How to Get Your CEO to Be An Engagement Hero

I recently attended a conference devoted entirely to employee engagement. It was a well-planned event, with thoughtful presentations and meaningful insights. My colleagues were looking for ways to drive employee engagement, along with techniques to build an exceptional employee experience. My hat goes off to them; they are all striving to make work a better place for everyone.

Yet, it became painfully clear that human resources (HR) leaders can only do so much. At the end of the day, the single most important factor in creating an engaged workforce is the organization’s CEO. There is no other way to say it, and I wish it weren’t always true. But the truth is that the most important element in employee engagement is a CEO who passionately leads the charge.

Let me give you some more color. During this conference, an HR leader would walk to the stage and deliver a world-class presentation about their organization’s remarkable employee experience. Then, everyone would start mumbling about how they would like to work for that company. Finally, some poor timid soul would raise their hand, hoping for a miracle, and ask the HR leader how they did it – what made them successful in creating that type of an employee experience? The audience would then lean forward as a hush settled and everyone strained to hear the Delphic oracle pronounce wisdom from on high. And… it was the same shy response each time: “Actually, I didn’t have to do much because our CEO led the charge.”

Then, a new presentation would take place; same scenario.

I watched as shoulders slumped. Heads began to bow, and hearts were heavy. How is a hard-working HR manager in a manufacturing company that produces shipping containers supposed to compete with a company where the CEO wears flip flops and personally sends “Thank You” notes to each employee?

It’s a challenge. I get it. But don’t stop trying. Here are some suggestions on ways to get your CEO and senior leadership team committed to growing employee engagement within your organization.

1. Create a vision of what employee engagement is and why it matters to your organization

Explain and teach that winning talent creates winning organizations. Employee engagement is an emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed to our work. In turn, we fully invest our best selves – our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands – in the work we do. Think of all you can accomplish when your employees feel this way. When an organization’s employees are fully invested, magic happens.

2. Employee engagement is grown, not built

Explain that employee engagement is not built; rather, it is grown and cultivated within the right employee experience (i.e., culture). Who is responsible for your organization’s culture? Your CEO. Help your CEO and other senior leaders realize that every important business outcome lies downstream from the experience and the engagement of the people who make the organization go. Because success starts with talented people, a CEO’s most important role is to give talented individuals a reason to join the organization’s cause, a reason to stay, and a reason to engage.

3. Get an employee engagement professional

Suggest that your CEO hire an executive coach to guide him or her through the engagement/employee experience. Don’t use a regular coach; use someone that is skilled and experienced specifically with employee engagement, and is focused on helping the executive in this area.

4. Your company’s CX is equal to its EX

Remind your leadership team of what we call the “Law of Congruent Experience,” employees will deliver a customer experience (CX) that matches their own employee experience (EX) in the organization.

5. Find allies to help you

Do some internal campaigning to help you find supporters that will deliver the right messages to your management team. If you are four levels down, then find a champion at the highest level possible and ask them to carry the torch for you.

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6. Know your audience

Don’t bring up engagement leadership in a group meeting. Find someone who can talk to the CEO one-on-one. This will reinforce the message that the real person responsible for engagement is the CEO; not a committee, not the HR department, and not some other nebulous group.

7. Survey top leaders about employee engagement

Send a brief survey to top leaders asking them about engagement and who they think is responsible for employee engagement within your organization. Use a survey to quiz your leaders on how well they understand employee engagement. These results will give you a sense of your gaps and where you can focus your teaching and learning efforts.

8. The CEO is the messenger

At the very least, ask your CEO to help deliver campaign content and other employee engagement messages. This will at least demonstrate some support.

9. Find support

Finally, in the end, find whatever support you can.

Being in charge of employee engagement can be a tough job at times. All of us would rather be supporting a charismatic and dynamic CEO who leads the charge. Instead, some of you have to deal with the founder’s son or the proverbial brother-in-law, whose sole claim to the job is their family connections. But don’t give up! Keep fighting the good fight and keep fighting to improve employee engagement within your organization. It’s worth it.

This article originally published on the DecisionWise blog.

As DecisionWise’s Chief Operating Officer, Matthew Wride oversees the company’s operations, as well as its finance, legal, and administrative functions. Matthew joined DecisionWise in 2015, after serving as the COO for a start-up incubator and family office.

Prior to making the transition to business management, Matthew was a corporate attorney in Salt Lake City, Utah. Matthew’s practice ranged from advising start-ups to handling complex mergers and acquisitions. Prior to practicing law, Matthew was an accountant and consultant with Deloitte (formerly Deloitte & Touche) in Seattle, Washington and Salt Lake City, Utah. He is co-author of the book, The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results, published by Wiley & Sons. 

Matthew is an adjunct professor of political science at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. Besides his family, his true love is skiing Utah’s Rocky Mountains, where he is constantly in search of “champagne” powder and blue skies. 

Wride received a J.D. from Willamette University College of Law, a Masters of Laws in Taxation (LL.M.) from the University of Washington, and a B.S. in Sociology from Brigham Young University. 

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