A business is mobile. And like any vehicle that has to get from point A to point B, it needs good sight lines for the driver.
Peter Ross, co-founder and CEO of Senior Helpers, maintains his good sight lines through communications with employees and franchisees of the in-home assistance provider for senior citizens, which generated $65 million in 2009 revenue.
“Line of sight in any organization is very important,” Ross says. “You do that shared vision and line of sight by constantly communicating those messages throughout the organization.”
Ross says the key to keeping your basic operating principles in front of your employees is to keep yourself in front of your employees. You need to get out of the office and engage your people in formal and casual settings. When in-person communication won’t work, use other communication methods at your disposal to keep the vision and mission out there.
Smart Business spoke with Ross about how you can keep your employees focused by keeping your communication focused.
Display the message. Messaging on all communication needs to be something you value as important, whether it’s mission, vision, core vales, tagline or any of those kinds of things. Whether you’re communicating in writing or electronically or the old-fashioned mail, you need to keep continuing to remind folks what that is. But it’s really all about reaching out to people and not assuming. I worked for a lot of Fortune 500 companies before I started Senior Helpers, and I was always amazed that the CEOs would basically walk around and ask anybody, ‘What is your vision, what is your mission, what is the most important thing for your department?’ This could be the person emptying the trash cans, let alone an executive.
I’ve always thought that was very powerful and that was good feedback to the department heads and the organization that everyone is on the same page. In this organization, I’m not dealing with thousands of people like I used to do. It’s a group of people that are very focused. The challenging part of our organization is that we have 300 offices around the country owned and operated by franchise owners. Unlike the days when I had offices that were basically managed directly by myself, now I’m working with franchisees who own the businesses. So in this case, you do need to constantly communicate, solicit feedback and test for understanding to make sure that everyone is on board with the message.
It doesn’t help if you have a message that no one believes in to start with because no one is going to keep that core value and take it to heart. That’s why I always look for participatory input upfront, so that I’m jumping into a pool that has water in it. But it’s a never-ending story with different levels of communication and different levels of acceptance. Do they buy in to the message; do they buy in to the strategy?
Repeat yourself. You have to do it often, and you have to do what I call, ‘inspect the expect.’ You can continue to mention it, but are they paying it lip service or do they get it? Unfortunately, for adults, it takes hearing a message seven times to actually get it. That means you have to get their buy-in initially and keep repeating it over and over, making it a part of your everyday encounters with your staff.
It’s making sure that you do review the mission and vision as part of meeting, as part of the go-forward strategy. We don’t just sit around and talk about the strategy all day, but we want to make sure that we’re reviewing it, that we’re talking about it is it resonating; are we living the values of the organization? You do that through action, but you also do it by ensuring that everyone lives those values, and make sure that it’s always mentioned and talked about whenever anyone is talking with any of our franchisees.
Know your audience. There is an overarching vision and mission for us as far as wanting to be the No. 1 home care provider in the world. Everyone needs to embrace and understand that, but the people on the ground level might not need what is behind every core value. They might not need to know what was the thinking process behind the vision ‘How do we make that vision live within the client?’ Those kinds of things are more geared to the people actually dealing in those business environments, like the owners and business consultants.
Understanding all the details might not be key to everyone’s success in an organization, but it is key that they understand the overarching vision and mission of the organization. The people on the ground level will need to live them every time they pick up the phone.
Be willing to change, to a point. Missions and visions aren’t in stone; they’re living and breathing things that change with changes in the markets and industry. Which is why it’s important that your people are well-grounded on the basics of the business that don’t change. That’s why you have to stay on your messaging. It’s not just one time.
The parts of your vision and mission that talk about your core values as an organization, those aren’t going to change. Those are going to be overarching. But, for example, one of our goals is continually improving our systems and support. We’re not just going to rest on our laurels. You can get more specific on those types of things when you’re communicating.
You are going to have the foundational core values that aren’t going to change, but then there are certain core values that are detailed to specific missions within the organization, which need to be modified over time. I don’t want to change the core values statement, but I don’t have a problem changing what’s behind it.