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.

Put faith and trust in employees. If you’re going to do everybody’s job, then you don’t need everybody. There’s no way in the world that I’m either smart enough or have enough hours in the day to do everything that we need to do.

You have to get good quality people, (who are) able to trust me, and I can put my faith in them and know they’re as committed to doing the things we need to be able to do. Then have the faith that with their knowledge and training they have the ability to go out and do whatever they have to do to make it happen.

It’s nice to have people who you can go and get honest feedback … that you have people out there who are going to be honest with you, good or bad. You’ve got to take what they’re telling you as the truth and gospel if you have that kind of relationship and know that they’re only telling you what you need to hear for the organization.

Trust is a two-way street, and you better be honest with people when you’re telling them something, and you’ve got to give them the ability to tell you something if you want honest feedback. You’ve got to be able to listen to it, digest it, sometimes not like it, but be prepared to listen to it and deal with it the best you can. That honesty in the relationship is a two-way street.

Assess your strengths and weaknesses. One of the things you’ve got to do is know what you are good at and not good at, and if you’re not good at something, you better be good at going out and finding somebody who is. Make sure you understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. People tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are a lot of times. I’ve got to find the people who have those capabilities and characteristics. It’s knowing what their capabilities are, seeing whether they’ve grown within your organization or how they’ve come to you from outside the organization, making sure they understand what the goals and accomplishments you have to reach are going to be, and then getting out of the way and let them do their jobs.

HOW TO REACH: Hy-Tek Material Handling Inc., (614) 497-2500 or