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Talking points Featured

5:41am EDT May 24, 2006
Kathy Banicki relies on great leadership skills to achieve success. And one of the most vital skills the president of Testing Engineers and Consultants cultivates at her company — a consulting, engineering and professional testing and inspection firm — is the ability to communicate with peers, employees and clients.

There are many obstacles to effective communication, such as the desire to avoid painful conversations or a tendency to speak without thinking. And overcoming those obstacles can be the key to understanding clients and meeting their needs.

“My job requires a constant balancing act of focus and flexibility,’ says Banicki. “This means setting goals but also being willing and able to change direction when a client contacts TEC with a pressing need. That is often easier said than done.”

This focus on communication has helped TEC prosper — the company has 120 employees and generates revenue of $8.5 million per year.

Smart Business spoke with Banicki about how she communicates with employees and how she cultivates the right culture for her company.

How do you effectively communicate with employees?
I firmly believe in the direct approach. Communication is a severe problem in many organizations, so I put tremendous effort into making sure it isn’t an issue. If I have a concern with someone, I do not talk about that person. I talk to that person.

To be a powerful leader, you must be truthful. This truthfulness starts with open communication that is respectful, but clear. There should be no confusion about the message. Sometimes these discussions are painful, which is why many leaders take a less direct approach. They end up creating more problems for themselves in the long run.

How do you communicate with customers?
We ask our clients how we are doing and then focus on ways we can raise our game. You can think you are doing a great job, but if the customer doesn’t, you must deal with that reality.

We routinely send out evaluations when we complete projects. Sure, I love to read the ones that are glowing, however I concentrate my energies on the ones that are not. They provide the real opportunity for growth and improvement.

Studies show that if a customer has a good experience, they tell one person. If they have a bad experience, they tell 10. We need to be the first to hear about what the customer perceives as a bad experience so that we can quickly remedy the situation.

What has been your greatest communication challenge?
I have a tendency to shoot from the hip and this is not always the best approach. I like to take action and be decisive; however, there is a lot to be said for thoughtful action.

I’ve managed this by disciplining myself to wait until the next day before making certain decisions. There is nothing wrong with telling someone you want to think about it and will get back to them tomorrow.

How do you address leadership challenges?
One of the challenges we have encountered is grooming future leaders. I believe succession planning begins with identifying those possessing the right qualities. But that is only the first step.

The next, which is equally important, is to determine whether the candidate truly hungers for more responsibility. The reality is that we have many potential leaders. However, the trend I have noticed with many workers is that balance and quality of life are valued more than moving up the career ladder.

What is the most common leadership mistake?
Not facing reality. Many leaders refuse to accept the truth, even when the facts are right in front of (them). The classic example is the automobile industry, which did not acknowledge indications that their cars were not what the customer wanted.

The same applies to our business. We can think a proposal is great — exactly what the client had in mind. However until we dig deeper by asking the right questions, then act upon the answers, we are just fooling ourselves and wasting valuable resources.

How to reach: Testing Engineers and Consultants, (248) 588-6200, or www.tectest.com