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Nigel Purse

The Oxford Group


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Getting employee engagement on your CEO’s agenda: Appeal to emotional triggers


This is part two in the series How to secure employee engagement on your CEO's agenda – make sure you've read Part one: Presenting your case before you carry on with this article.

Employee engagement is far more than a hot topic: through extensive research, we have come to know a lot about the direct results of employee engagement, and in an ever-changing workplace landscape with regularly fluctuating expectations of its staff, it has become an essential component of many bosses’ business strategies.

However, in spite of the recommendations of industry experts like David McLeod and statistics from Gallup, CEO focus on employee engagement is waning, and improvement is unlikely to be a priority.

Get on their wavelength

Appealing to the interests of your CEO may not be so easy if you focus on facts and figures to rattle off – you are going to have to make more of an emotional connection. Employee engagement is in everybody’s best interest, including those of the CEO, so it is important to communicate the benefits in a relatable way.

Everyone knows the concept of ‘fight or flight’. It is a natural reaction to stimulus, and people often seem to automatically avoid situations that present us with threats, such as challenge to leadership and significant changes. But the same applies in reverse – we are attracted to situations that could be beneficial to us, where we see likelihood of happiness, success and acclaim.

Open and inclusive conversation poses far less threat and therefore encourages positive reaction and participation. This is not a case of being persuasive, which people will quickly pick up on, but of opening conversation about people’s feelings.

Employee engagement is in everybody’s best interest, including those of the CEO

Understand feelings

There are three predominant emotional drivers for action from employment in management positions: these are autonomy, reputation and legacy. If you are able to tap into these without causing the “flight” reaction, you will find your CEOs to be far more engaged.

Many CEOs feel the need for this autonomy in order to be the trailblazer and avoid third-party interference, such as that of shareholders, regulators and disgruntled customers. Effective employee engagement works to shield CEOs from these external influences, which many seek to avoid.

When employee engagement is high, all of these third parties are less likely to direct any vitriol at management; when management have regard for all levels of the business and the upkeep of their professional reputation, employees are motivated by the good role models they work for. Meanwhile, investors and shareholders will see an operational business that they are glad to have partnered with.

Reputation is a priority, and the way CEOs are received by their peers and superiors is important to perfect. Being head of an organisation that all employees hate working for is hardly conducive to pride in one’s work. Reputation is important in business, and being known for being a reasonable, respectful and considerate employer with a loyal team of staff is far preferable to any negative gossip.

The way CEOs are received by their peers and superiors is important to perfect.

Reputation is a key driver of the CEO mentality, and to be satisfied, must feel that they have the public status of ‘business professional’.

Leaving a lasting impression

CEOs are bound to be concerned with their legacy too, particularly given the usually brief term they tend to serve, and so how they will be remembered in the future is a prime focus.

In 2014, Forbes declared that CEOs would serve an average of 9.7 years, while Fortune recorded in 2015 that the median tenure for CEOs in the US’ top 500 companies is approximately 4.9 years. It is common knowledge in the industry that proven economic success is quickly forgotten; this is why legacy is such a crucial point of interest for many.

A legacy, they know, only applies to a person who has brought about significant change for the better, and brings the acclaim of their shareholders and the loyalty of their satisfied customers. Putting emphasis on employee engagement is a key way to deliver on a legacy.

Proven economic success is quickly forgotten; this is why legacy is such a crucial point of interest

Giving careful consideration to these emotional drivers when relating to your CEO will prepare you well for their responses. Take care not to apply these changes too forcefully, but take steps to involve employee engagement far more in your business strategy, and the rewards will soon become evident.

Read the next in the series: Create actionable steps

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Nigel Purse


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