The communicator Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008
Virginia Albanese and her team at FedEx Custom Critical unveiled a new company strategy to employees on a Saturday night last July in the high school auditorium across from their headquarters.

When she finished speaking, she invited anyone who wanted to sign up for the new plan to head back to the office and sign their name on the common area wall under the strategy. When you walk through that area, hundreds of signatures adorn the walls.

“You can have a strategy and set out goals and set out metrics, but if you don’t have accountability to hitting those goals and people truly taking ownership of their area, then it’s never going to come to fruition,” says Albanese, president and CEO of the company, which specializes in shipping critical freight.

The first step to getting people on board with your goals is to communicate the end destination.

“Think of it as going on a journey,” Albanese says. “If we say we’re going to go to Rome, then we all know we’re going to Rome — we can all plan to go to Rome, we can all pack for Rome, and we can all figure out how to get there. If we said Europe, and some people think we were going to Rome, and some people think we were going to England, and some people think we’re going to France, we’ve got people going in different directions. The idea is to get everyone to realize that we’re going to Rome, and that’s the destination in mind.”

Even when you communicate what the goal is, you’re going to encounter resistance to that plan. Albanese likes to include those people in the process and tries to get them “unhooking from the past and looking to the future.”

“To me, it’s involving people — showing them why it’s a great idea to go to Rome, and that England wasn’t a good place to go this time,” she says. “Show them what’s in it for them — that’s really important.”

After you’ve spoken with those people, if they still don’t want to get on board, recognize that it’s OK and part ways. With those who are left, you have to empower them to get there.

“If you can paint a picture of the future for people, and you can give them a good focal point on the destination in mind, then you don’t have to keep telling people what to do,” Albanese says. “They get it, so ... I don’t need to tell people how we’re going to get there — whether it’s by a car, by a truck, by a plane, by a boat. If they know where they’re going, people can figure that out.”

To make sure people know where they’re heading, Albanese encourages employees to boil the strategy down to what she calls the 30-second, elevator speech, meaning if someone asked about it in an elevator, you could tell them in that short time period what it meant to you.

“The only way you can really know is by asking people to talk about the strategy,” she says. “Tell me, what do you think the strategy means? What does it mean to you? How are you going to live it? What are you going to do within your job to help the strategy? If they can verbalize back to you what they’re going to do or what it means to them, then I believe they got it. If they can’t, that’s a problem, and we have to look at other ways to communicate it, or we haven’t been clear, and we have to find those things out.”

To make sure everyone can internalize the strategy, Albanese uses a variety of communication strategies.

“You have to communicate in many different ways,” she says. “My undergraduate degree is in education, and one of the things I learned a long time ago is some people learn by reading things, some by hearing things, some by seeing things.”

Albanese uses large meetings, small meetings, a magazine, weekly video messages and monthly sit-downs with a handful of employees, called “Visits with Virg.” Continuous communication helps educate employees, makes them feel part of the process and moves the company forward.

“When people don’t understand, and they haven’t had the communication, that’s where I see people going off the path and doing their own thing or becoming disengaged, and the longer you keep people in the loop, people want to be in the know. They want to know what’s going on, and they want to feel a part of it.”

HOW TO REACH: FedEx Custom Critical, customcritical.fedex.com