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What is An Engagement CEO?
By David Harder on November, 7, 2019

What is An Engagement CEO?

According to Gallup, only 13% of the world’s workers are engaged. How are we getting anything done?


Well, we are doing it in a trance. The numbers around employee engagement are so bad that odds are high many CEOs are also disengaged. People’s rank has absolutely nothing to do with whether they have succumbed to a trance. We witness the trance in executives who lazily cut expenses by laying people off or tell HR to “fix the engagement problem” and walk away.


What do we have to learn from CEOs running magnificent and magnetic cultures? While preparing my new book “The Workplace Engagement Solution,” I studied them. When we explore great cultures such as Southwest Airlines, Google, HBO and Trader Joe’s, we find CEOs that embrace many of the values that represent an “Engagement CEO.” When an executive goes about the business of building a category leader, talent moves to the front of the line in terms of the necessary characteristics within the CEO. Board members and investors would do well to find CEOs with these traits.


If you are considering joining an organization where you want to thrive, it is also smart to evaluate the CEO or business owner.


 An Engagement CEO

  • Takes charge of the culture personally
  • Develops a strong leadership brand as evidenced by their consistent behavior and message
  • Walks the talk, leads by example and leans toward democracy over elitism in any form
  • Expresses continuous, genuine and worthy praise to their employees
  • Constantly seeks ways to keep their talent current and relevant
  • Treats employees as the organization’s greatest asset instead of a potential liability
  • Packages engagement as a profit source rather than an expense
  • Effectively manages and educates all stakeholders in the need for effective people initiatives
  • Moves the vision from short-term financial performance to long-term value, brand strength, and reputation
  • Tells themselves and others the truth, especially about change
  • Is resolutely and directly connected to the front line
  • Is transparent and expects transparency throughout their organization
  • Shows respect towards all employees and learns from all of them


Many will treat engagement as a sidebar activity, a perk provided to the employees. However, the purpose of engagement is far more rigorous than simply making employees feel better. Engagement is about being awake, interested, alert, invested and present. Real engagement moves an organization beyond the business targets.


Making the decision to lead business culture is one of the few competitive advances that are in control of the CEO. Alas, this basic truth doesn’t even cross the mind of many leaders who block the thought with, “I don’t have enough time” or, “Profit margins are too slim to give this attention.”


There are no shortcuts to success. We learn nothing of value through the study of dysfunction. Any CEO engaged in category leadership knows this. In the end, the quality of our talent is going to determine if we lead the market or continually run to keep up.


As I studied engagement CEOs, it also became clear they lead engagement for a series of business payoffs:


  • A fully engaged culture and a superior employer brand.
  • The best possible products and services, and excellence in everyone’s behavior.
  • The organization makes the world a better place.
  • The organization makes every attempt to fully engage with every customer.
  • Recognizes there is simply no substitute for human decency, compassion, understanding, and pursuit for “the high road.”


On a practical level, here is one example:


We live next door to a huge Ralph’s Grocery Store. It is literally 100 yards from our front door to the store. And yet, we spend most of our shopping dollars elsewhere. The majority of employees are sullen, don’t look people in the eye. In the morning aisles are blocked because they are stocking shelves after the doors open. Disengagement isn’t limited to the customer experience, it also potentially impacts our health. We have had to either throw out or return spoiled produce and contaminated chicken.


I’ve often praised Trader Joe’s for its remarkable culture where the average tenure of cashiers is 19 years. There is a cashier that calls out our names. I asked her about the stories of the longevity and loyalty of their employees. She said, “Nineteen years? Those are the kids. I’ve been here for 26 years.” I asked her why. She responded, “We’re a family! Here’s an example. There have been many times when I come to work before the store opens. If the general manager is here first, I find him scrubbing and cleaning the bathrooms. No one pulls rank, we work together.”


The two organizations offer a remarkable contrast regarding CEO behavior. At Trader Joe’s, everyone knows their CEO, Dan Bane, because he regularly appears at the stores. As we returned rotten food to Ralph’s, I asked if they knew the name of their CEO. They didn’t know who he was. I also asked a couple of them if they knew anything about Yucaipa Companies. The response was, “Who are they?” Yucaipa owns Ralph’s.


One company has a CEO who visits, asks questions, listens, and strives to make Trader’s a better place to work.


The other one is a commodity. Everything feels and looks cheap. The employees give the consumer little attention.


Which company will be the first to convert to robotics and virtual check-outs?


There is the rub. Technology will not replace accountability, emotional interest, and problem-solving on behalf of their customers.


Dan Bane made it very clear that employees are the lynchpin for customer satisfaction and loyalty.


In the other company, employees don’t even know the CEO’s name.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


Schedule 15-Minutes to Discuss Your Workplace or Career with David (Here)


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