Embracing the hot seat

The barrage of business challenges that jolted all of us in 2020 has evolved and continues to stress employees at every level of all organizations. Leadership makes tough calls, but frontline workers are also required to do more with fewer resources, work longer hours and face down uncertainties.

In April, I hosted my first 30 Minute Refresh, a new quarterly update I’ll be giving to lay out our short-term goals, explain how they’ll get us to our longer-term goals, describe what the goals mean for our employees and answer questions. For each Refresh, I visit one of our warehouses and conduct the company-wide meeting on location. This is something all business leaders may consider doing to refresh their goals and help employees buy in.

While some employees will get the information via Zoom, others will have an opportunity for face-to-face interaction with me. I want to bridge the gap with employees, both by imparting more information and context about the business to them and by physically connecting with employees I don’t get to see every week or month.

The first Refresh event brought some hard-hitting questions from warehouse team members. Inflation has impacted everyone, and team members wanted to know if a cost-of-living increase was on the horizon. Fielding pointed questions like, “When can I expect to see more cash in my paycheck?” is tricky. Our company regularly surveys employees, so I can walk into Refresh sessions with great background knowledge of their concerns and be prepared to address them.

To answer them and ease concerns, we reviewed our standard annual review and compensation adjustment process and talked about times when we’ve adjusted salaries outside of this process. I assured employees leadership was having ongoing discussions about this issue and announced a bonus that each employee would receive in the next pay period to give families a measure of relief against ever-rising costs for basic necessities.

Awkward questions are, well, awkward. However, they create the opportunity to build an open, communicative and trusting environment. I want all team members to know they can put me on the hot seat and receive honest answers.

Those of us in positions of leadership benefit from having the maximum amount of information at our disposal to aid in our decision making. It’s important to remember many of our team members toil away without unfettered access to information that could relieve anxieties, or at least give them a better understanding of why certain business decisions are made. Knowledge is a great stress reducer.

In our initial Refresh, I relayed information about a critically important sales milestone our team was on the verge of meeting. This goal was an essential first step as we seek to recover from steep freight increases and supply chain obstacles that decimated businesses in 2021.

A team member told me after the Refresh that the presentation helped her see the big picture. Everyone had been so laser-focused on achieving our initial goal, many beyond the executive team didn’t know what to expect in the three to five months after we reached it. She said the overview with detailed financials related to freight costs, how much of that cost we’ve recouped and what remains to be done helped her make sense of it all.

There’s real value to climbing into the trenches with employees and letting them know we see their effort, hear their concerns and appreciate them. Standing side by side, answering tough questions and providing big-picture perspective brings a level of clarity to the entire team that can reduce individual anxiety and raise the level of the entire organization in a meaningful way. ●

J.D. Ewing is chairman and CEO of COE Distributing

J.D. Ewing

Chairman and CEO
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