Friday, April 26, 2013

The Power of Transparent Communication

Meg Whitman speaks at the Tech Museum in San J...
Meg Whitman. Photo by Max Morse (Wikipedia)
by Meg Whitman, CEO at Hewlett-Packard, LinkedIn:

In my first post, I outlined a number of leadership principles that are critical to a successful corporate turnaround.

As part of my goal to share regular updates and insights into HP’s turnaround, one area I wanted to focus on in particular is the importance of open and transparent communication.

Poor communication not only hurts collaboration and execution within a company, but it invariably expresses itself externally - from sales to customer service to an organization’s relationship with their partners.

Improving how we communicate and work together across the business has been one of my priorities since joining HP. The following are a few of the changes we’ve worked to drive across our organization and that are relevant to any company operating today. 

Start small

When I arrived at HP, I found a company divided into silos. These divisions cut across geography and business groups, but were particularly prevalent between management and employees.

Nothing symbolized this disconnect more than our executive offices and what I called the “commando fence” - a large fence outfitted in barbed wire surrounding our executive parking lot.

The walled offices and military-style fence represented just how far HP had departed from the culture of the company’s founders.

One of the first things I did was tear down the fence and move all of our executives into cubicles. We now walk in the same door as the rest of our employees. This was symbolic of the kind of culture that we wanted to build. And in organizations as large as ours, symbolism actually matters.

What you communicate by your actions - the things that are visible to 320,000 people - makes a real difference. 

Communicate the problem, but focus on solutions

While we are making progress in our plan to turn HP around, it’s undeniable that HP is emerging from a challenging series of years.

Since joining HP, we’ve made it a point to address this head-on with our customers, employees, investors and partners. This includes diagnosing the problems, but, more importantly, laying out clear plans for how we are going to improve.

A recent example was this year’s HP Global Partner Conference. With more than 100,000 channel partners worldwide, our channel is critical to HP’s success.

To reaffirm our commitment to our partners after a period of uncertainty, we were candid and acknowledged the challenges our partners had faced. But what we focused on, and what our partners really wanted to hear, was outlining concrete plans to ensure our mutual success in the future. 

Empower your people

You can improve your company’s infrastructure and roll out multiple plans from headquarters, but you won’t make progress unless you win the hearts and minds of your people. It’s critical that people connect to the plan and are empowered to drive change out in the field.

At HP, we’ve focused on better engaging and empowering our employees around the world. For instance, this past February, and for the first time, we invested in bringing together all of our vice presidents and country managing directors (all 1,100 of them) in person.

We focused on their roles as leaders, our strategy and key company-wide initiatives. We created an environment where we could discuss tough issues and work together to find solutions to fix them.

Not shying away from tough problems, and increasing levels of communication at all levels of the business, is critical to ensuring that we can drive our strategy and operate as one, unified company. 

Transparency in consistency

For any company to be successful today, it must ensure that all of the organization’s stakeholders - from employees, to customers, to investors - have a clear line of sight into the company’s strategy and performance, good or bad.

To that end, we’re taking a more proactive approach to communicating externally than HP has done in the past. This includes a new online platform that we recently rolled out to serve as the home for updates on HP’s turnaround, HP Next.

We’re already using this site to communicate important updates to our business, like the future direction of our board.

All of the changes above can help strengthen a company’s culture and relationships with its stakeholders, but my advice to other senior leaders is that improving communication ultimately comes down to whether employees at all levels are engaged and delivering on their commitments.

I try to reinforce this with my team every day. I tell them to walk around and visit their people. Stop the emails and start talking to your teams. Just letting people know that you’re conscious of the challenges, aware of the issues and actively dealing with them matters.

At the end of the day, improving communication is a continuous process that depends on individual action - new corporate initiatives and tools will only get you so far.
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