More than words Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2009

Alfred Sanchez probably won’t see his vision fulfilled at the YMCA of Greater Miami. Not because it won’t happen, but because he set the bar higher than he’ll reach during his tenure as president and CEO.

The goal is to serve one in 10 people in Miami-Dade County by 2025 — or about 250,000 people, compared to its current reach of 40,000 at the $15.3 million organization.

“The vision is like the summit of a mountain, and you don’t climb the mountain all in one swoop,” says Sanchez, who leads 95 full-time and 448 part-time employees as well as 250 volunteers. “You don’t just go out one day and climb Mount Everest. You break it out into what elevation you can reach each day.”

Sanchez realizes communicating with his employees is more important than ever — both to sustain their focus on the destination and to remind them how far they’ve already ascended.

Smart Business spoke with Sanchez about communicating your vision with clarity, variety and passion to keep employees on course.

Keep it simple. We understand sound bites. That stays with us. Keep it short — think about something that can fit on a T-shirt. If you can condense [your vision] to that, then people can get it. And then constantly expand using that tag.

We’ve got a very simple theme: growing to serve one in 10. Everything is ‘one in 10, one in 10.’ We’re just constantly hitting that home. Obviously, it’s much more complicated and complex than that, but that’s a good, easy thing to remember.

Then every time we talk about it, we expand upon what that means. For instance, growing to serve one in 10 means a lot of things to us. One of the things is we have to build more YMCAs. So we are; one’s opening up at the end of this year. We want to tell the employees about how that’s going. We’re constantly showing them progress photos on the Web site in terms of how it’s being built, and every single time we say, ‘Hey, remember we’re growing to serve one in 10, and one of the ways we’re going to do that is build more Y’s. This one’s opening up this year. We’re going to get our first notch under our belts.’ And that’s how you get the message out.

Shake up communication methods. One of the things I’ve learned is you never really are finished communicating it. Whenever you think, ‘Boy, I’ve really done a good job getting the message out,’ think again, because you haven’t.

You’ve got to communicate constantly, consistently and through multiple channels of communication. It’s not just good enough to put framed posters on the wall. We habituate to those things. You have to constantly change how you’re communicating it so that people don’t just get used to it and it becomes part of the background.

We do the employee retreats where we go over it; we do the posters, the wallet cards. We do monthly updates. We give out DVDs and flash drives to employees so they always have it.

And the other thing is that we’re constantly keeping an eye on different ways that people are receiving information. For instance, we started an employee podcast where every month, either myself or one of the leadership team is educating our employees about, ‘Here is our vision. Here’s what we’re doing. Here are the accomplishments toward that vision.’ They get to see their leadership. Because we have [more than 700 employees and volunteers], I don’t get to see them all, but that’s a way to personally take the message out.

You just constantly have to communicate, communicate, communicate. And then communicate more after you think you’ve finished. You’re never finished communicating.

Speak with your actions. You, as a leader, are an extremely important part of getting the message out. You can’t leave it to your marketing people; you can’t leave it to your direct reports. You have to be out there and, as they say, walk the walk and talk the talk.

We put together this initiative called ‘Healthy Lives Under Construction,’ where we were going to get our employees to live healthy lives. You wouldn’t go to a dentist [who has] a mouth full of cavities. Well, would you go to an organization that doesn’t look the picture of health to get healthy? No.

That’s a great concept, but it’s easy for employees to dismiss. So as a leader, I said, ‘If I’m asking you all to be an example to the community, then I’m going to be the first to be out there.’ I put myself on the line and said, ‘I’m going to lose 50 pounds, and I’m going to get off my cholesterol medication, and I’m going to get off my sugar medication — or I’ll shave my head bald.’

And you know what, I still have a healthy mane of hair and I lost 65 pounds.

But I put myself out there. I could easily have failed; I led the way. I showed enthusiasm for the program. And I think because of it, people were encouraged. They saw me, their CEO, in a more human light, and so they connected with me much more on a human level, rather than an employee-boss level.

If you’re going to ask employees to do things, be out in front of it. Take risks. Risk failure because … success is just the end of a long line of failed attempts. You don’t reach success unless you risk. And if folks see you risking and really putting yourself out there, you’re more human and people are encouraged by that.

If they see you as communicating the vision personally, they’re more apt to believe that, ‘This is really something that’s important to the organization; it should be important to me, as well.’ While I don’t think you can train passion, passion is infectious, you can motivate others by having them see how passionate you are about your vision.

How to reach: YMCA of Greater Miami, (877) 969-9622 or www.ymcamiami.org