The CEO’s Role in Employee Motivation
In most organizations, the CEO sets the tone for how people are treated. Are employees valued for what they do on a frequent, individual basis or are they treated in aggregate as a line item in the budget? Increasingly, the best CEOs are initiating actions that demonstrate their commitment to valuing their employees in a very hands-on manner.
Access to the Top "Management is about organized common sense," says Andy Grove, chairman of Intel. "We communicate and communicate and communicate, at every level, in every form. Anyone can ask anybody any question." To back up the company’s commitment to "intellectual honesty," Grove conducts a half-dozen or so open forums every year at difference Intel locations. Whenever Grove is in his cubicle (all employees at Intel work in cubicles) any employee is welcome to drop in and speak with him. Employee access to the CEO can be achieved in other ways as well.
Scott Mitchell, president of Mackay Envelope in Minneapolis, MN, holds a one-on-one, 20-minute discussion with every employee every year to discuss ideas, improvements, or whatever is on the employee’s mind. Mitchell devotes more than 170 hours to this task every year, an investment that he sees as time well spent. Palmer Reynolds, CEO of Phoenix Textile Corporation, an institutional linens distributor located in St. Louis, hosts monthly breakfasts. Every month, Reynolds invites one employee from each of the company’s five departments to join her for breakfast at local restaurant. Because employees get to know her, and each other, they are often better able to work out problems. Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of Rosenbluth International, a chain of travel agencies headquartered in Philadelphia, is accessible to all his employees through an 800-number "voice-mail box." Employees are encouraged to call in with suggestions, problems, or praise, and about seven employees do so every day.
Small Actions, Big Value Other small actions can have great symbolic importance when done by the organization’s top manager: Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay, Inc. made a commitment to meet with every new employee within 30 days of hire. She once even turned down an invitation to the White House because it conflicted with a new employee orientation session she had committed to months before. Mary Kay’s philosophy: "Make people who work for you feel important. If you honor and serve them, they’ll honor and serve you." Herb Kelleher, CEO and co-founder of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, demonstrates his personal commitment and willingness to be personally involved by helping flight attendants serve beverages to customers when he flies on his airline. Ron Kiripolsky, former president of a 500-person division of PSA Airlines, now part of USAirways, personally opened the organization’s suggestion box at the beginning of each work day, read the suggestion, and met with the suggestors and their supervisors that day to discuss the suggestions and work out implementation.
Daily Activity is Best Most important for a CEO to demonstrate that he or she believes their people are important is making it a priority to show employees they are appreciated on a daily basis. This can be achieved through the use of timely, sincere, specific praise of employees. For example, Hyler Bracey, president of The Atlanta Consulting Group, knew he wanted to praise employees more, but found his good intentions did not often translate to daily behavior. To correct this situation, he started putting five coins in his jacket pocket each morning and transferring a coin to another pocket each time during the day that he gave positive feedback to an employee. Within a few weeks the new habit took hold and praising employees became second nature to him.
Says Bracey: "Praising employees truly works. There is so much more energy and enthusiasm in a workplace where praise has become ingrained in the manager." If the CEO is uncomfortable with giving personal praise, other approaches can be equally effective. Steve Wittert, president of Paragon Steakhouse Restaurant, based in San Diego, told me he knows appreciating employees is important, but at the same time he found that because he was so busy he didn’t do as much of it as he wanted. One day he decided that was an excuse and that no matter how busy he was, he could always take a few minutes to reflect at the end of the day on whose performance stood out (who wowed a customer, helped a co-worker, turned in a cost-saving idea, etc.) and jot that person a personal note, thanking them.
To make it easier to do, he went out and bought a stack of thank you cards and placed them by his telephone on top of his desk so they served as a daily reminder of his commitment. Later he told me that although he didn’t write notes every day, more days than not he would–in part because of the response he received from his employees. For him it was a few minutes to write a thank you card–for them it was a highlight in their day or week and they truly appreciated it. As Larry Colin, President of Colin Service Systems in White Plains, NY, says: "We realized that our largest asset was our work force and that our growth would come from asset appreciation." Get your CEO to appreciate your employee assets and their value to the organization will increase accordingly!
Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com.