SARAH KAUSS

SARAH KAUSS

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Build Trust

The secret perk that helps build trust with employees

Fortune – August 25th, 2015
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An unflinching dedication to creating honest communication has helped S’well build employee trust and reap numerous rewards, from greater team loyalty to more cohesive departments and creative product development. But employee trust doesn’t happen by itself, nor does it develop overnight. What I’ve learned through the years is that building trust is a time-intensive endeavor that takes an unwavering commitment to transparency. It requires an environment that encourages open communication across all levels.

Individual team members want to be heard. They want to understand how their role is contributing to the overall health of the organization. But continuous change and a tendency for closed-door meetings at companies can quickly make employees feel disengaged. Not knowing the details – or hearing only bits and pieces through word of mouth – can create an environment of insecurity, gossip and distrust. This is why we take an open approach to most everything we do at S’well from meetings and management style to office space. We religiously set aside short intervals of time to share news, challenges, successes and everything in between to encourage healthy communication and positive interactions.

For us, Monday Morning Bagels epitomizes this commitment. It offers the entire team a 30-minute share session where individuals from different departments recount recent milestones and stories of success. Management jumps in and shares what they can from closed-door discussions. Whether the topic is critical new business updates or minutiae tied to billing or a new espresso machine, we try to touch on all facets of the business. It helps the team understand the decisions that go into making S’well a success and sheds light on how their role contributes to it.

These Monday meetings have also become a safe place to voice opinions and are a consistent channel for support. Anyone, from interns to senior leadership, can talk about specific challenges or concerns. We become sounding boards and solution seekers for each other, creating a whole new level of transparency. And we do it standing up, infusing an added energy into the meeting that keeps it lively and productive.

Our employees are our best resource for knowledge. We want to be able to tap into this brain trust throughout the day, every day. So we have an open floor plan to ensure communication doesn’t stop when Monday Morning Bagels is over. This wide-open environment supports spontaneous sharing of ideas for all to benefit. Creatives can be influenced by sales, sales influenced by production, management by interns and so on.

And no matter how busy we all may be or how fast the business is growing, I always want to be accessible to my team. So we implement an open-door policy for leadership. Individual team members may not feel comfortable sharing concerns or ideas publicly, but I want them to always feel comfortable sharing with me. I make a point to connect in person, over Skype or via other forms of technology to ensure they know I’m present and available, even when I’m not physically in the office.
Without trust, transparency and our stellar team, S’well wouldn’t have made it this far and we want to do everything we can to keep the momentum going forward – which is why we will always remain whole-heartily committed to our bagel chats.