If you walk into a large-scale organization (or one of its branches) and ask the employees to tell you the name of the company president or CEO, to give you the history of the company, or to explain to you the company culture, you likely will get a blank stare. You might ask a question about something you read regarding their organization, and the response is along the lines of: “I never know what’s going on.”
Communicating with hundreds of employees is a challenge, especially when the most effective method is in person. One of the largest hurdles to employee loyalty and productivity is the lack of interpersonal communication in the workplace.
Addressing these communication concerns is vital to keep the organization flowing smoothly. The work is important, but understanding the “why” is imperative to maintaining a solid workforce, one built on trust and loyalty.
The fundamental component to closing the communication gap lies at the core of the organization: its CEO.
Why should employees know the CEO?
A company’s goal is to maintain a solid workforce built on trust and loyalty, as mentioned above. The CEO represents the organization and is the forerunner in attitude and mind-set. He or she sets the example in company culture and values. You need employees who will share challenges and insights. In order for them to do this, there has to be camaraderie among them and CEOs.
Employees have to know what is happening in the organization they are helping to strengthen. They need to understand how they fit into the bigger picture and end goals.
When connecting to your team in a meaningful way, the book “Leading Teams,” by Mary Shapiro (Harvard Business Review), points out that, “If your team members understand why you chose them, they’ll have a clearer sense of how they can contribute.” Sharing their “personal strengths, work styles and priorities” in group conversations can help the team understand one another’s value.
Be clear about not only why you brought employees on the team, but the contributions you expect from them.
As you learn about your employees, you learn their strengths and where they might be a good fit. Their traits and habits will help you understand how best to leverage these and how they fit within certain teams and projects.
What should employees know?
“Knowing” the CEO, president or founder of the company doesn’t mean knowing all of the intimate, private details of the big boss. There are a lot of things about a person that simply isn’t anyone’s business.
But to know a person, you understand what makes him or her who he or she is. What drives her, what she’s passionate about, why she does what she does in the organization. Just as a personal friendship develops over time, a professional relationship with the CEO takes time to grow. You learn about her attitude, perhaps her family life, even what makes her happy.
You want to know enough about your CEO so that if someone asks you: “What is she like?” you can answer with confidence. For example: “Ms. Graham is confident and intelligent. But she’s not afraid to solicit ideas from us. She visits with us once a week and she takes time to really listen to us. You can tell she loves what she does, and she appreciates the employees and what we have to offer. She also doesn’t allow work to get in the way of her family. And she helps us keep our priorities in order.”
Did you notice what was missing? The information you can pull from the bio on the company website – the degrees, the career background, the accomplishments. What this employee focused on was something you can only get from knowing someone. The employee homed in on the human.
But how did the employee arrive at that conclusion?
Who bears responsibility for interaction and engagement?
Being human is not a weakness. Relating to your employees opens the door to goodwill that paves the way for loyalty.
The CEO is the one who sets the pattern. A CEO who takes the time to know the employees is one who will have employees with a team mind-set. Employees follow where they are led. Where and how are you leading them?
One thing the employee mentioned about the CEO is that she visits with the employees. There’s no doubt a CEO carries a lot of responsibility. But part of that responsibility is understanding the glue that holds the company together. Yes, the financial aspect is a big part of that glue. But what makes up the glue is your employees. Employee loyalty means a higher retention rate, which means the financial loss at hiring replacements lessens, which means you keep your superior employees, which means your company continues to grow, and your financial gains are more solid.
CEOs who are leading the pack on engagement – another key to employee retention – have better success with engaged managers and employees. Research conducted by Gallup revealed that “managers who are directly supervised by highly engaged executive teams are 39 percent more likely to be engaged than managers who are supervised by executive teams with below-average engagement.” Employees were similar with “59 percent more likely to be engaged” because of highly engaged managers.
The CEO, president and anyone else at the top of the ladder who understand this, shows it by being in front of their employees, frequently. They are getting to know their employees and building relationships. They are motivating them. They are walking the floor with the employees, listening to their concerns, and working to understand the challenges. Often the challenges and frustrations do not reach high on the ladder. If a CEO is not aware of what issues the person in the warehouse face, then he does not understand how these challenges affect other branches of the company.
CEOs oversee a multitude of employees, sometimes across the country. It is difficult to be in many places at once. So the CEO relies on his management team, who rely on their management teams to keep everyone informed.
That is certainly reasonable and realistic. But the danger can be that the CEO appears hidden behind a wall and unapproachable to his own employees. And he never develops the connection he needs to not only understand his employees, but garner the loyalty he needs from them to move forward.
What CEOs can do
The ideal way for CEOs and employees to get to know one another is in person. The CEO should spend time with employees, as often as possible and on a regular basis. These two statements cannot be overemphasized. Over time, the CEO knows the faces, names and even the personalities of his employees. The employees feel comfortable around the CEO, which invites the interaction the CEO needs to understand their challenges.
CEOs and leadership typically visit with one another. They tour facilities, have lunch together and meet together. But it’s the other employees who need the attention the most. It’s also those employees who have the most valuable information. But if you want it, they have to feel at ease and willing to share. If you only see them once a year for a planned visit where they will likely be “on their best behavior,” you will never see the real story.
“But look – I don’t have time for these visits,” you might reason. “I’m in one meeting after another, on one flight to the next. And when I’m not doing that, I’m in the middle of research and planning.” And on goes the list, which is understandable and likely, unavoidable.
However, all of us make time for the things that matter to us. Make your employees matter, even if it’s for 30 minutes, one day a week, to say “hi” to them. To show them you are human and care about them. Schedule this time, make it a priority, and keep doing this on a regular basis.
When face time is not an option at times, technology has made it simpler to be in front of people. Some CEOs have a company blog. If that is you, turn this into a video. Get in front of your employees to discuss whatever is important for them to know. While this is a one-sided conversation and does not allow for immediate feedback, at least you’re there. This, too, should be on a regular basis. A good start for people to get to know one another is through face recognition.
Video does not replace your in-person visits, but it should be in addition to this. And management and leadership should make it a point to share these videos with employees.
And finally, don’t neglect your internal company newsletter. Make sure you also have your message, greetings and updates in there on a regular basis.
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