Why Leaders Can’t NOT Communicate – Even as a Mortgage Company CEO

I love my job. I mean that. I look forward to Monday mornings on Sunday nights and when I took a half-day in April to attend a friend’s wedding, my boss had to force me out of the building when the time came. I genuinely enjoy what I do, and I believe in my employer.

A lot of my personal satisfaction comes from the fact that I simply love to write, paired with the constant state of ecstatic disbelief that someone is actually paying me to do it. I know I’m not in the majority; most of my friends either hate what they do or they can’t stand whom they do it for. I’ve always thought this was just a natural attitude toward the “dues paying” stage of the career life cycle I made up just now. I never stopped to think about why I believe in my company.

At the July PRSA Houston Workshop, David Grossman, president and founder of The Grossman Group, practically laid it out for me. Speaking on the subject of executive communications, Grossman said many executives have no idea how to communicate, often having been promoted for other reasons. However, while my company’s CEO prefers to handle much of the internal communication himself, he seems to have a natural handle on many of the ideas Grossman shared. That’s not to say his expertise is common knowledge. I know my college courses focused primarily on what we say to the public rather than maintaining corporate morale.

While working in the mortgage industry during the now waning housing crisis, being informed is crucial to establishing and maintaining employee morale during these troubling times. It’s hard to put forth your best effort and focus on the job at hand when the possibility of unemployment and the terrors of job hunting loom over your head. Nothing is neutral; even to stay silent during periods of uncertainty sends a strong message to the workforce. I have no way of knowing whether our CEO is familiar with Grossman or the ideas he shared, but my company’s leader seems to understand how powerful the messages he sends to his employees can be. He kept everyone informed, and I’m certain that it’s at least partially through those efforts that our organization made 2009 its most profitable year in its 22-year history.

According to Grossman, employees want to know answers to eight key questions.  Our CEO provided those answers throughout the housing crisis. The questions are arranged in a hierarchy beginning with a desire to know how the individual fits into the organization and ending with how the company is functioning as a whole. It’s knowing the answers to these questions that helps establish a vested interest in the company and the sense of security that goes hand in hand with a feeling of sustainability from the organization.

1.     What is my job?

2.     How am I doing?

3.     Does the organization care about me?

4.     What’s going on with the company and with my personal status?

5.     What is our business strategy?

6.     How is the company doing as a whole?

7.     What are our vision and values?

8.     How can I help?

It’s also important to note that whenever industry or corporate change occurs, we return to question one.

What many executives don’t understand is that communication sends the message that they mean business. According to research Grossman presented, effective employee communications is a leading indicator of financial performance and a driver of how engaged employees are with their companies. Organizations that are led by highly effective communicators had a 47 percent higher total return to shareholders over the past five years compared to firms with less effective communicators.

It’s not that business leaders don’t want to communicate, but rather that they believe one or more of three common myths about employee communication. They think they don’t have time to communicate, or that they don’t have time to plan for it. But as Grossman pointed out, companies typically allocate time to clean up a mess, but don’t always invest time to prevent a crisis.

Another myth is that people won’t react to a lack of communication. However, people naturally interpret just about everything. Even if we stay silent, it is in our nature to speculate and theorize amongst our peers as to where the organization and our jobs stand.

As for the third myth, many leaders believe that simply talking is communicating. However, communication is much more involved than that. It requires listening, acting, purpose and strategy. Communication is a two-way street. We have to listen to those we entrust with the day-to-day responsibilities to create positive employee engagement.

It’s important to practice and plan communication. I don’t know what my CEO’s strategy is when planning his communications, but he inherently understands how much it affects his employees’ performance. It’s the reason our company has thrived while others have failed. It’s the reason I love where I am and intend to stay there for quite awhile.  It’s the reason I look forward to the Monday morning grind as soon as the final credits of The Simpsons roll on Sunday nights.

Jason Saenz is a public relations writer/editor at Cornerstone Mortgage Company and has been a member of PRSA Houston since January 2010.

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