Leadership Recruitment for Series A/B/C and PE Firms

The Free Agent Podcast

with Beau Billington

The Free Agent- The importance of Communications during Times of Uncertainty

CEO / Consultant of Your Brand Marketing
Posted 2 years ago

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Interview with Ben Baker Host: Beau Billington Guest: Ben Baker Beau 00:11 Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the free agent podcast. I got Ben Baker here. Thanks so much for joining in. Ben 00:18 Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me on the show. Beau 00:20 Yeah, absolutely. Beau 00:22 Today we’re going to talk about communications and the importance thereof and how to master communications during times of uncertainty. Beau 00:30 Prior to doing so, I want to share a quick bio on Ben. Ben Baker is a branding and marketing expert with a focus on internal corporate communications services serving large enterprise clients. You’ve also got a podcast as well as an author of a book, powerful personal brands A User’s Guide to Understanding (published 2018 on Amazon), as well as the co-author of leading beyond a crisis, a conversation about what’s next (published in 2020). You’re also a podcast host with over 300 episodes, which I’ve been on your living brand podcast, welcome so much to the show. I really appreciate you being here. Ben 01:07 And you know, it’s a lot of fun. Thank you, for truncating that, you know, I get some of these and they say Ben does this, and Ben does that, you know what, nobody cares. I just like short, sweet to the point. You know, I help people communicate. That’s what I do. Beau 01:22 I love it. Well, I think this topic is well topical for kind of where we are, as a society as a people, you know, we’ve gone through at all global pandemic, remote work, layoffs, supply chain issues. And now as far as the US economy is concerned, are we going into recession? Are we not? Nobody seems to know, right? But all these topics have kind of the same underlying theme, which is uncertainty. Beau 01:47 And uncertainty has really the kind of the ability to make people extremely uneasy, and sometimes they make rash decisions. And so Well, the reason I want to have you on today is so we can discuss the kind of communication component within a business, the importance there and how companies can kind of master their own internal communications during these times to leave a concern with their employees, and really continue to thrive. Beau 02:08 And I think it’s something that’s, you know, it’s important is completely underestimated. But you see people getting laid off all the time, who had no clue that it was happening. So anyways, thanks. Thanks for joining. I think it’s a super important, and fun topic for today. Ben 02:23 I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this. So, you asked the questions, I’ll do my best to support your audience. How about we do it at that? Beau 02:29 No, that sounds great. Well, prior to doing so. So, tell us a little about yourself. I gave a little bio; I get the quick bio. But really, who are you like, what does your business do? And how’d you got into communications? Ben 02:40 Yeah, all right. Well, let’s start it off pre communications, I spent about 10 years in high-tech sales, dealing with 100-million-dollar clients and multibillion-dollar organizations for about 10 years before I got into communications. The long short of it is I was George Clooney; I was up in the air 200 plus days a year. If and I in 1997, looked at each other and said, this is a divorce waiting to happen. Ben 03:05 And you’ll and I made the great shift from sales to marketing because I figured, okay, I’ll be home more. And, you know, got into direct mail got into promotional marketing tradeshow, development brands, social media, over the years, and it was all to do with telling their story more effectively. If that’s been the underlying theme how do we tell stories more effectively? How do we differentiate you in the marketplace, Ben 03:35 And about 10 years ago, I came to the realization This is okay. There are a lot of people out there trying to help people tell their stories to their audience. Externally, very few people tell their story internally, and if your own people don’t understand who you are, what you do, why you do it, who you do it for, and why they should care, those people won’t, and neither will the people inside your company. Ben 04:00 So that’s where I’ve dedicated myself to internal communication, helping the left hand speak to the right hand trying to break down processes, you know, destroy those silos, and be able to make organizations more effective and more profitable. Beau 04:16 God makes total sense. And I love the reference to storytelling, which is a component of communication. In fact, we’ve done a podcast about that, and maybe we should kind of you know, think about doing that in the future. Beau 04:27 But storytelling to me is such a critical component to just how you communicate the head from a sales perspective marketing perspective or internally. You