Approximate reading time: 2.7 minutes

The hospital doctors in a major south London health care trust hate the Chief Executive. Almost universally they find the CEO rude, arrogant and disrespectful.  

The ability to judge a CEO in the public sector is rather harder than in the commercial world where bottom line evidence soon mounts up. Does anybody in fact care that the front line workers in this NHS trust have such a negative view of the CEO?  

Apparently not, the informal and cynical consensus amongst them is that this uninspiring and dispiriting chief executive will cling on a bit longer, before moving on to a higher level job at the earliest opportunity. 

Looking more broadly at the CEO role, the recent history of CEO’s losing their jobs across major institutions is a salutary one. For example the number leaving their jobs is probably at its highest for a decade.  

While reporting a slight decline in CEO turnover rates in 2009, Booze Allen’s Richard Rawlinson a London partner, confirmed “Scrutiny of CEO decisions has increased, and we expect turnover rates to increase again as boards assess their leaders’ performance.”  

A more recent report on CEO turnover in Financial Services for example, by recruitment firm Norman Broadbent in 2010 predicted “a record rate of CEO churn in 2010, with all appointments being made from within financial services, and a sharpened focus on succession planning. The appointment and increasing importance, of Talent Directors across consumer financial services is evidence of the latter point.” 

As far as Health trusts are concerned there seem evidence of a link between poor performance and CEO turnover. In the South London Health Trust mentioned above the CEO clearly needs to go, yet the doctors have little or no say in making this happen. Where once they would have had a major influence, they are now relegated to “front line workers” and are not apparently asked regularly to give feedback on how the CEO is performing.

Feedback plays a vital role in an employee’s decision to stay in a job. Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that 71% of top performers who received regular feedback were likely to stay on the job versus just 43% who didn’t receive it.  

So we may reasonably predict that the doctors at the South London Health Trust are probably right—the CEO, devoid of feedback or being allowed to ignore it, will thereof be gone in the foreseeable future. 

In FedEx it is said that as a team leader if you receive two negative quarterly feedbacks in a row you are at serious risk of demotion. This makes for considerable alertness amongst managers as to how they are perceived by their subordinates and team colleagues. 

In the case of the South London health trust the CEO is getting away with a negative assessment across a wide range of colleagues simply because there is either no formal mechanism for judging performance based on such feedback or a proper link between any such results and practical remedial action. 

All CEO’s should face this kind of feedback and it should come from across the entire organisation. The objection to this could be that it is unfair to ask say a selection of front line workers what they think of the CEO. They may hardly even know the CEO’s name, let alone feel able to judge performance. 

But that surely is the point. If as CEO you knew that you were going to be judged by what a sample of those on the front line thought of you, wouldn’t you take radical steps to raise your profile with them? Wouldn’t you make sure they did indeed know you and what you were trying to achieve? 

This sort of feedback can alter how CEOs choose to spend their time. Rather than allowing themselves to be distracted with interminable and often highly unproductive meetings, the CEO bent on making sure front line workers know of their existence, will be out there raising their profile.  

The need for CEOs to get out there and communicate has never been greater. This is an essential ingredient of building higher levels of engagement and is not just a “nice thing” to do. 




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