How Can a CEO Get (and Stay) in Touch with Employees?

Often CEOs lose touch, or are perceived to have lost touch with their people. What’s worse, they can appear to have lost touch with the reality of working in the business. Clearly, this can be incredibly damaging.

Respectable CEO

If, as CEO, you don’t really understand the concerns, ideas, motivations or realities of your employees, you’re likely to make some very poor decisions, which will impact the business. If you are simply perceived to be out of touch, you soon start to lose the respect of your people. So, what can a CEO do to avoid either situation?

Joining interviews

A great way to set off on the right foot is to insist on meeting all new joiners. This could be either individually or in small groups. It gives the CEO an opportunity to at least break the ice with all new employees, making future conversations easier on both sides. More than that, though, it also allows the CEO the chance to make the new employee feel welcome. It gives a clear message that the CEO is approachable and keen to hear views.

Exit interviews

At the other end of the scale, a CEO can benefit enormously from conducting exit interviews personally. By the time employees have decided to leave, they are usually prepared to be honest about what could be improved in the business, as well as any problems they’ve encountered. This first-hand view of what’s not going well and what drives people to leave is hugely valuable to any CEO who believes that people really are the company’s biggest asset.


Strange as it may feel, the CEO walkabout is a very useful way of gauging the general mood of people and getting a sense of morale. Happily, even if the CEO feels it’s not especially effective, there is a positive side-effect –people see him/her more frequently and feel that s/he cares.

Social events

Throughout the year, all companies have formal and informal social events. The CEO who is interested in connecting with people will see these as an invaluable opportunity. Of course, no-one really wants to spend the whole evening with the CEO, but people do appreciate a warm and genuine five minute chat about family, hobbies or interests that employees have. This chance for the CEO to show a human and caring side goes a long way to establishing the trust that’s needed for people to feel comfortable in giving frequent updates on how to improve the business.


Finally, a confidential engagement survey is an extremely powerful tool for staying in touch with what’s important to people. It’s a chance for people to speak freely, without fear of reprisals. Done well, it also paints a clear picture for the CEO of what most impacts people’s engagement with the company and pinpoints any other specific issues that are currently holding the business back. Of course, for the survey to have any impact, the CEO must be happy to share the results with the business and must also be determined to take action on any problem areas that have been identified.

At times, a CEO can seem aloof – holed up in an ivory tower. If this is your current place of residence, then perhaps it’s time to build yourself a set up steps. Coming down from your tower can be a surprisingly straight-forward experience. If you’re armed with a few strategies, you’ll soon be back in touch with your people. It could do wonders for your image, and, more importantly, for your business.

About the Author: John Southwell is MD at


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