Process of inclusion Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

Technology is a wonderful thing, says Greg Dell’Omo.

Technology has made communication more efficient and able to reach an extremely wide audience in seconds. And electronic communication mediums, such as e-mail, would seem to be the perfect invention for time-challenged business leaders.

But it comes with a catch, says the president of Robert Morris University: Technology can make communication a little too easy.

When you start using your computer as an easy way out, as a substitute for getting out among your employees and the people you serve, technology starts getting in the way of your leadership.

Dell’Omo says you can’t neglect the personal interaction that makes your employees feel valued. Any time you can spend walking the halls of your building, talking to employees about everything from the future direction of the company to the brand of coffee in the break room, is time well spent.

Smart Business spoke with Dell’Omo about how he involves his employees at Robert Morris University — which posted 2007 revenue of $89 million — through active engagement.

Let them see your face. We all like personal contact. Technology is a wonderful thing, it has allowed us to communicate very effectively to a wider audience, but people still like to have that oneon-one connection.

They like to know they are an individual, not just another person on the other end of a computer screen. In addition, you can’t beat face-to-face communication in terms of its personal aspects, the ability to read body language, the ability to understand, ask questions, deal with it right away.

We all know e-mail communications can be very misleading at times and can even create misunderstandings. E-mail is easy and omnipresent — [it is] there all the time. People can rely too much on it.

The way people communicate on e-mail is not always what they intend. The way they write a sentence or structure a response, they might send a very different meaning than what they intended. It might sound more harsh or flippant than it was meant to be, it might appear overly defensive.

A lot of times, the communicator never intended that, but that’s the way it is coming across in written form. So you have to be very careful about that. We talk a lot about that with my senior management team, balancing e-mail communication with as much face-to-face communication as possible.

Put your feet on the ground and walk. Communication gets a lot more challenging when you starting talking about communicating below the senior management level. We’re a midsized university, we have about 5,000 students and about 600 employees, so it’s a struggle to communicate with all different levels.

That’s where technology comes into play with e-mails, but you don’t want to rely solely on that because, again, it can kind of become sort of de-personalized. You really want to balance it, be efficient, get the word out, but making sure that your communication is fairly personal and one on one.

I just try to walk around the university whenever possible. It’s important to try and be as visible as possible.

Making the time for that is the challenge. You have to build it into your schedule if you want to take an hour or two, hit a certain part of the campus, making sure you run into a certain number of people, that you attend a number of functions on campus, just touching base with a lot of people on a one-on-one basis.

Develop an inclusive, collaborative strategy. My leadership style is an inclusive style that relies quite a bit on gathering information from a number of sources and getting the whole team involved in moving the organization forward.

One of the first things is to make sure you hire good people, having talented people around you and then giving them the responsibility, authority and the tools, and then hold them accountable. It’s a real team effort with a lot of decisions being made but moving in the right direction.

In many respects, it’s easy to set an inclusive strategy, but it’s difficult to implement it. If you have people involved in setting the strategy, then they’re much more willing and able to become implementers of the strategy.

That goes to the whole heart of the idea that you need inclusive leadership and an inclusive management style. People should have a clear understanding of what they’re required to do, and then you hold them accountable.

If you have a strategy laid out and everyone knows what direction we’re going in and how the pieces fit together and align, we spell out a lot of measurable goals, and people know what they’re held responsible for.

We also review on a regular basis the progress in all areas of the university. I have my senior-level management team, which I call my cabinet, including the vice president and some of the key directors, and we meet and review the different aspects of the strategic plan.

It’s making sure you don’t lose sight of things, that you’re always staying on top of things. It’s not a matter of micromanaging; it’s a matter of how do people talk about where we are, where it’s coming together and where it’s not coming together and what corrective action might need to be taken.

HOW TO REACH: Robert Morris University, (800) 762-0097 or www.rmu.edu