably and we never see them sweat.  We are fortunate to work in companies where our livelihoods depend on this calm and collected leader.  But, every now and then we can see the cracks and the strains.  When we do, let’s not kick the fallen soldier, let’s instead do our part to understand and lift the warriors back up so that they can return to the corner office to fight another day.  And then, let’s be there for the CEO.

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