Clint Jones says it’s easy to keep everyone on the same page when your payroll is only 30 employees deep. That was certainly the case at Norvax Inc., an online health insurance technology provider he co-founded in 2001. But when he doubled his team to facilitate revenue growth from $700,069 to $11 million between 2003 and 2006, the task became a tad more difficult.
“Once we passed that 30-person head count, we weren’t doing the best job of informing everybody in the company what was going on all the time,” says Jones, who also serves as CEO. To re-establish those faltering lines of communication, he began to hold monthly company-wide meetings, resulting in a team of 70 employees who are informed, focused and contributing to the company’s continued success.
Smart Business spoke with Jones about how to encourage internal communication.
Q. What are two things an executive can do to prompt growth?
Innovation and listening to your clients. We get a lot of product ideas and solution ideas around requests and needs from our clients.
Usually, what we find is if we do a survey or we go out in the field and spend time with key clients, we’re going to uncover areas of growth and new, innovative ideas that we can develop into revenue-generating opportunities.
Just keeping your eyes open and your ears listening to customer needs can be very beneficial.
Q. How do you foster innovation?
If every idea that came across my desk I shot down, ultimately our employees are going to become less innovative, less creative, and the company is going to lose some spice there. I’d rather see somebody come to me and potentially even make a mistake by trying to be innovative as opposed to being not innovative and not creative.
Q. What is one of the biggest challenges associated with growth?
Outside of the market itself, one of the biggest challenges is understanding how important internal communication is. The more you can inform your employees, the more you can inform your management team, the better off you are and the better decision-making that’s going to happen.
People are very open to information. They’re really excited hearing about what we’re doing and how we’ve been doing the past month and what our big initiatives are this month.
The best information is the upfront and honest information. If there’s an issue we’ve got to tell people, we’re going to be the first to let them know. It shows integrity and that we’re looking out to do the right thing, no matter what it is.
Q. How else can you encourage internal communication?
Once you get over the 30-person mark, you tend to lose touch with every single employee. It’s a challenge for the leadership to have a relationship with every single employee.
One thing we’ve started doing more often is having company meetings where a lot of their voices are heard. We’re talking about our strategic direction, challenges we’re seeing on the marketplace, opportunities we’re seeing on the marketplace, and just giving employees a lot of information to help foster the environment and culture we want to create. Even if they’re 15 minutes and it’s an update about what happened in prior months and what you’re focused on this month, you’d be surprised how employees react to that.
Have an open forum and allow questions and have the understanding that no question is a stupid question. Chances are if you have that question, nine other people in the room do, as well. We try to encourage that behavior and let them ask the questions they want to ask.
It really helps certain employees that are maybe outside of certain situations understand what other members of the company are going through. Maybe they have good ideas about a solution around an issue that we’re facing or one of our departments is facing.
A lot of employee interaction and great ideas come out of those sessions.
Q. How do you encourage everyone to participate?
That’s been a challenge. We’ve set up a suggestion box where an employee that may be more introverted and doesn’t want to speak up can write a question or write a suggestion that goes to the upper level in management. A lot of those have been great.
We do understand that certain people aren’t comfortable speaking in front of a large audience. We definitely value their input, as well, and want to hear what they have to say. That’s been more of a confidential way to do so.
What we’ve done is we’ve kind of set up a more confidential suggestions box. An employee does not have to put their name on the question or the suggestion or the issue.
HOW TO REACH: Norvax Inc., (866) 466-7829 or www.norvax.com