Why CEOs Must Solve People Issues to Achieve Breakthroughs

By Patrick Thean

Elephant in the room

My previous blog shared about how people issues might be mistaken for execution issues. There are a number of reasons why it is difficult to solve people problems in growing companies. Most of these reasons come from an emotional place of fear. Fear paralyzes us even though logically we know that people issues don’t go away with time. They don’t work themselves out. In fact, they usually become much worse. These baby elephants grow quickly into large elephants.  

Elephant in the room

Here are the most common reasons why we don’t make necessary changes:

Common Reason Counter Point
  • Relationships: It is hard to make tough decisions when it affects people we like. 
  • Not all changes need to be large changes. You don't always have to replace someone you like if you take action early to help the person learn the job and leadership skills necessary to perform at the right level and deliver the right results.
  • We see two poor choices: We jump to the conclusion that the person has to go, and we are frozen by only having two options: (1) replace the resource, or (2) tolerate the lack of results.
  • Asking the person to leave should be the final consequence. Look for the third option. If the person is willing to grow, then what can you do today to help grow this person to achieve the right results?
  • We have too much work, and it is better to keep the poor performance than work on changing the person.
  • You will receive the performance you tolerate. A poor performing team member affects the performance and engagement of the whole team.
  • Poorly defined job and lack of clarity: I don’t have clear goals and metrics to hold him accountable to, so it is not fair to discuss performance with him, even though the overall results are poor.
  • OK, you’ve got a good point. Then de-suck yourself. Start today. Work with the person and together come up with goals and metrics that he or she can be accountable to starting immediately. Don’t waste another day.

As CEO, it is really hard to make changes unless you can see or visualize the cost of not dealing with people issues. If a leader is performing poorly, his or her team begins to lose confidence and engagement. This translates to poor return on payroll for the entire team.  Here is the financial pain we do not feel directly. If you were to take a minute and make a list of how a poor team member or leader negatively impacts the company and how that translates to lost dollars, you might be motivated to find solutions quickly.

Here is how to calculate the financial loss and waste when you have a poor performer who is a leader:

  • What is the cost of the leader’s salary?
  • What is the cost of the salaries of all his/her team members? How engaged and inspired are the team members?
  • What is the value of customer relationships being managed by this team? Are any relationships at risk? And if so, what is the possible loss if these customers fire you?
  • What is the value of projects being worked on by this team? Are these projects coming in on time, or are any of them at risk? What is the value of projects that might be at risk?


Here are some tips to help you diagnose if you have a people problem derailing your growth strategies:

  • Accountability every week: Accountability leads to strong performance. Are team members able to call each other out weekly on deliverables that are not being met? Are managers making objectives and key results clear for their team members?
  • Job clarity and clear expectations: Do your team members understand the purpose behind the their jobs? I am not talking about the purpose of the company. I am talking about the practical purpose behind their jobs and each of their goals.
  • Plan B: Projects seldom run perfectly. Instead of being surprised when things go wrong, we should expect things to go wrong, plan contingencies, and make adjustments quickly to achieve our goals.
  • Communication: Do you have a communication plan after your quarterly or annual planning session to cascade goals out to other teams and team members who are involved?
  • Leadership: Great execution will not happen if the team leader is not providing a strong and positive role model. Leadership is a full contact sport. Does he or she spend time listening and working to remove roadblocks for his or her team?

In my Breakthrough 2018 keynote, I will be sharing specific ideas and tips on how to get your growth strategies back on track by solving your people issues.

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images 

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Patrick Thean


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images