know, it’s just really interesting you brought that up. Beau 04:39 Let’s talk a little about communication. Ben 04:40 I was thinking about the storytelling. The reason you tell stories is that that’s how you planted in people’s brains when you can give them a story and it doesn’t matter if you’re a trillion-dollar company or a company that does a million dollars a year. Ben 04:59 People All, understand where you came from where you are, what you do, why you do it, and where you’re going, and be able to tell that story. First of all, understand that story, dig it deep and be able to recall it and retell it. That’s powerful, both from an internal decision-making point of view and also from a customer alignment point of view. Beau 05:18 I agree. And I think that’s a good way a good segue into communication in general. And so why is it such an integral part to a successful business? You know, I feel like especially maybe in the SMB space, it’s often overlooked. And you may have kind of the founder of a company, you know, say they’re 15 $20 million. Beau 05:35 They know what’s going on, they know what’s happening, profits are down, revenues are down, and they’re going to make layoffs but nobody else within the organization does. And candidly, a lot of those folks may think, well, this is my business, it’s not really theirs. But you know that kind of lack of transparency can really add to fear, add to the chaos, add to attrition. Beau 05:54 So why is it so important that these leaders, these founders actually communicate with their people, and they know what’s going on within the business? Ben 06:01 Well, I think you’ve nailed it with that fear, attrition, and change. You know, people are scared of change, everybody’s scared of change. One of the keynotes that I tell around the world is telling the story of change. And we deal with change every single day, whether it’s a new product development, whether it’s you know, new people within the company, whether it’s a new system or process, it doesn’t have to be a big change. Ben 06:25 But we need to be able to sit there and say, okay, not only what the change is, but why are we doing it? And as leaders, if we can explain to people why we’re doing something, not just that we are doing it, but why we’re doing it, how it affects them, and how it will make their life better, you’re going to get far better alignment, and you’re going to make people far less stressed. Ben 06:46 There’s a lot less speculation that goes on in the company, there’s a lot less disengagement in the company, and far fewer people running for the hills because they think that their job is in jeopardy. When it’s probably not, we think we communicate well, we all think we communicate well, but we don’t, Beau 07:04 It’s funny, the old watercooler talk, you know, it’s probably the worst thing that ever happened to business where people, maybe they hear something, maybe they misinterpret something, but then all of a sudden, they’re telling somebody else, then tell somebody else, if you remember the elementary school exercise, that’s no Bueno. And to me, that kind of ties back to the importance of communication, because it came from the top. Beau 07:25 And you wouldn’t have those rumblings at the lower level and people running for the hills when maybe it’s a false start. Ben 07:34 Yeah, so, you know, I take a look at leaders, it doesn’t matter if you’re a $5 million company, or a $500 million dollar company, to sit there and say, Okay, what are the critical things your people need to know? Do they, and you know, with larger companies, there are processes and things that you need to do because there are so many people that you need to deal with cross boundaries, cross languages, etc. Ben 07:58 But it’s smaller companies, you know, having a CEO or an odor, whatever actually going down and say, so what do you think about this? And we’ll be shutting their mouth? Listening? And do people within the company perceive things the same way you do? And actually, having those conversations, not giving your opinion? Not letting people know what your agenda is, but say, hey, listen, I’m thinking about this, what do you think, and if we can do that type of thing, you’re going to get a lot of insights about what people will actually believe. Ben 08:36 And they may believe the exact same thing you do, or they may think of something completely different. And either way, you’re going to have to have better information to be able to make decisions moving forward. Beau 08:45 So, let’s explore this a little further. You know, my next question is really around kind of small businesses, and how could they be more effective at communication? But maybe, there’s a Blueprint here? I mean, I understand completely what you’re saying about a CEO, being more open, being more interested in what’s going on with its employees. Beau 09:01 But is there some sort of maybe cadence that they should employ where hey, you know, I’m going to go walk around the shop floor once a month, or host a quarterly discussion with my executive team just to kind of get to know them? And