Chief Executive Officer, President, Managing Director—as the head of the company, it’s up to you to set the vision and tone. It’s up to you to determine growth-strategies and how to tell the outside world what the company does and doesn’t do. Therefore, you end up focusing a lot of your attention outward instead of inward, making it hard to get to know the people who work for you.
But who has the time to get to know everyone? You have a company to run. While that’s certainly true, without employees, there would be no company. That’s why investing in personal connections is well-worth the effort. Because when you do take the time to get to to know your employees, they become more than just employees—they become people.
Not only do they become more human to you but you become more human to them. When you begin to form personal connections with those around you, you also build more trust. And with trust comes loyalty.
So how do you take steps to form personal connections as the CEO, especially in a very large or global organization?
Begin with these three approaches:
Regardless of your responsibilities, lower-level employees may see you as a bit of an enigma. They’ve only heard rumors of what the CEO is like. As a result, they may find you inaccessible or even intimidating. So to become more approachable, people first have to know they can approach you.
Work with HR or your team leads to create an open-door policy that’s not just for other executives, but is inclusive of everyone. Literally have your door open during certain times of the day/week to allow people to walk in and have a chat. If that doesn’t work for your, try implementing a more formal version of office hours (or virtual office hours) where anyone can sign up or show up to ask you questions or get to know you better.
People might be hesitant and afraid to approach you at first, so consider approaching them instead. Schedule lunches every month with a different group of employees from different departments. If you’re spread across the country or globe, thankfully, video chats exist—have a virtual coffee date.
Whatever approach you take, the goal is to create opportunities for open, two-way communication.
Accessibility is the first part of improved communication. But there are many other factors and social skills that encompass strong communication.
- Body language
Listening takes more than facing someone who’s talking. Let the speaker know you’re present and remove distractions by setting your phone aside or closing your computer. If you’re on a phone call, try to limit background noise, and allow them to finish their thought before jumping in. Give them your undivided attention for the few minutes they have with you; it will mean a lot to employees to know that the CEO took the time to listen.
Body language also plays a role. Notice your posture and stance if you’re in person. If you’re looking around or you’re pointing your feet in a different direction than the rest of your body, that sends the message that you have a better place to be. Phone calls pose a different challenge since you can’t see one another. To demonstrate that you’re paying attention, add verbal head-nods (“mmhmm”) when appropriate.
As the CEO, it’s important to humanize yourself and let your employees get to know a little bit more about their leader. When you offer up something personal, they’ll usually reciprocate. This tends to put people at ease and makes them more comfortable talking to you. You don’t have to share your entire life story, but let them see some of who you are and what you care about outside of work.
Increased accessibility, better communication—these contribute to more transparency in an organization. And as the CEO, you likely have the best understanding of where the company is headed. That direction may not always be a good one.
While it’s incredibly difficult to deliver bad news, secrecy and lack of transparency breed distrust in an organization. Once you shatter the trust, you many never get it back. That can lead to costly employee turnover and a disappointing company culture.
Simply sending memos isn’t sufficient these days. Take advantage of technology to hold “state of the union” addresses online. Be a guest on smaller team or department calls to communicate any changes and updates. Or consider the open-door or office hours suggestion from earlier. Whatever tactics you use to improve transparency, it boils down to forming better personal connections with your people.
In larger corporations especially, c-suite executives are a little like the Wizard of Oz—employees don’t know who lies behind the curtain and vice versa. Start making yourself more accessible. Communicate more often and in a variety of ways. Peel back the curtain and build trust through transparency. Whether you’re brand new to the position or been at the company for a decade, it’s never too late to start forming better personal connections with your employees.