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
Lunch with the CEO
A "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 CEO
The 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.
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
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
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
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 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 works
The 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.
Manage this issue
The "Lunch with the CEO" program should be of
interest to managers for two reasons. First, you can push your
company to adopt such a program as a way of improving employee
morale, including those in your group. Second, you can implement
an equally useful version at your level. A "Lunch with the
Manager" program will have the same benefits as a Lunch with the
CEO program, only it will impact a smaller group of employees.