The Blog


In the last few years I’ve seen a flood of unaccustomed titles swamp the corporate landscape. Managing Director, Vice-General Manager, Department Head, and Section Chief are now as ubiquitous as are the more familiar Vice President, Director and Manager.

And what’s up with the tricksy job titles? CIO might mean Chief Information Officer… or it could stand for Chief Inspiration Officer. CFO may equal Chief Financial Officer… or it could mean Chief Fun Officer. Other unusual job titles I’ve seen recently include “genius” (honestly, Apple stores have these), chief ninja, and chief happiness officer.
It has been said that titles are cheap. Managers often fall into the trap of granting someone a bump up in title in lieu of a raise. “It’ll look good on your résumé”, they say. Companies then become clogged with marshmallowy layers of managers, assistant managers, senior managers, deputy managers… the list goes on.
In reality, however, these so-called managers all pretty much do the same thing. But what they don’t reduce is the bureaucracy; nothing gets done. Instead, these managers are too busy jostling for a spot on the corporate ladder and meetings multiply like bunnies. A plethora of titles destroy the potential for corporate accomplishment.
Titles by themselves are worthless, unless accompanied by a set of more challenging accountabilities and the relevant authorities to get the work done. What employees want is good, meaningful work at a fair level of pay. Real meaty roles release energy and increase learning, confidence and self-worth. Give this to your employees. Don’t just toss them meaningless titles.

“I think our core businesses are extremely strong.” – Kenneth Lay, former Enron CEO

“We don’t sell junk food.” – Don Thompson, CEO, McDonald’s
“I’m 100% done with booze.” – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
“Honey, that outfit looks fabulous on you.” – You, to your significant other
 
People lie all the time. We lie out of embarrassment, to spare other people’s feelings, to hide the uncomfortable truth, to protect ourselves, to bluff. Business executives are no different. They avoid harsh realities and either stick to platitudes (“employees are our most valuable asset”), or spout half-truths or exaggerations.

 

A recent Stanford University study examined how executives express themselves. The findings seem to indicate, amongst other things, that dead giveaways for lies are: the frequent use of “we” are “our team” instead of “I” and “me”; the avoidance of phrases such as “shareholder value”; and the use of overly positive adjectives and adverbs, such as “fantastic”.
So how should executives and CEOs conduct themselves? Is it unrealistic to expect the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Is it impossible to not lie?

 

One executive has decided that it is possible to stick to the truth. Rebekah Campbell, CEO of Posse, a social search network company, makes it her corporate mission to be honest, all the time. Others have adopted as their resolution the mission to be more transparent and truthful.

 

Corporations can start on the path to honesty one step at a time. If your company’s culture is more about avoidance than constructive feedback, encourage your managers to practice candid conversations within the boundaries of the sacred manager-direct report relationship. The manager holds the direct report to account for the work and provides feedback to the employee. Conversely, the direct report provides best advice to the manager, knowing that it will be respectfully accepted. CEOs need to hold their managers accountable for a culture of honesty.
Too many walls exist amongst people and some of the hardest to climb are invisible. Let’s get out the battering rams. Let’s start by having truthful conversations.
 

How does a company go about hiring a CEO? A Globe and Mail article recently explored this topic. Its premise was that one should not meet with the job candidate until one decides to make a firm offer. The reason for this is because we, unconsciously or not, allow our subjective biases to dominate and influence our decisions. We may make calls based on a person’s height, weight, gender, skin colour, accent – the list goes on and on.

This is a compelling argument, but I find it wonderfully theoretical and totally impractical.

In my 27+ years as a consultant, I’ve spoken with many Board members who have struggled to find the right, the very best, CEO to manage and lead their company. Decisions have been made, based on thorough and thoughtful examinations… and swiftly regretted. Some companies prefer to hire from within, selecting known individuals; others choose to lure top performers from similar organizations.

It’s critical for hiring committee members to remember that a CEO (or other senior executive) can prosper in one organization or role, but fail ignobly in another. Success in one environment does not guarantee identical or superior results in another.

So whoever is in the recruitment decision-making hot seat must be able to assess not just the past performance of candidates, but other indicators as well. For instance, how nimbly does the prospective CEO interact with others? How do they comport themselves in relation to others?

I believe that these assessments can only be done in face-to-face meetings where the interviewer can actually utilize their discretion and judgement about the candidate from what they see, hear, and intuit. Combine this with objective measurements and 360 interviews to enable one to test assumptions raised by this data.

I will accept that we cannot refute biases that may lead us astray. But biases are one thing; our own experience is another. Subjectivity really matters. It can be a great respecter of diversity. Let’s give credit to our powers of subjectivity.

Nick Forrest