“Good managers control process and projects, and they focus on due dates and dollars, and that’s critically important,” says the president and executive director of the 75-employee food bank and hunger relief organization. “But good leaders need to focus on the organization’s values and its culture.”
Clark aims to create a culture where people aspire to do great things, and he does so by communicating with employees.
Smart Business spoke with Clark about how to communicate effectively and how keeping employees in the dark can hinder growth.
Q. How do you create an environment where people can succeed?
In our organization, we’ve been lucky enough to grow at a pretty substantial clip. There have been times in the past five years where we have grown 30 percent annually.
We’ve gone through a merger where we’ve worked with other organizations and brought them in and had to incorporate their staff into ours. And it’s very important when you are growing that rapidly to value integrity and communication.
Growing very fast for a good purpose is a very exciting thing for people to have to experience. But, growing fast in darkness can be very terrifying. To be able to keep that upbeat sense of, ‘We’re going out there changing the world,’ it’s a constant amount of communication, and we don’t try to spin what the future is going to be.
We share what we think the future will be as best as we see it, but I try to make it very clear I don’t have a direct link to God. I can see what it looks like to me, but it’s subject to constant change. That, on the one hand, is not certain, but it does support the integrity that we are sharing what we know, and when we know it, and, when it changes, we will share that, too.
Q. What is the role of a leader in an organization?
The role of a leader in any organization is to be the communicator and chief of what the grander purpose of the organization is what are we really trying to do? Bill Gates doesn’t say, ‘Go out there and work so I can be richer.’ Bill Gates fires people up to say what the role of technology can do to change the world and make it a better place.
That is a key component that you’ve got to push all the time. You’ve got to first understand how the work your organization is doing is going to change the world, and then you’ve got to communicate that and realize when people go home at night, that’s really what they want to tell their kids.
Q. How do you get people to buy in to your vision?
You have to assume that not everybody is on the same page. If you think everybody is on the same page at the same time, you are going to be surprised.
You have to start from the perspective that most people aren’t on the same page. If you don’t hold that sense of tentativeness, you’ve got to push it all the time.
So, I’m a great believer in kind of management by walking around. It’s really the individual conversation. We have a program here that we started about a year ago that we call ‘Breakfast with Bill.’
Seventy-five employees is not a lot, but once a month, at least, we have breakfast where the HR department picks, at random, people from the organization. They could be vice presidents, they could be truck drivers or anywhere in between, and (they) go off to have breakfast with me. It’s a chance for them to get to know other people that work for the company that they may not have daily interaction with.
But, it’s also kind of an environment where we position as, ‘This is no-holds-barred. Ask me anything you want.’ Now, what’s happened over time is that their colleagues know these things are happening, so, when ‘John’ was told he is going to be in this breakfast meeting with Bill, his colleagues start to give him suggestions on what to ask me.
Then, when he comes back, they kind of debrief him. ‘Well, OK, did you ask him, and what did he say?’ That’s far richer than a kind of an employee newsletter because an employee newsletter is, ‘We set the agenda. We tell them what we think they want to know, and we tell them that.’ But, giving them the opportunity in a safe environment to ask us tough questions that is very effective at getting the word out.
HOW TO REACH: Philabundance, (215) 339-0900 or www.philabundance.org