Jeffrey Hart communicates at Cadence Network Inc Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

To get employees to buy in

to his company’s vision,

Jeffrey Hart involves them in creating it.

Midway through the year,

Hart and his team compile

information from various

sources, including talking to

employees at Cadence

Network Inc., where he is

president and CEO, and use

that information to work on

forming the company vision.

Then, the following January,

he has lunch with his more

than 80 employees in groups

of 10 to explain the vision and

to get feedback at the provider

of expense management solutions for multisite businesses.

“We really foster open communication, and that means

they have the right to challenge me on my recommendations or decisions or at least

raise questions or concerns

about that,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with

Hart about how to create an

open environment and foster

honest communication and

feedback.

Q. How do you establish an

open environment?

I challenge people in meetings, and they challenge me,

and I think it’s really leading

by example. When they see

that somebody has stood up to

me at a meeting and we’ve had

a heated debate — because

we’re not afraid to have heated debates — and they are still

here the next day, the next

year, they know that their

opinions are valued.

It’s about leading by example. So, if you honestly want

feedback and you want people

to challenge, then there should be no fear of retribution when

they do. I have to respect their

opinion, otherwise I am violating everything I just said.

Q. How has encouraging

open communication benefited

the company?

It’s really important that

everybody understands what

the company’s objectives are

and how they are being measured. People like to get behind

the cause, and I honestly

believe people just don’t want

to punch a clock and collect a

paycheck.

I believe they really want to

have something that fulfills a

purpose in life. So, I think it

allows them to connect more

with passion and have a

general caring or feeling

about the company and

what we are trying to

achieve. It really enlists

their passion and their

emotion into the company versus just collecting

a paycheck every week.

Q. How do you handle

it when an employee has

a bad idea?

One is, obviously, I ask

a lot of questions about

why they have that opinion. Two, I ask them if

they considered all

these other alternatives

and, hopefully, give

them some more input

that they might now

have some more data points.

Hopefully, when we leave

that session, we have an agreement. Now, there are cases

when they say, ‘Jeff, I still disagree.’ That’s where I have to

say, ‘Well, I definitely don’t

want to strip out your passion

because I really believe that you add a lot of value here,

but this is a case where I have

to make the hard call. I have

to make the decision, and this

is the way we are going.’

Then, I ask them to make

sure they support that decision

going forward knowing that

they definitely have concerns

about it. So, we really spend a

lot of time flushing those

things out in debates, whether

it’s be behind closed doors,

but, in some cases, it happens

in a group setting. I do not

believe in a dictatorship.

Q. Does it get hard trying to

listen to everyone’s opinion?

It does, but here’s another

thing that I think a lot of executives tend to forget: If

you don’t do a good round

table, you could argue that by

the time you facilitate a

round table, and let’s say it’s

one or two hours, that that’s a

waste of time because you

already know what the

answer is. You can make the

call in 15 minutes.

My argument is that the viral

effect by you doing that is

going to cost you much more

than two hours. It’s going to

cost you days or weeks

because all these little one-onone conversations will spin

out of control and will create

more problems. So, I’d rather

hit the issue head on in a

meeting, and it may be uncomfortable, but let’s argue the

point out and come up with a

reasonable compromise and

invest that two hours, versus

days and months of viral messaging under the underground

of the employees.

Q. What is a key to getting

people to believe in you?

Be visible on the floor and

talk to everybody, whether it

be a front-line, junior-level

employee or an employee

that’s been here since day one.

I just went out to lunch with

an employee, front-line, that ...

started less than six weeks

ago because I value her opinion. She comes from a different perspective, she’s young,

she’s had a limited career,

eight years, but she’s learned

stuff through that path that I

had not seen or I had not

learned. When you reach out

your hand, they’ll give you

feedback. They’re just scared

to, and you have got to

remove that fear.

HOW TO REACH: Cadence Network Inc., (866) 223-3623 or www.cadencenet.com