News Column

More Than Smart Talk

June 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

Scott Williams

When Hispanic Business® asked CEOs at the largest Hispanic-owned companies to name their best management skill, “communication” was the most common response. Is that because communication-driven CEOs respond to such surveys more readily than operations- or finance-driven ones? Perhaps, considering that nearly 70 percent of CEOs describe themselves as “introverted,” according to a study by California-based Hagberg Consulting Group.

In the corporate setting, communication runs the gamut from composing good e-mails to sharing your vision at a company retreat or working on a new advertising campaign. CEOs and business consultants agree, however, that great communication involves more than smart talk; it requires excellent listening skills, especially from top managers.

“For any CEO to be successful, he or she must be a great communicator,” declares Juan Vila of Vila and Son Landscaping Corp., the number 134 company on the Hispanic Business 500®. “Share with your staff how the business was established, the strategies for maintaining a good work environment, and, most importantly, the vision you have for the future.”

David C. Muñoz, co-owner of Colorado-based Muñoz Consulting Group, agrees that effective communication within a company depends on a free flow of information – top-to-bottom as well as bottom-to-top. That plays a crucial role in organizational cohesiveness during difficult or transitional times.

“I encourage CEOs to keep their employees informed and aware of what’s going on,” says Mr. Muñoz. “People will accept bad news better than being lied to.”

Straightforward communication should also extend to bankers, suppliers, and vendors, Mr. Muñoz adds. “They are more than willing to deal with the situation and help as long as that communication is open,” he says.

Failure on the part of management to communicate with employees in
bad times fosters an “every man for himself” attitude, Mr. Muñoz concludes. CEOs owe it to their employees to communicate in general terms how the company is doing. At the same time, executives should be tuned in to major problems communicated by employees.

Carlos de Cespedes, CEO of Pharmed Group in Florida, says he and his brother Jorge, the company president, keep in touch with employees by eating lunch in the employee cafeteria. “Every day we sit with a different group – warehouse, marketing, the hospital group – and they get a kick out of that,” he says.

Pharmed Group, the number 10 company on the Hispanic Business 500, also communicates to its customers by participating in fund-raisers, supporting local chambers of commerce, and contributing to charitable causes, as well as through marketing materials.

J. Ricky Arriola, CEO of the direct marketing firm Inktel Direct, number 179 on the Hispanic Business 500, says effective communication includes a clear message and an objective method to measure whether the message reaches its audience. Inside the company, it helps to have established infrastructure, such as employee newsletters or weekly staff meetings, so that different departments can interconnect.

Communication extends outside the company headquarters. Not listening to market forces and clients inevitably leads to mistakes, Mr. Arriola says, while an environment where executives are willing to listen and encourage debate will result in fewer missteps. Managers’ unwillingness, or inability, to listen is the most common communication mistake, Mr. Arriola says.


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