BY AMY COOLEY
We spend quite a bit of time in HR Coach talking about onboarding and training. We’ve shared tips for training CSRs and dispatchers. We’ve written articles on best practices for chauffeur training. We’ve referenced training for managers and discussed how management itself is a skill to be learned. And in the August 2021 issue, I contributed an article about a learning principle often referred to as 70-20-10, which seems to apply to all kinds of people.
One kind of training we have not touched on quite so much is training for CEOs. Who trains the person at the top of the organization? How do they learn the ropes?
Well, the truth is that the 70-20-10 principle applies here just as it does for other learners. In short, people at every level of an organization tend to learn 70 percent by doing, 20 percent by exposure/observation, and only 10 percent through formal classroom-style education. The difference with a CEO is the content of their training, and most strikingly, the sources of their learning. For a CEO, the majority of their learning is self-acquired. There is very rarely an onboarding or training program within the company for a CEO, particularly in smaller businesses. In some cases, the new CEO may have continued access to their predecessor as a resource, but the fact is that once a new leader takes the helm, their success often hinges on distinguishing themselves from the previous regime.
So what makes up the CEO training process?
10 Percent Formal Training. Often a CEO has previously gained classroom training through business courses or degree programs. Once on the job, the new CEO might seek out professional groups that offer education on management topics, like business finance, strategic planning, people management, and the list goes on.
Another way for a CEO to acquire formal training about their own organization is to ask department heads to share presentations from their particular part of the business. In the industry, this might mean asking for “training” from the ops manager, office manager, chauffeur manager, and fleet manager to instruct the CEO on the people and procedures in their departments. The new CEO needs to seek out the facts.
20 Percent Exposure. Of course, the new CEO will learn a lot by talking with, observing, and working alongside their new team. But for a CEO, exposure learning will likely come from outside the operation as much as inside it. This industry is a generous one—there are myriad opportunities for mentorship, 20-groups, and regional associations. A CEO can learn simply by observing another operator they admire. That being said, there is strength in a breadth of knowledge and opinions. Take advantage of leadership groups outside the industry. There are many CEO coaching and leadership mentoring programs available where you can learn from and with other business leaders. When you find a group you click with, they can be a source of new ideas as well as a sounding-board for your own.
70 Percent Doing. And here’s the real challenge. CEOs are not different in kind from other learners. Approximately 70 percent of their learning comes from doing the work. So, what is the work of the CEO? Hive Life describes seven key aspects of the role:
1. Develop strategic objectives and direction
2. Implement proposed plans
3. Budgeting and forecasting
4. Public relations
5. Communicating with the board of directors (if there is one)
6. Tracking company performance
7. Establishing working culture
Others might add to this list—developing a strong management team, driving a standard of integrity and excellence, building trust, etc. Taken as a whole, these responsibilities point to the CEO’s overall responsibility for the success of the business. In other words, the stakes are higher. The CEO’s role is all about making decisions.
And so, for the CEO, learning by doing means making decisions, which always includes an element of risk. There truly is no “sure thing.” It means making decisions and measuring outcomes, while being willing and able to acknowledge failure and to redirect. Making good (or better) decisions takes practice like any other skill.
The ability to learn in this way requires a balance of humility and backbone. A CEO must have the strength of will to take decisive action, the open-mindedness to weigh other inputs and recognize errors in judgment, and the flexibility to course correct when needed.
The role may be different, but the learning principles are the same. It is simply in our nature to absorb the minority of our learning through formal training, a larger portion through exposure, and the bulk through doing the work ourselves. CEOs and other leaders will learn in the same way. The challenge is to set their own path. [CD0124]
Amy Cooley is HR Leader for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.