Why Succesful CEOs Place Talent at The Top of Their Agenda

Why Succesful CEOs Place Talent at The Top of Their Agenda

Why Succesful CEOs Place Talent at The Top of Their Agenda

Some years ago, I had an interaction with a CEO who attempted to cut my training budget, “What happens if we train staff and they leave?” he asked. I replied, “just wait and see what happens if you don’t train them and they stay”.

The CEOs response was not unusual. CEOs who focus on the balance sheet view training and development as a cost and not an investment in the future.

In this instance he believed that we should simply recruit the best skills we could afford and after their induction their skills development stopped.

Today we acknowledge that the difference between us and our competitors is the quality, talent, skill and experience of our staff.

In my experience the ability to train staff faster and more focussed than your competitors is your greatest sustainable competitive advantage.

Importantly, training and development are not a once off; your staff, your company, the market, your competitors are different to what they were a year ago, and vastly different to who and what they will be next year.

Training – learning for life; simply equips the company with the skills to manage the future and maintain a competitive advantage.

And no, it is not the HR Managers function; attracting, training and retaining talent should be the Number One priority on every CEOs to do list.

If as a CEO you’re not convinced that continuous improvement through the development of skills is important; ask yourself if you would be happy having open heart surgery using an anaesthetist who gave you a bottle of brandy to drink and a bullet to bite on? Of course not, so why would I do business with your company that’s firmly docked in the harbour while the AI, BI, ships have hoisted their sails? Progress is important. But not just progress, exponential progress. Whilst our minds are programmed to think linear, if I walk 30 linear steps, I end up 30 metres from where I started. If I walk 30 exponential steps where each one is double the previous one, I walk 26 times around the world.

Our approach to training must change to accommodate this. The annual training conference and the annual performance review have served us well but are useless now. You need to train continuously, test the knowledge for immediate feedback and train again, over and over.

In his book High Output Management Intel CEO Andy Gove wrote a chapter headed, “Why Training Is the Boss’s Job”. Gove commented, “most managers seem to feel that training employees is a job that should be left to others. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that the manager should do it himself”.

One of the most successful CEOs of Silicon Valley Ben Horwitz read Gove’s book. His experience was that external firms with little knowledge of the company provided little or no value to his firm as they were teaching cut and paste material that was irrelevant.

He applied Gove’s advice to his product managers at Netscape who were adding little value to the business. He wrote a short article called “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager” which he used to train the team on his basic expectations. Gove commented, “I was shocked by what happened next. The performance of my team instantly improved. Pretty soon I was managing the highest-performing team in the company”.

Horwitz immediately took on responsibility for training investing heavily in it. He would go on the say, “I credit that investment with much of our eventual success”.

So how does the CEO go about this? Here’s the advice I give to CEOs.

Just start.

Set aside time weekly in your diary. Choose a topic that is relevant to your staff, explain what it is you expect from them, why you expect it, how you expect they will achieve it and the impact on the organisation as a whole.  Don’t try and be perfect, the world doesn’t need you to be and remember “perfection is spelled paralysis”.

Send out your training article with a covering note that you want to discuss and get feedback at you Friday morning Exco meeting.

Add material that challenges, engages and encourages growth. Join an innovative training platform like Heavy Chef www.heavychef.com , and circulate links to podcasts to support your topic. Follow opinion leaders on LinkedIn. For example, check out Simon Sinek’s Why, give it context and relevance in relation to your company. Then discuss, get feedback and move on.

For more comprehensive skills development, online courses through Coursera and Udemy can be used specifically for developing a staff member’s skill set. They are short, inexpensive and can be done at their desk.

I took on a new client in the logistics industry. I did a Udemy course for R350 that provided me with great insight and brought me up to speed way faster than if I’d muddled my way around the cabbage patch.

Create pods where staff meet to discuss training interventions, share insights and do collaborative learning. This is great for teambuilding, innovation and for developing a symbiotic learning organisation. 

