Communicating Company Values a Top Concern Among As executives lead their companies into the new millennium, they're dealing with more than bottom-line issues, says a recent study conducted by The Conference Board, a New York-based business membership and research organization, and Heidrick & Struggles, a Chicago executive recruitment firm. High on the survey's list of CEO concerns was none other than "engaging employees in the company's vision and values."

"It makes sense when you consider that, as companies become larger and more far-flung, more decision making has to be done at the local level," says Melissa Berman, senior vice president of research and development for The Conference Board. "Thus, it's increasingly difficult--and, at the same time, more important--for CEOs to ensure employee engagement [in company values]." Meetings can help. "To communicate things like vision and values, face-to-face meetings are essential," Berman says. "It's my feeling that the top executive should conduct those meetings whenever possible. When it's not, there should be meetings with a local executive and perhaps a video of the CEO with the same message."

The study polled nearly 700 CEOs worldwide about their major concerns. Topping the list was "customer loyalty and retention," named by 41 percent of respondents. In a tie for second place were "managing mergers and acquisitions" and "reducing costs." Twenty-nine percent of respondents then listed "engaging employees in the company's vision and values."

Interestingly, the study showed that "transferring knowledge, ideas, and practices"--which would appear to include the type of meetings Berman suggests--was named by only 9 percent of respondents as an issue of concern. All in the numbers

* Customer loyalty/retention 41%

* Managing mergers/acquisitions 30%

* Reducing costs 30%

* Engaging employees in company's vision/values 29%

Source: The Conference Board/Heidrick & Struggles

Did you hear the one about how companies can improve performance through the use of humor? No joke, says Al Samuels, founder of Spark Creative, a Chicago-based company that takes gigs as corporate "humor consultants." Companies such as Motorola, Charles Schwab, and Boise Cascade hire Spark Creative to produce large-scale shows, or to conduct more intimate comedy workshops.

The shows tie in with new product introductions, teambuilding events, even "roasts" for retirees. Workshops involve Spark instructors--all professional comedians--guiding employee teams through improv- isational skits. Employees learn how to "play off each other, trust each other, and do what's needed to make each other look good," Samuels says.

The goal? To build trust, teamwork, and self-confidence that will manifest itself on the job. --Bill Gillette