Leading the way: How CEOs stay connected to their teams

by Katie Fustich
July 3, 2018

As companies grow and expand, the gap between the average employee and the CEO tends to widen. Yet, while roles and responsibilities may shift within an organization, the following companies work to ensure that CEOs remain available to and connected with teams across their companies. Here’s how:

image via knotel

As Knotel’s Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition Taina Oquendo told Built In NYC, the decisions to integrate company staff and leadership is simply “good business.” Known for its real-estate prowess, Knotel, helps companies build the offices of their dreams. Behind the scenes, Knotel works to create a company culture that truly empowers its employees.


As your company has grown, how does your leadership ensure that the door between employees and leadership remains open?

First and foremost, our executives invest in getting to know Knotel employees as unique individuals, as opposed to cogs in a machine. There are no barriers to access; we have an open floor plan where execs sit and work directly alongside employees. The result? Discussions about weekend plans, new markets and favorite sneakers.

As Knotel scales, one of the most important things to our leadership, especially Amol, is maintaining a close-knit culture that allows employees to truly make an impact. When you join Knotel, you have an opportunity to bring new ideas to the table, build processes and shape the direction of the company. More often than not, employees' daily work requires them to interact with senior leaders. This empowers employees and executives to learn from one another, not only through training, but by actually working together. Have an idea? Justify it. Build it. Beyond that, we've created outlets for folks to come together outside of their day-to-day responsibilities to share ideas and common interests. Everything from CEO-led book clubs to company-wide retreats.


What does fostering relationships between leadership and employees bring to the team?

Fostering relationships between leadership and employees creates shared accountability and investment in the company's growth. Relationships are built on trust, so communication and transparency is everything. Employees will be more engaged when they believe in their leaders and trust that they have not only the company's interests, but the employees best interests in mind. It's truly special when you can put office politics aside and focus on the work. Investing time to get to know your people not only increases culture but also drives high-performing outcomes. It's good business.


image via stack overflow

Stack Overflow is a powerful community of developers that powers projects far and wide. Stack’s Deputy Chief of Staff Cassie Montrose told Built In NYC how the company keeps that community spirit alive and well among its staff.


As your company has grown, how does your leadership ensure that the door between employees and leadership remains open?

Stack Overflow has always prioritized two-way communication between employees and the Executive Team. We host regular keynotes and company-wide updates led by the CEO and other executives where any employee can ask a question. And on a daily basis, we serve lunch at all of our offices (prepared by in-house chefs at HQ) to bring people together. This strengthens bonds and allows our CEO and other executives to casually catch up with colleagues across every level and team. Executives also spend time working from our coffee bar so employees can approach them more easily than they could in a private office setting (although every exec has an open door policy). When it comes to remote employees, we have a chat room specifically designated for chatting with our CEO, Joel, called Joel’s Room.


What does fostering relationships between leadership and employees bring to the team?

Stack Overflow, at nearly ten years old, is continuing to grow rapidly. In order to continue to support our growth (and to best serve the 50 million programmers who rely on us every month), we need to attract and retain top talent. There’s no better way to do that than have strong relationships between employees at every level, from the top down and the bottom up. All of our managers practice servant leadership. We encourage empathy, we foster trust, and we believe that we have the best employees in the world because of it.


image via attune

Every day, Attune helps small businesses get the insurance plans they need to succeed. At the Attune headquarters, the company leadership also wants to ensure that their employees get the training, mentorship and space they need to succeed, People and Culture Lead Katherine Klui told Built In NYC.


As your company has grown, how does your leadership ensure that the door between employees and leadership remains open?

Different personalities and skills-sets respond to different tactics, which is why at Attune we take several approaches to make sure we are reaching both groups. All of our approaches are rooted in our CEO James Hobson's focus on personal connection and his belief that each individual contributes to our collective success.

To start, we have things like regularly scheduled happy hours and events where our leadership team is always present and actively engages our employees who attend. We also utilize an "open calendar" system to reach employees who might have after-work commitments or want more individualized time. Any employee can meet with anyone throughout the organization to discuss a company idea, new product, etc.