As CEO you are responsible for the productivity and the resultant performance of your company. Continuous, targeted, on the job training is the cheapest most effective resource to increase performance. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate.

Gove’s explanation of the impact of CEO driven training at Intel should be the “wake-up and hear the canary” moment for CEOs;

“Training is, quite simply, one of the highest leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours preparation, for each hour of course time – twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students on your class. Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organisation. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in your subordinate’s performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as a result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.”

Another important aspect of training is to make your expectations absolutely clear to staff. Too often induction is left to HR and while new recruits know when they will be paid and where the toilets are, they rarely know what is expected of them.

If you don’t train your staff, you have no basis for managing their performance, none. As Horwitz says, “if you don’t train your staff, performance management in your company will be sloppy and inconsistent”. 

I have long held the view that performance reviews are a legal theft of company time. Imagine Ernie Else having a blow out in a tournament the week before the British Open and his coach telling he’ll review it at their quarterly review? No, nor can I. Why do we do it?

Give your staff instant feedback; address and improve shortcomings as and when they come to your attention, give recognition immediately. Saying thank you to a colleague for covering for an ill staff member loses its impact a month later.

Now filter your process of training your direct reports throughout the organisation.

Your Exco and their managers must provide monthly training updates to you; experts should share knowledge and information on specific tasks, this is called skills training.

The other form of training is management development, helping your managers to be the most efficient and effective versions of themselves possible. This creates team synergy and camaraderie, but also a profile and esteem for the person doing the training. And the costs are minimal. As a mentor commented to me just before I did my first training session to staff years ago, “never underestimate how much you know”. Share it. The Feynman Technique indicates that our greatest learning happens when we teach others.

Now create a training and development routine. What Verne Harnish calls the “rhythm of meetings”. Make sure it becomes a ritual. I send out training updates on Mondays for Exco meetings on Friday morning. That’s right, every single Monday.

Remember, organisations don’t have time to do optional things, keeping the trains running is far more important than investing time and effort in the future. Make training compulsory, and drive it from the CEOs office.

Now remember excellence is a habit – you constantly need to practice it to perfect it. Read, write, teach, rinse, repeat. Get cracking. As James Clear says, “if you write, call yourself a writer”. Write. If you’re a leader, lead by example.

In 1990 Peter Senge wrote The Fifth Discipline subtitled The Art and Practice of The Learning Organisation. He highlighted five areas of discipline upon which organisations of the future [us] would distinguish themselves from their opposition. It outlines the very essence of what a CEO should be doing.


Also known as systems thinking. CEOs must view their organisation as more than just the sum of its parts. The success of an organisation is based on the successful functioning of every single part of the value chain. A conductor will focus on every individual in the orchestra; to strive for and produce excellence every brass, wind, and string instrument must function optimally, seamlessly and in perfect harmony.

A proper functioning whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. At its deepest level, being part of a great team is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about purpose and being part of something larger than themselves, described by Senge as metanoia. Metanoia means “above the self”, above the self’s mind -learning in the organisation creates this shift. As CEO our scope needs to broader, further, deeper and more holistic. Training gets the team singing off the same song sheet and working towards a combined purpose greater than themselves.

Personal Mastery

CEOs realise that their staff, like them, are by nature inquisitive and curious. They arrive enthusiastic and inspired constantly striving to be the best possible version of themselves possible. If we don’t train them, we simply rob them of this enthusiasm. One of the strongest sources of motivation for our staff is continuous learning, perfecting their craft and continually becoming more capable and competent.

The person they were this time last year, the workplace, and the world have changed significantly from what it was last year; to adapt, adopt and improve you must encourage, NO, force them to learn. If they learn, the organisation benefits from the increase in experience and skills, the classic win/win situation.

CEOs understand that there is a direct correlation between personal learning, organisational learning, personal competence, organisational effectiveness and excellence. They focus on individuals to improve the collective whole. When the tide rises, the super-tanker rises.

