Straight shooter

Samuel W. Grooms is a natural-born communicator, and he has no trouble talking to anyone, whether they are employees, clients or strangers. For example, he recalls visiting his daughter in Brooklyn, N.Y., and striking up conversations with people on the subway, only to be elbowed by his daughter, telling him not to do that.

Grooms employs that same open communication style with his 126 employees at Hy-Tek Material Handling Inc., where he openly shares both the good and the bad news about what’s happening at the material handling distributor and integrator of engineered conveyor and storage systems.

“Of course, everybody wants to hear all of the good news, but you also have to be honest with people,” says the president and CEO of the $41.75 million company. “I’m not going to lie to them. If things aren’t exactly where we need to be, I’m going to tell them where they are and what we need to do to get there.”

Smart Business spoke with Grooms about how to be honest with, listen to and trust your employees.

Communicate honestly. The key to communicating that people appreciate is always being honest. They [have to] understand in good and bad, this is where we stand, where we’re at, what’s going on and the like, and you [have to] explain what’s going on and can let people know where you stand and what you’regoing to do to either improve or continue getting better at the rate you are.

If you can’t do that, you better find somebody within your organization who is good at it. I don’t have to try and figure out what story I told somebody, because [if] you start telling lies and you’re not honest with people, all of a sudden you’re going to be telling more lies to try and figure out what lies you told. People have to know when you’re talking to them that you’re giving it to them straight, and they are going to be able to take it to the bank one way or another.

If you want people to believe in what you’re doing, you’ve got to be straightforward and honest with them.

Shut up and listen. That’s the one thing that too many people want to do all the time is tell you what’s going on and what’s wrong, but they don’t want to offer a suggestion. The best thing we can do is discuss mutually what the issues are and then mutually discuss what we’re going to do to solve the problem.

It’s like a football coach —at the time out, we’re sitting there talking with the quarterback about what play we’re going to run. At some point, we’ve both got to agree, and then you’ve got to get out of the way and let them go run it and have faith they’re going to do it. And if they’ve got to ad lib a little bit, well, that’s OK, too; that’s going to help them grow.

There’s never a situation where you’re sitting, whether it’s one on one or a group where you don’t say, ‘Here’s where we are, here’s where we’ve got to be and what we’ve got to accomplish.’There’s never a circumstance that you don’t ask, ‘What do you think we have to do?’

It’s amazing what people will tell you when you ask them, what people will do when you give them a chance to tell you what they think.