When Tom Crawford took over as president and CEO of
Crawford & Co. in 2004, he was the fourth CEO in six years.
“That in itself is very destructive to the stability and the communications and visions of a company,” Crawford says. “You cannot
change leadership at the top that many times in that short period
of time and expect a company to move forward.”
Crawford & Co., which provides claims management solutions
to insurance companies and self-insured entities, had previously
excelled at investing in people but that focus had dissipated, and
its training institute had been disbanded. Without the proper training, quality levels had slipped, so where it once was a quality
leader, it now lagged behind.
Seeing the state of the company, Crawford could read the
thoughts rolling through every employee’s mind.
“Realizing there had been such a turnover at the top of the
organization, no matter what my background had been or successes had been, I’ve got a group of people looking at me wondering, ‘Well, how long is this person going to be here, and why
should we pay attention to him?’” says Crawford, who is not
related to the Crawford & Co. founding family.
He realized if he wanted to get the company moving forward
again, he needed to refocus on its people, but he couldn’t just
make changes and expect the employees to blindly follow him. So
he committed to improving one of the most basic business fundamentals out there communication.
“The value of communication as you make change is far more
important than any one thing you’re doing,” Crawford says.
“Certainly, visions and objectives are important, but for them
to be effective, you have to communicate them, and you have
to explain them, and you have to get, to the best degree you
can, buy-in. It’s that important, and I think it’s fundamental for
a successful CEO.”
Crawford says it’s fundamental because management and
employees can’t work together if they don’t know what the
other is thinking.
“Over a period of time, I think you will fail,” Crawford says.
“In today’s world, where there is a distance that has been built
over the years, I think on average in businesses in our country,
there is a disconnect between leadership and the associate.
The companies that have (communication) are winning. The
companies that don’t have it may win for a short period of
time, but I do not think that sustainability of bringing your
vision and your objectives to life in a company will ever materialize long term.”
Crawford began his career as a clerk in a hardware store. It
was there that he first observed that people in the lower ranks
were a lot smarter than management gave them credit for.
“They have vast amounts of knowledge of what’s wrong, and
when things are wrong, they have a good knowledge of what it
is,” he says. “They touch our clients and customers every day.
Leadership does not.”
Crawford wanted to tap into that knowledge base so he instituted Friday morning breakfasts every other week with 10 associates from the field who weren’t managers. He flew them into
headquarters and met with them to ask if the company was doing
what it said, what they saw changing, how they thought communication was and other topics.
Following the breakfasts, the employees would have their
picture taken and be sent back to their respective locations
with an additional title ambassador of the company.
“What the people say carries incredible weight of how this
company or any other company is viewed on the street,”
Crawford says. “My voice gets to a few, but their voices get to
hundreds of thousands of people, so the more they believe in
their company, the better off we are.”
He also conducted town-hall meetings every quarter and
gave employees the opportunity to ask about 10 to 12 questions from the floor at each one. Those questions aren’t pre-screened they come just as people think them up at the
“That builds credibility over a period of time because there
are some really tough questions that come out when you open
it up to the floor,” Crawford says.
He also visited offices, and whenever he did, he’d have a
short meeting with all the employees to give them yet more
chances to ask questions.
“That pays great dividends in strengthening our communications and letting people get things off their chest that they drive
home wondering about,” Crawford says. “They get the CEO
standing in front of them, and all I ever ask is, ‘Ask the question
in a professional manner, and you’re going to get a professional
answer.’ If I don’t have the answer, we’ll get it for you as long as
it’s something I can communicate within the SEC [Securities
and Exchange Commission] bounds.”
Additionally, he started monthly management control meetings with all of his direct reports. It’s an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. meeting, and each report gets 45 minutes to update him. Each person can bring a guest too, so this allows employees to see the
inner workings of management. At the conclusion of these
meetings, the managers take that information back to their
people and communicate it down the ranks.
The breakfasts with his employees then let him know just
how effective these communication efforts are.
“It’s interesting when you call 10 people into the room every
other Friday that are below the management level, and if you
listen, you’re going to know if that message is getting out in the
field,” Crawford says.
Lastly, he started holding managers accountable for their
communication with employees via performance evaluations.
