One of a CEOs main jobs is to maintain good relations with all of the company's various stakeholders. Most CEOs do a good job from the investor side and some do a good job from the supplier side. Few CEOs do enough to maintain good relations on the employee side. Lunch with the CEO is one way to correct that.
Lunch with the CEOA "Lunch with the CEO" program is designed to improve communication between a company CEO and an important group of stakeholders, the company's employees. The program has a side effect of improving employee morale. Once a month, an employee who would not normally have an opportunity to talk to the CEO directly is invited to lunch with the CEO.
The lunch can be at a near-by restaurant, in the company cafeteria, or in the CEO's office. It can be one-on-one, or it can be a small group. The employee gets to ask the CEO about anything work related. The CEO answers questions and asks his or her own questions. This dialog lets the CEO know what is important to the employees, gives the CEO an opportunity to discuss ideas with someone whose perspective is very different from the CEOs direct reports, and gives the employee an opportunity to ask about company issues beyond the usual "sound-bite" level.
The CEO leaves the meeting having done his or her job a little better by including another important group of stakeholders. The employee goes away feeling much better about the company and its leadership and in a mood to share that positive feeling with those around him or her.
How to set up Lunch with the CEOThe logistics of a Lunch with the CEO program depend on the size, location, and culture of the company. Sample programs are described below. Elements from these examples can be rearranged to create a "Lunch with the CEO" program that is appropriate for your company.
Small company or small program
Once a month, the CEO selects an individual to invite to lunch. If the company is very small, and the CEO knows all the employees, the CEO invites the employee directly. If the company is a little larger, the CEO may ask for recommendations from his or her direct reports. They go to a near-by restaurant, find a quiet table, and talk things over over lunch.
Medium-sized company or program
Each department nominates someone to have lunch with the CEO. The department manager can select a representative or ask for volunteers. Some departments may let the employees within the group pick the person to attend. Some may vote on who to nominate.
The CEO selects someone from the list provided. A table or booth in the company cafeteria or lunch room is set aside for their lunch and conversation. The location should be private enough that their lunch is not interrupted, but public enough that others in the lunch room can see what is happening.
If the company wants to do a larger program, the lunch can be expanded to include several employees representing different departments. The meeting can be moved to a conference room. Several other senior executives can be included. The important thing for the executives to remember is that they are there to talk with the employees, not among themselves.
Large company or program
Nominations are submitted by the various departments. A small group or 3 or 4 is selected based either to reward superior performance or by rotation. These individual go to the CEO's office for a catered lunch and their opportunity for dialog with the boss.
The larger company also can include a larger number of employees and of senior executives. The meeting can be held in a conference room or even in the company board room if there is one.
Why a Lunch with the CEO program worksThe employees invited to a discussion with the CEO over lunch are being rewarded in much the same way as an "employee of the month" designation, but in a much more meaningful way. Rather than just getting their name on a plaque, or getting a parking space nearer the door, they are getting a chance to learn more about their company first-hand from the decision makers. More importantly than that, they are also getting an opportunity to provide input in a meaningful way to the decisions being made about the direction of the company as it affects them.
The CEO benefits as well. He or she can be seen taking care of another important group of stakeholders. Beyond that, however, is the real opportunity to get input from a different source. Many executives surround themselves with people who think like they do. While these people are not necessarily "yes men" it is always helpful to get input from a fresh source.