Communication is part of every organization, making sure you do it right is the biggest thing that makes a difference.
When you’re the leader of a company, or even the leader of a team within a company, you’re communicating all the time – whether you know it or not.
Step back a moment and put yourself in the shoes of one of your new hires on his first day of work. After parking his car, he notices that the parking space closest to the elevator is “Reserved for CEO.” What does that tell him?
Then he gets upstairs and finds that the CEO has an obscenely large corner office and all the senior executives have big offices too. Everyone else is slaving away in cubicles. And what if all the executives’ office doors are closed?
What does all of that tell him?
In an office environment, everything communicates something, and as a longtime CEO, I have learned – sometimes the hard way – that our nonverbal communication often speaks louder than the verbal. The CEO who obviously puts him- or herself head and shoulders above the employees is telling those employees something very important, and it isn’t a positive message.
Many years ago, when I was the young CEO of a fledgling Acxiom Corporation in tiny Conway, Arkansas, we had finally grown big enough to build our own three-story building. We were so proud that we posted the blueprints on the corporate bulletin board. I soon heard, loud and clear, that a lot of people weren’t happy to see a space designated for “Executive Spa.”
Over time, we grew Acxiom into the world’s leader in data gathering, and its accompanying technology, with 7000 employees globally and $1.5 billion in annual revenue. And when we built our new headquarters building in Little Rock, we designed it as a physical reflection of our transparent, inclusive, corporate culture. For example, I made sure that every office, including mine, was the same size, and that all the amenities were open to every employee.
Today, as the seasoned CEO of First Orion, an 11-year-old tech startup providing scam protection and call blocking to telecoms, I’m surrounded by smart young people in jeans, sneakers, and baseball caps. I’ve jettisoned my suits and ties in favor of jeans and pullovers, which is only one small way I communicate with these people who make our company’s success possible.
My office wall today, as in my former Acxiom office, is floor-to-ceiling glass and my door is always open, and everyone knows they’re welcome to drop in anytime and tell me what’s on their minds. And I drop in on them too – I often walk around the office talking to people, making sure they know I’m genuinely interested in what they’re doing, and in a helpful, not a snooping, way. Of course, I observe the usual formal communication practices. Twice a year I get the senior management team out of the office to a retreat where we can do some big-picture thinking. And the entire staff starts every single week with our “Monday Morning Meeting,” a freewheeling, 45-minute discussion about anything and everything that we as a team need to know about, and this isn’t limited to updates on our ongoing projects. Some days we talk about various ideas and products on the tech horizon that we as a mobile-solutions company should be aware of: How will 5G affect us? Is this new Bluetooth technology good or bad for what we do? By the way, this Monday meeting isn’t only for the people in our Little Rock headquarters; it’s teleconferenced to our West Coast and East Coast offices as well.
While some leaders think of corporate communication purely in terms of interaction between managers and employees, to my mind, it’s just as vital to make sure our employees communicate with one another – the sparks of innovation often happen over lunch, or during casual conversations. At First Orion, we provide catered lunches for our employees on Mondays and Wednesdays, all of us milling around the buffet table for sandwiches, salads, and wraps, and then sitting down in groups to eat together. On Thursdays we gather at 3:30 p.m. for what we call “Beer Thirty,” a convivial hour of enjoying one another and obliquely celebrating what we’re creating together. There are jokes, mock insults, the easy trading of ideas. These are the moments that help make a team a team.
As I say, communication happens. But as a leader, you have the opportunity to organize it, shape it, and channel it. And you and your whole team will profit by the results.
Charles D. Morgan is the visionary former Chairman and CEO of Acxiom Corporation, and is now Chairman and CEO of his latest tech venture, First Orion. His book is Now What? The Biography of a (Finally) Successful Startup (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Morgan lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.
For more information, please visit https://firstorion.com.
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