It’s no secret that the most important asset most companies have is their people. Whether a business is predicated on providing fabulous service, pursuing rigorous production goals or maintaining an innovation edge, it’s often employees who, at the end of the day, determine whether it will thrive. That simple fact is borne out by the emphasis that Chief Executive’s CEO of the Year Selection Committee places on a leader’s ability to foster engagement among his or her employees.
“The higher your employee engagement the better performance you will achieve in every aspect of the business,” notes Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR and a longstanding member of the Selection Committee. “From how you create personal loyalty to how you deliver great solutions to your customers, be it innovation, process or technology, the real key to attaining all of that [comes from achieving a] higher level of discretionary effort. People will make extraordinary efforts if they want to—not because they have to.”
The most effective CEOs find ways to nurture engagement by rallying employees around a common purpose, making that purpose feel attainable, motivating the extra effort that
requires and modeling the behavior they seek. Reflecting on CEO of the Year award recipients, Nuti cites two leaders who demonstrated an extraordinary ability to drive employee engagement:
Ford Motor’s Alan Mulally (2011): After taking the helm of the troubled automaker, Mulally worked quickly to align employees behind defined goals and encourage honest assessments of progress. “His ability to engage employees allowed the company to navigate a very difficult transformation more seamlessly that otherwise would have been possible,” says Nuti.
“As a result, he was able to significantly improve the performance of the company—the innovation that came out of the design team was phenomenal and they were more productive, more efficient and achieved higher quality due to that higher engagement.”
Walt Disney’s Bob Iger (2014): Tasked with restoring a tarnished brand to greatness, Iger told Chief Executive that his biggest challenge was fixing the culture of “a company that did not believe in itself.” “Bob Iger really understands how employee engagement makes a difference,” says Nuti, who praised the Disney CEO’s success at energizing “cast members” to become external ambassadors of engagement. “In fact, Disney even teaches other companies how to drive a higher level of customer intimacy.”