When Bill Marriott, chief executive officer of the lodging empire his father founded, visits one of the hotels that bears his name, he takes his sweet time--even stopping to pose for occasional snapshots with employees. While Marriott clearly enjoys the photo opps, the visit is also "good business," says Roger Conner, Marriott International vice president. "He knows that if you take care of your people, they will take care of their customers--and business will take care of itself."

The old-fashioned notion that employers should take an active (dare one say paternalistic?) interest in the welfare of their workers has resurfaced as a popular corporate strategy offered up by consultants and academics alike. Most important, they say, is for CEOs is to be visible--through meetings and events, open-door policies, and other means, such as Marriott's site visits. "What's key is the dialogue that physical presence can create," says Jeff Schmidt, Chicago based managing director for Towers Perrin. "CEOs in modern corporations tend to be larger-than-life characters. Their primary responsibility is communication, which a lot of the time means just listening and leading by example."

When CEOs like Marriott take the time to show they care, the bottom line benefits. Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First (1998, Harvard Business School Press), estimates that the productivity rate of firms where the employees have high morale can be as much as 30 percent to 40 percent higher than that of their dispirited competitors. "In 1999 in the United States, all work is knowledge work. CEOs play an important role in attracting, retaining, and motivating talented employees."