The CEO Agenda: Top Team, Culture and Talent

Ultimately, the success or failure of a CEO is contingent upon the ability to put the right people in the right jobs.


The CEO Agenda: Top Team, Culture and Talent

By putting others in a position to excel, a good leader helps an organization to excel. For this reason, the success or failure of a CEO is contingent upon the ability to get the right people in the right jobs. Bain partners David Harding, Jenny Davis-Peccoud, Michael Mankins, Eric Garton and Julie Coffman discuss how the appropriate allocation of talent can create a high-performance culture that best executes strategy.

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Read the transcript below.

DAVID HARDING: I often have the opportunity to sit down with CEOs one on one and talk to them about what's really on their mind, and it's never about strategy, the big issues, macro trends, things like that. It's always about people and their team. And the reason for that is, ultimately, the success or failure of any CEO is going to be a function of their ability to get the right people in the right jobs, doing the right things, supported by the right culture.

The hardest conversations I have ever had with a CEO was around this whole issue of, I'm disappointed in my team, I am disappointed with the people on my team. And at the end of the day, your responsibility as a CEO is to put people in a position to be successful. And that means coaching, mentoring, not just being passive and grading people on their job, but actually working hard to get the right people in the right jobs doing the right things.

JENNY DAVIS-PECCOUD: The best CEOs recognize that their success depends on their ability to assemble the right resources and get them allocated against the company's most important growth goals. In order to do that, they form the troika. In addition to themselves, they need a strong strategic CFO to manage the balance sheet and the income statement, and fight to get those resources allocated to the right place. And they need a strong HR director, who can manage the talent development, make sure people are building the right capabilities, and deploy them in the right places to support the company's success. It's this troika that the CEO needs to get in place first to underpin the company's success.

MICHAEL MANKINS: We've done a lot of thinking about the war for talent. Everybody's obsessed with winning the war for talent. And what we found is, what's really important is actually what you do to safeguard the spoils, once you've won. And we've looked at companies, and actually, most companies have about the same level of A players, of great players in their talent pool, about 15%. And the best CEOs, basically, are intentionally unegalitarian in the way they assign talent. That is, they concentrate their best players in these business-critical roles, these few roles that will make the difference between strategy execution and performance delivery.

Whereas the average company is sort of unintentionally egalitarian. They pepper talent across the organization so that every role has roughly the same level of quality talent. But by concentrating your A players, having 95%, even 100% of the roles in these business-critical functions filled by A players, you can get better execution of your strategy and better performance over time.

ERIC GARTON: The most successful CEOs I've worked with understand intuitively that having a high-performance culture is often going to be the greatest source of sustainable competitive advantage for them. They really sweat the details, making sure they've got the right people in the right roles, doing the right things, and working in a high-performance environment. And when they get this right, they definitely have an organization that makes extraordinary outcomes seem like ordinary acts.

JULIE COFFMAN: Sustained competitive advantage requires a high-performance culture to really allow your people to get things done, to get the outcomes we want. And so what you really need to do is understand where you're starting from in terms of your employees' understanding of the top strategic priorities. How aligned are they with those priorities? How capable are they in being able to carry out their roles to generate those outcomes? And what else do you need to do to empower them to generate effective and efficient results to drive the company to the greatest performance it can achieve?

MANKINS: Every CEO's job is to manage scarce resources, but the one scarce resource that never gets quite the time and attention it should is time. No amount of money can buy a 25-hour day. So the best CEOs are those that bring as much discipline to organizational time, that scarce resource, as they do to, say, financial capital. So for every effort, they demand strong business cases. Are we going to really invest time in that? For every time they do invest organizational time, they're looking for a return on that time.

And what that means is that most of the organization's time—not all of it—is focused on activities that are going to generate great returns for shareholders, and very little time is wasted on needless email chains, pointless meetings, essentially invested in initiatives that go nowhere, which nobody sponsors. And the result is you get better performance, at the end of the day, because no time is wasted and precious time is actually invested to its highest value and best use.

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