Leadership

Peer-to-Peer: How can I stay connected with my staff?

Written by PROFIT-Xtra

Question

“I’m the president of a rapidly growing software firm in Vancouver. In the past I used to know every employee by name and always had a pretty good idea what was happening in their lives. I’ve always believed that that sort of closeness with my staff was a key motivator — we were all in this together. But we’ve grown so quickly that I just can’t keep up with all the new names and faces. Still, I don’t want to lose the culture that got us here in the first place. Can anyone suggest ways to make a fast-growth company feel like a smaller shop?”

Submit a question.

Reader responses

Mike Salveta, Pivotal Business Solutions:

As an organization grows, it is inevitable that the founder will lose some of the personal relationships with his employees, however the “culture” established need not change as a result of this growth. What is needed is a performance standard (and measure) to maintain and grow the desired culture. Based on your comments, I would recommend the key deliverables would be driven by Communication and Employee recognition. Maintaining visibility and open communication with additional levels of management need not be complicated.

Create recognition programs that are both formal and informal. Some of the formal processes can be as simple as celebrating length of service with the company, birthdays, and individual and department goals. The informal part is easier, although for some reason many people hesitate and refrain from complimenting employees on a job well done, announcing employee achievements at staff meetings, posting customer thank you notes on bulletin boards, personal notes of thanks and giving compliments so other employees can do the same. The result: creating an environment where recognizing accomplishments is the norm. This needs to be a performance standard of your managers or supervisors.

Create a series of informal settings where employee perceptions can be managed and changed in small groups. Some of the techniques that can be implemented simply are:

  • Regular small cross functional breakfast meetings (coffee and muffin) with the “President”.
  • Department sponsored lunch and learns. Departments could have an “open house” where other employees could drop in for pizza and could learn about the department in a relaxed setting.
  • Random job shadowing. One employee from two different departments would shadow each other for a full day on each other’s job.
  • Department Managers can champion different events such as potluck lunches, BBQ’s, plant open house or other pre approved events suggested by employees.

As the Company grows the secret is getting your next line of management motivated to manage your employees in the same manner. Although some employees may miss the close association with the “boss”, most will be satisfied with the transfer of that responsibility to their direct managers and the occasional chat with the “boss”

Doug Jamieson, CharityVillage.com:

We have experienced similar growth, with the added complication that we are a completely virtual organization — our 15 team members are spread from coast to coast, and all operate from their own home offices, communicating via e-mail and intranet. That means they don’t enjoy the benefits of congregating around the water cooler or in the lunch room. We began to see that people were becoming somewhat disconnected from each other and from the organization, so we asked our team for ideas. As a result, here’s what we currently do to help build a cohesive team:

  • When a new member joins the team, we publish their photo and biography on the web, and encourage everyone to welcome them aboard and offer assistance.
  • We publish a monthly e-newsletter for team members. Each staffer is encouraged to tell us what is going on in their lives and that of their families, as well as sharing business ideas and tips of interest to others, and making suggestions for improving operations.
  • At our annual 3-day conference, which is attended by all team members, we dedicate one day to fun — go-cart racing, taking in a play at the Shaw Festival, going to a Blue Jays game, playing mini-putt, etc. — so that people get to know each other outside the business context.
  • We put out a “Birthday Alert” to all members before each person’s special day, and everyone responds with a personal greeting. We also send flowers, candy, cake, or balloons to the birthday girl or boy.
  • We hold regional luncheons at Christmas, with staff gifts, Secret Santa, etc.
  • When we are participating in a sector conference in a major city, we invite our people in that region to a luncheon meeting.
  • We encourage use of the telephone, which is more conducive to conversations than is e-mail.

Stephen D. Smith, HROI:

I chatted with 4 members of our team at HROI and got some good feedback on things we’ve seen at our clients:

Lynn noted “HROI helped this president design and initiate a ‘Lunch with the President’ every month — based on activity of the recruitment. It was informal but it was discussed all the directions etc.”

Brian used to “work with a VP who had a photo album and short bio on each employee. He took a copy of the photo ID pictures and had his assistant put the book together. Whenever he would go on the “floor” he would review the personal bios of the staff in the department he was visiting and could address the employee by name and inquire about family etc. or pick up from their last conversation together. Sounds rather mercenary but highly effective.”

Stephen said that he “helped this HROI client implement ‘Breakfast with M.’ (the president) at company ABC. Everyone in the company was grouped and given a date (Friday) where they met in the Boardroom with the president and had an opportunity to chat amongst themselves. Breakfast and coffee were served, employees could chat, discuss issues that were common, etc. This actually served two purposes: 1. the employee groups were a cross section, so all areas were represented; and 2. this helped people get to know one another in different departments … and, obviously allowed the president to get to know employees better and develop some sort of “relationshiop” with them.”

