Guest Contributor: Mark Fenner, CEO of MFA Oil Company.
How many times have you experienced problems with your spouse, significant other, or family member due to the lack of good communication? Unfortunately, the same thing applies in the business world as well.
Many times, senior leadership at companies feel they are communicating the message early and often. The reality is it’s usually not enough. Senior management is always front and center and does its best to spread the gospel. They are aware of how often they are in front of employees and stakeholders to do so. But the problem is people get busy. Busy with their work, personal lives, health and family challenges, etc. Additionally, just like the old story about telling one person one thing, and after a few people the message has changed drastically, the corporate message can be fuzzy by the time it reaches the masses.
For us at MFA Oil, we’ve experienced exactly this problem. We have 4 major business areas within our company. Our traditional bulk fuel and propane business under the MFA Oil brand, Break Time convenience stores, Jiffy Lube, and Big O Tire businesses. To make matters worse, about 85% of our employees are field based away from our home office. So, the challenge is even greater as we have so many things to discuss in each business. But we have made huge strides on our communication strategy. We’d always made an effort through a company newsletter to communicate with our employees. But we discovered we were missing the mark on many issues, so we set out towards positive change.
We started by videotaping our employee meetings. This improved things but unfortunately the video took longer than many want to spend. So, we also began recording a podcast where we discuss current events we want our folks aware of. But again, our employees have to take time to listen to it to make it worthwhile. Additionally, we created a company magazine called Momentum. This was a dual communication effort towards both employees and customers.
Probably our most successful effort to date is an effort we called FaceTime with Fenner. With all apologies to the corniness of the name, it actually fits. Essentially these FaceTime meetings are just that, face to face meetings with myself, the CEO. These meetings forced 2-way communication between employees and senior management through small group meetings. Employees are placed in small group settings (usually less than 20 people) and asked to provide their input on various topics including how to improve the company from their perspective, without their direct supervisor in attendance. The meetings have been very successful and enlightening.
While we’ve had many positive comments and even won several industry awards about our communication strategy, it’s still not enough. We still have employees and customers misunderstand our intentions and direction in spite of our efforts. But the point is we are making an effort to improve. No matter what you do it’s likely there will never be enough good communication. But as long as your team understands you have a genuine desire to keep them informed, that’s half the battle.
When all is said and done our customers and employees understand we are making an effort to improve our communication and we care about them. They also understand that we are making every effort to be transparent with them to help them understand our business better. At the end of the day we hope this helps us to be a better company. And just like that argument with your spouse or others you are close to, if they know you care and are genuine your chances for a positive outcome are much higher than the alternative.
A special thanks to Mark Fenner, CEO of MFA Oil Company, for contributing this guest blog.