Mental models

CEOs create very clear “mental models” using values, mission, and training. Every day people from different classes, gender, culture, sexual orientation, race, religion and political persuasion merge together in your workplace. Training is the single most powerful way of creating a unified “mental model” a united vision of what is and what needs to be.

Training changes the shared mental models of all their stakeholders; staff, clients, customers, suppliers and. They do so by “turning the mirror inward”: unearthing our internal pictures of the world before bringing them to the surface and holding them rigorously to scrutiny. They form the basis of the combined mental model. But what does this mean? It simply means that the CEO is responsible for the inclusive, diverse, high-performance culture of the organisation. He does this by crafting and telling stories. You want to solve the hoary chestnut of diversity and inclusivity? Save the millions budgeted for consultants and develop your own mental models.

Shared vision

The single most critical job of the CEO is to create and hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create. Any organisation that has sustained a measure of greatness has a crystal clarity of goals, values and missions that are deeply shared by staff in the organisation and externally with stakeholders. Flying in formation is the sole responsibility of the CEO. You want to save millions on creating your values? Simply list what it is that your company values. Put it up in the foyer. Write about them in your training. Catch people living them give them public recognition. Insist at every board meeting that the Execs bring one employee they believe lived the values, recognise them with a cup of tea and a certificate. You’ll note I don’t say reward, you don’t reward people for doing what they’re meant to be doing. Pretty soon your organisation will be living the company’s values. The CEO is the custodian of the company values, not the foyer wall. Make it happen.

Team learning

CEOs need to be aware that the intelligence of teams exceeds the intelligence of individuals.  Functional teams develop extraordinary capacities for cohesion, unity of purpose and results.

It starts with training, thinking together, freedom to express oneself, to be heard, to contribute – dialogue – the Greek dia-logos which means a free flowing of meaning through a group.

Furthermore, the open candid nature of discussion means that teams focus on task conflict, meaning that whilst staff might not agree on the solution they are unified against the problem, as opposed to relationship principles which focuses on personal animosity and the organisation killer – office politics.

In conclusion, the message to CEOs is clear:

  • You are responsible for the performance of your organisation;
  • Your organisations performance is based on the hundreds of activities performed by your staff directed by your common vision;
  • Training them to improve by just 1 percent will lead to incremental improvement [read James Clear’s article “This coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened] to see how a slight improvement along the value chain compounds productivity and performance;
  • You are the custodian of your company’s values, live them;
  • Mental modelling helps you create the culture whilst your strategic plan provides the combined vision – you’re training and communication allows you to control the narrative.
  • Do regular gap analyses to ensure staff are skilled to the requisite level to operate optimally.

Now, just start, just, just, just START. And remember Sheryl Sandberg’s advice, “done is better than perfect”. Quite. 

Set Those New Years Resolution Now

Set Those New Years Resolution Now

New Year, New Me, yes, no, maybe, WTF?

At a time when we most need encouragement, support, goals, dreams, visions, hope and the certainty that goes with routine, a plethora of self-help books have encouraged us not to make new year resolutions. The reason? We might break them. If like me the logic appears a little lacking, then take my hand and read on.

The beginning of each year is as literal as it is figurative. It is simply the next day or it is a symbolic day. It is another 24 hours or it is imbued with the magic of promise, of new beginnings and fresh opportunities. I choose the latter.

Whether you are a business or an individual you need purpose and direction in order to be engaged and fulfilled. The start of the year is the ideal time to do so.

Not only is it an opportunity to pause and reflect at what you’ve learned and who you’ve become but it allows you to build on those strengths and create the future you desire.

This is not complicated and it is necessary. I follow this process and I encourage all my mentees and companies to do the same.

"Whether you are a business or an individual you need purpose and direction in order to be engaged and fulfilled."

Firstly, call it what you will; ambitions, wishes, aspirations, dreams, hopes, ideals, intentions, designs, targets, goals, strategies, visions, choices, aims, objectives, purpose – choose one, anyone it doesn’t matter.

