Loud and clear Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Pam Tope learned about the importanceof feedback firsthand when she got somesurprising news from her employees andcolleagues: She was intimidating some ofthem.

It was never her intent to intimidateemployees as president of the Floridaregion of Verizon Wireless, but standing at 6feet 2 inches, that’s the way Tope madesome people feel.

“I’m definitely direct, I’m definitely forthright, and I’m definitely passionate,” shesays. “I have very specific ideas and goalson where we’re going to go as a team, andso I needed to hear that. I needed to hear Iwas intimidating, even though there is noway in the world that was my intention.

Before actually fixing the problem, Topehad to come to terms with the fact thatsome people misperceived her — something leaders at all levels face every day. Butwhen you get that kind of feedback, youneed to take it seriously, even if you don’tthink it’s true.

“You may not agree with (it), you may notbelieve that it’s fair, you may not believethat it’s correct, but if it’s being thought orbeing said, none of that matters,” she says.

To fix the problem, Tope took simplesteps to make herself more approachableas a regional leader of the $43.9 billionwireless telecommunications company.

“I would get side to side with the personand look at something together,” she says.“I would maybe have a report that wewould sit down and look at together, andchange, and modify and be very cognizantof being together on this — literally on thesame side of the table on this. I’m not confronting someone; I’m not trying to intimidate them. So, that’s a real-life example thatI have had that certainly was not true in mymind but absolutely real to that person.”

Here’s how Tope works to keep the linesof communication open with employeesand customers so she can lead her 2,300employees toward common goals — andeliminate misperceptions along the way.

Communicate early and often

Listening to Tope, it’s apparent the customer is of the utmost importance to herand to the company. But, if she wants tohave a successful company, Tope has tostress that customer-first message to heremployees in order to align the companyaround her objectives.

“You can’t minimize the need for repetition and clarification,” she says. “Somepeople are very visual; some people wantto be able to read it. Some people want it tobe very metric-oriented. I think you have toalways assume that the message hasn’tbeen clear and make it as clear as possibleas often as possible.”

For example, Verizon advertises itself as“America’s most reliable network,” andTope knows the company can’t just saythat and not back it up. She has to stress toemployees it is much more than pricebecause price can easily be matched, butthe quality and value equation the companypresents cannot.

“Be proactive, forthright, direct and communicate that connection,” she says. “Earlyon in the process, get to each and every individual — what’s the value equation here,what makes it competitive? Don’t assumethat everybody gets the connection between,for instance, ‘America’s most reliable network’ and the product that we are placing.”

Another way to help with that communication is putting the products and servicesdirectly into the hands of your employeesor involving them early in a process tofamiliarize them with a new message.

Whether it’s a new marketing campaignor a new product, you want to use town-hall meetings, training sessions, e-mailblasts or any other way you communicateyour message to give everyone a heads upthat there are new actions taking place.

Of course, when it comes to giving outnew products, Tope can’t give every newproduct to every employee, but cyclingthem through different departmentsspreads the word.

“Then it becomes very personal, so youhave the ability to transfer that, if you will,to a customer,” she says. “‘Hey, I’ve usedthis myself; this is how I used it. It made areal difference for me.’

“We are encouraging our employees touse the product and be able to have thosekinds of real-life stories that you may nothave thought of and ways to use the service that you may not have thought of.”

Using the product also allows theemployee to show customers how theproduct will enhance their lives.

“Line up the competitive advantages ofthat device compared to others in the marketplace and also the value equation thatthat presents,” she says. “Be proactive, notreactive in terms of the communication,and do that in multiple mediums.”

Once the message is communicated, youneed to monitor to make sure your point isgetting across, which you can do by communicating with the front-line employees.

“You’re not going to know that sittingbehind a desk,” she says. “Be out andinvolved, and I think it’s pretty clear. Youdon’t even have to ask the question ... related to that message, but in your conversations and direct work with the front line, itwill be pretty clear.”

Get feedback from employees

After you’ve been upfront and communicated with employees, you need to listen to their feedback. Much like Topehad to listen to people saying she wasintimidating, you have to listen to whatpeople are saying about your product oryour message. To get honest and constructive feedback, Tope has an open-door policy at the company.

“Feedback and discussion ideas can comefrom anywhere in the organization,” shesays. “... It’s based on the merit of the ideaversus the level of the person,” she says.

Tope says you have to have a very openconstructive dialogue, but you also haveto have a plan in mind.

“It’s not left to just sort of happen,”Tope says. “We have a very direct plan.”

Yet, you have to remind people throughactions that you have an open-door policy in order to get positive and constructive feedback.

“We value that,” she says. “You can sayyou have an open-door policy, and itdoesn’t work. You really have to livethat, and sometimes, you’ve got to be theone to make that happen.”

You have to ask questions and skip levels of management, asking questions insmall group meetings to get honest feedfeedback.”

Tope puts customer problems at the top of her priority list,and says it is the biggest part of her responsibilities. She maynot be jumping in to fix the problem, but she is helping to driveand support the areas where feedback shows there is opportunity for improvement.

“Virtually, if a customer issue is occurring and I’m in the middle of either waiting for a call or generating a call to a customer— it can be my boss, it can be my chairman, I would excusemyself and take care of that customer,” she says. “That’s a pretty extreme example because it shouldn’t get to the point whereit has to be me that’s addressing them, but that sort of framesup the picture that the customer is really driving my prioritization.

“The way I look at it is that I’m not managing an ‘or,’ I’m managing ‘and,’” she says. “So, it’s not a customer or profitability, it’s nota customer or something else, it’s and. I have to have that balanceand be able to keep it all going so that we are generating, delivering on the results that we’re supposed to and taking care of ourcustomers and our employees.”

HOW TO REACH: Verizon Wireless Florida Region, (813) 615-4800 or www.verizonwireless.com