Encourage employee confidence by sharing financial details

Transparency is a core value at COE Distributing, and that sentiment stretches beyond normal operational questions or educating on the strain of supply chain demands. It also means relaying current financial situations — both small and large, good and bad — in an open, honest, time-sensitive manner, to all employees, all the time.

Some may say I take this steady stream of financial data to the extreme, sharing more than most company execs would feel comfortable revealing. I whole-heartedly disagree. I’m confident that my version of fiscal transparency has contributed to a solid foundation of trust and mutual respect, which in turn has helped us weather some challenging moments and exponentially exceed sales goals.

The consistent sharing of financial data ensures employees are confident in the health of their company as well as of their jobs. We’ve seen enough examples of employees who are shocked to learn about layoffs, and companies don’t want their employees discussing possible job terminations on TheLayoff.com. We discourage the rumor mill.

In addition, if employees are consistently aware of sales goals, milestones and even struggle points, they are empowered to be a part of the solution. Quarterly profit-sharing incentives and knowledge of company profits provide excellent motivation for continued improvement.

Fortunately, even as an office furniture wholesaler during the early months of global office shutdowns, we never laid off employees. We made a prompt promise, before we saw our 65 percent drop, that we would not lay off any employees, and we kept that promise. We knew our fiscal situation would be bleak for a time, and we continually updated employees on where we were, where we planned to go and how we planned to get there in vivid, number-laden detail. Our recovery depended on completely engaged, encouraged and empowered employees.

Of course, the WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act) provides legal guidelines of layoff notifications for employees with 100 or more employees. But even with plenty of gray areas emerging regarding global pandemic layoffs, we would not have wavered in our open communication style. Besides legal ramifications, many CEOs, as well as HR and PR experts, will attest, appropriate, advance notice is just common sense to avoid unnecessary backlash and negative fall-out.

But it’s more than a legal measure or a notion of common sense. It’s a principle I want my team to embody, with me as an active leader in the process. Living out our core value of transparency, we all walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

The ups and downs of the last couple of years have taught us how to be even more fiscally transparent. Through consistent weekly updates to team members, I communicate backlogs, shipping concerns and resulting surcharges, as well as milestones, record sales months and ongoing revenue goals. I share when our open order backlog eclipses normal standards, while providing encouragement and soliciting feedback for improvement or moving current in-stock inventory. I acknowledge our accounts receivable team for bringing accounts 98 percent current and celebrate with our shipping department for moving $1 million in product in 48 hours.

Many executives share weekly updates with their team members and communicate some high-level financials. However, I believe that by sharing the more intricate details, everyone can be a participant in the solution we all need to achieve. Working together toward our common financial goals builds respect and teamwork in the process. ●

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

J.D. Ewing

Chairman and CEO
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