If there’s one central tenet of successful business management I come back to again and again, it’s the fundamental need to create and maintain good channels of communication through all levels of your organization.
The rumor mill can be a very powerful force within your company. Bits of information — or disinformation — quickly take on a life of their own. A constant flow of news keeps team members engaged and builds confidence. No one needs to constantly wonder, “What’s coming next?” Robust internal communication efforts are also a great vehicle for acknowledging employees who are doing a fantastic job.
At COE, we keep everyone informed with a multilayered approach. Different employees like receiving information in different ways. Vary your communication style, and you’ll engage more people and convey important message points more clearly.
Here are four simple ways to stay connected.
Write it down. I send weekly email updates to all staff. In addition to a breakdown of financials and any timely business updates, the weekly updates recognize an employee who made exceptional efforts that week. The shoutouts come to me from team members, vendors or customers sharing stories about how individuals are living our core values. And remember that it’s not all about work. Consider recognizing life achievements, including weddings, babies and other milestones, as well.
Have a chat. Memos only get you so far — they can’t replace real-time interaction and the authenticity of a message coming directly from your lips. I host twice weekly “Breakaway with J.D.” Zoom calls open to anyone in the company, as well as our sales partners. Topics include everything from how we’re doing with sales to feedback from the field and news on competitors and clients. People have a chance to ask questions directly and receive open, honest, real-time feedback.
Allow secret identities. While some people love having a direct line to communicate with the boss, others are shy about speaking up. Everyone should have a voice, even if they prefer to fly under the radar. Anonymous surveys are a valuable tool for soliciting feedback from employees. For example, we conduct quarterly Start, Stop, Continue surveys asking for direct feedback on what we should start, stop and continue doing.
Show you’re listening. The executive team should review and respond to each suggestion from surveys, implementing those that bring value to the business. Whichever mode of communication you employ, it’s important to respond to employee questions and comments. If you don’t know the answer, let the employee know you’ll dig into the issue and respond later. You can only have effective dialog within your team if all participants feel heard and respected.
When you engage in regular, substantive conversations with your employees, you gain the opportunity to identify struggle points in your business earlier and nip problems in the bud. With a steady exchange of information, crisis situations are less likely to materialize. When everyone is fully aligned, you are able to deal with smaller, less impactful problems before they turn into big, ugly issues.
Maintaining a frequent dialog establishes a level of comfort and trust among all members of your team. When you’re used to having discussions about important issues, everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises. By having nearly constant conversations, you can eliminate the need to have “difficult” conversations, and that’s a win-win for everyone. ●
J.D. Ewing is chairman and CEO of COE Distributing