Why CEO Really Means Being Chief Communication Officer
By necessity, most entrepreneurs quickly take on the role of CEO -- and sales manager and customer relations expert and HR department. When you’re running a small company, the list of hats you wear is endless.
My path to CEO has been a little different. Fresh out of business school, I had big ideas and even bigger plans to make a difference in the world. I knocked on the door of CHG Healthcare and told them I wanted to start a new online division that would revolutionize the world of health care staffing. We launched the new company. And it failed.
Fortunately, the leaders at CHG had enough faith in me to give me another shot. Over the past 17 years, I’ve had the chance to work in most areas of the company, from marketing to sales to serving as chief operating officer. When I was named CEO two years ago, I thought I knew what I was in for. I quickly realized, however, that the title was all wrong. Rather than chief executive officer, I discovered that my job was really to be chief communication officer.
Good communication doesn’t happen by accident.
Good leaders have smart ideas and make good decisions. They have a vision for the future, and they empower others to make it happen. But as your company grows, it becomes more challenging -- and more important -- to be able to share those ideas with those you may not see every day.
Clear communication is key for building trust and creating an atmosphere of honesty and transparency. When we were a small company, communication was easy. If we wanted to get a message to the whole company, someone just needed to stand up and talk really loudly. It was easy to lead by example because everyone could see you. Now that we have 2,000 employees in seven offices in six states, good communication takes a deliberate plan.
Here are some of the communication tactics that have been most successful for us.
Once a year, I visit each of our offices to give a formal presentation. In our smaller offices, that means a conference room and a projector. For the large offices, we rent a movie theater so we can fit everybody in one place. This is a good format for sharing the things that every employee should know about -- benefit changes, new initiatives, the financial state of the company. More importantly, it’s a way to connect everyone to our purpose.
We find jobs for health care professionals so they can help patients, often in rural and underserved areas where they’re needed most. But when you’re working in the finance department, facilities or legal, it can be easy to lose sight of how your job contributes to making sure a doctor is there to take care of a sick child.
In each roadshow session, we use the majority of the time to show how our people’s efforts have led to health care providers making a difference in patients’ lives. We also highlight the employees in each office who are making a difference in the community. If people leave with a renewed passion for their work and a sense of pride in the company, it’s a successful meeting.
Town hall meetings.
In addition to the roadshows, I also visit each of our offices once a year to hold informal town hall meetings. Instead of inviting everyone in the company, these small group sessions are open to anyone who wants to spend 45 minutes with me. There’s no speech, no presentation, no agenda. People can just ask me whatever they want. Some groups are a bit shy, but once we get rolling, we discuss everything from threats to our market share to long-term growth opportunities to suggestions for gym equipment at our new headquarters.
For those who attend the sessions, it’s a safe place to share their opinions and have their voices heard. For me, it’s an invaluable tool for checking the pulse of the company and better understanding how our people feel and what they really care about.
As much as I love visiting our remote offices, I can’t do it all the time. Fortunately, it’s getting easier and easier to stay connected digitally. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, but I do have a blog that I update regularly. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a great way to quickly share company updates, celebrate wins and even talk a little bit about myself and my family.
Related: 17 Tips for Entrepreneurs Who Blog
The more our people know about me, the more comfortable they’ll feel raising their hand at a roadshow, asking a question at a town hall session or walking into my office to share a suggestion or a criticism.
Keeping up with each of these channels takes a lot of time, and there’s no way I could do it on my own. As a company, we’ve made a long-term commitment to open and transparent communication. In fact, we have a team of more than a dozen communicators for a company of just over 2,000. The investment has paid off. Our people trust their leaders and care about what they do.Communication shouldn’t be just another hat that a CEO wears. It should be at the core of everything you do.