You also need to show your employees that communication is a two-way street — that they can access you as easily as you can access them, says the president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana.
Clarity and accessibility are crucial themes for Annala at her $58 million community service organization as she works to keep internal staff and external volunteers following the same path toward the same over-arching goals.
“There are a lot of relationships, so there are a lot of nuances to what we do,” she says “I think it’s really important for me to not just be an external person but be accessible and involved internally.”
Smart Business spoke with Annala about how to use good communication practices to keep your organization focused.
Set the tone. It starts with the CEO. The CEO has to have clarity of vision and priority and has to regularly communicate that. The CEO is the first teacher of the organizational priorities.
Secondly, you can’t leave communication to chance. We do a lot of training here with our managers and others on supervisory skills and relationships. You have to structure in communication. I remember reading an article about one CEO who has a five-minute meeting every single morning. It’s a stand-up meeting. People don’t sit down, but they come in and learn what is happening today.
I think that’s the kind of structure you want, where you’re very cognizant of giving people the tools and information they want.
We opened up a new portal on our Web site that is just for staff. We thought that as much as we work on communication, there is still just basic access to information, so we wanted to increase the access for them.
The third thing I would say is that the organization needs to be very clear on providing communication tools. We provide a basic communication guide so that everybody is on message. For us, it’s not just employees; it’s also volunteers. So we provide a communication guide that helps get everybody on message.
The fourth one is to make sure opportunities are structured in for two-way communication. I’ll get an e-mail from the receptionist if the receptionist thinks there is something important that I need to know.
A fifth point would be having fun. It’s not all formal. There have to be opportunities for that informal and fun exchange, whether it’s a company picnic or a holiday party or a birthday lunch, there needs to be some time where you can be with people and be on a more human level.
Get others involved. If you have an employee who feels fully engaged and has a sense of ownership, who embraces the mission and feels fully engaged in the work, they are going to see things that management won’t see. They’re going to have ideas that management won’t have, because you are going to have a lot of people on the front line.
Management, policymakers and decision-makers have to have the benefit of their insight. You ultimately have a better organization. Sometimes, it’s small things, and sometimes, it’s really big things. If you want to be the best and you want to be a market leader in your field, you really need the wisdom of everybody who makes the whole team work.
You also find out at times, when you have good communication, you find out the skills and abilities that staff members have, things that could enhance work of the organization.
When you see some of your staff team members function, you start to see members who have some leadership abilities that you didn’t know. That can position them well for promotions or for other responsibilities. That’s happened several times for us, where people have had an opportunity to kind of demonstrate what they can do in one of their extracurricular activities here.
Make time for engagement. Having time for face-to-face communication is not easy. That is why you have to schedule it. My calendar is very full, as most executives have very full calendars.
One of the things I told my assistant was to schedule in walking-around time. Get it on the calendar because I live by the calendar. The other thing I try to do is with every new employee is just have a 15-minute, get-acquainted time, so that they come into the president’s office, and it’s not this mysterious place.
That way, I have an opportunity to find out if they have some family, where they grew up, and it’s with no agenda. It’s just a chance to get acquainted. At that point, I try to share with them a couple of key values that I have for the organization.
I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but a lot of it is just the old-fashioned walking around, trying to just have that connection. One of the things I do that may sound simple is I try to take employees out on a birthday lunch once a month. Whoever has a birthday that month, I invite them to lunch.
If no other way, that gives me an opportunity to have a face-to-face hour with people in the organization and get to know people on a more personal level.
HOW TO REACH: United Way of Central Indiana, (317) 923-1466 or www.uwci.org