It is rather common for a CEO to feel a bit disconnected from the everyday efforts of their enterprise. While they focus on big-picture issues, the rest of the organization often functions without their input, and over time, CEOs might not know the names of more than a handful of subordinates who are likely directly connected to their high-level work.
Still, it is important for CEOs to think critically about how their company functions. Specifically, they need to be involved in the curation of the company culture, which affects not only how their workers feel but also how the reputation of their brand develops.
Some ways CEOs can contribute to company culture include:
Offering Safe Spaces
Physiologically, workplace stress is indistinguishable from stress caused by fear in life-or-death situations, like running from a man-eating tiger. When a worker feels undue amounts of stress, their brain begins to focus on the source of the stress rather than creative or productive solutions. Ultimately, a fearful employee is a bad employee, so CEOs need to commit to creating a company culture that promotes safety and security.
Employees need to know that they can trust the people in charge of their organization. CEOs should do what they can to make their workers feel safe in their presence, which means speaking politely and being gracious. Other attributes of a safe and productive business include transparency of business practices and autonomy among the workforce, both of which give employees a sense of control over their workplace.
Just as children watch how their parents behave and practice acting like adults, the other managers within an organization mimic the leadership actions and behaviors they learn from the CEO. In business, “Do what I say, not what I do” is not an effective leadership strategy; CEOs must recognize that those around them will passively absorb their leadership style and apply it almost regardless of the training they receive to the contrary. Thus, CEOs need to be cognizant of how they perform their responsibilities, how they interact with their partners and subordinates and how they uphold the values of their business.
CEOs must consider the culture of leadership they hope to build within their organization, and they must act in ways they expect their leaders to act. This might mean creating and following a recognition program that celebrates the effort and achievement of their staff. It might also include open, honest communication with staff about business strategy, to include difficult issues like organizational change.
Because the CEO’s behavior is so visible to the rest of the organization, other leaders will begin copying what they see to create a cohesive company culture.
Creating a Coaching Path
Employees require recognition for their hard work, and one of the most effective ways to motivate top talent is to invest in their knowledge and skill. There are all sorts of training programs that CEOs can create and encourage, but among the most valuable is a coaching path that allows ambitious and skilled workers to connect with leaders who can guide them to career success. CEOs themselves can take charge of a handful of high-achieving managers to help foster the leadership abilities they believe most appropriate and effective within their industry.
It might be worthwhile to work with HR to create a coaching lattice, instead of a one-way coaching ladder. These days, more and more employees are interested in exploring lateral and diagonal career moths that allow them to gain new skills and experiment with new responsibilities. Coaching is an expensive way to test out employees in different fields to ensure that talent is put in the best possible place.
Mandating Effective Onboarding
A company’s onboarding program is perhaps the most important system for attracting and retaining top talent. Onboarding is a new hire’s first impression of a business, and it often sets the tone for how employees interact with their peers, contribute to their team projects and relate to company success. CEOs have the power to direct an onboarding plan that effectively transitions a job candidate into a productive worker — and eventually to a loyal member of the business community.
In smaller organizations, CEOs themselves can have a hand in greeting new hires and helping them to feel welcome. This has the added effect of allowing the workforce to feel that the company’s top leaders respect them as people, not just human capital.
The CEO is not merely a cog in the corporate machine; they are the largest, most visible and most influential cog. By focusing on certain actions and systems, CEOs can create a positive company culture that is powerfully productive.