like, kind of them personally better, is there a kind of some blueprint for success that these companies can employ? Ben 09:23 The answer is yes. I mean, the answer is, yes. Every organization is different. You know, are you a five-person company or a 200? person company? You know, how structured is your board of directors? How often does your board of directors meet? You know, how does your board of directors meet? Ben 09:38 How often does your junior leadership team meet with their teams? How often? Are you as an owner meeting with the management level to get their opinions so, therefore, when they’re having conversations with the people that are actually doing the actual work, that they can have those conversations? So, it’s really sitting there going saying what is our culture as an organization, you know, how do we connect? Ben 10:04 And when you’re dealing with work from home, when you’re dealing with a hybrid? workforce, you also dealing with things? It really depends. But the best thing is more communication is better. But it’s having effective communication. Just, you know, having eight zoom meetings a day is exhausting. No, it doesn’t need to be a Zoom meeting. No. Can it be a memo? Yes. You know, how do you get it? Ben 10:05 And how do you make sure that you’re gaining information, not giving information, but you’re gaining information back? And that’s the process, you need to be always thinking about. How am I getting information back from the field that lets me know that people either understand or don’t understand what’s expected of them? Beau 10:46 So essentially, creating a feedback loop of sorts where you know, you kind of disseminate some information to your team, let them digest it, and then kind of give them an opportunity to reshare what they heard back with you for some insight. Ben 10:59 Exactly. The more you can get people to share, the better. But here’s the trick, you need to be able to do something with that information you share. It says, as a lawyer always says, Never ask a question that you don’t want the answer to that, if all of a sudden you’re not prepared to spend $50 million on a brand new piece of equipment, and everybody in the organization says you need to, you know, there’s a problem. Ben 11:27 And you need to have an answer as to why we’re not spending that $50 million. Within $50,000 or $5,000, it doesn’t really matter the size of a piece of equipment. But you need to be able to say, hey, listen, I hear you all I understand. But because of this, this and this, we’re going to have to hold that off for two quarters. When we get to this level, or once this, this, and this happens, then we’ll be able to do that. Ben 11:53 But you need to be able to respond to people’s responses and be able to get them to know that they’ve been listened to. They’ve been understood, and they’ve been valued. Beau 12:01 Makes sense. So, then I teed up at the start of this call around uncertainty and communication. And so, you know, I would imagine the answer is yes, it’s extremely important during those times. But let’s talk a little bit about that. So, you know, leaders communicate inside their enterprises during times of uncertainty, economic downturns, and little pandemics, and what are some best practices that maybe people can arm themselves? Beau 12:26 Because, obviously, we went through COVID, we’re still kind of in COVID, whatever you want to call it, but I’m sure something else coming down the pike in the next 135 years. Right. So, what can these organizations do during those times? I mean, because there’s also alive, right? I mean, you don’t want to be too transparent sometimes. But people you know, let’s say nothing is way too little. Ben 12:47 Yeah, I mean, opening up the kimono all the way, you know, scares people, nobody wants me to open up my kimono all the way. I mean, we’re going to scare people that way. But you need to be transparent to a level where people can sit there and go, Okay, I’ve got the information that I need to be able to do my job on a daily basis. Ben 13:07 And when we’re dealing with through crisis, feel, the more information you can give the better. Here’s a perfect example. Oh, God, David McCain from McCain Foods, they had an eCola outbreak years ago, people died, some I think six or seven people died. He stood in front of the media for 30 days straight, letting people know what happened, what is happening, and what was going to happen. answered every single question that the media had, and in turn was giving that information to his people, you know, to be able to sit there and say, hey, listen, I’m head of the company. Ben 13:46 You know, this is a crisis. Let me let you know what’s happening. Because if you try to do it and say, hey, listen, we’re not going to tell anybody what’s going on, we’re not going to let any information out. People get scared when people don’t have information. People make up answers on their own and people’s answers and their what-ifs are usually far scarier than what the truth truly is. Ben 14:13 And people can handle the truth, what they can’t