Getting to know you Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

When Jacqueline Neal arrived at Glory Foods Inc. in October 2007, she took some time upfront to meet with all of her employees.

She asked them what they liked and didn’t like about the company, things they wanted to change, and she asked if they had any advice for her as the new president of the company, which posted 2007 revenue of $73.6 million.

Doing so allowed Neal to learn about her 25 employees on both a personal and professional level and establish a rapport with them at the manufacturer and distributor of Southern-style, heat-and-serve food products.

“People feel more connected to the company,” Neal says. “They feel like the company’s looking out for their best interest, and it feels like home. It does feel like a second home in a way, and that leads people to do a much better job.”

Smart Business spoke with Neal about how to develop that trust and how to be open with your employees.

Be open with your people. It’s doing what I say I’m going to do. It’s making sure that you follow up. I try to make sure that I get back to everyone, even if it’s not as timely as I would like.

It can be as simple as a drive-by at their cubicle or an e-mail, just a quick message to say, ‘I did hear you; I don’t have an answer yet, that’s why I haven’t gotten back to you.’ You get the reputation for following through on what you say you’re going to do.

Walking around the building and talking to people helps. You do it when it feels natural; I don’t think it should be a forced thing. I do make it a point to at least every day get out of my office and make sure I’m not holed up there with my head in the computer.

It depends on your personality. Some people are better at the one on one or small groups, so you can do a lunch and learn or a brown bag — grab a few people and sit in the conference room and just have lunch.

Or take people out one on one or call somebody to your office and say, ‘Hey, I just want to find out how things are going.’ It depends on your style — if you’re more comfortable in groups, then it’s easy to go to an area and just have a conversation. If you are more comfortable with the one on one, there are lots of ways you can create that without creating the stress in the employees.

Ask employees for feedback. The 360-degree feedback [in which each employee receives performance feedback from a supervisor and from four to eight others] is another way of making sure that it’s open. It’s hard to develop and know what you need to work on without the feedback.

The first time you see it, it’s a little frightening, but if you embrace it in the right spirit in which it’s intended, meaning it’s important to just hear what other people think, you can develop your skills and abilities to the best of your ability.

Before implementing 360-degree feedback, a leader should schedule a meeting with employees to have an open conversation about this type of review process. Specifically, explain what 360-degree feedback is, how it works and that it is completely confidential. Critical to developing people, 360-degree feedback helps employees see what impact they have and how they are perceived among their peers, superiors and subordinates.

And it’s also sharing results. I’m going to sit down with the management team and share the feedback I got. It’s not an easy thing to do to stay focused and admit some of these things, but there’s no way it’s going to get better and improve.

I want them to know that I heard them, and I didn’t just brush it under the carpet, so that’s important; it builds trust.

Encourage the management team to make time for one-onone meetings with their direct reports so they can share and discuss feedback. It’s important to keep open channels for honest and constructive communication. You set the stage for consistent, open communication that helps to avoid surprises when it comes time for a formal review.

Recognize your people. Every major study I’ve seen says that higher pay typically falls at No. 5 or 6 when you rank the things that people care about most at a company. The things that rise to the top tend to be respect, responsibilities and recognition — it could be public recognition, awards, it’s things like that that get people jazzed.

You can pay people a lot of money, but if they don’t feel respected, they’re going to burn out, they’re not going to stay and be productive.

It’s important to understand the culture. ... And if you’re a new leader coming to the organization, talk to some of the people who have been around for a while and find out what’s been done in the past.

Different people might like more public recognition; some might like it more privately. It’s important to recognize and respect the work culture. But most people like getting as little as a thank you — it could be a note on their desk or a cookie that says, ‘Thank you for what you did last week,’ to the bigger, broader, make a real big deal about it, put your picture up, (have the) most valued employee. It’s something as simple as recognizing their performance in front of everybody in the company.

You can also ask the employees what ideas they have for recognizing people. You might get some that say, ‘Just give me the cold, hard cash,’ but most people would be surprised as to the creativity that you hear from employees if you just ask them.

HOW TO REACH: Glory Foods Inc., (614) 252-2042 or www.gloryfoods.com