6 Things Good CEOs Always Do to Connect With Employees

Marcel Schwantes

I proposed this powerful engagement strategy to a former CEO, and he rejected it. His loss, your gain.

A CEO I reported to back in my corporate days suffered from a syndrome I call "The Invisible Executive."

He dwelled in the safety and comfort of his office most of his 50+ hours per week. It was safe because, at the time, turnover had reached an astounding 60 percent. An "open-door policy" was only reserved for his executive team.

One of my early meetings with him to discuss culture development centered around making his role more visible--literally--to his people, in an attempt to strengthen his image, reputation, and improve the cardiac-level employee engagement numbers with his own reports.

He wanted no part in it, naturally, because that meant being exposed, rather than seeing it as a courageous manner to build bridges and connect with his employees as valued stakeholders.

Since that time, I've moved on to found my own company where I speak on the very leadership principles I tried to foster in that previous company's executive team. And the lesson remains: Authenticity is a leadership strength that will win over your followers.

Today, while going through some old files, I ran into the engagement strategy I proposed to my former CEO in that meeting years ago.

I'm now sharing it with anyone in a leadership role--whether you're a middle manager, owner, or executive--as a plan for increasing transparency across reporting levels, improving morale through shared decision-making, and opening up lines of communication across all channels.

Strategy No. 1: Executive Roundtable Meetings or Luncheons

Examples of this can include monthly "lunch and learns" or picking staff at random to have lunch with the President or another executive. Executives can choose two or three staff who have a birthday during that month to attend a special lunch with them.

These meetings, once implemented into the cultural fabric of the organization, help leaders get to personally know their employees and discover their employees' goals. They can find out what their employees are working toward. Are they trying to pay off debt or do they have a child they need to put through college? Helping define their purpose and become a driving force to help them succeed is a huge engagement booster.

Another option is to have an open forum for anyone available on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can limit to the first 10 RSVP's and reserve a more intimate setting to accommodate this informal event, rather than a stuffy conference room. Here are some possible topics for these luncheons:

Strategy No. 2: All Hands on Deck Employee Forums

In this scenario, it's similar to the one above but available to the whole company. The CEO presents the agenda, gives updates then answers questions in a town hall setting. The executive team sets the dates, times and plans the event.

Google still does for all their employees to this day. At their weekly TGIF all-hands meeting, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin host the entire company (in person and by video) for updates from the prior week, including product demonstrations, welcoming of new hires, and most important, thirty minutes of fielding questions from anyone in the company, on any topic. The Q&A is the part that matters most.

Strategy No. 3: Daily Executive Rounding

Rounding must be conducted by senior leadership and not be delegated to others. I say this because some will resist the approach.

This is particularly effective when leaders are looking for opportunities to connect with staff and to identify and eliminate work obstacles.

Rounding must include all departments and be done once per day. Additionally, the leader doing the rounding picks a different staff meeting to attend for increased visibility and engagement.

Strategy No. 4: Open Door Policy

A good example of this communication strategy for engaging your employees is Credit Karma Founder and CEO Kenneth Lin. He operates with an open door policy which he calls a "keystone for good company communication."

This is important as your company grows and begins to distance itself with its many layers.

"I want new employees to feel like this is a mission we're all in together. An open-door policy sets the tone for this. Whenever I'm in my office and available, I encourage anyone to come by and share their thoughts about how they feel Credit Karma is doing," says Lin.

The strategy helps loop him in to what Credit Karma employees are talking about, which increases morale and lets employees know that he's a part of the team.

Strategy No. 5: Employee Council Structure

The goal is to promote and develop a culture of shared decision-making that provides an organized approach to addressing matters important to the growth of your company. The Council Structure is interdisciplinary in nature and works across departments in order to accomplish organizational goals.

One good example is implementing an Employee Engagement Council.

Choose 10 people (depending on the size of your company) to evaluate and prioritize employee engagement initiatives, improve the work culture, and even change/revise company policies. This council's "deliverable" is a list of specific engagement recommendations for leadership.

Make sure your councils are diverse with generational, operational, and cultural diversity, including top performers, people who've been with the company for years, and relatively new hires who've shown high potential.

Strategy No. 6: Record Your Meetings and Share Them with Employees

Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund, records every meeting and makes it available to all employees. The approach has several angles to it: (1) It's a communication vehicle; (2) It's a learning tool that illustrates how decisions, and how the most senior people are learning and growing; (3) It encourages more precise thinking and communication that reduces politicking.

Founder and CEO Ray Dalio says, "My most important principle is that getting at the truth, whatever it may be, is essential for getting better. We get at truth through radical transparency and putting aside our ego barriers in order to explore our mistakes and personal weaknesses so that we can improve."

Are you a leader? What strategy would you add to the list? Share in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.