If you plan to stay married, you know that saying ‘I love you’ once does not mean you never have to say it again. The same goes for the business world and the need to constantly reiterate your company’s vision and values to your employees, says Birgit D. Kamps, founder and CEO of HireSynergy.
“It’s a constant conversation,” Kamps says. “Whenever there is a problem or conflict or any decision that needs to be made, I always say, ‘How does that relate to our values?’”
This sharp focus on communication helped the 40-employee company stay intact during its turbulent early years, which included a period of severe hardship followed by rapid growth, during which revenue grew to $10.6 million in 2006, up from $1.4 million in 2003.
Smart Business spoke with Kamps about the importance of staying tuned in to your internal customers also known as your employees.
Q. What is the key to really listening to your employees?
Someone who is a really a good listener is not making a commentary in their head and strategizing what to say next or pretending to listen when they are really not.
There is a particular sentence I use: ‘Be in their world, not in your world.’ Even though you may have known that person for 10 years and you think you have them pegged, unless you’re that person, you’ll never know where they are coming from 100 percent of the time.
They’ve had different experiences. Even a month ago, they may have had something happen personally that shifted their view on life. It is truly listening as if you have never spoken with that person before and you’ve never known that person before.
Q. How do you track your company’s success in sticking to its core values?
We meet with our team-mates every six months to see how they are doing and performing according to what they thought and what their career plans are.
We’ll also say, ‘Which value do you think the company has upheld the best this year, and which value do you think the company has been worst at?’ We’ll ask what we can do to improve that.
When you are growing really fast, you tend to focus on, ‘Let’s make sure the customer is happy.’ In the meantime, your internal customer, your team, is dying. You haven’t figured out yet how many more do you need to hire or put processes in place to adjust to the fast growth.
How do you expect the customer to get taken care of or expect people to go above and beyond if they are not happy internally?
Don’t wait until you are growing to address quality of life for your internal people. Take care of your internal customer, and your external customer will naturally get taken care of.
Q. How do you ensure new employees will fit with your vision and values?
Know how to sell your company and sell your story. Pick the top two or three reasons why someone should want to come to work for you instead of your competitor. Instead of saying they should be lucky to work for us, we actually positioned ourselves and said, ‘Hey, this is who we are and this is what we can offer.’
At first, we hadn’t defined our culture and our values. We had no process. We assumed everybody was interested in growing and getting better. Then we realized, ‘Oh, no, not everybody is interested in that.’
Once we had documented and expressed our values, then it became much easier to know what questions to ask and how to interview people.
Q. How can the CEO keep things on track?
I had the illusion before that I had to be present in the office, working hard and showing my values for them to do their job. Then I had some health concerns that I had to take care of and I realized, ‘No, that’s not really what it was.’
What was valuable to the team about me is that they knew they could count on me to uphold our values and be a standard for it. Whether you’re in the office 10 hours or two hours, the key is that they know you are committed to the company’s vision and values. The worst thing you could do is to work 15 hours and say, ‘I value integrity,’ and five minutes later, do something that is completely out of integrity and not let anybody tell you you’re out of integrity.
It’s really creating a culture where you, as the CEO, are someone who is safe to speak to when the team notices you are off on an area. They did that with me. I was withholding communication because I was dealing with so much personal stuff.
I was not upholding our values. I was definitely not being open. Practice what you preach in terms of value and vision, not necessarily what you do with your time and how you produce.
HOW TO REACH: HireSynergy, (713) 222-7667 or www.hiresynergy.com