Roger L. Desjadon does a lot of flying. He has to in order to do his job as CEO of Florida Peninsula Insurance Co. His experiences in the sky have taught him a valuable lesson about the importance of setting clear expectations for your employees.
“There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of money, going to an airport and being treated poorly by an employee that almost acts as though you’re wasting their time,” Desjadon says. “They exude a sense of having no idea why they’re even there. It’s certainly not to serve you. By the time you get off the plane, you’re exhausted and miserable. … Those are the organizations where the leader has painted no landscape or a poor landscape and the people have no idea how they fit in. To them, they are just going through the motions.”
Miserable is not the word Desjadon would use to describe his flying experience with Continental Airlines, which at one time was headed by a man Desjadon greatly admires, Gordon Bethune.
“There just appears to be a sense of purpose from every single employee,” Desjadon says. “There seems to be a happiness with what they are associated with. The result is as a customer, it makes me want to do business with them.”
Employees need to know what’s expected of them and how they are supposed to act. And that expectation has to begin and end with the management team.
“Does the management team have a clear definition of what it’s trying to accomplish?” Desjadon says. “If it doesn’t, everything else really doesn’t matter because you have no hope of anyone understanding it. Most organizations don’t ever have a landscape. They don’t have a framework for people to understand what their contribution is all about.”
It takes time and it takes patience to figure out exactly what you’re all about and be able to share that with your people.
“Take the time as a group to sit down and build it,” says Desjadon, who oversees 60 employees and 2,500 independent insurance agents. “It’s the difference between fast food and making a gourmet meal. Most organizations want to add water, stir and get an answer. When you’re done, you kind of get what you put into it. We work 16-hour days. Anyone that thinks you can have a Xanadu by working seven-hour days is naive because it doesn’t work that way.”
Here’s a look at how Desjadon makes sure his employees are on the same page with leadership’s goals for the $185 million insurance provider.
Empower your people
Desjadon knew what he wanted from his employees. He wanted them to provide fast, fair and reliable service to the company’s clients. He wanted clients to walk away from their experience with Florida Peninsula the same way he felt after flying Continental, with a sense that the employees really understood customer needs and did their best to fulfill them.
In order to accomplish that, you have to ask yourself a question: Why are you in business?
“Once you have that, filling in the details of the landscape is where you start to bring everyone into the process,” Desjadon says.
While you have a clear idea of what you want from your people, it’s never as simple as issuing a three- to four-line statement of what you expect and then never having to say another word.
You need to work with your people and give them a sense of belonging to the process.
“One thing people need to pay attention to is what kind of environment they create for their employees,” Desjadon says. “A lot of organizations hire people that they think are really qualified people, but then they give them a very narrow definition of their role and they totally underutilize them. What that does is it frustrates people tremendously. When you hire highly qualified individuals and you pay them well, you need to be willing to give them more than they can handle and allow them to rise to the occasion.”
Get employees involved in the discussion about what would make your company better and show them that you value their input. Don’t just tell them what to do and how to do it.
“There’s a whole bunch of reasons why telling everyone how to do something just doesn’t work anymore,” Desjadon says. “No. 1, it’s not very productive. No. 2, it’s not very rewarding for the people. No. 3, it tends to foster that organization where people just sit back and say to themselves, ‘You know what, as long as I do exactly what the boss tells me to do, exactly how he tells me to do it, I can’t be wrong.’ There’s no risk taking, there’s no buy-in. That’s an organization that is just fulfilling somebody else’s role. That’s destined for failure.”
It’s how you end up in a situation where employees aren’t looking to do the best they can to find solutions for your customers. Rather, they are trying to make sure they follow your strict guidelines, whether it helps the customer or not.
“People are nervous about allowing folks to exercise a lot of latitude,” Desjadon says. “When you really think about it, it’s silly. If I’ve done a good job and management and ownership has done a good job in communicating the landscape and building a landscape and communicating how you fit into it, why should I fear how you’re going to respond to that?”
Assess your communication
You should never assume that just because you’re speaking, your people are listening to you. If you want everyone on the same page, then you better make sure that the communication is working.
“A lot of companies label themselves as being companies that have good communications,” Desjadon says. “But they often make the mistake of assuming that because they are talking, they assume someone is listening and that constitutes good communication.
“The organizations that really do have good communication don’t just offer lip service to it. It’s an environment where they talk down, they talk up and they talk sideways and they talk around. Sometimes they might talk about an issue and an employee feels open to discuss the pros and cons of that issue as openly as the leadership team and, in fact, is invited to do so.”
That only happens when you respond to communication with an air of approachability. Desjadon recalled a situation in which he was trading e-mails with an individual that runs part of the company’s claims department.
“We had made a change in a policy,” Desjadon says. “He had subsequently come back and said, ‘Look, I know we made this change. I know it was your idea. I know you think it was a good idea, but actually, I don’t think it’s going to work the way you suspect it’s going to work. Here’s why.’ So we’ve been going back and forth so I can better understand exactly why he’s saying that and what actions he might suggest need to be taken.”
You need to impress upon your employees that you want their input and feedback and will openly consider it in the running of the business. That is, if you truly want an open culture with employees who feel engaged in helping the company succeed.
“In this case, what I’ve done is now said, ‘You might have a point, show me,” Desjadon says. “Let?
9;s try to find a solution. By the way, get a few other people involved in it and let’s get their opinion while we’re at it.’ So now it’s not my solution, it’s not my problem. It’s a team of people that are now looking at it. I didn’t even see it as a problem. I still don’t necessarily. He may be right, he may be wrong, but he makes a valid point. Now we’re going to have several people looking into it and trying to figure out exactly what we should do, if anything. They feel like they have a stake in succeeding.”
To reinforce his approachability, Desjadon schedules regular breakfast meetings with about a dozen employees.
“It would just be a conversation,” he says. “What’s on your mind? What’s working? What’s not working? How do you feel we are doing? What do you think needs to be changed?
“By doing that, you accomplish a couple of things. You make yourself accessible in a no-risk environment. It’s just a conversation with people having coffee. If you also insist that department heads and supervisors and managers and everyone across the organization do that, too, you foster an environment that everyone is in it together.”
If you don’t get a lot of regular feedback from employees, assess how you interact with your people.
“No one wants to stand up to a fact and say, ‘Wait a minute, my people really don’t feel like they can share ideas,’” Desjadon says. “That’s somewhat of an indictment on you yourself. You start out by taking an assessment of you. Have you made yourself accessible? Have you worked more on one-way communication than multifaceted communication?”
If you don’t feel like you have had an environment of communication and it’s something you want to have, just say that’s what you want to do.
“Sit down with your folks and say, ‘Look, I’ve taken the time to think this through. I don’t think it’s been the most open environment. Let’s clear the air, let’s erase the blackboard, and let’s start over,’” Desjadon says.
Getting buy-in to an open culture often takes time and convincing that it’s truly something you want in your organization.
“It takes time because what happens is you can talk all you want, people believe what they observe rather than what is said,” Desjadon says. “Over time, as people feel more and more a part of management discussions and management meetings and they get drawn into them at every level, people observe that. People observe the fact that Tom had to go to the quarterly management meeting and discuss the process that he’s working on. Then you just start saying, ‘We’re going to do that on a regular basis. Everyone is going to have an opportunity to come into management discussions and to discuss issues that are strategically or tactically important to the organization.’”
How to reach: Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., (877) 994-8368 or www.floridapeninsula.com