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Speaking of talking Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Steve Ragiel is always looking for innovative ways to improve his business. But it’s not just better recycling processes that he seeks — Ragiel, founder and CEO of Greenstar North America, is constantly in search of better ways to communicate with his employees.

“We actually sat down and laid out a communication strategy for the internal part of the company,” Ragiel says. “That’s our channel, our pathway, for building the culture and communicating with employees.”

Greenstar uses many of the common methods of corporate communication, such as e-mail blasts, newsletters, town-hall meetings and employee surveys, and Ragiel says the key to using them effectively is to develop a compelling message and have a plan for how to disseminate information to your people.

“You have to establish what your major themes are, which should be in tandem with what your goals are for the business for the year,” says Ragiel, whose 600-employee recycling services company posted fiscal 2008 revenue of $100 million.

Smart Business spoke with Ragiel about how to create lines of communication that keep everyone engaged.

Talk about communicating. Make it part of what you discuss in terms of the overall business at quarterly meetings or your monthly business reviews. Understand what the major themes and goals are of the organization and what information needs to be sent out to the field. Make sure there are open channels for information and questions coming back.

We look at the whole communication inside of the company as an actual deliverable, rather than something that just happens. A lot of times, companies will say they are going to have quarterly town-hall meetings, and it ends up being twice a year, and it ends up being rushed.

We take care to spend time on the agenda, and we make sure to have a clear pathway for the employees to feel comfortable asking questions. Be a little bit disciplined, and be scheduling out three or four months in advance when you’re going to do things. Encourage participation. We have a schedule to make sure we’re out meeting with the folks face to face a couple times a year. As part of those visits, you really need to make sure you are asking questions and asking people to speak up.

Walk the talk. The most important thing is that if we’re making a decision to change what we do in the business and business processes, that we actually walk the walk on that and get it done. Employees feel like they are being heard and they are being responded to.

That’s something that evolves over time. People just get more comfortable with their ability to ask questions. If they see the company being responsive to their questions, that helps.

We have a monthly e-mail blast that talks about short-term wins and issues in the company. The key thing is identifying the questions employees have asked, whether they are in the survey or town-hall meeting, and then communicating back to them. ‘Here’s a question that came from an employee.’

If we can name the employee, we do. If it’s more confidential than that, we just say it’s a general question. We respond with an answer.

A very simple concept, which probably can’t be overemphasized, is to overcommunicate. We’ll be speaking about the same things in our town-hall meeting and newsletter and on-site business. At the end of the day, that is probably one of the best ways to make sure the major themes and major goals are being talked about.

Work at it. Force it to be a high-profile business issue. One day, it will bear fruit with your employees’ morale.

Share the workload. Have employees present part of what’s going on in their business and their best practices and some of their short-term wins. The more of that you can have and the more dialogue that creates between the individual groups, the better off you’re going to be.

They have such a deep knowledge of what’s going on in the business. That peer-to-peer communication begins to create some bonds across the organization. But there is also real insight there as to what’s working and what’s not working with customers and with operations.

They are connecting with their peers in terms of people they can reach out to to talk about challenges and opportunities but also about best practices and approaches to working with customers that can help them do a better job.

From their point of view, that’s much closer to home and closer to their day-to-day experience and potentially a little bit more energizing. If one of my peers is speaking about a challenge or a short-term win, it’s just slightly more meaningful to me that they are going through that experience.

Drive competition. Pride is a really strong motivator with people. Over the years, in different organizations, I’ve always had awards programs like the best facility or most improved facility or best customer service or these types of things.

In pretty much any organization, that’s going to help to drive pride and a little bit of competition in between the different sites.

That’s just a fantastic way to really draw out the whole goal-setting process and main business themes of the company. Individuals take pride in their work, and it’s only natural for them to want to be recognized. There is a bit of fun in it, as well, for the facilities to compete and then have bragging rights once the annual awards have been presented.

HOW TO REACH: Greenstar North America, (713) 965-0005 or www.greenstar-na.com