When he started, between 600 and 700 employee performance
reviews were late, and now that number is just 16. If employees don’t know where they stand, they can’t improve and move
to the next level, so the business can’t move to the next level.
“Those things are just fundamentals in my eyes, but when
you walk into a company where they don’t have things like
that, it becomes not just a business fundamental, it becomes
crucial to turning something around,” Crawford says.
Surveying the staff
Throughout his career, Crawford has seen how helpful employee surveys can be to gauging the company’s progress and promoting open communication.
“You’ve got to establish benchmarks when you get into a company, and that’s one of the biggest benchmarks I’ve been working
from is our own employees’ evaluation,” he says.
He instituted a 25-question survey where employees ranked each
question on a scale of one to five. The back was blank for them to
write any comments or concerns on, as well.
“There are two things people say on a survey,” Crawford says.
“They say, ‘If I say what I really think, they’ll get me,’ or No. 2, ‘We’ll
say what we think, but they won’t do anything about it.’
“Those are the two things that you have to convince people of
that it’s anonymous and you never allow it to be anything other
than that. If you do, it’s worthless to do. It’s death to your program.”
To prove these things to people, he took their responses and
went back to them as a group.
“You must respond with their results, as they state them, and
what you’re doing about them,” Crawford says. “If you don’t do
those things, don’t do the survey.”
It’s also important to share not just the areas that scored well, but
also those that aren’t doing well. Honesty will help people buy in
to what you’re trying to do, and continuously tracking and showing people the feedback helps others understand the state of the
“We measure everything in graphical form,” Crawford says. “I’m
convinced, as a person that’s come up through the ranks, that
when they showed me graphs, if the line was going up or down, I
knew we had a problem. I think people can identify with measurements when you paint that picture of the key measurements of
Since that first survey, the company has done three more, and
Crawford is listening to what people say. When people said that
one personal day wasn’t enough, they increased it to two, and now
employees have three.
“You don’t change it all at one time, but it’s touchable,” Crawford
While some things are implemented and transitioned to gradually, surveys also help reveal more serious problems that
require more immediate action. When several people from one
department wrote in that their supervisor had treated them dis-respectfully, Crawford and his team looked into it. They found
that this person had indeed been mistreating the employees, so
he removed the person from the job.
“That’s dramatic,” Crawford says. “That doesn’t happen
often, but you have to react if someone takes the time. If you
have a 50-person unit and 30 of them write comments very negative about who’s leading them, then you have got a problem.
“It also lets the management know that we’re very serious
about doing what we say don’t be out there operating in the
culture you established, which is outside the culture that we
While the thought of figuring out a survey system may seem
overwhelming, Crawford says it’s quite easy to do, but instead
of talking about it, you have to just plunge forward and do it.
“Put it in place,” he says. “There are a lot of companies you
can hire that will do the survey for you electronically. It’s not
hard to do it, but be serious about it. Don’t say it, and then not
give them the feedback.”
Only half of Crawford’s employees responded to the first survey, and one question that asked if they would recommend
someone else to work at the company scored below a three.
Now 82 percent of employees complete the survey and every
score has improved. That same question now scores above a
four, on average.
These survey results tell Crawford that he’s on the right track,
but he cautions that it’s also important that once you choose
what to measure, that you stick to it and not change those
measurements or how you define the measurements, otherwise you’ll not be able to accurately gauge how the company is
While the surveys have revealed that communication and
employee satisfaction are up, the numbers also say Crawford &
Co. is moving in the right direction. Since 2004, total revenue has
increased nearly 11 percent to $900.4 million last year.
As Crawford & Co. continues to rebuild its employee initiatives, Crawford will continue striving to bridge the communication gap between employees and managers, and in doing so, he
knows the business as a whole will improve.
“I do what I think has to be done, and I thought clearly the culture of communications and building connectivity between associates and the leadership was vitally important to this company,” Crawford says. “That’s a judgment you make as a leader. We
started acting upon it, and we were right. You have to know
when you’re doing a right thing. When you believe you are
doing the right thing, you have to go for it. Communication to
every level of the company is the right thing to do.”
HOW TO REACH: Crawford & Co., (800) 241-2541 or www.crawfordandcompany.com