Finally, Michelle said that “this is one of those ‘soft’ questions that doesn’t have a clear response. One thing I would suggest is to do more formally, what might have taken place ‘informally’ before. I suspect that this guy used to be able to walk around and have informal chats with people … feasible in a smaller company. Now, may need luncheons, ‘booked chats’ on a quarterly basis, etc. … something more formal that keeps him in the loop. There is no way getting around the fact that this will take time and effort … but it sounds like that isn’t the problem. HROI’s client, XYZ is going through this — and what the President has done is ensure that he meets each new hire on a one-on-one, so that the relationship begins building from the start.

“If things start getting really big — probably the most strategic thing he can do is make sure his managers / leaders have the same committment to maintaining the culture that he does. It’s probably not that critical that he have a one-on-one relationship with everyone but the culture will ‘hold’ and feel like a ‘smaller shop’ if people identify with their boss / team in a close way.”

Sonja Reisdorf, Ascent Group:

A New Year is an excellent opportunity to bring your staff together and set the tone you’d like to have for the upcoming year. One way to achieve this is to offer your staff a compelling reason to come together and participate as a unit. A value-added workshop, for instance, is something that is of interest to everyone and appeals to them on both a personal AND professional level. Workshops are not only a great way to have everyone in the company grow together, but they also provide valuable tools that will enhance both performance and a sense of unified purpose. For example, Ascent Group (www.pushthelimit.com) offers a unique workshop on Life Balance that will support your staff to grow both personally and professionally. The result? Rapid growth without sacrificing a comfortable company culture that works for you.

Paul De Costa:

It can be a lot of fun to literally section off groups of your employees for the various staff meetings or group meetings that a growing company might have. If there is nothing regular, then possibly that may be an opportunity to schedule something on a regular basis. At that time, production reports, development info can be shared with the CEO allowing him or her to get first-hand reports from ‘faces that he can put a name to.’ The whole team aspect can allow owners or partners to be involved in sessions with those actually doing the task.

Rajiv Kapoor:

Grown-ups (CEO) have no time to assimilate with their employees due other essential work load.

Here are few tips which will help them to remember the faces and names without going to any memory institute or by following some strict rules.

They should not miss any chance of direct interacting with new comers.

They should try to celebrate birthdays … anniversaries in a little and less time-consuming events even at work place.

They should not miss any chance to visit the homes of their employees, specially when some trouble is there.

They should conduct some activity related to the children of employees.

They must not try to remain in CEO’s bubble i.e. secretaries, personal asssitants etc.

They must have direct window for employees where any employee may contact him directly.

At last they must keep moving to lowler [sic] steps from inside while riding the ladder of success outside.

Chandra Clarke, Scribendi.com:

One answer to keeping that family feeling in a fast growing company may be an internal company “blog.”

For those of you not familiar with this latest Internet phenomenon, a “blog” (short for “web log”) is basically an electronic diary. It’s a bit of software that allows a user — even if they know nothing about web publishing or HTML — to publish their thoughts, favourite links, pictures and so on to the Internet with a quick click of the mouse.

You could set up an internal company blog that allows all employees to post family tidbits, notes, gossip, project updates, news links of interest to your company and so on to an internal access only site. Think of it as the company newsletter on speed — created by and for your employees, without the paper and printing costs. Set it as everyone’s home page so they can have a quick read first thing in the morning over coffee.

Some safeguards to consider: make sure the site is genuinely only internal access; set up the software so employees can only post maybe once or twice per day (so productivity doesn’t plummet) and designate a trusted employee to keep an eye on content, so that copyrighted or potentially offensive material isn’t posted.

Sylvie Potoniec:

Keeping a culture is definitely not easy and in this situation I would start a “photo album”. Each page would have the employee’s photo with details as to his or her hobbies and kids picture etc. … The information on these pages would be provided by the employee with the help of someone, and/or may I suggest you? I would also host a barbecue or a friendly get-together on company time so that most employees could come and say hello or the like. At that time, it would be a good practice for you to look in the album and see if you can spot them or something like that … If the company is too big, I would then go by departments. You could even deliver the paycheck stubs to each employee and have a quick chat and possibly even update the album … . I am sure that you will find a solution, because it is in your best interest and because you do care. Your employees will be extremely happy to see that you are making such an effort for them. Good luck!

Rob Carwardine, Trans-Send Freight Systems Ltd., Mississauga:

I read the question from the Vancouver Software Company President with great interest. I too was experiencing this same problem. I am the president of a fast growth transport company. I realized early in my career that people were the key to operating any successful business. With that in mind I ensure I recognize employee birthdays and their company anniversary dates. Once our company had grown to more than 25 employees I found it almost impossible to remember everyone’s name so I implemented a company uniform policy with all employees having their name on their shirt. This has made a noticeable difference not only with management recognizing and using employee names but also assisting employees to recognize each other. We now have over 75 employees and I can address all of them by their first names. Knowing their names has also helped me remember personal information about them.

Have a question for your fellow entrepreneurs? Send it to Peer-to-Peer.

Other questions.

Watch for another Peer-to-Peer Poll in the next PROFIT-Xtra.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com