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Why the CEO’s Seat Matters for Organizational Culture

May 31, 2019 | by Jonathan Wasserstrum

As the CEO of a growing company, in charge of running the business while also thinking about the future, I’m bouncing from place to place most of the day. In a typical week, I have offsite meetings with strategic advisors, potential investors, development partners, and more.

When I’m back at company headquarters, I’m usually meeting with other executives and department heads, checking in on the status of projects and discussing growth. I love the variety that comes with my role; every day brings different challenges and opportunities. But all of this means that I don’t tend to spend much time at my designated workspace.

On a given day, I probably spend two to three hours maximum at my desk, meaning that I have to be hyper-focused within that limited window of time. At the same time, I want to ensure that my extended team feels empowered and confident to approach me with questions. If they don’t see me, they might not feel comfortable speaking with me. That can be detrimental for a company of our size.

In an effort to make myself more accessible to all employees, I’ve planted my seat in the middle of the office, between the marketing and sales teams and right next to my executive team. This ensures that I’m never more than 20 feet away from the action; I’m able to absorb meaningful conversations around day-to-day work. I’m also better able to learn of initiatives I might not have known about, had I been sitting in an office away from the team.

But sitting in the middle of our NYC office isn’t the only way I try to communicate approachability. I attend monthly happy hours and book clubs in an effort to routinely connect with my employees. My rationale is that in order to show them I’m committed to our business and value their contributions, I have to be visible to them. In fact, when I introduce myself to new employees during their onboarding, I make a point of telling them to come find me if they need anything. And I mean it.

When I tell other business owners about my decision to sit in the center of the action, they ask:

  1. How do you maintain privacy for important, confidential matters?
  2. Where do you field phone calls?
  3. Can you focus in an open office space with so much going on around you?

All of these issues are easy to overcome if you treat yourself as any other team member. If I have to work on more private matters at home, or to lock myself in a conference room for an hour in order to focus, I will. But when I’m at my desk, much like anyone else, I’m available to answer questions and to hear ideas.

The downsides are minor compared to the value both my team and I get out of this structure. You can capture the big ideas and general assignments from meeting with executives — however, that’s definitely not even close to the entire picture. Even if you keep the door open, it’s not the same as being out on the floor with everyone and getting a holistic sense of the way the business runs. This setup is vastly more conducive to a collaborative, interactive organizational culture.

As you design and build out your office space, you must be conscious of the message that seating arrangements communicate. What does it say to employees if the CEO is tucked away in the back of the office? By sitting in the middle, I’ve eliminated any hesitation people might have had about seeking me out. I become someone who others look to include and to inform, just like everyone else on the floor.

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