In August, the Asian financial markets suffered big losses, which affected North American markets as well. In response to this, the CEO of Starbucks, projecting some anxiety would ensue, sent out an email to his employees – all 190,000 of them – about the situation, and about their role as employees, “Please […] remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day”, it read. The email concluded with, “The experience we deliver in our stores, the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU”. I respect this type of direct communication and at VIA Rail, we strive to implement it as well. Early signs show that it is working: our 2015 employee engagement survey indicates that the engagement of all employees is increasing while the percent of disengaged employees has decreased. Communication has a lot to do with these positive results.
Market fluctuations and other obstacles can affect every person working in a company along with every client that company serves. So how do we carry on our day-to-day business in the face of destabilizing or difficult events? In my opinion, it is through supportive and clear communication. Since being appointed as CEO in May of 2014, I have visited every one of our offices and maintenance centers on a quarterly basis. I meet with employees to discuss decisions made after every Board meeting. I send out direct communications through email or through our internal communications website regularly. I strive to remain connected with our whole team: executives, managers and front-line employees.
Here are a few essentials I keep in mind when communicating:
- Talk frankly
I always treat my team with the respect they deserve as informed, intelligent people. For me, that means no sugar-coating the truth. There is no benefit in pretending there isn’t a problem when there is, and there is no benefit in keeping employees in the dark. The best course is to send out a direct message about a situation, stating the facts and outlining a way forward.
- Don’t burn the bridge
Keeping the lines of communication open at all times builds a stronger and more connected team. It’s also a matter of trust. It is imperative that all members of the team be given the truth and learn to handle the truth. Whether it is good news or bad news, our door must always be open. We must show confidence that most errors any one of us can commit, all of us can help fix.
- Sympathize and celebrate
Reserving communication for unfortunate events sends out the message that leadership will only be present in the hard times. Although it is very important to be available when times get tough, it is just as important to be there during the good times. All situations, good or bad, present a moment of truth that defines the culture of the organization. Like any supportive relationship, members of a team should make time to sympathize and to celebrate together.
- Speak with one voice
VIA Rail has over 2,600 employees, more than half of whom are customer-facing, meaning they communicate directly with our clients. Every day our company is represented by these employees, who are recognized again and again for their stellar customer service. Substantive and accurate internal communication is imperative to keep the team informed. Armed with information, our “ambassadors” are better able to represent their company and convey informed and positive messages to our clients.
- Talk less – Act more
Communication is more than just words. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. A bias for action also means that we communicate our beliefs, our values and our commitment to each other by doing, and not just saying. It’s through our positive actions that we bring the most benefit to those who matter most: our customers.
At VIA, we are faced with new challenges every day. Maintaining open communication is one way to ensure that we “Keep Calm and Carry On”, while evolving and improving all the time.