Showing the way Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Building strong employee relationships starts with showing respect for your employees and the jobs they do, says Doug Sibila.

And to help employees better understand your vision for the company, you have to tell them why their actions are important, interact with them in their environment and put yourself in their shoes, says Sibila, president and CEO of the warehouse, distribution and transportation company Peoples Services Inc.

“There’s been a lot of talk of what motivates the younger generation versus older generation,” Sibila says. “Although you need to have some flexibility, to me, most of this is timeless and cross-generational.”

Sibila’s communication has paid off in employee loyalty, as most of the company’s hires come from staff referrals, and its turnover rate on the transportation side is five times less than the industry’s national average.

Smart Business spoke with Sibila about how to communicate to employees the importance of what they do.

Communicate the ‘why’ to employees. Try to engage all different levels so they feel they have a voice. We have this grandiose vision, but what does it mean to the guy that is loading and unloading the trucks for the customers?

It’s not up to them to translate your vision to their language. It’s the CEO’s responsibility to translate his vision into their language.

Try to meet with them in an environment where they’re comfortable — which may be as you are sometimes walking around sharing parts of that vision on why they’re doing what they’re doing — is important.

There are books out there that [advise] a leader who does what by when. What we like to add is ‘why.’ If they understand why they’re doing it, then the ownership of that activity becomes easier to understand.

I think that’s a good way. We try to show that. Why is it necessary for the truck to be clean? Why is it in the driver’s best interest to make sure his truck has been washed?

Even though that may take extra time, it may help him. It’s looked favorably upon when you go to an inspection station and your unit is clean.

We don’t have a product, we have a service, so that image of that service is reflected upon what does your equipment look like.

Verify that employees understand what you’re trying to communicate. Walk around asking questions. There’s still a tendency for people to tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. Sometimes the only way, as we like to say in our organization, is trust but verify.

Did they understand what you were talking about? If they completed a report that you requested, have them show it to you. Ask them questions to make sure they understand the ‘why’ of what they were doing as opposed to were they just filling in the information because you asked for it.

Ask an open-ended question to see if they really do understand what you were really trying to communicate as opposed to yes, no. Of course they’re going to say yes.

Reach employees in their workplace. Try to talk to as many as you can. Make a point to step out of your comfort zone and cross paths with them as best as you can in their environment — not in your environment, in their environment.

You say hello to them, get to know them, maybe what some of their hobbies are.

It shows that you’re willing to reach out to them.

For example, we have locations in multiple states. I was in three locations in West Virginia. I talked to several employees one on one and a whole group of employees.

We had had some layoffs, which obviously impacted some people, and understand that those are unpleasant things to have happened. However, it’s in the best interest of the company and everybody else because it strengthens their position.

I didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know. But the fact is that we weren’t running away from our responsibilities, [we were] taking them head on, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant.

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. I’ve done most of the jobs in the company, so you go back on that experience and try to remember what it was like.

You may have that passion or ownership interest, but to an employee, it may be a paycheck. So how do you get through to them? It allows them to do the things that they enjoy.

Some companies actually put some of their managers or people through a rotation, encouraging your managers to be out there. For example, we encourage our managers and dispatchers to ride with the drivers and even our salespeople, so they see what it’s like. If they see the manager willing to do the same things they’re doing, I think that sends a good signal, whether it’s the CEO or a manager or anybody.

It doesn’t mean the CEO should be out sweeping the floor. But, for example, if I’m walking through a warehouse and I see a piece of a pallet sitting in the aisle, I pick it up because I would expect my managers, if they were walking through the warehouse, to do the same thing.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Part of that may be humility and understanding. Just because you say it doesn’t make it so.

How to reach: Peoples Services Inc., (330) 453-3709 or