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5 Of The Best Things CEOs Do To Connect With Their Employees

Employee engagement is a hot commodity that has launched a million blog posts and continues to keep CEOs awake at night. There are many things you can buy, and a lot of changes your company can make, in the name of better engagement. One kind of connection that's harder to buy your way into, but that's just as vital, is the connection between CEOs and employees. The degree to which people consider their workplace a second home has a lot to do with the tone coming from the top of the organization. With that idea in mind, here are five ways to create more genuine, more productive and longer-lasting connections with employees.

1. Create Transparency in Fun Ways One of the most important jobs of the modern CEO is to project a sense of stalwart leadership and to make decisions confidently — even as you maintain transparency and engage in ongoing dialogue with the rest of the company. Not everything you decide in an average quarter or fiscal year can, or should, get put up to a vote or telegraphed before it's a "done deal." But if you want to start a new tradition with the simultaneous goals of connecting with employees and creating transparency, think about throwing one or two all-hands luncheons or forums per year. At these events, give everybody in the company a chance to bump shoulders, enjoy some tasty food, then get the latest news about company updates, new clients, new technologies in the workplace and much more — directly from the CEO and top leadership.

2. Use Technology and Social Media Lots of public figures use social media superficially — either by doing nothing but retweeting, or by "talking shop" constantly when what followers want is a look at the "real you." Something like 61 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs haven't bothered establishing a social media presence. And that's a shame, because it's an outstanding way to connect with employees as well as the public. It shouldn't come as a surprise, but most people enjoy seeing thought leaders' values as well as their personalities on display in an unrehearsed way. It's an exercise in branding, yes, but engaging with people like this can also spark genuine conversations and leave people impressed with your openness and approachability.

3. Implement a "Council" Structure One thing you might find useful if your company is big enough is to connect with your workforce by way of a "town council" model of decision-making setup. This group can consist of appointees or volunteers, but it should be as diverse and multi-disciplinary as possible. Companies with council-type structures get representatives from each department and make decisions about longer-term company planning, goal-setting and more. The CEO still represents the lion's share of the decision-making power, but the council structure helps ensure choices are better balanced and goals don't get set without all parties having a voice.

4. Know How Your Company Works This one's pretty simple. If employees feel like their CEO isn't in the trenches every day with them, they're not going to be as engaged and committed to the mission. You should have a handle on what's going on under your roof, including an understanding of what daily life is like in each department. An aloof CEO inspires no one. Instead, consider the impact of a company leader who understands the people, processes and technology his company relies on. For a start, it means employees can have real conversations with you about their daily processes, any problems they're having and anything that needs to change for different parts of the company to work more harmoniously together. You built this company, presumably, because you wanted to give something meaningful to the world. You should know this organization inside and out, and you should understand how changes to one department or process can influence the others.

5. Invest in Small Gestures It's hard to understate the value of acts of kindness in any human relationship. For some CEOs and employees, for whom some time might pass before they get to see each other face to face, it's essential to remain in touch and find ways to reward continuing excellence. Even some of the smallest gestures CEOs make can have a surprisingly out sized impact — such as sending personalized birthday cards. "Making it rain" with small gift cards around the holidays, to celebrate the personal milestones of your staff and to reward goals met and company benchmarks achieved, never goes amiss either. A well-timed gift card, a smile in the hallway and an always-open door are all minimal investments of both time and money on your part. But they can all help forge a more genuine connection between CEOs and employees and make your business feel more harmonious and productive.

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