Staying on course

One of the biggest challenges of navigating today’s economy is to stay true to your vision and maintain a clear, consistent message for your employees, says Michael Chivell.

“It cannot be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind experience,” says Chivell, managing partner of Armstrong Teasdale LLP. “They have to feel part of the organization; they have to understand their role in the organization.”

To keep employees in the loop, you need to communicate your vision to them and build relationships to make them comfortable with that vision. Chivell starts that process by bringing all new employees — regardless in which of the company’s nine locations they are working — to headquarters for orientation. And he continues to convey a uniform message by building personal relationships with his 400 employees at the company, which posted 2008 revenue of $115 million.

Smart Business spoke to Chivell about how to clearly communicate your message to employees.

Maintain a consistent message through training. We do a very effective job of training and trying to make people understand who and what we are.

From the moment someone starts with our firm, in any area of the firm, they go through an orientation process that makes them understand what Armstrong Teasdale is all about, from how do you use the computer to what are our policies. Practice group leaders and management address people and talk with them about what our mission is, what our strategic plan is.

It can go for about a week or a little bit over a week before they actually sit down at a desk and start doing work. They’re indoctrinated early on when they start with the firm.

You have to start with what you’re trying to accomplish. What is your goal? The primary objective of ours is to make our people understand who we are, what we do and what we’re trying to accomplish.

You have to get the right people in place professionally to help you drive that message and deliver all of the different skill sets that are necessary in effective training. It’s not just one thing; it’s many things.

You have to sustain it, and you have to mean it, and you have to put the resources there to run an effective program.

If you don’t sustain it and put the right people there and give them the tools that they need to be successful, obviously, over time, you won’t be as effective as you like.

It’s taken a lot of time and effort. You learn from your mistakes. You learn from what perhaps didn’t work as well as you would like, and so, it just takes time and effort, like most things.