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4 Ways CEOs Can Become Great 'Chief Engagement Officers'

Keith Johnstone
Keith Johnstone

CEOs must be more dynamic, engaging and accessible than ever before

We are halfway to 2018 and one thing is clear: A CEO now has two jobs – chief executive officer and chief engagement officer.

New technology, generational shifts and changing demographics mean that the modern CEO must be more dynamic, engaging and accessible than ever before. In addition to the core responsibilities to the board and shareholders, modern CEOs must evolve to engage stakeholders internally, externally, physically, socially and virtually.

This was evident in the June issue of Harvard Business Review, which released the results of a 10-year C-suite survey in the article "What Sets Successful CEOs Apart." Among the key findings, engagement was an important topic. CEOs that could deftly engage with stakeholders based on their respective needs and motivations were 75 percent more successful in the role.  

The days of corporate leaders tucked away in the corner office, engaging with a small inner circle and leading from an ivory tower are over. The practice of talking to the media only through carefully crafted press releases is antiquated, and engaging with employees once a year at the annual kickoff is a sign of terrible leadership. Transparency is king, and engagement is the key.

Here are four tips to help CEOs evolve and become successful chief engagement officers.  

  1. Engage your consumers and clients. Getting direct product and brand experience feedback from consumers is increasingly seen as the best way to meet market demands and expectations. Whether it be in-person, on a video conference or through social media, it is critical to respond in real time as consumers' needs have changed. A great example is when Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky asked consumers this question on Twitter: "If @Airbnb could launch anything in 2017, what would it be?" Whether Airbnb moves forward with any of the suggestions is yet to be determined, but the two-way dialogue built tremendous brand loyalty as consumers felt that they were being heard.

  2. Engage your employees. Despite advances in technology, flatter organizations and open work spaces, many corporations still suffer from a lack of information sharing. Noncritical matters are often shrouded in secrecy and junior members are left without a voice. This lack of engagement lowers morale and adversely affects performance. A Gallup study showed that an alarming 70 percent of American workers are not showing up to work committed to delivering their best performance, which has serious implications for the bottom line of individual companies and the U.S. economy as a whole.

    To combat this, consider regular town hall meetings. Give employees access to you in person, by email and through anonymous surveys. Just look at the bold change CEO Marc Benioff made to the company's annual executive offsite retreat a few years ago to combat this issue. Benioff invited all 5,000 employees to virtually attend the company's meeting, which had previously been restricted to Salesforce's top 200 executives. The event served as a catalyst for the creation of a more open and empowered culture, which has helped the company become the No. 1 CRM platform in the world.

  3. Engage the media and specific audiences. Not too long ago, CEOs communicated with media only through carefully crafted press releases, transmitted via fax. Today, we live in a 24-hour news cycle and a 140-character world. There are more mediums than ever to get the message out. Regardless of your politics, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump used the media masterfully during their campaigns. Obama broke the mold and reached young voters by appearing on non-news shows like "Between Two Ferns" with Zack Galifianakis. President Trump dominated the news cycle and received $5 billion in free advertising. Modern CEOs need to be progressive and master every medium to reach the widest possible audience in the most highly customized way.

  4. Engage through social media: While nearly all major companies have robust social media programs, the 2016 Social CEO Report conducted by Domo showed that 60 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are not on social media personally. I understand that there are risks to real-time, two-way communication, and that there are time restrictions. But my counsel to CEOs is to get on the side of history. There are myriad benefits to being on social media. It shows you are forward-thinking and progressive, which is critical to attracting young talent. Apple CEO Tim Cook often uses Twitter as a platform to praise his employees. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes kept his Twitter followers up to date on the recovery efforts following a crash in addition to expressing the company's concerns for the families of passengers lost in the crash.

The bottom line is that the role of the CEO is more complex than ever before due to advances in technology and an economy that is increasingly global, mobile and social. The ability of a CEO to engage with internal and external stakeholders at multiple touchpoints is going to be a huge differentiator in the years to come.

Keith is Head of Marketing at Peak Sales Recruiting.

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Keith Johnstone
Keith Johnstone Member
Keith Johnstone is the Head of Marketing at Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006. Keith leads all marketing activities and has successfully grown revenue and lead volume every quarter. He plays a key role in driving Peak Sales Recruiting which leads the industry with a success rate 50% higher than the industry average, working with a wide-range of clients including boutique, mid-size and world-class companies including P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, Merck, Taser and others. Follow @KJ_Peak