Web Firms Lack in Employee Contact

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A leading Internet consulting company recently issued a press release announcing a 15 percent staff reduction. There's nothing unusual about that these days.

The problem was that the company failed to tell its employees about the "reduction" before the release was on the wire. That's right, the employees read the release on the Internet, just like everyone else in the world. How is this possible?

To run a successful company in the Internet era, business leaders must develop better communication skills.

CEOs of public Internet companies tend to spend much time and money learning how to become effective public speakers. They attend seminars, hire personal trainers, listen to audiotapes and read books on public speaking. In many ways, they work hard on communicating their messages about their companies to the "outside" world -- the world of the media, shareholders and potential investors. However, they often fail to effectively communicate (or to communicate at all) with their employees. Perhaps the stress of falling share prices and nonstop press releases has caused too many business leaders to take their eyes off what is happening within their companies.

The Internet has fundamentally improved our communication tools, making communication faster, more accessible and more efficient. Yet, the leaders of many Internet companies tend to be more accessible to the media than they are to their employees and customers.

Talk to your employees, not the media. The theory that many Internet company leaders are not good communicators because of their technology backgrounds probably has some validity. However, they have no trouble espousing how their companies are "only as good as our people" in press releases. Later in these same releases, the CEO will claim, "Our company puts our customers first." That may be true, but shouldn't the employees come first? Can you even have customers without employees?

Too many Internet executives don't take the time to develop a rapport with their employees or to find out what interests them.

At the old-economy companies, the idea of "managing by walking around" was often successful. Employees want their boss and their boss's boss to take an interest in their work. It's amazing how much good will can be achieved by the CEO of a company asking an employee, "What are you working on today?"

The act itself is simple, the communication is effective, and the results are long-lasting. CEOs of dot-coms need to talk with the people who had enough confidence in their leadership to come work for their companies in the first place. They must regain the trust of those employees before those employees lose confidence and find a new company to work for.

Many Internet companies have fewer than 100 employees. Surely CEOs can spare a few minutes a month to walk the halls. Perhaps they could even leave their cell phones, pagers and Palm Pilots in their offices -- though that might be a bit too much to hope for. Wouldn't want to miss a chance to talk to another reporter.

• Tom Flanagan writes about the Internet, marketing and sales. Reach him at tom@tybio.com.

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