How to Stay Connected with Your Employees and Customers

For the past month, Performance Solutions by Milliken has been working alongside our clients, metaphorically, to enable their Operational Excellence journey even as COVID-19 changed and continues to change the way we live and work. Our first concern is the protection of our Practitioners and our Clients’ employees based on latest understanding and guidance of the virusOur second is continuing operations  so that we and our clients are capable and ready for recovery. In what is my first serious business crisis since the Great Recession, I have found key focuses and activities that we are practicing throughout Milliken & Company helpful in supporting our Practitioners around the world as they continue to serve our clients. 

Connection to purpose, value, vision 

It is easy to be distracted in the face of imperfect information and increased pressure. Reminding ourselves of who we are, what we believe, and our purpose helps us make tough decisions and execute our plansWhen our CEO Halsey Cook recently began our all-hands leadership call with our Purpose, Values and Mission slide I involuntarily breathed a sigh of relief.   

Our values remain our values – regardless of business conditions and reinforcing those values as the guide to our actions is reassuring to the organization.  Acknowledging what is different and what is the same has been very steadying for us as we navigate new work processes.  Find meaningful and authentic ways to reinforce purpose, vision and values to steady and inspire your organization throughout the crisis. 

Communication 

Performance Solutions by Milliken has been a decentralized organization since its inception.  Communication with geographically disperse Practitioners is and continues to be a key priority for us. We have found that multi-tier communication is needed and valued. We deliver monthly-business level communications with semi-annual connection to the corporation, teams participate in monthly manager-led calls, and global client teams receive monthly written client summaries. 

With higher levels of uncertainty and change, frequency matters. The once-monthly business-level communication has increased to twice weekly with varying formats: written, recorded and live Q&A calls.  Line managers who interacted with their employees 1-2 times monthly have increased to weekly contact. Support, status and engagement is our purpose. Even if there is nothing new to report, high-stress situations call for frequent updates to keep information flowing.   

Skip-level communication is also valuable. I receive calls, texts and instant messages throughout the day from my direct-reports’ employees. These interactions help me connect to the mood and pulse of our organization as the operations leader and Practitioners feel I continue to engender an “open-door” cultureA multifaceted, multitier communication strategy reinforces the organization’s purpose as well as employee alignment and engagement, critical in dynamic environments. 

One-to-One Interaction

Consider your team for a moment. Does your team have meetings after the meeting? Are there colleagues who are silent during the meeting but approach you after-the-fact to ask deeper questions, gain clarification or voice concerns? How does that happen when your meetings are now remote? The concerns and need for clarification still exist, therefore intentional one-to-one contact is essential. 

As an individual motivated by checking off To-Do’s, I write down the members of my team and check them off as I connect with them every week. I’ve used the time gained by not traveling between meetings or work locations to increase the frequency at which I reach out personally. Using empathetic listening, I can listen for clues in tone of voice, language and tailor my support appropriately in a way that email just cannot accomplish. Ensure you engage with and support your employees, particularly newly remote staff who are potentially navigating this way of work for the first time.   

Technology – Get comfortable with Video Conferencing 

Milliken has a strong conference call culture – we do not video conference.  It is as if we collectively never got over our adolescent fear of public speaking or hearing ourselves on the answering machine. A good friend and colleague of mine contacted me this week using video conferencing. Seeing their face enhanced our brainstorming and exchange of ideas. Seeing my friend was a huge boost to my mood and morale – even though we saw each other’s athleisure wear, casual hair and dogs running around in the background. It helped me “get over” my aversion to using the video conference feature and is improving my interactions with my team. 

The quarantine and shelter-in-place measures states and workplaces are adopting have isolated us in ways unknown to our modern lives. Now, more than ever, human connection matters to our employee’s mental health and well-being and how we work while isolated from each other. Use every technological tool at your disposal to communicate and connect with your organization.   

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