How leading CEOs nominate their top people

Leadership + Management


The best CEOs have a genuine interest in human beings and commit to developing them, according to an article published on Insead’s Knowledge website. A five-year research project showed that nominating people to key jobs is one of the four crucial roles of a CEO.

Insead’s researchers identified during their project that the CEOs they spoke to tried to constantly look ahead and build a pipeline of talent, while continuously viewing people through a lens of intense scrutiny as they developed. They found that if executives invested in the right people, they repaid them many times over.

The article uses Aeroflot’s CEO, Vitaly Saveliev, as an example, an airline novice who managed to turn the airline’s reputation that was tainted by bad service and an aged image around completely. When Saveliev joined in 2009, Aeroflot had enough money for two weeks of business. But after five years in the top job, he had managed to put the airline firmly back on track.

One of the recipes for success that the Insead researchers detected was how Saveliev nominated people to top jobs. As soon as he was appointed, he let go of many senior executives and replaced them with younger, less experienced managers, they found, acknowledging that it took 18 months for his management team to stabilise and start performing. “The operational and financial results followed, but he kept changing one of the functional VPs, even though each incumbent seemed to be doing well enough. When asked why, he answered without hesitation: ‘I have to be a hundred per cent confident in every person on my team. What if a crisis strikes?’ He finally found the right person… just before the crisis struck. This VP was crucial to solving it and eventually moved on to become CEO of a subsidiary,” the Insead article states.

Completing the five-year research project, they found the following rules for nomination:

1. Allocate at least 20 per cent of your time to evaluating talent and making people decisions – and this doesn’t include time for developing or mentoring your staff.

2. Be clear what you’re looking for. Define it in a few simple terms: traits, values or characteristics.

3. Don’t worry about matching external hires with a specific job if they fit with your company and have potential for growth. When you see real talent, go for it.

4. Know your core positions – and fill them.

5. Give functional jobs to people who are stronger than you in that discipline.

6. Give jobs to people who have the potential to succeed you one day.

7. Always make development a part of your nomination decision.

8. Move people into new jobs for potential, not for readiness. Nobody is ever a hundred per cent ready for any job.

9. Keep people for performance, not for potential. Motivation and potential open the doors to key jobs, but it’s performance that keeps people in the room.

10. Do not be afraid to nominate tricky or troublesome people. They may not be easy to work with, they may have challenged you in the past, they may not dress to your liking, but they will bring diversity, originality and dynamism to your team.


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