Many leaders talk a good game when it comes to building relationships with their employees, but Denny Sponsel says that talk without action is cheap.
Sponsel, president and owner of RJE Knoll Business Interiors Inc., says that you can talk all day about connecting with your employees, but the real test comes in how you seek that connection.
You can engage your employees over something as simple as a coffee-break conversation, but you have to actively seek opportunities to speak with them and give them an opportunity to ask questions.
“Some of our warehouse employees, if the president of the company is willing to sit down, have a cup of coffee with them and talk about their families, that is the biggest thing for them,” Sponsel says. “You have to make communication very personal for them.”
Smart Business spoke with Sponsel about how to build positive relationships with your employees and how to make your communication personal.
Set a positive example. You have to set the tone and the example very early on, meaning that you cannot bark at people when they come in the door, you can’t be irritable, you have to have a very open demeanor. But also, you’ve got to demonstrate that all the time so that people feel you are approachable.
It’s one thing to have your door open or tell people that you want them to feel free to come in, meet and speak and share their ideas and thoughts. But when you demonstrate that, not only with the words but with the deeds, I think that makes a world of difference because people will feel safe again. So you set that tone, and people will get it.
They may not be used to it if they’re coming from an outside organization, but they quickly get it inside the organization. And it’s reinforced by our veteran employees that it is your style and our way of doing business.
There are a lot of ways you can set that example, far beyond words. But No. 1, you do it with a strong presence. I have a very strong accessibility and visibility in the business. We have a 31,000-square-foot facility, and 10,000 of that is showroom and offices. Every morning when I come in, it’s instinctive and natural for me to say good morning to everybody.
I’m making sure that I have a very upbeat attitude and set the tone in a positive way. Even if I have a lot of things on my mind, that is a high priority for me to make people feel welcomed.
Create your own opportunities. I am a big believer in eye-to-eye contact with the team. With an individual or a group, whether a message is good, bad or indifferent, meet with that group and be honest with them, because they have to trust you. In order to keep that very safe environment, they have to trust you.
Sometimes, you have to get off the e-mail and make sure you’re giving voice-to-voice and person-to-person communication. You have to be involved and engaged with your people. You just can’t be the person in the corner office or the ivory tower.
Giving a person or a group constructive criticism, critiquing them in a constructive way, it comes back to sharing information, giving them areas in which they can grow but also giving them a pat on the back when they do something right. They have to know that the leader really cares about them.
People are not dummies. They know when someone cares about them, and they know when they’re just a number. As the leader of the business, your employees will know whether you really care or not.
How can you show them you care? I’ll give you an abbreviaton: DWWSWWD. “Do what we say we will do.” When I bought this business in 2000, I drove that home. And I have to demonstrate that, as well. If I make a promise to someone, I come through with that promise. You set that tone.
Someone who doesn’t do that, whether it is a customer or one of your associates working with you, they see that you aren’t genuine.
Make it personal. In a nutshell, you need to make communication personal — know your employees by name, meet with them regularly and on a personal basis.
We have a lot of things we do here. No. 1 is we have regular company meetings. For example, the office and showroom staff meet every Thursday morning for an hour and a half. We have company meetings three times a year, where our warehouse and installation group meets with our office group and admin staff. We meet for formal company meetings three times a year.
But what I think is most powerful is the fact that we have 54 employees, and I have met with every employee over a four-month period, for 30 minutes at a time, one on one, in my office — not to talk about performance reviews or how are they doing in their job but to talk about them and their family, their dreams and vision for their life.
I met with every employee for 30 minutes, but I made it personal, where they realize they are a person in this company, not just an employee or an associate.
How to reach: RJE Knoll Business Interiors Inc., (317) 293-4051 or www.rjefurn.com