Traditionally, the role of a chief executive officer (CEO) has focused on high-level corporate strategy, major company decisions and interactions with the board and shareholders. But modern CEOs have to be more dynamic, interactive and accessible than ever before, engaging with stakeholders internally, externally, physically, socially and virtually.
The imperative for CEO engagement was clarified in a 10-year C-suite survey, which found that CEOs who deftly engage with stakeholders based on their respective needs and motivations are 75 percent more successful in their roles. Putting that plan to action takes many forms. Silicon Valley pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard followed an approach of “management by walking around,” which meant being in touch with their workforce as a matter of routine, not just on a whim.
Advancing those concepts further, the traditional role of CEO should evolve to that of Chief Engagement Officer, in which the CEO leads by example and manages by engagement. Moreover, that engagement should occur on a multi-relational level, with customers, partners, employees and the media. Successfully expanding and integrating engagement should be done with a focus on several areas.
Focus 1: Engage across numerous channels
With the range of channels available today, engagement can occur in many different ways for both internal and external communications. CEOs should consider engaging through the company blog; by writing thought leadership pieces for industry publications; through the development of webinars that allow attendees to ask questions; with highly targeted videos; and by attending and speaking at relevant industry trade shows.
Without question, social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram also hold a great deal of value as communications channels for engagement. Yet according to Forbes, more than 60 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence on social media at all. The benefits of social media should absolutely be weighed against their potential to distract or cause harm. However, social media provides engagement opportunities that shouldn’t be discounted outright through fear or lack of knowledge about their potential.
Focus 2: Engage with mentors
Most people who reach the level of CEO have a number of mentors that have helped them do so. But mentors can also be people whose examples transcend a personal relationship. For instance, I’ve incorporated the ideas of two different CEOs, neither of whom are living: Mahatma Gandhi, whose leadership role in the Indian independence movement qualifies him as an unofficial CEO, and Steve Jobs, the founder and longtime CEO of Apple.
Gandhi once famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’ve applied Gandhi’s “be the change you seek” mentality into my role as CEO, always striving to lead by example. Doing so creates a very different bond with the team, wherein the CEO actually becomes a mentor and a trusted advisor. This type of engagement results in cohesion in addressing common objectives.
I’ve also incorporated a famous quote from Jobs into my engagement practices: “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy.” For me, being a pirate means focusing on outcomes vs. processes. Doing so enables a CEO to bypass bureaucracy, being nimble, agile and creative to deliver positive outcomes in difficult environments.
Focus 3: Engage about things outside your direct control
It’s also important for CEOs to engage about things that fall outside the scope of their direct control but which, nonetheless, impact the company, its employees, customers and other stakeholders. This engagement happens at different levels. At a local level, engagement can occur on issues like education and taxes. Moving to a countrywide level, engagement can occur on issues like labor and infrastructure. On a global level, engagement addresses issues that impact humanity at large, such as the environment.
For instance, I’m a vocal supporter of educational programs that promote science, technology, engineering, math and the arts (STEAM). The move to incorporate the arts into the core curriculum of STEM programs encourages the application of problem-based learning methods that are used in the creative process.
Research shows that the study of music helps students’ learning abilities in all subjects, especially the STEM subjects that are so vital to our economy. STEAM will power the educational culture, which, in turn, will help change work culture. This process will take time, but my engagement is worth it on a personal and professional level.
Focus 4: Engage your wider community
Happy and healthy communities influence businesses in positive ways, and companies can likewise significantly impact the happiness and health of their wider communities. In fact, companies that don’t engage with the community are missing a key opportunity to drive future success.
For instance, Pledge 1% is an organization that helps companies of all sizes integrate philanthropy by pledging 1% of their equity, profit, product and/or employee time for their communities. A myriad of similar organizations likewise encourage the top-down involvement of all stakeholders to participate for a common cause. Doing so encourages engagement both internally and externally and can significantly improve the community in which you and your employees live and work.
Finally, it should be noted that engagement should not only happen at the CEO level. All C-level and upper management employees can benefit from adopting strategies that improve their engagement with other employees, customers, partners and the community. CEOs that are most successful at engaging are those that promote such a culture for all managers within their organizations. Thus, allowing them to thrive.