When Anna Sharts began her first day of employment at Northwell Health in March, like all new hires she attended an orientation in New Hyde Park, NY.
“I was not expecting to see the CEO of the largest health system in New York at orientation!” says the Brooklyn resident.
During pre-boarding conversations, she was informed that Michael Dowling, top officer of the integrated health care network — New York state’s largest provider with more than 68,000 employees — would make an appearance. She thought it would be to say hello, but he presented for more than two hours for “a world-class welcome.”
“I immediately felt connected to the organization,” says Sharts. “He described how each and every single job plays a major role in patient experience and the overall success of the organization. This was truly remarkable. Every single person matters. All of that coming from the CEO, on my first day — that was huge!”
Dowling’s involvement doesn’t end on Day One. He regularly visits Northwell’s 23 hospitals and nearly 700 outpatient facilities and is available for face-to-face meetings.
“I have an open door policy,” says Dowling. “People ask, how do you have time? But what’s more important than working with the greatest asset that determines your success or failure? That’s employees. Focus on employees at all levels, not just the C-suite.”
Ron Williams, author of “Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization” (Greenleaf Book Group Press) and the former CEO of Aetna, agrees.
“A good CEO is highly visible and accessible in informal ways, such as visits to the cafeteria, in addition to formal ways,” he says.
Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum, a global communications consultancy in Midtown, creates multiple lines of accessibility.
“I host Workplace Live broadcasts,” she says of the “Facebook Live” platform for internal audiences. Thanks to this outreach, Rafferty “can be accessible and visible. People can submit questions in real time and they also have the opportunity to listen to company updates.”
Recently, when she traveled abroad, Rafferty held a “no questions off-limits” meeting.
“Employees could submit questions anonymously, and then I answered them live, in-person having no idea what to expect,” she says. “I want our employees to know that I won’t shy away from tough questions.”
Presence is key, notes Lori Beecher, partner/executive vice president, media and content strategy at Ketchum. “She [Rafferty] is involved more directly than what you’d expect from your CEO. She’s a member of the team.”
Todd Caponi, author of “The Transparency Sale: How Unexpected Honesty and Understanding the Buying Brain Can Transform Your Results” (IdeaPress Publishing), says availability is smart for business.
“In order to do our best work as employees, we need our leaders to be accessible, welcoming and authentic. We want to wake up in the morning and know what we’re getting into that day. It allows us to bring our best self to work, which results in high performance, low turnover, and a welcoming culture which, in this high demand and low supply of skilled workers’ economy, is the key to growth and profitability.”
Harry Bernstein, chief creative officer at Havas New York, manages 500 people at the flagship agency of global advertising network Havas Creative in Tribeca. Known to colleagues as “Harry Bee,” he’s a big fan of free roaming.
“If I ever have a break in my day, I walk around the seven floors of our offices and say hello to people,” he says. “I have casual and spontaneous conversations.”
Calling his leadership style “omnipresent” with a goal to being there when employees need him, Bernstein also blocks out periods of time for people to share work they’re proud of and ask him questions, along with group brainstorming lunches. “I call them ‘hunger briefs’, where I work with cross-functional teams to tackle a brief together.”
Relatability doesn’t hurt either. Meredith Hultman is vice president of talent management at Rauxa. Its downtown office is America’s largest independent woman-owned advertising agency, and when she met Gina Alshuler, now president and CEO, over 10 years ago for her job interview they instantly bonded.
“I felt like she was someone I knew my whole life,” says Hultman. “There was something very candid and engaging about her. She can read the room better than everyone I know. Gina takes notes when people talk to her. It really shows that she’s listening.”
Alshuler does her “absolute best” to be accessible to the 325 employees because “a happy employee is a productive and successful employee, and the more you engage with and get to know them, the more vested they become in the company and our performance.”
Williams concurs. “When the CEO treats team members as fellow human beings, it sets a tone of mutual respect and honesty that permeates the entire organization.”
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