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1991 EXCEL Award winner George Anderson.

The Excellence in Communication Leadership Award EXCEL is given by IABC to a non-IABC member who leads the way in fostering-and Participating in-good communication. EXCEL winners support communication and public relations and their organizations reflect that support in their outstanding communication work. The EXCEL Award is the highest award given to a nonmember, who is frequently a chief executive in a major company.

George D. Anderson, winner of this year's EXCEL award, recently was appointed president and chief executive officer of Central Guaranty Trust Limited and Central Guaranty Trust Co., Toronto. Anderson began his career with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. in 1971. From 1974 until 1983, Anderson held a variety of senior positions within CMHC.

In 1983, he left public service to become vice president, mortgage lending, for National Trust Co. in Toronto. In 1986, he rejoined Canada Mortgage & Housing as president and chief executive officer. In December 1988, CMHC was cited by the auditor general of Canada as one of the eight best-performing federal government institutions. In 1990, the organization was selected by The Financial Post as one of the 100 best companies to work for in Canada. Anderson also was selected by The Financial Post as one of Canada's top 200 chief executive officers.

Anderson has represented Canada as head of delegation to the housing meeting of the Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva in 1978 and to the United Nations' Centre for Human Settlements in Nairobi in 1987. He was co-chairman of the Canada-USA and Canada-Japan Steering Committees on Housing and Urban Affairs. He has served on many key committees and has contributed his services to various Canadian governmental and private agencies.

Anderson was born in Toronto, reared in Montreal and worked in western Canada. He has a Bachelor of Arts (with distinction) from Carleton University, a Master of Arts from the University of Saskatchewan, and holds the designation Certified in Real Estate Finance from the Real Estate Institute of Canada. Anderson is a governor of the Canadian Comprehensive Audit Foundation.

GG: Mr. Anderson, You have served in top executive positions in both public and private industry. Do you think that being a CEO in a private company challenges your communication skills differently than when with a public company?

GA: No. As far as communication is concerned, the real difference in companies is in their size, not their functions; that is, the bigger the company, the greater the communication challenge. The problems of communicating effectively are similar between public and private enterprises.

GG: How did you develop your communication skills?

GA: I have no formal training in this area. I simply learned by doing. My ability, to the extent I have any, developed through trial and error.

GG: How do you feel that you communicate most effectively-one-on-one, small meetings, large meetings, the written word?

GA: I think speaking extemporaneously. I am surprised when I see myself on tape: I seem to have an ability to speak publicly, without stumbling on an extemporaneous basis and without notes. That's been a very fortunate characteristic because it has allowed me to speak my mind directly to an audience without putting the barrier of written text between them and me. I took a lot of care earlier in my career to make sure I could write in a clear and concise way. In the federal government I had to communicate with cabinet ministers in writing to get across complex ideas in a straightforward, understandable, readable and logical way. I spent a lot of time developing those skills. So I guess in terms of the development of my skill level, having an ability to write clearly and being a pretty voracious reader, I think helped.

GG: How does your management style affect communication within your organization-and how do you encourage open communication between you and your employees as well as your external publics?

GA: Well, my management style is to put a high value on effective communication and to become personally involved. I think that the companies I managed tend to pay a lot of attention to this area. I take a lot of time to organize events and moments where you invite people to talk to you. For example, I usually do special events every year-if you like-something that is unusual in the organization which piques people's curiosity, and then I use that as a vehicle for getting a dialogue going.

I'll give you an example. Last year I went across the country and held presidential breakfasts very early in the morning. We would have 7:00 or 7-30 breakfasts with our front-line staff, our branch managers, and so on. This was the first time in memory that a president had ever gone out into the field and organized these kinds of events. I talked about what I saw as the mission of the company and what my personal values were. Early in the game I didn't want to say this is where I want the company to be; I just said to people: "This is what you can expect of me as your president" and one of the key values that I talked about was communication.

I believe in a country as large as Canada that communication is the glue that binds us together. Effective communication can shrink a company in size and scope, and poor communication can blow it apart. When I got back from those trips, I organized a series of projects which asked people to suggest how the company could be run better. I went out and told them I was going to do that, and then I did it.

That was last year. This year we're implementing an event called "bear-pit sessions." Groups of employees, usually departments, are asked to submit anonymous questions which are put into a question box. And then one afternoon-an afternoon with each department-I come in, pull these out, one after another, and answer them. They can ask anything they want; they can word it any way they want. I read it out loud, then answer it. And that has a

GG: It is a little risky, but it sounds like it works.

GA: That's what you've got to do, though. In all these things, that's basically what you have to do. In my opinion you have to go out and show people that you're willing to take the chance first and then they develop some confidence. They think that "This guy really means what he says, cause look at what he's doing."

We just finished our first event and did an evaluation at the end to ask people how they felt about it. It was extremely well received. So this year I'll be doing that as one of my key communication efforts in the company. But the philosophy that I've developed over time is, "one thing never works." I think there's an old maxim in advertising that states, What you have to do is get a message heard eight times before it begins to sink in." So I'll be visiting the regional offices in the country. We have a program where the executive of the company visits the branches. I will be doing my share of branch visits. I'm writing a column in our company newsletter. You've got to really focus on what are the five or six key messages you want to get across, keep repeating them and keep tying everything you do into those five or six messages. Don't get too fancy. Make them simple. And if you can't boil down your concept of the company into a simple set of messages, then you'll have to rethink your concept.

GG: What do you ask of others in the way of communication, particularly in your communication department? How accessible are you to communicators, and how much information do you expect from them to help you do your job?

