The Evolution of C-Suite Responsibilities: How to Attract and Retain Executives Today

Gilman Partners’ HR Practice Group hosted a virtual roundtable for senior HR leaders in the region focusing on recruiting and retaining talent in executive-level positions. In the past decade, the roles and responsibilities of executive leaders have evolved, and these changes have affected the way HR professionals attract, retain, and develop top-level talent. In recent years, and especially since the pandemic, more data is pointing to burnout at the top of organizations. These factors create a challenge for HR professionals in both public and private companies. Here are some highlights of our discussion:

How C-Suite Roles Have Changed

  • The Importance of Soft Skills: Emotional intelligence and interpersonal connection are now must-have traits for top-level executives. Gone are the days of leaders relying solely on their superior business skills and management of daily operations. A recent article in Harvard Business Review points to this trend in all levels of the C-Suite. HR leaders stated they are now including “soft skills” in executive job descriptions more than ever before. Leaders are expected to have an empathy mindset and communicate authentically with all levels of the organization. CEOs are no longer sequestered to their office, focused on managing the day-to-day. Now, in addition to technical business acumen, the ability to interact well with others, being approachable and open, and showing compassion for employees are desired skills of executives.  
  • Connection to Company Mission: Just as executives are expected to be connected to their employees, another measure of success is alignment with the company mission. This is true both in the nonprofit and private worlds. Top-level executives are expected to be the champion of the organization’s mission and to passionately rally employees and stakeholders around that purpose.
  • Data-Driven Strategies:  All executives at the top of organizations are now expected to be focused on data and analytics. Data-driven decision making can improve productivity and increase revenues. In our discussion, participants stated this is true for many roles in the C-Suite – the CEO, COO, CHRO, CFO, etc. This new demand on leadership is one that may require additional training and development.
  • Focus on Social Issues: These days, employees are focused on social issues and companies are expected to have a solid stance on them.  All levels of leadership, including HR leaders, are now expected to be the champion of this activism. In our discussion, several HR leaders commented that executives have begun to see HR leaders as subject matter experts on social issues and expect timely answers and “fixes.”   

All these changes in C-Suite responsibilities have undoubtedly presented challenges to HR leaders in how to recruit the best talent. How do you esnure that the next CEO will be superb at running the company while possessing these extra skills necessary to be a truly effective leader in today’s landscape?

A Fresh Take on Recruiting Top Talent

  • Interviewing executive candidates for technical prowess and analyzing their strategic acumen is no longer enough to measure a good leader. Their interpersonal behaviors are equally as important. One roundtable participant suggested introducing an extra layer to the interview process by inviting candidate to join you in a more casual, “real-life” setting like lunch, coffee, or a walk. This presents an opportunity to get to know them better and provides a good glimpse into their character.
  • Incorporate a presentation into the interview process. A participant stated during our discussion that they give candidates a scenario and ask them to share their thoughts for 15 minutes with the hiring team. Incorporating a presentation will provide insight into how the candidate thinks and what they prioritize. 
  • Introducing an executive candidate to employees is a telling experience. Include in your interview process a tour of your facility or office so the candidate can meet frontline workers of all levels. By immersing them in the actual environment, you will be able to gauge how well the candidate relates to the employees. Your office manager or receptionist who greeted the candidate upon arrival is also a great resource for information.
  • Behavioral assessments can be very useful in a new leadership search, evaluating things such as soft skills and how the candidate behaves under pressure. Integrating these tools into the hiring process can save time and money and help ensure culture fit.

Finding and keeping talent in today’s market is a tough job. Employees are showing signs of burnout faster than ever before and data suggests that the C-Suite is also feeling the effects of work-life imbalance.  A recent Deloitte study found that “73% of executives say their job doesn’t allow them time off to disconnect, and 81% of C-suite executives say improving their well-being is more important than advancing their career right now.” How do you ensure your executives don’t join the Great Resignation?

 Retaining Executives and Preventing Burnout

  • PTO: One HR leader stated that offering a generous PTO package is essential to retaining executives, but there is no guarantee that these leaders will take the time allotted to them. It’s important for the C-Suite to disconnect from the day-to-day and to prioritize downtime. Doing so not only helps the leader, but also sets company precedent that PTO is meant to be taken.
  • Take Off Your Cape: A participant of our discussion pointed out that executives can’t be everything to everyone and they must ensure their priorities are in the right place. Executives should remember they are not superheroes, and they have to say “no” from time to time. Calendars and commitments must match their top priorities. Getting involved in every decision can lead to overwhelm and exhaustion, so leaders must trust their teams to handle tasks and have the managerial courage to delegate important initiatives. 
  • Get Real in the C-Suite: As one HR leader mentioned, CEOs must have the “Intestinal Fortitude” to have tough conversations. Dedicate the first ten minutes of executive meetings to checking in with one another.  Being honest, vulnerable, and candid with one another about the hard stuff can be hugely beneficial for the organization.

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