Full and sustainable employee engagement begins with a CEO or business owner. According to David Harder, author of The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press), most employee engagement programs fail because they are turned over to someone with less authority to initiate what in essence is a life-changing directive.
Time-and-time again, we find that highly engaged organizations have a highly engaged CEO at the helm. Employee engagement cannot be called in. Quite frankly, if 87% of the world’s workers are disengaged, then we can assume that many CEOs are also disengaged repeating the patterns that made them successful ten or twenty years ago, patterns that cannot lead to success in today’s rapidly changing landscape.
An Engagement CEO:
- Takes charge of the culture personally.
- Develops a strong leadership brand as evidenced through consistent behavior and messaging.
- Walks the talk, leads by example and leans to democracy over elitism in any form.
- Expresses continuous, genuine, and worthy praise to their employees.
- Constantly seeks ways to keep their talent current and relevant.
- Treats employees as the organization’s greatest asset versus a potential liability.
- Packages engagement as a profit source rather than an expense.
- Effectively manages and educates all stakeholders in the need for effective people initiatives.
- Moves the vision from short-term financial performance to long term-value, brand strength, and reputation.
- Tells themselves and others the truth, especially about change.
- Keeps themselves directly connected to the front line.
- Is transparent and expects transparency throughout their organization.
- Shows respect towards all employees and learns from all of them.
David Harder interviewed Adam Miller with his colleague Mary Campbell. Serendipitously, Mary had served as the chief talent officer for the University of Southern California. Prior to her departure, Mary moved USC’s talent development programs onto a new platform developed by Cornerstone. To date, it is the largest digital talent conversion at a major university.
During the interview, Adam gives advice to other CEOs. Here is an excerpt that captures the innovative and yet common-sense way that Cornerstone retains its remarkable talent:
David: What would you suggest to your client companies that have significant challenges around employee engagement and change?
Adam: I’m in agreement with you. You have to start at the top. In a world where Millennials are expected to have four to six careers in their lifetime, it has to be a place to keep learning and developing. It can’t be a place where you were hired for a single job and expect to stay in that spot forever. There also has to be a major shift that happens in the corporate world, historically, where managers identify people they want on their team, you develop them and you keep them. In a world where people are expected to have multiple careers, you cannot have management push people into their box and keep them in that box.
Early on, we identified that we were going to promote mobility and encourage mobility throughout the organization. At Cornerstone, that mobility is geographic where someone is not only able to move anywhere in the United States but [in] the world. It is divisional where someone can move from department to department within a division but also cross-divisional mobility where someone can move into an entirely different area of the company. We have had Millennials and Gen-Xs move throughout the entire organization in many different positions at times where in another organization they would have had to quit in order to grow.
Mary: Academia has an enormous problem in this area. These institutions attract some of the world’s best talent but they are resistant to sharing. They hoard their best so many of them…
In closing from David:
“In most cases, a CEO can justify high turnover to their shareholders. Minimal questions will be asked. On the other hand, they tend to give up on long-term investments such as building a category-leading workforce for developing the kind of talent that produces results that exceed all of the shareholder targets. But here is what’s unrealistic about this belief. If only 13 percent of the world’s workers are highly engaged, where are we going to go out and get them? Without leveraging a strong and rising employer brand, this widely held idea is delusional and also dismissive of one of the great opportunities for all businesses that are available right here and right now.”