Plain language Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

John Rowe has two basic rules when it comes to communication: Keep it direct, and keep it simple.

The president, managing director and co-owner of $24 million Cargo Services Inc., a global freight transportation provider, says effective business communicators put themselves in front of their employees — be it in-person or via electronic means — and offer straightforward messages that don’t get bogged down with excess language.

And they don’t stop delivering the message until they are certain everyone understands it.

Rowe says that a communication strategy built around understanding and plain language helps build trust between employees and management as workers begin to believe the actions of the company’s leaders will follow their words.

“Our leadership style is straightforward, and we are quiet and get out of the way. We let our folks know what is expected of them; we get out of the way and let them do the work,” Rowe says.

Smart Business spoke with Rowe about how effective communication leads to a sense of trust in an organization.

Communicate directly. The way we communicate is very fluid. What I mean by that is we communicate through different levels. We have monthly department meetings where we communicate quite a bit of company policy. But most of our communication is done directly via e-mail and face-to-face visits.

The No. 1 point is to be direct and communicate what you need to communicate as brief as you can make it. You want to be direct and to the point and don’t overspeak.

The second thing is to ask questions. Make sure you understand what we’re talking about, if you have any concerns, and make sure you listen.

We communicate in monthly meetings. If we’re in a meeting and I have something to communicate I try to communicate it very briefly, then ask if everybody understands or has questions or concerns. Then I’ll listen. We do the same thing in speaking with our associates on issues dealing with customers.

We just want to make sure they understand what the concern is, what our point is, then we are always asking if there is anything else they need to understand. I try to really gain an understanding that we see eye to eye and that there are no questions. That’s really important. If you go away and there are still questions, other problems might arise.

You want employees to realize that what you are saying is important. Whatever you’re communicating is important so they know that you’re there to communicate whatever issues are out there and help solve any problems that they might have.

We communicate to them upfront that we’re not here to do your job, but we’re here to help you do whatever you need to do, especially if you have issues and problems. We’re here to help you work through those without any repercussions.

If you have a culture of trust built up with your associates, where you know you can go out and speak to them about an issue, you know they’ll understand it, and you can trust that they’ll give you an honest answer.

Build trust from the beginning. When we bring someone in for an interview, one of the first things is that we give them a copy of our company vision and we go through it. We don’t just give them a copy and move on; we spend some time on it.

We go down each point and explain the reasons behind our purpose and our company principles. We ask questions. ‘Do you understand why we do this? Does that make an impact with you?’

As we go through the interview, we still gain further information about their qualities and how their personality would fit in the organization.

We also have department heads and directors interview, so somebody that we’re interviewing for a position speaks to a number of people within the company. Then we make sure we understand from our side what they think of that individual and if they’d fit within our culture. That’s one of the most difficult things you do — where we’ve hired and then realized we made a mistake and then had to correct it.

But if you get more people involved in a hiring process and speaking to a candidate, you will have a better opportunity to find out what that person is all about.

Let employees take control. If employees take the ownership responsibilities in what they have, we want them to have the freedom to do what they think is necessary, take care of their duties and tasks and business.

We want them to take ownership in dealing with customers, vendors or suppliers, doing whatever task they have, and we want them to know that we’re very interested in them doing quality work. But we also want them to know that we’re not going to be looking over their shoulder crossing T’s and dotting I’s.

We want to give them the freedom to do the work and give the responsibility to have the ability to do the best work they can, and they know that we’re not always looking over their shoulder and making sure they do everything correctly. If you have a problem or concern, come speak to us. If you made a mistake, it’s no big deal. Let’s look at it, solve the problem, learn from it and move on. If you build that kind of trust with associates, that they can come to you with a problem and not get in trouble, that we’re going to learn from it, I don’t have that need to look over their shoulders and make sure they’re doing things right because I know that they are.

HOW TO REACH: Cargo Services Inc., (317) 244-9501 or