handle is being lied to what they can’t handle is being managed. And when people feel managed, or they feel lied to, or they feel that they’re left out of the loop, and that left to fend for themselves. They go running for the hills. Beau 14:28 That’s a great point. I mean, the worst fear here would be, you know, there’s all the assumptions that the employees are making, right? And I totally agree, nine out of 10 times as assumptions are going to be incorrect in a way far, worst case scenario as opposed to what the actual reality may be. Beau 14:47 And so, what about in this situation where maybe the leader actually doesn’t know what’s going to happen? Right? completely uncertain during COVID Hey, are we going to lay you off? I don’t know. I can’t tell you whether or not that’s going to happen. I mean, is that kind of a good way to communicate, or is it best practice to really kind of wait until you have more of a definitive answer? Just to be like vulnerability is important, as honesty and transparency. Beau 15:12 And to me, I feel like that would be important, even if you didn’t know what the answer was definitively, but I’d love for you to kind of weigh in on that. Ben 15:19 Yeah, I’ll take it down to a very personal experience. 1015 days into the pandemic, whenever everything was hitting the fan and March 2020. I get a phone call from one of the people I mentor. And he goes, it says, do you have some time right now? I said, yeah, he says, I don’t know how much time I need. I said, Okay, fine. I’ll block everything off. Let’s, let’s have a conversation. I said, what’s up, he says, I think I’m going to have to let go of my entire workforce. Ben 15:49 You know, he’s got a team of 10. He thought he had no idea how long this was going to go. He was in the promotional marketing industry in a fairly healthy business to a $3 million promotional marketing business with some very substantial clients. But he had no idea how his clients were going to retract, right? How business was going to retract how his suppliers are, we’re going to sit there going, he was like everybody else. Ben 16:14 We’re just sitting there with our hands in the air going, we don’t know what’s next. And he says, how do I deal with this? How do I make sure that my people know that I’m not abandoning them? But on the other hand, I need to find ways that can take care of them while still figuring out ways to make sure that the company survives. Ben 16:36 So, it’s clear when they come back, and I said, you know what, you need to bring your people in for a meeting, you need to have a conversation with them. And you need to be open and honest and say, hey, listen, let’s come up. We’re a small enough organization, let’s figure this out together. And what they ended up doing is for a month, or a month and a half, used up whatever vacation that they had, and people went back, and they worked part-time for a month or two, to be able to, you’ll be able to at least pay their bills. Ben 17:08 And be able to the good news is the Government of Canada stepped up. And there was, you know, some those was employee, please. Salary, you know, help there. So he was able to fulfill half their salaries from the government. But his thought process is how do I take care of my people? How do I make sure because they’ve got mortgages, they’ve got kids, they’ve got health insurance needs, they’ve got all these different things? How do I take care of them, but also make sure that this company is good to be able to take care of them in the long term? Ben 17:42 And it came down to not only his views, but listening to the views of his people, and said, Let’s figure this out together. And that was probably one of the most mature thought processes I heard about during the gold COVID. thing, where it wasn’t reactionary. It was, here’s what reality is here. Ben 18:06 We’ve got six months or nine months where the runway in the bank, we know that we can survive this long. But beyond that, we have no idea. How can we work together to be able to extend that and to be able to make sure that everybody’s taken care of to a point where they’re able to be successful? Ben 18:25 And I think that there’s no one answer, I think a lot of it comes down to laying out the groundwork, laying out what reality is, and saying, okay, as a team, how do we fix this together? Beau 18:38 So, I think it’s a phenomenal story and really kind of underscores the importance of communication, because I’m willing to bet you have not come to his team and shared precisely where they were, it was honest and vulnerable, then they would have probably look for jobs, but he actually gave visibility into the issue. Beau 18:54 You know, let them know, hey, I don’t have all the answers. We’re in a global pandemic, who knows what’s going to happen? But they were able to come together because again, he showed leadership, he was able to communicate effectively about where the company stood. So I think that’s a great story. I appreciate you sharing that. Ben 19:12 And let me add one more story is that there are also companies out there that