Secondly, define in your own terms what your resolutions mean for you. To me, they are simply a set of choices as to how I wish to spend my time over the next twelve months; what I want to do and as importantly what I do not want to waste my time doing.

Then keep it simple, no more than one page. But to get to the one page requires some thought. This is how I do it. 

Discovery – what is my reflected best self, what are my recent achievements that I am most proud of? 

Dream – what is my desired best future self? 

Design – what do I need to do in order to make my dream come true?

Let’s go, start by answering the following;

  1. Discovery
    • What do I love? [what activities cause me to lose track of time? What did I love doing as a child?]
    • What does the world need from me? [what three skills do I have that are in high demand? What can I teach others?]
    • What am I good at? [what parts of my current job come easily to me? What do people approach me for help with?]
    • What can I be paid for? [can I make a living doing this for a sustainable period? What do my competitors look like> is there a niche for me?]
    • What are my core values? [my soul]
    • What is my purpose? [my why, my heart, my Southern Cross]
    • What are my strengths?
    • What is my one line mission statement?
    • Finally, complete your own annual SWOT;
    • What are my current strengths?
    • What are my current weaknesses?
    • What are my current opportunities?
    • What are my current threats?
  1. Dream
    • List the following objectives I want to achieve in the following areas of my life:
    • Personal;
    • Professional;
    • Pastoral;
    • Psychological;
    • Physical
  1. Design

Use the SMART method:

    • Specific; make sure they are simple, unambiguous clear calls to action.
    • Measurable; use simple clearly defined metrics [qualitative or quantitative] to measure your progress.
    • Achievable; set yourself realistic goals including quick wins that allows you to experience success and thus reinforce your progress.
    • Relevant; this is not a wish list, it is a set of objectives you want to achieve in order to have a successful, fulfilled year.
    • Timebound; all successful plans have a clear timeframe that forces us to commit to a deadline.

Now that you have a list of objectives, list a comprehensive set of key results you need to do in order to achieve them.

I call them Objectives [underpinned by] Key results.

  1. Destiny

It is one thing to have a set of objectives but now you need to incorporate them into your personal DNA.

 I do this by considering the following:

    • I always accentuate the positive. Rather than entering into a scarcity spiral of “I’m giving up carbohydrates”, I approach it from a spiral of positive abundance by simply saying, “I’m looking forward to increasing my protein and fat intake to build lean muscle”.
    • Once I week a view the activities and relationships that give me energy. I increase those and ones like those creating more frequent peaks.
    • I look at the areas where I’m draining energy, I stop doing them.
    • In this way I increase my levels of positive energy frequently.
    • I journal daily
    • Every Friday afternoon I check in with myself and review my One Page Personal Plan. I reflect, celebrate, or add more resources to areas requiring it.
    • Success breeds success.



Now get up, dress up, and show up – the world is waiting for you to live your dreams with purpose.

The Renaissance is all around. Are you ready?

The Renaissance is all around. Are you ready?

Today is the Spring Equinox.

Around the world the hours of daylight and night are equal. It is a clear indication that the sun is moving south and summer with it. It is a time of change, optimism, growth and renewal. It is also time to move to Level One.

The Corona virus, whilst not yet over, is not the first nor is it the most devastating virus in history. On the 13thSeptember 2020 the World Health Organisation recorded 917 417 deaths caused by the Corona virus. The Black Death raged over four years from 1347-1350. It killed an estimated 200 million people. 

The plague destroyed Italian society and then transformed it. For the better. Florence’s recovery led to fundamental social, economic, cultural, political and religious transformation heralding the emergence of the Renaissance. 

Is it possible that in the aftermath of such destruction we may be on the cusp of a renaissance?


Yes. If we are awake and receptive to it.

I consult to a number of companies who are essential services. When Level 5 was announced, these companies had an option. Shut down or crack on. They chose, amidst the anxiety of the unknown, to crack on. 