GA: What I have observed in general is that the communication department isn't necessarily the best communication vehicle, at least not inside your company.

I don't know if this is generally true-but I have found through observation and experience that sometimes communication departments are too passive and are too enamored of the external media. The real communication challenge, in my opinion, is inside your company. If you want to get a consistent, straightforward message out externally, people in the company have to believe it.

And communicators also are too enamored of high-tech and electronic media-they can pick up the newspaper the next day and see the name of the company in it. They don't pay nearly enough attention to the internal communication.

Secondly, they tend to wait for the CEO to say what he or she would want instead of trying to do an honest assessment about what that person's strengths and weaknesses are and suggesting to them modest ways in which they can communicate more effectively internally and externally. In other words, there's too much of this "What does the CEO want?" instead of "How can we help the CEO as spokesman for all of us to communicate better?"

GG: What were some of the toughest issues you have had to communicate?

GA: The one thing that people have the most difficulty with is any degree of change. Even if it holds the promise of a better world. It is threatening, and resistance to it is inbred. And there are lots of really good and understandable reasons why that happens, but I see the fundamental communication challenge in a company being to successfully link what is happening in the outside world with the individual employee's everyday work experience.

Why is my job changing? I just learned to do it this way!"

"This company is perverse! Every time I learn a skill they're asking me to do something differently!"

"They're asking for a new skill!"

They're reorganizing!" ... And people have a natural tendency to look at their organizations as kind of isolated microcosms. They don't see the connection to the larger world. They don't see the competitive pressures, forces of the marketplace, demographic pressures. All of these things necessarily come down to, at the end of the day, a change in everybody's everyday living experience inside work and outside of work, and making that connection for people, saying: "We're not arbitrary madmen moving chess pieces around the board. Managements are confronted with the constant challenge of aligning the functions and operations of the company with the realities of the marketplace. Here's how we define the realities of the marketplace. Here's how that works back to your everyday job." That's the fundamental communication challenge.

Let me give you another example. The most prominent one I can think of recently: How does President Bush convince somebody from Peoria to fight in the desert thousands of miles away? How does he convey that change in the relationship between Iraq and Kuwait? Somehow, if it is not dealt with, it is going to have a fundamental impact on the experience of those at home.

GG: We've noticed an internal communication trend of communicating from the bottom up. More employees are beginning to take this initiative. Have you found that and are you taking any measures to encourage upward communication?

GA: Yes. Both are true. People want this and it's a definite trend. We do take measures to make sure that it happens-the visits, for example, that our executives are making throughout our branch system. They're primarily there to listen and leam, not to teach. The project I talked about, in which we invited people to submit comments, opened up the opportunity for them to make suggestions about the company. That was a program called Project BEST ("Building an Effective Structure Together"). We encouraged bottom-up communication of ideas about how to make the company better. We had 2,500 employees submit over 3,000 ideas. That's an example of bottom-up.

GG: It certainly is. Do you see that this has been a somewhat dramatic change, or has it been a gradual change?

GA: This was dramatic. It was as if we had blown up the dam and the water came rushing through the gorge. It was a really gratifying outpouring of people's commitment to the organization. An example: At these bear-pit sessions, we say to people: "You don't have to stand up and identify yourself if you are timid. Tell me what's on your mind by writing a question on a card." Now that, I think, is the bottom line.

Another thing we did extensively at CMHC when I was there, and we are starting to do in this company, is a very extensive use of task forces where employees tackle company issues. Now, the truth of this question is that you will never do enough. That's one of those never-ending demands where people want more and more input. They have some generalized goal about the ideal world that no company has yet met, as far as I can tell. You've got to keep trying.

GG: How do you measure the effectiveness of your company's communication efforts and what do you do with the results? Obviously you act upon them, but do you have a measurement tool that you use?

GA: I think there are only two ways to do this; by formal survey and by constantly seeking direct and indirect feedback on what others think of your company's communication efforts.

Normally my commitment is that whenever we do a survey, we release the results publicly. That puts a peg in the ground. \Wen I say "publicly" I mean within the company. So if we do a survey of people saying: "Do you think we're communicating; on a scale of one to 10, give us a number; how well; what could we do better?" We find a way to publish that within the company and say: "This is what people told us and this is what we are doing about it." The idea is to try to convey the notion that this is a dynamic. It's not a static beginning-and-end game. No matter what we've done, we can always improve, and this is what we are going to do to improve. Then when we think we've had enough time to let that change set in, we do a survey, and move forward again.

GG: In reading your biographical information, I noticed that when you were with CMHC you established an executive of communication-a vice-president of public affairs-which was a first for the organization. Are you going to be doing this in the company you're with now?

GA: We took an interim step of taking our key communication experts: whether they be advertising experts, internal company communication people, marketing people, and put them into a single department. And ultimately we will have to consider whether or not we have a special public affairs department.

GG: What do you consider your greatest communication success?

GA: I would have to say CMHC's inclusion as one of the best 100 companies to work for in Canada. This was a success not so much because we were selected, but because The Financial Post conducted extensive random interviews with many staff members of CMHC. There was a remarkably consistent point of view presented about the company and its mission and values. I was particularly proud of the last sentence in their review, which reads: "It is a corporation prepared for the future." Says one employee of 15 years: "We don't know where we'll be in 10 years. What we rely on is that we can adapt."

Gloria Gardon is the editor of Communication World.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Excellence in Communication Leadership Award, president and CEO of Central Guaranty Trust Limited and Central Guaranty Trust Co.
Author:Gordon, Gloria
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:interview
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Reaching the technical audience: sometimes it's not easy.
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