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3 Keys to Scaling Your Company's Communication Using Slack

Guest: Erno de Bruijn, a coach at CEO Coaching International. Erno was the president and chief operating officer of the international division for a global manufacturer of building materials. He has also been an active YPO member since 2008.

Quick Background: Optimizing how to effectively communicate in a decentralized workforce world should be near the top of every CEO’s to-do list for the remainder of the year. Many of your best workers consider WFH a non-negotiable now. Your next key hire might live on the other side of the world from your headquarters. And if you’re contemplating an international expansion, you’ll need to keep your whole team Making BIG Happen across time zones, language barriers, and cultural differences.

On today’s show, Erno de Bruijn discusses the strategies and technologies that CEOs can use to scale their communication while maintaining a consistent message.

Keys to Scaling Communication from Erno de Bruijn

1. Keep an open mind on new communication solutions.

Millions of companies might never have tried virtual meetings and video chat if not for the pandemic. Now, it’s impossible for most CEOs to imagine doing business without these tools. How much time and cash could these CEOs have saved if they’d at least tried having a couple sales calls on Zoom?

Don’t wait around for the next major disruption to force you to try something new. If you’ve identified a communication problem, start looking for a solution. Or, at least, be open to a new idea if one presents itself.

That’s what happened to Erno in 2017. His company had just started decentralizing and reorganizing to accommodate 10 different operating companies around the world. He was struggling to get his general managers to communicate and collaborate better.

“I participated in an executive training program,” Erno says, “and I was having a conversation about WhatsApp. And one guy looked at me and he said, ‘Nobody here uses WhatsApp anymore. We all use Slack.’ And I said, ‘What is Slack?’ Mind you, this was 2017 and on the East coast only companies like The New York Times and startups were using Slack. When he explained the concept to me, that Slack was really a tool to bring your entire organization online and create a virtual office, I immediately figured out that this would be a great opportunity for me to make a big change in my organization. And I started looking into it.”

2. Delegate implementation.

And then, after he’d looked into Slack, Erno delegated the real vetting to his division’s IT experts.

“It was a big challenge for me to understand what Slack could do and individualize it,” Erno says. “And then I did what I always like to do: find people who are smarter than I am to actually figure out how to do it. So I found two very smart IT guys in our organization and I explained to them how I saw this as a great opportunity for us. They took quite some time to look at it, and together we designed a program of execution.”

That action plan included robust security and assigning permissions for division-specific chat rooms, including the c-suite. The company also overhauled its archive system so that its knowledge base and best practices wouldn’t be too disrupted if a key employee moved on.

But crucially, Erno also realized that while the CEO has to make the BIG decisions and establish the plan, he or she isn’t always the best person to generate buy-in from the rest of the team.

“We created a group of champions,” he explains, “one or two people in each country who would buy into our new communication platform. My approach is always the same, which is not to force it, but to create so much energy from the people who do like it, and so much enthusiasm, that people who don’t participate feel left out. That’s how it worked. And it just grew and grew and grew. And people became very enthusiastic. All of a sudden, all the department heads talked to each other — even one level below. People could feel part of a global community. There was an enthusiasm that people understood and that people wanted to belong to. I think that was the secret sauce.”

3. Broadcast your values.

Slack may have been a new means of communication for many of Erno’s employees — and for Erno! But he says that the fundamentals of how and what the company communicated didn’t really change. Whether they were typing in chat rooms, attending virtual meetings, or getting some old fashioned face time, everyone in Erno’s company already understood what was expected of them and how they were expected to treat each other. Building a good tech stack can enhance that workplace culture and help it grow. But it can’t create that culture without an empathetic CEO setting an example from the top down.

“I think it all starts with a company that has great values,” Erno says. “Our company, as a second generation family business, had always had great values. The question is, if you have 10 values printed on a poster in Connecticut, what does that do for the people who work in an office in China? The leading principle is to lead by example. If people see you, hear you and have more frequent interaction, it becomes more convincing. They can see if you live the values or not. Are you doing what you’re supposed to do? Are you’re doing what you said you would be doing? Are you sincere? Is there integrity? Can I trust you? Do you trust me? People liked to work for the organization I led because they felt they belonged. It was a great group of people and we had a good product and a good brand, but on top of that they belonged and they were proud to be there.”

Top Takeaways

1. Don’t “slack” on your learning. Stay curious and your company’s next BIG upgrade might find you.

2. Let your specialists do their jobs so you can focus on doing yours.

3. Amplify your core values. A communication upgrade is only as good as the message it’s communicating to your team.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.

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