On day one they implemented Covid-19 regulations. They found themselves dealing in ambiguity, uncertainty and with high levels of staff anxiety. 

They are pioneers and did what was needed to keep fragile wheels of what was left of the economy turning. 

Two of them are in agriculture and logistics. They needed to function and function efficiently keeping supply chains running. It is not overtly dramatic to say they fed us and kept us alive. Imagine if they were dysfunctional and failed us? Day after day they got up, dressed up, and showed up – yup in the very eye of a global pandemic. 

What interests me was what makes these companies different? What makes them resilient? What makes them Succesful? What makes them sustainable. And what is the nature of culture that drives them?

Firstly, they are owned and run by optimists. Leaders who trade in hope on a daily basis. They see every challenge as a blessing, as an opportunity they revel in solving, and in solving improving themselves and their business.


They have what I call the mindset of Abundant Possibility.

They share the following traits. They believe in the abundance of opportunity. They believe opportunities are everywhere. They are attuned to and awake to these possibilities. They are appreciative of who they are and what they have. They appreciate the value of themselves, others and their business. This appreciation leads to creativity in the broadest sense. A creativity that looks at the possibilities in the universe and how they can benefit from them. Their businesses constantly look to solve a problem for others by providing a product or service that is of use. This is how they make and create more – a cycle of abundance that is infinite. And they deliver. They deliver to themselves, their staff, their clients and their communities. They are a source of abundance. 

It’s the difference between saying, “what can I do for myself?” or “what can the government, my company, my family, my spouse, or anybody else do for me?” 

They are continually in a growth mindset using their strengths not only to perform but to transform. They are not victims, they are victors. They see themselves as succeeding, even against the odds. They do not blame others; not the competition, not the state, not the government – even when it is attractive to do so. They take full responsibility for their actions saying, “if you remove all the excuses in your life, you can achieve your full potential”. And they do. 

Finally, they constantly scan the horizon looking forward and upward. They live now not in the past. As a wise woman once said, “you must give up all hope of a better past”. Serial entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo put it just as eloquently when he urged us that, “whilst the past may not be our fault, the future is our responsibility”. It is, we cannot abdicate it to anyone else. 

After the devastation the lockdown wreaked on our personal state of mind, the nations psyche –  and the economy what happens if we don’t have a mindset of abundant possibilities?

We become victims. 


Our lives are dependent on the mercy of others.

We believe life to be a constant battle over scarce and limited resources. If you have something I want, it means I can’t have it because resources are finite. I become a helpless. I become envious. Envy leads to jealousy – Shakespeare’s all-consuming green-eyed monster that gnaws away at our insides. Jealousy leads to a downward spiral of anger, resentment, despair, and depression. I am no longer a victor in control of my life. I am a victim living at the mercy of those I envy.  

A North Indian grandfather told his grandson that, “there are two wolves, good and evil, at war within us”.
The boy enquires, “which one wins grandfather?” “the one you feed came the reply”


Which one are you feeding? 

If you want to control your future, you must invent it. You must create it. You must choose abundance over scarcity. You must deal in hope. 

LaunchLab in Stellenbosch is an example of how we can be catalysts of hope, creators of abundance. If you had any doubt that the renaissance is starting under our noses, go to their website and listen to an interview with CEO Josh Romisher and one of the world’s great entrepreneurs Steve Blank. The next renaissance is right HERE, NOW. 

So, scan the horizons and be awake to the endless abundance and opportunities that exist. They are literally all around. If it is to be, its up to me – cumaan Mzanzi lets roll up those sleeves and build a better future for us all. 

If Florence was the tide that floated Italy and the rest of the world, then what’s to stop us starting right here inside within ourselves. Think abundantly, make that call, get that meeting in the diary, hustle and make it happen. And smile. Find your strengths, your values, your passion, your purpose, dream, designing the future and create your destiny.

The Saige Business Consulting executive and leadership development program offers personalised mentoring to help you become the best possible version of yourself.