Attune also takes a unique approach to our Town Halls: rather than only leadership presenting, we always have an employee-led aspect to the meeting where we highlight someone who has reached a new milestone or accomplishment. Presenting requires coordination and communication with the leadership team and allows employees to get to know a leader outside of their day-to-day work.  

Finally, our CEO coaches our executive team to be approachable and encouraging. Leadership regularly communicates the importance of input from all across the organization. The entire Attune team knows that asking questions is encouraged and cross-functional thoughts and opinions are vital to our success. This creates an environment where ideas are flowing and everyone is encouraged to come as they are. Attune is its people, and each person was brought on to contribute, no matter the level.


In your opinion, what does fostering relationships between leadership and employees bring to the team?

At Attune, a close relationship between leadership and employees is critical to our success. We are changing an industry that has been virtually untouched since its inception, and it's a challenge that needs our employees to be strategic problem-solvers and to embrace the hard work that comes along with it. Both leadership and employees are in the trenches together, and it is important for everyone to be close enough to see that firsthand.


image via turbonomic

Since its beginning, enterprise cloud software developer Turbonomic has maintained an open-door policy for its staff and leadership. Chief People Person Kara Gilbert told Built In NYC how this unique leadership style has directly enabled the company to evolve into the industry leader it is today.


As your company has grown, how does your leadership ensure that the door between employees and leadership remains open?

Here at Turbonomic, our executive leadership has always remained close to our employees. Since our founding, we’ve had an open-door policy and sometimes even a “no door” policy where our executives sit at desks around the office — blending right in with our employees.

Our CEO is very close with everyone and is frequently seen walking around the office, greeting people, joking around with different teams and even jumping on sales calls to help progress a deal (or sometimes just because he enjoys the thrill). It’s an open floor plan with very few walls dividing areas, which allows for high-visibility between employees and executives.

Our founder and president, Shmuel Kliger, continues to lead our engineering organization and is very much involved with the day-to-day happenings. Kilger is always available and willing to connect with every current and new employee to make sure they understand his vision for the company. An example of this is during our new hire onboarding, where Kilger will take multiple hours out of his day to present to the group and walk through everything from the origins of Turbonomic to where we stand today in the market and the exact problem our software solves.

We also have a culture of continuous learning, where it’s encouraged to go to the CEO’s office to ask him to explain a concept or process. Many of our employees drop by his office to get his thoughts and perspectives on the industry as it changes and our product fit within the ecosystem. If there is ever a question on how to pitch our product, he is always more than happy to sit down and walk through it.


What does fostering relationships between leadership and employees bring to the team?

More than can probably be quantified, but I think at a high level, it enhances the relationships between them and takes away the “fear” that some people have at other companies about talking to executives. We often use the saying “one team, one fight” and our leadership really believes in that. By having the executive team close with all our employees, trust us built, which is another one of our pillars here.


image via smart

When it comes to building lines of communication between all members of the team, ad tech firm Smart took this into consideration early on in the company’s growth. Today, the company points to its robust internal communications as a contributing factor to the success of its programmatic advertising platform. Emilio Javier, Smart’s senior human resources manager, gave Built In NYC the scoop:


As your company has grown, how does your leadership ensure that the door between employees and leadership remains open?

Once Smart began to grow beyond the size of a startup, we had to be more deliberate about internal communications to ensure that door remained open. We started by creating a dedicated internal communications effort within the marketing team. This was an unusual step for a company of only 200 employees worldwide, but we felt it was critical to maintain the transparency and open communication that had served the employees and management team so well over the years.

The entire senior executive team commits to an annual internal communications plan that sets goals and KPIs that we measure frequently to make sure we’re constantly improving. This plan includes a monthly global all-hands meeting led by our executive team that covers business KPIs, strategic updates and presentations by employees.


What does fostering relationships between leadership and employees bring to the team?

Employee engagement, productivity and retention are all benefits. Trust is a foundational element in any relationship and employees must trust their leadership to thrive. But it’s really a two-way street because that trust ensures we get some of our best inputs and ideas from employees. You only get this if leadership is visible, consistently engaged with their teams, and transparent in their communications.

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