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The secret weapon top CEOs use to solve business problems

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Business problem solving is par for the course when you’re a CEO.

From getting people to work together effectively to improving customer satisfaction to managing expenses and cash, the list of challenges can seem endless when you run a business. Problem solving comes with the territory.

In January 2019, we interviewed 156 CEOs, presidents, and chairpeople as part of our annual CEO Benchmarking Report. We asked them to identify their top three business challenges. As you can see, four of the five biggest CEO challenges involve people.

top business problems

Whether you head up a small business or a Fortune 500 company, you need to solve complex problems to drive results. Yet many CEOs haven’t yet found solutions that work; our study also revealed that 52 percent of CEOs who set goals in 2018 didn’t achieve them.

Business problem solving leads to goal achievement

Being a CEO is hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Stop struggling to find potential solutions that may or may not work; stop falling short of your goals. Instead, adopt a cyclical discipline for proactively identifying problems and implementing proven solutions.

That discipline is talent optimization.

Effective problem solving begins with talent optimization.

Talent optimization is a discipline top CEOs follow to align their business strategy and their talent strategy for optimal results. At the heart of talent optimization is the collection and application of people data.

People data insights drive informed decisions. From defining the problem to prescribing improvement actions to shaping a talent strategy, people data guides the way. When you have objective data—plus a framework—finding solutions to everyday business challenges is easier. 

Four of the five biggest CEO challenges involve people. Here’s how you can solve them through talent optimization (plus the talent KPIs you should be tracking):

Top CEO challenge #1: Finding the right talent

Thirty-seven percent of the CEOs we surveyed said “Finding the right talent” was their number one challenge. That’s because many companies hire based on resume, skills, and references—but they don’t pay attention to culture fit, behavioral fit, or cognitive fit.

Always interview the whole person: Look at their head, heart, and briefcase.

The Predictive Index Head Heart Briefcase

When you take a talent optimization approach to hiring, you look beyond the briefcase. You administer behavioral and cognitive assessments to collect data on candidate behavioral drives and cognitive ability, and you ask specific interview questions to determine candidate culture fit.

According to research, education, reference checks, and GPA are all poor predictors of on-the-job success; behavioral and cognitive assessments combined with a structured interview process are the best predictor of success allowing for 58 percent predictability.

In addition to collecting candidate people data and leveraging the resulting insights to improve the way you hire, you’ll also need to track and analyze certain recruitment metrics over time.

Keeping a pulse on these talent KPIs will ensure continued success:

track these KPIs to solve problems

Top CEO challenge #2: Aligning employees with business strategy

Twenty-eight percent of the CEOs we surveyed said “Aligning my employees with our strategy” was their third biggest challenge.

There are myriad reasons for this disconnect. Maybe you don’t communicate your business strategy across the organization as often as you should. Or perhaps you don’t have a purpose-built culture that rewards behaviors congruent with your strategy.

But by adopting talent optimization, you’ll shape your entire talent strategy to mirror your strategic objectives, so there won’t be a disconnect. 

Gaining alignment starts at the top by ensuring behavioral fit between your senior leadership team and the business strategy. Each member of the C-Suite should take a behavioral assessment. Then use the PI Team Work Styles tool (below) to plot out leadership strengths.

solve the problem of aligning employees and strategy

To execute a given business strategy, you need certain leadership abilities. The above team is well-positioned to innovate and create new products. But if your company’s strategic objective is to increase quality and reliability and this was your senior leadership team, you’d need to develop a plan to address strategic gaps.

You could hire (or promote) a new executive who’s oriented toward “process and precision” and “results and discipline” or find ways to develop those skills in existing execs.

Tip: There are various other actions leaders should take to ensure alignment between talent strategy and business strategy. Learn more by reading the ultimate guide to talent optimization.

Keeping a pulse on these talent KPIs will ensure continued success:

Solve the problem of aligning employees and strategy

Top CEO challenge #3: Getting the most out of my people

Twenty-two percent of the CEOs we surveyed said “Getting the most out of my people” was their fourth biggest business challenge.

Managers don’t always have the tools or training they need to manage employees in a way that pushes them to the top of their game. Many assume they can get the results they want by following the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. But when that approach doesn’t move the needle, managers struggle to find ways to motivate and inspire effectively.

Talent optimization outlines prescriptive actions managers can take to encourage maximum engagement and productivity. Taking a talent optimization approach, leaders at all levels also use tools to develop self-awareness and awareness of team members’ working styles, strengths, and blind spots; this greatly enhances communication, collaboration, and harmony.

The PI platform has a suite of tools people managers can use to get the most out of their people. These include:

  • Manager Development Chart
  • Management Strategy Guide
  • Coaching Guide

Keeping a pulse on these talent KPIs will ensure continued success:

Top CEO challenge #4: Creating a great work environment

Twenty-one percent of the CEOs we surveyed said “creating a great work environment” was their fifth biggest challenge. Talent optimization walks senior leaders through establishing and reinforcing organizational culture so all employees feel connected to the company and want to give it their all day in and day out.

Start by mapping cultural factors to your business strategy then identifying and correcting any gaps. There’s a laundry list of ways to enforce your desired culture—create organizational values or visibly recognize and reward behaviors that embody your new values and norms.

Once you’ve shaped an award-winning culture, reinforce and protect it by:

  1. Repeatedly communicating your cultural norms
  2. Taking action to address conflicting behaviors
  3. Encouraging employees to recognize culture champions
  4. Rewarding desired behaviors (monetarily or via promotions)

Culture isn’t something you can set and forget—you must continuously collect and analyze data then use it to inform any necessary improvement actions. Keeping a pulse on these talent KPIs will ensure continued success:

one business problem is creating a great environment

The secret weapon for business problem solving

How many hours have you invested in building problem-solving skills only to create custom solutions that fall flat? The problem with typical one-off solutions is that the people working in the business fail to implement them correctly. Talent optimizers know that it’s not about solving the problem as much as it’s about improving the people in the organization.

Talent optimization is the secret weapon that separates winning CEOs from the rest. Instead of spinning their wheels trying to figure out how to solve business problems, talent optimizers are adopting a proven, strategic methodology that works in combination with software. This allows them to hire the right talent, align talent with business strategy, manage employees in a way that pushes them to the top of their game, and create a great work environment.


Erin heads up content marketing at PI. Her claim to fame? She's the only Erin Balsa on LinkedIn.

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