Leadership   //   June 24, 2024

How CEO participation makes an impact company-wide

“Running a company can be pretty intense, and I’ve noticed that my energy level impacts the company energy level,” said Mike Seckler, CEO of HR tech company Justworks. “If I’m anxious or tired, the company has a certain feel. But when I’m upbeat and able to think through things clearly, the company seems to do the same thing.”

It’s true. Whether in a corporate setting or a startup environment, hybrid or remote, a CEO’s active engagement can significantly boost employee morale, foster a sense of inclusivity and enhance overall productivity.

Employees often feel more valued and motivated when they see their leadership actively participating and supporting their efforts. That includes everything from impacting productivity levels in the office, as Seckler described, and participation in meetings, to utilizing benefits and engaging in unique events.

In fact, Wellhub’s recent Return on Wellbeing Report found that when C-suite engagement is low in a company program (less than 30%), the average participation rate of employees is 44%. This skyrockets to 80% when executive leadership is highly engaged (at a rate of greater than 70%).

We spoke to workplace experts to better understand how much a CEO influences the entire workforce.

“CEO connection is very critical today,” said Ramesh Srinivasan, senior partner at McKinsey and co-author of “The Journey of Leadership: How CEOs Learn to Lead from the Inside Out.” “The world is changing rapidly and the geopolitics are much more complex than ever before. We need human-centric leadership.”

“The world is changing rapidly and the geopolitics are much more complex than ever before. We need human-centric leadership.”
Ramesh Srinivasan, senior partner at McKinsey & Company.

Brittany Cole, CEO of Career Thrivers, who works with CEOs to retain talent, said that a lot of the time the impact of the CEO’s participation can depend on the size of the company. If it’s a Fortune 500 or Fortune 100, it’s likely that you aren’t getting visibility with the CEO often anyway. But, for a mid-sized company, it can make all the difference.

“I do think it’s important to see your leader, and your leader’s leader, visible in the office,” said Cole. “It does change the dynamic of how people show up, especially from a physical standpoint.”

When an employee sees an engaged leader, it might help them feel reinvigorated in the company and illustrate why the mission matters and that the work that they do is making a difference too. That’s why Cole said it’s crucial for CEOs to take the time to walk around the office on days that employees are in, even if it’s just for 10 minutes to pop in and say hello.

“It’s about connecting,” said Cole. “It helps the CEO to see and hear, get feedback, when executive initiatives or enterprise priorities might not be implemented in the same way the leader thought.”

Srinivasan doubles down on the impact of in-person connection, saying it can allow CEOs to really create that engagement and foster an exchange of information, a safe space and so much more.

For virtual settings, the sentiment is the same. During company-wide meetings, Cole recommends CEOs not just leave right after opening comments, but stay for the entire time. Employees will see their leader there and realize that their attendance does matter. It signals to the rest of the organization that it’s a priority. That can start with the CEO RSVPing yes on a calendar invite, which might encourage folks to attend who might not have otherwise. Additionally, it’s helpful when leaders are open to content creation and storytelling over video formats to increase engagement and visibility that way.

“It is an investment in time to be visible with your people, because your people are the organization’s greatest asset,” said Cole. “When it might feel there are overwhelming business priorities, the workplace is changing at the speed of light, the marketplace is always evolving — the people matter. If you want to get the best out of your people, I always encourage the CEOs to make sure they’re connected with them.”

"If you want to get the best out of your people, I always encourage the CEOs to make sure they’re connected with them."
Brittany Cole, CEO of Career Thrivers.

Rick Hammell, founder and CEO of global HCM and payments platform Helios, said that a leader can’t be at every single meeting all the time, and if they are, it could actually be a sign of a lack of trust in his employees to get things done without executive leadership around.

“The one thing you need to ask yourself as CEO is ‘Why do I have to be in every meeting?’” said Hammell. “That’s the question I need to ask myself too. Is it that I want to control the meetings or because I don’t trust a decision? Those aren’t the easiest questions to answer, but you have to be honest with yourself.”

When it is time to be visible though, Srinivasan said that the questions that CEOs ask, how they show up and where they spend their time all have an undeniable impact on the culture of their organization.

To accomplish establishing a positive CEO influence instead of a negative one, Srinivasan suggests that leaders ask themselves what their purpose is and what they stand for. “The more they can reflect on that and bring it out to the world, the more successful they can be,” he said. It can help inspire an organization and employees to also think about their own purposes.

“Use that purpose to inspire your teams, and use your teams and yourself to influence the broader organization and drive change in the world,” said Srinivasan.