Scaling Up—Top 10 People Mistakes CEO’s Make

Ken Larson

Ken Larson

As a CEO, some of your essential tasks involve effective B2B communication, implementing company goals, and following through on performance strategies. However, you may unexpectedly find yourself in “employee pitfalls” when you focus too much on the big picture and not the people skills necessary to reach company success.   

The Scaling Up book goes into depth on the 4 foundations of growing a business (People, Strategy, Execution and Cash). The mistakes CEOs make with their employees are fixable if you recognize them and take action to improve them. Here’s a breakdown of those common people mistakes CEO’s make and tips on how to avoid making them. 

1. Failure To Hire Slow and Fire Fast

Leaders tend to hire the best candidate based on availability rather than who’s the most qualified. To make matters worse, most leaders fail to have an up-to-date organizational chart and set of roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities (formerly known as job descriptions). Negotiating your hiring strategies is hard to avoid in a challenging market. As a leader, you need to be patient. 

When it comes to letting someone go, your heart may get in the way of your business needs. As companies grow, so do the seats on the bus. Sometimes an “A Player” in one role is no longer required. Perhaps you waited too long (or avoided entirely) the need to move someone on to their next career move because they were good for your business. So, out of loyalty, you kept them beyond necessary and allowed this to hold your business back. 

To help you avoid these common mistakes CEOs make, create a backup plan for each role on your team. Then, take the time to find the right person who’ll fit the position, and that may require utilizing a recruiter.

2. Failure To Excavate the Company’s Fit Factors

If someone asked you to list your company’s most critical “untrainable skills,” or fit factors, would you be able to answer? Perhaps you give the standard response: intelligence, honesty, integrity, and trust. Truth — these are table stakes and not fit factors. 

Consider what you want in your employees that isn’t teachable. These are crucial entities to your team’s success, and either your employees have them or they don’t. 

A good way to excavate these is to look at your top five employees. They’ll likely have the untrainable skills that make up the fit factors you want. Then, look at your bottom five employees to see which elements you don’t want. Again, as with your top employees, you’ll likely see a fit-factor pattern with your bottom ones, and those bottom factors are probably the opposite of what your top five have.

3. Failure To Build and Cultivate a Leadership “A-Team”

How do you define your “A Player?” Likely, you see them as both great company fits and high performers. However, a “B-Player” may be a good fit but is not quite a great performer, or they’re a great performer but not a good fit. Your leaders should be A-Players who can teach and coach your B-Players.

However, what if your leaders aren’t the A-Players you expected them to be? In such circumstances, you can’t expect your lower-performing employees, who report to these leaders, to feel respected and truly led. Additionally, your A-Players may fall in love with the results of a “good performer but not a good fit” player and ignore the potential for cultural degradation.

The bottom line on this mistake: don’t assume your A-Players are happy. It’s a huge hint that your previously high-performing company culture isn’t so high anymore if an A-Player leaves. You need to do forensic analysis and learn from it when that happens. This is hard and frankly unnecessary if you’re taking care of your A-Players in the first place.

4. Failure To Teach All Leader/Managers Coaching Best Practices

Coaching is an eternal best practice for strong leadership. You want great leaders who are curious, ask many questions, paraphrase to get clarity, and then challenge their people to find their own answers. 

But if a great leader directly instructs others what to do, then it’s the leader who owns the results, not the person who should be accountable for the actions. This practice is highly unfair to your people, as it leads to micromanaging — a common mistake CEO’s make.

Coaching your employees to find their own answers allows them to own their actions and results. This practice enhances employee autonomy and is critical to company success. Everyone in your organization wants autonomy, so give it!

5. Failure To Get and Stay in Touch With the Overall Culture

Too many leaders assume that if their numbers are good, the culture must be good, too. This is an example of a “false positive,” and you can’t afford to have these pop up.

Leaders must always keep their fingers on the pulse of the organization. Start with a baseline metric, such as the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). Failure to gather eNPS data bi-annually is a mistake CEOs make, as your culture can pivot at a moment’s notice without you even being aware of it. Once you know the score, gather your leadership team to discuss strategies and actions that will either get operations moving on the right track or onto a better one.