over a two-minute zoom call fired 4800 people at a time. So, no camera on. Some Secretaries read some prepared statements by a lawyer. And at the end of the statement, everybody who is on this call is fired. That was it. Ben 19:38 That was the conversation and because it was in the state, that was an at-will state? those people are gone. That made the social media like wildfire, and that company and I’m not you know, people can look it up themselves and find out who that company is, but I’ll never do business with them again. Beau 19:59 Yeah, so Another company did that as well. In the southeast of the company, it was 1300 employees, and I had a conversation with several levels that were on like an awards trip prior, you know, a week prior to that had zero ideas and then got on kind of a cattle call. And they’re laid off. I don’t know what their severance was as a matter. But they’re gone. Beau 20:20 And as far as they knew the internal communication was, everything’s great, we’re crushing it, investors are happy, and then just boom, pulled the rug right out from underneath them, their brand got tarnished, and they had a lot of unhappy people that otherwise could have been a little happier, should they have, you know, been let go and in a much different manner. So, it’s super important. Beau 20:45 It’s crazy that companies really, in this day and age still underestimate how important it is to communicate effectively and let people know where they stand. Ben 20:54 The word was their brand reputation because it’s not just the employees that are being affected. Customers suddenly start running for the hills as well, because there’s like, okay, are these people going to be around? Are there going to be people here that take care of me? Wait for a second, they just fired my favorite sales? Rep. He’s moved over, or she’s moved over to another company. I’m going with them. Beau 21:14 Sure, and that’s going to change a little path. It’s also prospective, you know, like future employees as well. They’ve turned and now they’re going to have a much harder time attracting people because they saw what happened to those that were before them. Ben 21:32 That store is your best friend and your worst enemy. Beau 21:34 Exactly. So, to two more questions here, and then we’ll get you out of here. And I appreciate you taking the time. I’m sure you’ve heard of like, radical candor. And I think this is a good follow-up to the question a few moments ago. That’s out of Silicon Valley, which, you know, I think that’s somewhat of a crazy concept. Beau 21:50 But is there a possibility of going too far with kind of communication and your transparency where, you know, you end up causing chaos, even though kind of your whole goal is to be transparent and keep everybody calm? Because you’re sharing where things stood? And how can small companies kind of maybe figure out what’s too far? And how to effectively bridge that gap? Ben 22:12 Yeah, it’s funny, because you’re the third person in the last week and a half that references radical candor, I mean, it’s a great book for people who have not read it, read it. It is interesting because if you take a look at it, sit there and say, Okay, how much is too much? I’m a big believer that, under communicating is far more damaging, than over-communicating. Ben 22:40 You can always dial back, you can always clarify, you can always be able to bring more information to bear that be able to, I hate to use the word spin it, but to bring things back to a position of normalcy for about lack of a better word. But when you under community, the case, that’s when rumors fly, that’s when people get nervous, that’s which, you know, people get to a point where they’re going to speculate within their own heads. Ben 23:14 And far more worst things happen when you under-communicate, than when you over-communicate. There are people that disagree with me and that’s okay. But that’s my point of view. My point of view is, I would from a leader’s point of view, I would much rather hear somebody over-communicate and have them dial something back and clarify that under-communicate, leave me to speculate. Beau 23:41 I completely agree. So, there’s at least one person in your camp, right? And, you know, I employ that in my own business where I’m an over communicator. And that’s my style. And I’ve found that really kind of establishes a level of trust with my clients, then, perhaps any other style. And so, that’s a great point that I mean, of course, there’s too much information, but to your point, there is a level and if you’re below it, that’s not good. I totally agreed. Ben 24:09 My clients don’t need to know about my dose, and I don’t have a daughter, but they don’t need to know about my daughter’s gynecological exams. I mean, that’s TMI. But when it comes to the business, I’m not sure you can over-communicate. Beau 24:21 I love that. So, last question for you. What’s one thing that a midsize organization can do tomorrow that will change kind of their internal communication landscape? Ben 24:33 I think first of all have one. I think you need to