The constant communicator Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Mark Magalotti is big on communication. He likes to communicate a lot — with his managers at weekly staff meetings, annual management meetings and quarterly meetings — as well as establish open lines of communication with his 72 employees.

Communicating also allows the founder and principal-in-charge of Trans Associates Engineering Consultants Inc. to gather input from employees and manage inclusively.

“I like to explain why I’m doing something, what options I looked at and ask for opinions as to how to address a problem before we make a decision,” Magalotti says.

That leadership style has helped Magalotti grow the civil engineering consulting firm 31.5 percent over three years to reach 2006 revenue of $7.5 million.

Smart Business spoke with Magalotti about how to make sure your message is being heard.

Q. What are the keys to successful communication?

Face-to-face communication is the most important. Nothing replaces talking to people face to face, whether as a group or an individual.

I’m trying now to give people the opportunity to give anonymous feedback. People may be reluctant to come out at a meeting and say what they don’t like about something. Sometimes people feel that if they speak up, somehow it’s going to be held against them at raise time.

The type of communication you use depends on what the message is that you’re sending. If they’re fairly mundane administration things, e-mail or memo is adequate. If it’s something like reorganization of an office or to create a different department or promote certain people, having face-to-face communication is the most appropriate way.

Q. What is the benefit of face-to-face communication with employees?

You get a lot of good feedback. Managers are not the only ones who have great ideas on how to improve. They appreciate that you’re asking for their feedback, and doing it in a face-to-face way is one way to do it.

It’s all about the feedback. It can’t be one way; it has to be two ways. You can’t keep employees in the dark all the time as to what’s going on. When things happen — you’ve gone in a different direction or changed policy — it shouldn’t be a big surprise if you’re communicating with people and telling them what’s going on.

You’ll all be successful if that works. Everyone will be happier in what they do, they feel like they’re part of the team.

Q. How do you make sure you get input from everyone and that you are not shutting people out?

I never dismiss any idea that someone comes up with. If someone is going to take the time to contribute, listen to what they have to say.

Encourage them to not just say why it’s not working but come up with their own solution, potentially try to gain consensus on that solution by discussing it with other managers and say, ‘We think this might be the best way to approach the problem.’

I try to get employees to be proactive rather than just identifying what the problem is.

Q. How do you let employees know you are doing something with their feedback?

If you’re making a major decision that’s going to impact the operation of the company and are going to ask for feedback or opinions, it’s important that you solicit that information. But then it’s also important to communicate back the decision you made and why you made that decision.

If you’re going to ask for people’s opinions, you owe them back a response as to why you decided to do what you did.

Q. How do you get employees to feel like they’re part of a team?

Be inclusive in your decision-making and meet face to face. Even people who manage small groups, meet with them on a regular basis.

Tell them what’s going on with their group, how their projects are going, how they’re meeting their goals as a group, and make them feel part of the team, rather than just expecting them to do their job.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of putting them in the right position. If they don’t feel like they’re part of the right team, maybe there’s just not the right chemistry between them and the managers or maybe they’re in a position that they’re not suited for.

It’s kind of like a baseball team. Some people are the cleanup hitters and some are the pinch hitters and you have to find out where is the right position they should be in to contribute to being a success.

You don’t always find that right away when someone joins. When you do an annual evaluation, you identify strengths and weaknesses and try to set goals and make them a little more rounded.

HOW TO REACH: Trans Associates Engineering Consultants Inc., or (412) 490-0630