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Do Your Employees See You…as Human?

4 min read

Each day, I try to get out of my office and walk the halls. I take time to say hello to my employees in the hallways and in the break room. I ask them how their families are doing—their spouse, their kids, their pets—and what they did that week.

Do you remember being a child and seeing your teachers out at the local grocery store? It was absolutely jarring, right? As a child, you thought, don’t they live at the school?

In the same way, many senior leaders lock themselves in the corner office. Employees never see them—and never connect with them—except on a business level. As CEO, I feel it’s my job to be visible to my employees, not only as a leader, but also as a human being.

How do you do this? Here are three ways:

Walk the halls

I learned this lesson from my father. Dad worked at Phillips Petroleum and in 1975, he was sent to run a manufacturing subsidiary. His job was to turn operations around at two brick factories.

The general manager who ran the brick company was never on site. In fact, he ran operations from a suite of country-club-like villas miles away from the industrial complex. He was described as aloof and dictatorial, and drove to the office in the latest model company Jaguar when he was required to be there.

My dad operated differently. Upon arriving on site, he moved his office from the adjacent town onto the cramped factory grounds. He took away the fancy company cars and gave everyone, himself included, the same Ford sedan. But most distinctly, my dad walked the factory floor daily. He talked casually with the workers, alternately telling jokes, bonding over a beer or two, and asking for their opinions about manufacturing issues. Productivity and morale improved and the company, once in danger of being shut down, was able to take control of its own destiny.

Each day, I try to get out of my office and walk the halls. I take time to say hello to my employees in the hallways and in the break room. I ask them how their families are doing—their spouse, their kids, their pets—and what they did that week. I ask how the program we just completed went and if there was feedback. I casually check in.

By walking the halls, I’m able to build relationships. CEO’s, by the nature of our work, can find ourselves cut off from our employees in ways that make us unapproachable. By being visible and chit-chatting, I hope my employees feel that I’m available whenever they need.

Be social and sociable

I run a small company, so I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, but there’s nothing I love more than sitting down in our break room and having lunch with our employees. The conversation is about a variety of things, but it’s always entertaining. I also get to see employees who I don’t usually see because of the location of my office.

During the recession, we saved money on our holiday party by holding a potluck supper at my house. When times improved, the suggestion of returning to a catered event at a nice restaurant was emphatically overruled. Everyone loved getting together in my home where they see the complete me, along with the dog, pictures of my kids, and—when looking for the corkscrew—see that the boss has a “junk drawer” too! And no matter the social function, make that extra effort to connect with those you don’t often interact with at work. Listening to and telling personal stories in a personal setting builds bonds of teamwork and increased engagement.

Get on social media

Employees—not just the younger ones—are on social media. They are active on Facebook pages and will share big stories to their own personal networks.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the best when it comes to social media, (throw me a bone and follow me on Twitter) but I understand its power. We don’t do business with any of the people below, but I do appreciate how they authentically engage with their communities on social media.

  • Tom Erickson, Acquia: Acquia CEO Tom Erickson personally answers almost every review made about his company on Glassdoor. What impresses me most in Tom’s transparency is that he even takes the time to answer the negative ones. He explains his positioning, talks about future opportunities, and thanks employees for their feedback. Employees—and prospective employees—see that the CEO is listening and let know their voice is heard.
  • Santa J. Ono, University of Cincinnati: University of Cincinnati President Santa J. Ono has a unique ability to genuinely connect with his students, alumni, faculty, and parents and bring the Bearcat community together—all via Twitter. If you scroll through his feed, you will see his replies to students inviting him to attend games, lectures, plays, and more. Yes, his tweets tout the university’s research achievements, but it’s when he reaches out to upset students to see if they can come to a solution together that really hits the mark. Santa took the helm in 2012 and enrollment grew to 42,656 in 2013, and 43,691 in 2014. I’m not sure if Santa’s tweeting is having a direct effect on this growth, but one thing is for sure: something’s working.

Don’t be an email that your employees just send a report to. As a senior leader, get out of your office and show your human side.


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