Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > Transparency and Humility: What Employees Are Looking For From Their Senior Leadership Team Post-COVID and Amid Social Change

Transparency and Humility: What Employees Are Looking For From Their Senior Leadership Team Post-COVID and Amid Social Change

June 2, 2022

Key Takeaways:

  • Employees now look for their chief executive officers to be transparent, honest, and humble.
  • Thoughtful actions speak louder than words when it comes to social issues but being thoughtful is crucial.

COVID-19 and increased social awareness following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery caused a sudden shift around the world in 2020.

 width=These events caused a change in people’s personal lives and greatly influenced change in the workplace, particularly in the expectations employees have for their chief executive officers and senior leadership teams.

“The role of a chief executive officer has drastically changed,” said Linda Apsey, president and chief executive officer at ITC Holdings Corp. “From a COVID perspective, certainly as a chief executive officer – and for all of us – [it was] unprecedented, making decisions that we didn’t have playbooks for.”

To discuss these new expectations and the altered roles of chief executive officers, Henry Ford Health’s Wright L. Lassiter III, Strategic Staffing solutions’ Cindy Pasky, and CMS and Consumers Energy’s Garrick Rochow joined Apsey and WOOD-TV 8’s Rick Albin for a moderated panel discussion during the 2022 Mackinac Policy Conference session, How COVID-19 and Social Change Altered the Role of CEOs.

According to the panelists regarding COVID-19, employees are looking for prioritized workplace safety, transparency and humility from their leadership teams, and seeing that their organizations actually care.

“There was a demand for more transparency from my office and our senior leadership team,” said Lassiter III. “That was something that was unique and an opportunity. There was an expectation for more transparency because there were so many decisions being made at times, so rapidly and sometimes without complete information, especially early on in COVID.”

Pasky agreed that transparency is essential for chief executive officers but stressed it’s not due to this shift in employee’s expectations – at least for her role.

“My role really didn’t change. I felt that how I’ve always been CEO, this is what I did,” said Pasky. “[But] it was a reminder for us that the manner in which we run the company for thirty years, we had no idea that the payoff would be that we could keep people working, they would trust us enough when there were no answers, to just keep their heads down, to do their jobs, to call if they needed help. So, it intensified my role, but it didn’t really change it.”

At Consumers Energy, Garrick said he and his organization had focused more on leaning into their values, particularly caring, during the pandemic. While leadership at Consumers has always cared about their employees and employees’ families, they leaned even more into this after hearing from workers who were “tough individuals… who work with invisible hazards” express concern about how their jobs could affect their families during COVID due to someone being immunocompromised our elderly.

“It changed the way we thought about the pandemic from that point forward and just how we brought ourselves in the conversation to care for our coworkers,” said Garrick.

This shift in chief executive officers’ roles that occurred because of COVID-19 also holds true for social change. It was something that senior leadership teams, like Albin’s, had to learn how to engage and pivot quickly.

“In the past, as a chief executive officer, you might have been more comfortable being quiet, not being a part of the discussion,” said Albin. “But that’s not possible now because it’s a broad discussion that involves you and your company’s values and the way you approach some of these issues.”

For some companies, chief executive officers focus more on making statements that won’t hurt their ability to be successful. For example, Pasky said her priority is to make sure that Strategic Staffing Solutions is “successful in every place of the world” where they do business because they can then use their resources to “influence, support, and care.”

For other companies, leadership teams are committed to tackling social justice more broadly. This is demonstrated at Henry Ford Health, where Lassiter III said its board “adopted a new strategic plan that elevated our efforts around not just diversity, equity, and inclusion, but for the first time in history, justice.”

Garrick and Apsey also shared how their companies address social issues, both from a more calculated and empathetic point of view.

“We can make a big difference around these equity and social justice issues,” Apsey said. “It comes back to what are we doing about it, not just what we’re saying about it.”