A CEO’s job is ultimately to deliver business results—to deliver the mission. The key way to do that is to create an environment where employees are able do their jobs well and a culture where they want to do their jobs well.
A company’s employees invent, market, sell, build, deliver, and support the products that customers buy. When customers buy those products, a company and its shareholders make money. Every hour a CEO spends on creating conditions that make engagement more likely is an hour invested in the productivity of the entire workforce.
CEO roles differ widely from organization to organization, depending on the company’s growth stage and context. In public companies, there’s an investor relations angle; in smaller companies, CEOs may still have operational responsibilities. Whatever the additional burdens, they must personally own three key things from an employee engagement perspective.
- Own and be able to articulate the vision: The CEO must own and explain the company’s strategic vision, its mission, its strategy, and its reason for being. A clear statement of direction and destination is one of the greatest gifts a CEO can give to a business. The CEO should articulate the mission with ambitious goals because the best people want to achieve great things—they want their lives to have meaning. They know that reaching the moon is not certain, but they absolutely want to have the best goal possible.
- Be the architect of company culture: The CEO must own employee engagement and company culture because the chief executive is the only person with the cross-functional authority to lead and direct the actions that are needed. Writing words in a book or on the wall is not enough. Culture is the result of the hundreds of actions taken each year. It will take courage and commitment to make choices that are actually in line with the desired culture, and that’s why the CEO must own this personally.
- Deliver results: There is a two-way relationship between business results and employee engagement. With a disengaged workforce, you won’t get the business results you could. Similarly, if your business isn’t successful, any success at employee engagement will be short-lived. Very simply, if the company doesn’t have product-market fit and doesn’t win in its niche, then the best people will move on and those left will become disengaged.
Employee engagement can survive and even thrive for a short time in a “batten down the hatches” or “we’re at war against the world” environment, but that can’t last forever. Engagement needs good business results, as much as good business results depend on engagement.
Rebel CEOs use every tool at their disposal to cut through the hierarchy and bring themselves closer to their people. They treat their staff as the key stakeholder group—alongside customers—to power their organizations’ success. They use tools like Glassdoor to have direct conversations with staff, listening, understanding, and, where necessary, explaining business decisions.
Well-led companies have high levels of trust in leadership. This gives them the ability to adapt quickly and make changes that other businesses would struggle with.
With trust in leadership, workforces are more accepting and adaptable because they know their leadership cares about them, is telling the truth, and is focused on the same mission they are. This gives such companies a significant advantage.