build the policies and procedures and people to be able to communicate more effectively. You know, unfortunately, we all think that we’re great communicators. We’re not, we all think that we tell stories. Well, most of us don’t, most of us audience and figure that it’s been understood. Ben 24:56 We all need to build mechanisms that listen and be able to be understood, we need to understand before we are understood. So, the more we can sit there and say, Okay, it’s not about me, it’s about us. And how do I get our opinions, not just my opinions? Beau 25:19 Interesting point, I totally agree with you. So, it starts with the plan and the blueprint. And as you’re thinking, you know, like, most companies, they have a newsletter and the newsletter goes external, right, for instance, for external communication for customers, or prospects for whoever wants to stay abreast of what’s going on in your company. Beau 25:35 But as you’re talking, I know companies do this, but I was thinking, how important an internal newsletter could be, right? Maybe once a month, maybe once a quarter, but an opportunity for the CEO or whoever runs a company to really kind of connect with the employees and let them know what’s going on in a pretty basic level. Ben 25:50 Let me tell you a newsletter story. And this is where a newsletter can be good and where it can be bad. I walked into a company pre COVID, about a year and a half before COVID. And we’re at the mothership. There’s about four or 500 people that work in head office. And I get led into these beautiful cafeterias type thing. And there’s this gorgeous three-layer Fondo cake that somebody’s created. It’s obviously angry that cake. And I went into the meeting I said, So what’s the story with this? Ben 26:20 I say, oh, one of our vice presidents creates cakes. That’s one of her passions. She says she makes a cake every single month for the employees, the head office, and we have a birthday party once a month for everybody whose birthday is during that month. I said that’s phenomenal. I said, what about the other 32 offices you have around the world? And they said, well, she can’t make cakes. I go Yeah, okay. Ben 26:45 She can’t make cakes. I go, but in your newsletter every single month, there’s a picture of this cake. All of a sudden you have 32 offices that are saying, where’s my cake? Who’s recognizing my birthday? How come head office is more important than we are, and for the cost that it would be to have a local contract with a local baker in those 32 locations, to be able to say, Okay, this office has got 12 employees, maybe four months a year? Ben 27:17 We have to have cakes, the cost of it is insignificant. So, we need to be very careful when we create newsletters, that we’re not creating us versus them mentality inadvertently. Because there are things that happened at head office, that are not being shared or opportunities that are not being provided to people that work in the field. Beau 27:46 That’s a great story. It also kind of underscores the importance of being clear, but also to conscientious and ensuring that there’s equity across all your different offices. I can completely see your perspective on how these 32 offices feel alienated because they’re just having fun in headquarters, and they’re getting a much better kind of employee experience, if you will. Ben 28:12 Exactly. And it leads to appointments as well. I live in the hinterlands; my contribution is nowhere near as important as the people that were going to head office. Beau 28:24 Yeah. Awesome. Great. I think it’s a great story to end on. But I appreciate you taking the time. So where can people find you? Ben 28:28 You know, what the best way for people to find me is that your brand marketing.com. That’s the motherlode that’s where you can get to my podcasts. That’s where you can get to all my free eBooks, you can get to my consulting page. You know, for small organizations, we come in on a test to see where you are and give you some hints of where to go. And help you along the way for large organizations. Ben 28:54 We obviously do a much deeper dive and create internal podcasts that are designed for companies that are 5000 to 100,000 employees. So come to the site, have a look around. There’s lots of free material and lots of eBooks for you to read. And if I can be of service, let’s have a conversation. Beau 29:15 Awesome. Right then. Great insight. Really appreciate you coming on. Thanks again. Ben 29:21 Beau, Thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate it sir.  
Posted 2 years ago
Ben Baker

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About Beau

FOUNDER, THE FREE AGENT

Beau spent over 14 years in enterprise-level software sales and was exposed to high-level talent by working alongside companies such as Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and more. 

In this podcast, Beau aims to interview high performing business leaders in the hope that their insights will bring about real positive change to the businesses of his listeners.

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