Most organizations widely publicize the fact that talent is their most valuable asset — and that’s often true. But when employees see a disconnect between such claims and what actually happens behind closed doors, there are bound to be repercussions in engagement and retention. To avoid this, organizations must show, not tell, their people how they’re valued — and this can start at the top with the CEO.
Create a people-first culture. While there are many responsibilities a CEO can delegate, setting and reinforcing the culture isn’t one of them. Herb Kelleher, famed former CEO and co-founder of Southwest Airlines, understood this to a degree that many leaders still struggle to comprehend. By placing utmost importance on defining the culture and ensuring it had everything to do with his employees, he created one of the most successful airlines in history. Kelleher’s motto was, and continues to be, “You have to treat your employees like customers.” By treating them right, he could be assured that they, in turn, would treat the customer right.
Creating a people-first culture has more to it than just coming up with a catchy motto. A CEO must be committed to the employees at the deepest level. This means addressing their needs through increased flexibility in corporate policies, caring for the employee’s family by extending inclusive benefits and investing in their future by prioritizing promoting from within.
Embed continuous development. Rare is it that an employee comes on board and is content to remain in the same position year over year. The more typical employees come on board enthusiastic about the position and, over time, become restless as their desire to grow supersedes their current job satisfaction. Unfortunately, most employers address this need from a reactive posture, which can result in a “too little, too late” outcome.
CEOs can play an active role in retaining their talent by setting the tone early on that their organization values ongoing, continuous development as a means to meet an employee’s future needs. Every year, as part of the evaluation process, employees should identify a role, or aspect of a role, that interests them. Then, along with their managers, employees can create a process to learn the skills needed for the role. By placing the onus on the talent to drive their development, a CEO can enjoy the rewards of high levels of personal accountability and a thriving organization.
Initiatives require initiative. If CEOs believe their role is to simply select company-wide training so everyone else can improve, they are already dragging their organization into decline. Few things tank employee engagement as much as a CEO paying lip service to a program while actively excluding themselves from the rank and file.
When an organization undertakes a large training initiative, it’s imperative that the CEO is not only involved in the rollout, but truly believes in the content and its impact. Some of the most successful and enduring training initiatives are those that demonstrate high levels of sponsorship — with company leadership remaining vocal about its importance and tying it to their own development. When the leader “walks the talk,” the expectation for the rest of the staff is clear — and they are often inspired to follow in the leader’s footsteps.
Halley Bock is the CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training company that drives results for businesses by improving workplace communication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.