An open environment Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

In difficult times, Eric Maryanov strives to maintain a direct connection with his 32 employees at All-Travel.

“The core message of an organization and its core factors do have stability in this ever-changing world,” says the company’s founder and president. “You need to apply the message in all aspects and communications.”

Focusing on his message and on open communication has helped Maryanov grow the company, which he founded in 1984, to 2007 sales of $38 million.

Smart Business spoke with Maryanov about how to maintain open communication and how to set the tone at the top.

Q. How do you develop a message for employees to follow?

By open communication and their ability to query back, so that if they’re sensing, ‘Wait, that’s not the message I heard last time,’ their ability to question it, so I am able to either redefine or reclarify it. Listening to the staff and all of their input is a huge part of success. They know more of what is happening on the customer level. And not listening to only one member of the staff but getting information from all staff and multiple perspectives of the same questions.

It’s regular and consistent communication and consistency in your message, be that through e-mail, staff meetings or one-on-one conversations. The consistency of the tone and message has to be there. It’s not one of those things that just happens once in awhile; it’s ongoing, daily, it’s a reinforcement of the message.

The tone comes from all aspects of everything you do. Sometimes we don’t realize the staff watches our every move, motion and attitude, and it’s an awareness that we have to have at all times.

Q. How do you keep the lines of communication open?

Make sure that sometimes you’re out and about in the office. E-mail is a wonderful tool, and I spend a good amount of my day on e-mail with staff, being accessible to them, raising questions to them to trigger back their response and keep a dialogue going back and forth.

It’s being responsive and at least acknowledging. I try to encourage most of that communication to come in the form of e-mail. But also what fosters that is, at times, sharing the positive with the staff. By receiving a commentary e-mail, when you’re able to put it in a positive light, it’s easier to respond not only to the person who sent it but share it with a greater segment of the staff with a positive response and/or explanation. But if you always start with, ‘That was a good question, and here’s why,’ or, ‘That’s something we should give some further thought to,’ and letting everybody hear that response, it doesn’t give people the fear factor of coming forward with their own comments or ideas.

(You learn about) trends in the marketplace, trends within the business itself, and oftentimes, it’s the first source of finding out if there’s an employee problem. It’s important to treat employees as individual people and recognize that everybody’s needs are different and their individual needs change over time. Show an honest interest in the basics and fundamentals of their life.

Q. How do you treat employees as individuals and not just as employees?

It’s listening and paying attention. People will usually share with you far more if you listen, and that’s how you know the highlights of what’s happening in their world. And then periodically ask about those issues — be it the person who’s expecting their first grandbaby or somebody whose child is getting married or somebody who’s dealing with an ailing parent. Pay attention to those factors and ask about it.

Pay attention to one’s own words. Don’t apply a cookie-cutter approach to everybody in the company. They are, in our case, 35 different individuals, and just like no two people are alike, you just can’t communicate necessarily the exact same way with all of them. You need to recognize how best to communicate with them individually and what levels they need themselves. My most important clients are the staff — if I take care of the staff, they’ll take care of the customer.

Q. What is the benefit of keeping the lines of communication open?

Our most important asset is the employee. It’s the relationship they establish with the clientele, and that’s our best way of knowing what is of interest to the client, what we’re doing right for the client and where the trends may be in the marketplace.

Treating the employees as individuals is the way we want them to be treating our clients. If I’m not treating them as individuals, how would I expect them to treat our clients as individuals and to build that same relationship with the client individually on some level as I look to build with them.

How to reach: All-Travel, (310) 312-3368 or www.all-travel.com