The good and the bad

Even with his busy schedule, Douglas W. Burke
takes the time to get to know his nearly 100 employees.
Each month, he takes a small
group of them out to lunch to
form strong relationships with
them and to keep the lines of
communication open.

“We want to make them have
happy, productive lives here,”
says the CEO of DefenseWeb
Technologies Inc., a provider of
customized software solutions
for federal health care. “Part of
that is having a relationship with
them so that if there are issues,
they can come to me or their

That commitment to open
communication has helped the
company reach 2007 revenue of
$11 million.

Smart Business spoke with
Burke about how to create relationships with your employees
and keep your communication
honest and open.

Q. What are the keys to open

Just making a commitment
to doing it and then doing it.
Following through on the commitment, walking the walk and
talking the talk are No. 1. Being
honest at all times — you can’t
have a quality relationship
without being honest. And
always being straightforward
and upfront.

The most important thing is
to make yourself available to
all employees — open and
approachable, whether it is an
admin staff member or a vice

Be honest to the extent you
can — relationships are built on
trust. When you cannot disclose
everything, there are ways of
being more honest. Ask your
employees what else can you be
sharing with them or telling
them to make them feel more a
part of the process.

Follow through on what you
say you are going to do; if you
make empty promises, they will
tell you, and you will lose trust.
Listen to your employees and
take what they say seriously. It
might not be easy to hear, but if
you have developed a culture of
honest communication, your
employees will tell you the truth.

One of the things I’ve been
accused of in the past is
that I tend to emphasize
the positive things; being
a CEO, you’ve got to be
overly optimistic about
how things are going to
go. I got some survey
feedback about two years
ago that I wasn’t talking
about anything negative,
and people wanted to
hear the bad news as well
as the good news.

I took that to heart and
started talking about
things that weren’t going
as well.

Q. How do you balance
sharing the positive
and negative with

It’s a common thing for CEOs,
being more overly optimistic
salespeople. If you focus on the
bad news, you’d just be
depressed and never get anywhere. The goal would be to
choose the bad news wisely and
try to get some lesson out of it.

It’s important to connect that
bad news to lessons learned
and is there any sort of silver
lining in the bad news. The danger in not doing it is that your
employees may look at you like
you’re spinning everything, and
then you lose credibility and
trust from that.

Being honest with bad news
can help motivate employees to
strive for that next goal.