Robert W. Zoller Featured

5:27pm EDT June 29, 2006
Robert W. Zoller makes people and communication his top priorities, but it’s not always easy. With Kitty Hawk Inc.’s planes, trucks and people delivering time-sensitive freight all over the country, it can prove difficult to keep employees engaged and informed. But with clear and constant communication, the president, CEO and director is getting his message across, and the numbers speak for the success of his efforts as the company posted $156.6 million in revenue last year. Smart Business spoke with Zoller about what he looks for in employees and how he clearly communicates with them.

Hire people with broad experience.
I like to see people that have broader experiences in lots of different areas, people who have crossed over from one functional area to another in their career. They have a well-rounded view of management and management style when they join the team at the senior leadership level.

Sometimes if people have experience in one particular area, they become narrow or their focus is too specific. Every department requires some technical expertise and experience. The higher you go in management, the more generalist your approach needs to be. You may be an expert in the subject material, or you may not, but you have to rely on other people to accomplish certain things.

Hire open people, not defensive ones.
I like to see people who are also collaborative with their staffs, people who are very visible in the work areas, who communicate clearly and always make sure that the team they’re working with is fully informed about what is happening, what the latest bit of information is, the direction of the company or the direction of their department.

You can tell when somebody might be defensive — they’re being very careful about how they answer particular questions. Look for someone who is very open and honest and easily communicating what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Look for examples of when they’ve displayed leadership.

Look for if someone is continuously pointing out the things they’ve accomplished or whether they point out the things their team has accomplished, whether they give credit to other people to things they have achieved in their career.

Be adaptable to continue growing.
There’s always external forces that are beyond your control. A good organization is able to detect when that is going to affect or potentially affect their company, department or work unit, and quickly analyze the situation and start making some adjustment so the event is either not as serious or it can be avoided.

Internally, if departments or individuals create barriers to communication, that tends to stifle the communication of the overall goal or objective. People do not look at the overall corporate objectives and evaluate how they can help achieve those goals through their own efforts or work unit. That becomes a problem.

Stress highly that all the departments work together and communicate together on projects they’re trying to accomplish, even though the departments may not be directly involved. At least they’re aware of it. That involves them more in the potential solution.

To keep employees engaged, communicate with them.
Look at the overall organization to see whether or not the team members and the leaders are engaged. Are they actively working together as a team — regardless of if they’re in one department or another, regardless of what their title or their position is, regardless of what their responsibilities are? If everyone is engaged, active, focused on making the company successful, you have a much better chance.

The key is to select senior leaders, and leaders look for team members, who are open and willing to communicate to each other freely and not let titles or status in the organization keep you from communicating. Allow a free flow of information throughout the organization so people feel connected to what the goals and objectives of the company are as well as feel as though they have a way of contributing to the achievement of the goal.

Communicate clearly.
Clarity is extremely important. As CEOs, we tend to overcommunicate on certain things. That leads to a message that might be confusing to some people.

It’s important to be as clear and concise as you possibly can be when you’re stating an objective or a goal or you’re developing or communicating strategy to others.

The key is to not rely solely on your direct reports to communicate the message to the rest of the team but to be available to discuss the strategy or the goals of the company with all of the team members. Make sure that, No. 1, they are getting clear, concise, accurate reporting of the goals and objectives of the company but also to open a dialogue in case they have ideas that may be helpful in shaping the future of the company.

When making decisions, include anyone affected by them. It helps if everybody is moving in the same direction. Managers sometimes make the mistake that they always know the right answer.

It’s important that ideas and strategies be discussed and that everyone be open to critiquing the objectives and the strategies because you never know when someone’s going to have a better idea. They may have a better approach. They may realize that there’s something that was overlooked in the development of the strategy, or the objective needs to be taken into consideration.

The communication from the management to individual team members and then from the team members to the management is crucial.

Work collaboratively to focus each day.
You need to set priorities. You need to focus on three to six things to accomplish each day.

Make sure that the overall objectives of the company are clear and concise, and continue referencing those. Make sure the things you’re setting as priorities and things that you’re spending your time on are, in fact, the things that are most important in achieving the success you’re trying to find.

CEOs tend to isolate themselves — not because they do it deliberately, but there are a lot of demands on our time and our ability to accomplish things. One has to be an expert in time management, one has to have a support team of senior leadership and other staff support that will make sure priorities are established, things are not overlooked and we’re focused on the correct priorities at the time.

It’s a cooperative effort to make sure we all are looking out for each other.

Feel out the situation before making quick decisions.

Listen with an open mind. Don’t prejudge a situation when you’re new to a situation, a company or a department.

Communicate with all of the people involved, whether they be the team members inside the department, or they be the suppliers or the customers. Learn as much as you can about how they view the company or the position, and then assess what direction or what leadership needs to be given in order to be successful.

How to reach: Kitty Hawk Inc., www.kittyhawkcompanies.com