More communication with employees wasn’t possible for Tom Baugh at Marketplace Events. When the downturn hit the home and garden show company, rumors swirled.
“We didn’t pull punches,” the CEO says. “We let them know when we had challenges. We encouraged them to keep things in the family. That’s hard. We knew there was a risk in that, because we were sharing more financial information than ever before, but they responded very well. Since we asked more of them, they gave more to us out of respect.”
Smart Business spoke with Baugh about how he built trust with his team during tough times.
What advice can you give to build confidence with employees?
There is a huge difference between earning, what I would say is, compliance and commitment. When leadership actions and leadership communications fall behind leadership promises, then there’s a credibility gap.
We work really hard so our communications are authentic and that they’re consistent. For example, every Monday morning for the past five years, I send a message to the business. The message is varied. When we’re in our show season, here’s where we stand with sales, here’s what’s happening with our people, etc. When we don’t have shows, I’ll talk about what we’re doing with growth opportunities, things I read or just a view point I found of concern or encouragement. The one thing that they can count on, no matter what — whether I’m traveling, busy or the power goes out in Cleveland — they know that every Monday morning there’s going to be a message about the business. When I’m on vacation, there’s other people that give guest versions.
The consistency and authenticity of our communications separate us a bit from other companies in the fact that we share a lot of information with our people, and we trust them to keep it in the family.
How do you trust people to not share that critical financial information?
I think we’d be naive if we thought some of it didn’t get out. I will say, since 2003, there have been two situations where professionally I’ve been really disappointed by breaches in that trust, but that’s only twice in that period of time. The benefits we get by treating people with this kind of professional courtesy is, frankly, enormous. Despite the worst economy in anyone’s memory, over the past three years, we’ve grown our business. I find that to be extraordinary.
There are things that bind people together, and people intrinsically want to believe that they are trustworthy, so we choose to go that direction. The opportunity for trust is greater when you know that you’re in tune with your people. At the end of the day, people can tell if the leader means what he or she says, if they’re really trying to understand employees and if they’re in touch with the business or not. People want one of two things — they either want to be the leader or part of the leadership team or they want to be led. People want to be led, but that can only happen when there’s enough trust built up.
What else has been critical to building trust?
This organization isn’t afraid to make decisions and move. It surprised all of us.
It’s always helpful if you let the person in the best position to decide actually decide. Let them make the decision. We have 12 offices and 100 people throughout North America. If we have a particular weekend in March, we could have five shows running. All of those shows on that particular day might put through 75,000 paying customers. You might have 10 different media experiences by the show’s managers, you might have to make hundreds of decisions about parking or concessions or safety or the general appearance of the show. If we try to too closely grasp the decision points with just a limited number of people, it really slows down the business.
We consciously said we’re going to work really hard to share the best practices, not so you’re hemmed in, but it’s more like bumper bowling. We say, ‘Guys, here’s best practices, we know things that work and we know things that don’t work, so let’s do things that work, so it’s like bumper bowling — you can’t throw a gutter ball.’ It’s not that you’re not going to knock some pins down — it’s how many can you pin down if you take the best practices and put your individual flare on it?
Author: Kristy J. O'Hara | Smart Business Cleveland