Think big, but communicate small. It’s a concept that Dave Lindsey, founder, president and CEO of Defender Security Co. a security systems dealer with 2006 revenue of $55 million says gets lost by some business leaders. While you have to keep your eyes on the horizon and your mind on the wide-ranging, long-term goals that will define your business, you also have to constantly remember that your employees aren’t thinking the same way you are, nor should they have to. As the leader, your job is to take the big-picture concepts and drive them down to those who have a far narrower focus on a particular job or project. And you do that by keeping your messages simple and boiling them down to a couple of core components to which everyone can relate, and then repeating them again and again. Smart Business spoke to Lindsey about how to bridge the communication gap between you and your employees.
Make sure that communication happens. The most important thing I tell all of our leaders is that it’s more important to make sure you communicate than to worry about how you communicate. When I’m talking about ‘how,’ I’m talking mostly about the emotional tone, not so much the method of communication.
Anyone who has gotten married and saw the preacher before they got married, he says the most important part of a relationship is communication. The same holds true in a business setting, but a lot of people fail to communicate because they’re not sure exactly how to do it. They let things fester, or they let moments slip by.
It’s more important, even if you upset yourself or an employee, that the communication takes place, than to sit in your office and not let it happen because you’re worried about how to do it.
Once you get over that, you can get into an environment where you realize it’s permissible to upset someone and learn from it, so you can communicate better the next time than to just avoid it. If you can do that, the politics remain at a minimum.
Repetition of messages is also important because it keeps priorities straight. We all have good intentions and goals, but we can walk out of a room and urgent matters hit us, and I think repetition helps us continue to focus on what is important versus what is urgent.
Bring people together. When you bring teams together, you all realize you have the same goals and how dependent everyone is on each other. It removes lots of simple misunderstandings and allows you to remove some waste, such as when one person is filling out a form because they think someone needs to see it and the other person never looks at it.
It becomes like you’re actually doing double work. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. You might be talking to the customer in two different ways. In our case, one person might be stressing the ease of use of a product, and another might be stressing a different feature. So then you have to agree on the most important feature, and let’s both stress it.
Remember to prioritize. I make myself accessible through simple eye contact and saying ‘hello’ as I’m walking down the hall, passing by, making myself approachable. That calm friendliness is important.
But I still appreciate a chain of command in handling most ideas. It helps it be better focused and prioritized. I don’t want to get off on a tangent that is not critical to the current mission of this team.
I maintain that discipline by encouraging people to talk to senior management. We have different vice presidents, and I encourage people to take it to that level versus directly to me. I’ll listen to it, and I might even comment on it, but as far as any action, I encourage them to go to that point.
In the most extreme situations, I might send an e-mail to one of my direct reports and recommend that they get with this person, but I’m not going to start dictating action.
Stay simple and focused. Keeping the message simple, our ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’ from (‘Good to Great’ author Jim Collins) are something we keep in front of everybody via posters in all of our locations.
I even go so far as to make our goals an acronym or a simple sentence, like we have a goal to do 1,000 units at a $400 cost structure. So it’s keeping something like that in front of everybody in a word or two.
We made T-shirts up for those. We have posters, as well, and a regular newsletter that comes out every week that might give updates on how we’re doing relative to those goals. So there is the simplicity and the casual, repeatable places that we can keep those messages.
If you start simple, hopefully, you end simple. We build our compensation plans and reward systems around those goals, and that keeps people motivated. We want the compensation and the goals to be in line.
Communicate in different ways. I think face-to-face communication is very important between peers. What we do is two days a week, we have people really agree to be in the office and focus meetings around those two days, Friday and Tuesday.
I think it’s important on topics where you want to have a discussion and consider options, especially of a cross-functional nature. You can get a more rapid feedback than to do it by e-mail.
You need to have different forms of communication because we all learn in different ways. Also, different methods are more transferable between different levels. I could send an e-mail to 600 people at once and get a message out, something that would be harder to do in a face-to-face or a verbal setting.
HOW TO REACH: Defender Security Co., (317) 253-5200 or www.defendersecurity.com