Jay Woffington stays accessible at Bridge Worldwide Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Jay Woffington doesn’t believe in doors. Even if he had an executive office at Bridge Worldwide, he’d rip the door from its hinges to stay accessible to his 220 employees.

Barriers won’t come between the president and CEO and his employees at the digital marketing firm. Instead, Woffington sits in a cubicle like everyone else. He eats in the cafeteria with everyone else. He keeps the lines of communication open and the power spread across the organization.

That open interaction yields the input he needs to make the best decisions for everyone involved.

“Just because you’ve empowered a lot of people and just because you’ve asked for a lot of advice doesn’t mean that you are absolved from having to make decisions,” he says. “You just make more informed decisions. You know you have more potential pathways to go down as opposed to just what you would think of.”

Smart Business spoke with Woffington about leveling your organization by staying accessible to employees, interacting with them and giving them a voice.

Get out and interact. Maintaining a fairly flat, egalitarian-type approach helps keep you connected to the business but also doesn’t let you get too much of the ego. People are going to tell you what they don’t like, and you’ve got to love hearing it, as opposed to squashing that kind of stuff.

Being able to keep your fingers on the pulse by really touching a lot of people in the organization, it’s a little bit more [of a] hands-on approach. I think that’s a key.

Know everybody’s name. When everybody joins, they get a nameplate that’s on their wall in front of their cube with their name and their picture. That’s on our intranet as well, so you can go on at any time and look at every single employee’s picture and everybody’s name and know who they are.

If you see somebody and you don’t know their name, go look it up because it will mean a lot more the next time you see them.

Get out of your office — literally. If I had an office, I would never sit in it. I would rip the door off of it. In fact, I did that when I was [a brand manager] at Procter & Gamble; I took the door off the hinges. There are lots of artificial thresholds that people are going to be less likely to cross. If you make it easy, everybody will do it.

One of our clients, The J.M. Smucker Co., there’s a great story of how they do it: Richard and Tim Smucker just eat lunch at the cafeteria, just like everybody else. There’s not an executive dining hall. You just go to the same place; you do the same exact thing.

Be accessible. My calendar’s open so anybody can book time; literally, anyone can go into Microsoft Outlook and put a meeting on my calendar. And I accept it.

No. 2, we don’t have offices, so I have a cubicle. You hear a lot more, and it makes you a lot more accessible so people just stop by and say, ‘Hey, in two minutes I want to show you something,’ or, ‘I want to ask you a question,’ or whatever. Being willing to spend that time is really important.

Those are the more informal stuff. More of the structured stuff, I do what we call a share session every other month. Think of it as office hours from college, like a scheduled meeting, and I invite the entire company to it and there’s no set agenda. It’s kind of whatever’s on your mind, ask me any question.

And then on our intranet, I blog every other week: ‘Here’s what I’m focused on, here’s what I want you focused on.’ But it’s an open-feed so anybody can respond to it and chime in with ideas and thoughts.

[There are] a lot of ways to biopsy the organization. I talk about it as thread-pulling. You hear one thing; you just pull on it a little bit. As long as you’re getting enough of that, you always have a pretty good view of what’s happening.

Let employees find the answers. Too often, I think leaders are viewed as needing to have all the answers. And I don’t believe that I have all the answers. I have a much more collaborative leadership style and more of a focus-and-release as opposed to dictate-and-supervise or anything like that. We just need people to go ahead and explore and experiment and take risks, as opposed to wait for someone to tell them what to do.

First off, you can’t just say it; you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to give them the ability to make those decisions and live with the consequences of them. It can’t be me making all the decisions; they have to be able to make the decisions. And so you literally have to give up decision-making, and they have to be able to go off and do it.

When I weigh in on decisions, usually I say, ‘Look, I’m just giving you ideas. You have to make these calls, not me, because you’re ultimately accountable for it.’

Follow up on feedback. No. 1, if you actually take some of their ideas and you build it into your plan, that sure helps. And if you’re not, then I think you have the obligation to say, ‘Hey, look, I got a lot of this feedback, and I’m telling you why I’m not doing that, I’m doing this.’ That’s OK, too.

But there needs to be the feedback loop both ways. So just because you hear more doesn’t mean you’ve communicated back more.

How to reach: Bridge Worldwide, (513) 381-1380 or www.bridgeworldwide.com