Sitting With the Crew Is the Best Kind of Employee Engagement

[tweetmeme]In an interview not long ago by The New York Times, in its “Corner Office” feature, the former CEO of Continental Airlines reminisced about what it was like to be at the bottom of the ladder when he was a mechanic in the Navy.

When Gordon M. Bethune felt he was treated with respect, he always wanted to do more than expected and faster than if he wasn’t respected. So when he got to Continental in the 1990s to turn around the fortunes of the airline he knew that as CEO “being good at your job is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel.”

So he hired good people, of course, but he also did two other things: he communicated every week with employees and he’d spend time in the crew room when he was taking a flight. He provides further proof that the CEO is the key to fostering a culture of employee engagement in a company.

Engage and respect employees

Bethune did a weekly voice mail for 10 years communicating to employees what was going on. “And we never lied,” he said in the Q&A. When he was traveling he’d get to the airport early and met a lot of employees that way, showing an interest in them and recognizing their contributions to the company.

He relates a wonderful story of going to the break room one Christmas when the food was being passed out. He went to sit at a table with three guys, and one of them said to the other: “I told you he’d be here. Give me my $10.” He had bet the guy $10 that Bethune wouldn’t show up.

Since Bethune’s time, the CEO has even more communications channels to reach employees. Voice mail is still great – but now enlightened CEOs can use Twitter, Facebook and their own blogs to engage with employees – and to have employees respond right back.

The guys at the bottom of the ladder will still work harder and faster when they know what’s going on in the company ALL the time and they feel valued and respected. Just like Bethune when he was starting out at the bottom of the ladder.

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