Although employee engagement may seem like today’s buzzword of choice, there is good reason for it. The facts are staggering—only 32 percent of U.S. employees and 13 percent worldwide are engaged, according to Gallup. This should matter, even alarm, CEOs globally because it means they are largely missing out on the benefits of motivated, empowered, and committed workforces that work to achieve their full potential every day.
Although there is a long list of things that influence an employee’s engagement, there is one that stands out in all of the data and research: the impact of executive leadership. CEOs are in the best role to begin taking measures to improve engagement within their organizations because their behaviors and actions set the standard for leaders at all levels. With that in mind, here are three ways CEOs can engage their workforces and reap the benefits.
- Interact with Employees in the Field
As you get promoted within an organization, your job becomes increasingly removed from the day-to-day tactics and becomes increasingly focused on people and strategy. When this shift happens, CEOs run the risk of becoming disconnected from the realities of frontline employees. Although it may sound obvious to get out into the field and interact with employees at all levels of the organization, this is not put into practice as frequently as you may think.
If you are a CEO who wants to improve engagement, you cannot put this off any longer. Become intentional about setting up town halls, meetings, and events where you can have a public presence and provide avenues for people to feel heard and for you to cast vision. When people feel understood, you reap the benefit of hearing potentially new, innovative, and exciting ideas. By casting the vision, you engage the hearts and minds of your employees in the things that you deem most critical.
A great example of this was set by Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, who created a culture that welcomed the opinions of those on the frontlines—particularly through his open-door policy—and spent plenty of time in the field with his employees. In his autobiography, he shares, “Folks who stand on their feet all day stocking shelves or pushing carts of merchandise out of the back room get exhausted and frustrated too, and occasionally they dwell on problems that they just can’t let go of until they’ve shared it with somebody who they feel is in a position to find a solution.” As he listened, Walton also imparted to his employees passion for serving the customer. The impacts of his philosophy on the business results speak for themselves.
- Be a Teacher
As a CEO, you accumulate valuable knowledge of your business, the competition, and the world as a whole. However, one of the biggest pitfalls is failing to share that valuable knowledge.
More and more leaders today are being asked to come into the field to help develop other leaders. Since the 1950s, GE’s CEOs—from Ralph Cordiner, to Jack Welch in the ‘80s and ‘90s, to current CEO, John Flannery—have all valued bringing their best and brightest people together to one of the oldest corporate universities in the U.S., taking their position at the head of the class, and imparting their thinking and philosophies.
When leaders teach others in their organizations as subject matter experts, they have the opportunity to influence and model the behaviors they expect of others. When a CEO presents up-and-coming leaders with the chance to learn from them and their personal experiences, they are far more impactful than anyone else. Furthermore, doing so significantly benefits the CEO. They get to see high potentials in action and engage with them around real business issues. This cannot help but improve the engagement of those young leaders.
- Create an Accountability Loop
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, as found by Gallup. An effective way to improve engagement is to consistently follow up with your direct reports on those items that you have deemed as highest priority, especially those surrounding people and culture initiatives. Schedule meetings during which you do three simple things:
- Reinforce your personal commitment to support them and the initiative.
- Ask follow-up questions to understand what they and their direct reports are doing and hearing.
- Discuss opportunities to support.
What more could serve to elevate the engagement of a direct report than to know the CEO is personally invested and interested in supporting them?
An organization is highly influenced by the actions and behaviors of its CEO. Every effort put into employee engagement goes a long way in positively impacting the success of executive leadership, the workforce, your customers, and the business.