A negative eNPS score is a major sign that something’s amiss with the leadership team. It’s worth noting that “world-class” is a score over 53%. Don’t settle for this. Get the score over 90% bi-annually because then you’re putting your people into a position to add significant value and have fun while they’re at it.

6. Failure To Build, Launch, and Embed a Strong Communication Process

Communication systems and processes are crucial to success. If performed well, they keep everyone up-to-date and establish common clarity. There’s no gray area with common clarity —it’s all or nothing. 

Creating, refining, and setting a finely tuned communication process will save time and enhance teamwork. Every segment of the organization needs a daily huddle where you stand and share your 3Ps:

  • Pride from what you did yesterday that’s in alignment with business growth
  • Pain (challenge) for today that will help the business grow
  • Priority for today

The idea is that your priority today will be your point of pride tomorrow. This is not only effective but also a highly efficient communication process. Apply this same approach to your weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings. Each of these has its own purpose and a set of desired outcomes with an agenda that you design to achieve the results.

7. Failure To Build and Embed a Powerful Accountability System

Another common mistake CEOs make is not implementing an accountability system but then wondering why things aren’t getting done. The problem lies with an individual leader having to hold another accountable, as this produces minimal effects and results, especially if the leader is a little too friendly with that person. If accountability is ignored or out of control, business operations can be disastrous. 

The answer isn’t leaving an individual solely to hold others accountable. It’s implementing systems and processes to uphold that accountability. Consider the business coaching tool, “Who/What/When.” (WWW) Your leaders place tasks here for all to see. Each task should contain the following entities:

  • Clear to everyone
  • Doable
  • Important
  • Realistic 
  • Valuable
  • Have an appropriate deadline. 

Now, your people themselves are the only limiting factor in their success — and the last thing they want is to be that person who doesn’t have their completed work and showing up to the meeting to explain what got in the way. Having an accountability system takes immense pressure off you and your leadership team while increasing accountability beyond what you thought was possible.

8. Failure To Check-in Regularly With as Many Team Members as Possible

Never wait for problems to arise. Don’t hide behind your office door or disconnect from the people. As CEO, you should connect with all people at all levels. Think of this as the old MBWA (Management by Walking Around). It was an effective method of connectivity back in the day, and it still is now to keep your troops engaged and producing, especially in the evolving world of the hybrid workforce. 

The core rule to avoid this mistake CEOs make: every single one of us needs to feel seen, heard, and understood. Teaching your leaders to do this is one thing, but having the top gun drop in to say “hi,” ask a few questions, and genuinely listen to answers significantly impacts employees. It helps people feel connected and injects a little inspiration into the process.

9. Failure To Share and Embed the Company Purpose, Vision, and Mission

Vision statements combined with a compelling story of how you plan to get there are critical to connecting everyone at the deepest level. Vision is what you want your company to become and where you see it going. However, vision is secondary to purpose. 

Purpose is WHY you’re doing this. Purpose is core. Mission is what you, your leaders, and your employees will do to achieve your vision. Too many CEOs focus on vision and mission (and usually confuse the two) while ignoring the most powerful component: purpose. 

Consider your purpose in one to three words and run it past your team. Edit and create common clarity, and then rally your troops around it. Know that everyone will likely connect with it uniquely. You want this because it personalizes the purpose.

10. Failure To Help Everyone Connect With That Purpose

Whether it’s the CEO or the building custodian, everyone needs to know with equal fervor how they affect and impact the business in their own respective ways. Set in place from top to bottom. Even more powerful is if everyone has their own critical leading and lagging indicators. While they’re connecting with people at all levels, encourage your leaders to ask them how they’re doing with delivering their service and how they measure it. This can open highly impactful conversations.

Make Your Company Rise Above the Standard—Don't Make These People Mistakes

Whether you’re a seasoned CEO, relatively new to the position, or somewhere in between, you can benefit from Champion PSI’s expert executive coaches to help avoid the top people mistakes made with employees. 

Champion PSI can help you accentuate your abilities and eliminate the weaknesses pulling you away from success. We’ll guide you through setting appropriate, achievable goals and how to communicate them to your leaders and employees. We’re here to help you be the remarkable leader who can take your organization to extraordinary success.

Curious to explore our services? Contact Champion PSI and schedule a free 30-minute call for your personal and business development. Find out what role Champion PSI can play to help you scale up your business and rise above these common people mistakes now and in the future.