There’s a lot of talk about employee engagement, and for good reason. It is one of the most important ingredients to a successful business. You can strategize about vision, innovation, collaboration, even compensation, but if your team is not in it to win it, you have a problem.
We live in truly extraordinary times. Leaders are beginning to question years of old practises and supposed conventional wisdom. Well, one with wisdom should know when it is time for a change. And the time is definitely now.
In my previous post, I discussed the topic of trust, which is vital to solidifying any team and ensuring a winning level of engagement. I urged leaders to connect with people at all levels of the business, to get up from their desks, get out of their offices and get to know their teams on a personal level.
I’d like to take a modified perspective from my previous post because there are others ways to build trust and to increase engagement. Of course, I have my own view but I am extremely interested to know what measures CEOs are taking to ensure employees feel comfortable talking to them. Comfortable enough to give them the straight talk about what can be better.
For years, CEOs have been isolated in ivory towers and behind mahogany desks. They’ve been feeding the notion that leaders are somehow different than the rest. That they should keep themselves at arms length, even be feared. That access to them is some sort of privilege. That expressing emotion, frustration, humour, etc. are not CEO qualities. In my case, even if I wanted to behave this way my kids wouldn’t seem to care much. Kids can be very grounding, but that is a story for another day.
The fact is that CEOs, leaders and the rest of the people in an organization are quite the same. The challenge today is proving that humanity exists at the top. With this long standing stereotype in place, the challenge is reminding your team that you are accessible, that you listen, and that you want to hear from them directly. There can’t be enough clarity or repetition around this message. Not when we’ve been trained for years to believe otherwise.
So, are YOU “all in” when it comes to open communication? How open is your open-door policy? How comfortable is your team in talking to you?
I believe many leaders are there already. But some still tip toe around this much-needed change. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. But leadership is about having the courage to move the needle for an entire organization despite your fears. There are various ways to test that commitment.
I do not have an office. I sit at an open desk with various people and departments around me. Human Resources to my right, our Strategy Team to my left. No walls, doors or barriers between the team and I. Anyone can drop by and chat. So I wanted to test something out. I held official “open house” hours. I cleared my calendar and sent a company wide email inviting colleagues to visit. The reaction was interesting. Some colleagues were perplexed by my request and explained how they felt that they could walk by anytime to chat. And some showed great courage to ask questions and share concerns about the business and the changes going on around us. It was very encouraging feedback, and an important reminder to the team of my serious commitment to openness and transparency.
I have another story you might find interesting. On our intranet site “the Orange Grove”, I shared with the entire organization a simple post asking if there was anything about our business that our employees would like to “bitch” about. This may sound unconventional to some, but why wait for reviews and surveys to find out how your team is feeling? And will surveys actually reveal what is really happening at the water cooler? These conversations are happening right now as you read this blog post. So why not find out directly what ticks off and aggravates your team during their day, and what you can do about it?
Strong leaders must set the tone for the team to muster up the courage to share and feel safe in doing so! So let your team in, break down the barriers and truly commit to an open-door policy, whether you take that figuratively or literally.
Getting a grasp on the true reality of your business without any filters is a huge benefit to any leader, particularly a CEO. With this you will build openness, transparency and trust. Consequently you will experience a substantial shift in the overall engagement levels of your most prized resource – your people!