Rusty Childress, president of Childress Buick-Kia in Phoenix, Ariz., believes in communication. At this car dealership with 105 employees and 1998 revenues of $35 million, Childress has instituted a number of programs to improve communication within the company. They include:

  • Childress College. Childress wants to make sure that all the departments work well together, so new recruits at the company go through a seven-week orientation program designed, he says, "to build empathy" for one's colleagues. During the orientation, dubbed "Childress College," new employees spend one day a week in a different department. They also learn about the concepts of "internal customers" and "internal suppliers." At the end of the training, employees sign a pledge that says they know who their internal customers are.
  • Take-Five Meetings. To tap employees' ideas, Childress periodically picks five workers at random and asks them how they would improve the dealership.
  • Employee Satisfaction Index. For a more systematic approach to communication, Childress conducts a survey of employee satisfaction twice a year. The survey also asks employees how well they think management is doing and how the owner might do things differently.
As a result of all these communication programs, Childress has found that his employees' customer service performance has improved, as measured by the dealership's customer satisfaction ratings. His programs have also made it easier to recruit and keep employees.