Kathleen M. Mazzarella, chairman, president and CEO of Graybar
Courtesy of Graybar
By Kathleen M. Mazzarella
July 28, 2015

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is our newest online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Kathleen M. Mazzarella, chairman, president and CEO of Graybar, has answered the question: What’s one quality that drives your company’s success?

Whenever I visit with employees in Graybar’s branches across North America, I’m always impressed by the extent to which they believe that their work matters. They work hard to understand what our customers need, and invest the personal effort to build lasting relationships for shared success.

As a privately held company that makes public filings with the SEC, Graybar has a distinctive culture shaped by its long history of employee ownership. Employee ownership gives us a sense of purpose and a belief that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. But by itself, an ownership stake doesn’t automatically drive employees to go above and beyond.

I believe any company can cultivate a workplace where people see how they can make a difference and are motivated to give their best every day. Creating this environment starts by having the right people in your organization: people with the values, the ability and the commitment to move the company forward. Everyone from senior leadership to the front-line employees must take responsibility to do their part. We don’t have the luxury of letting employees sit on the sidelines waiting to be told what to do. For the company to win, we need each member of the team to be fully engaged and contributing.

The next building block is authentic, two-way communication. Authentic communication is vital to creating a set of shared values and a solid understanding of your company’s direction, plans and progress so everyone plays their part in your success. One of my top priorities as a leader is to really talk with our employees — discussing with them about where the company is headed, answering their questions, listening to their concerns and reinforcing how important their work is to our success. That means I can’t hide in my office and simply send out communications — I have to go where the action is. I make time to visit with employees in their local branches, meet with them at our corporate office and host regular web conferences for all employees.

I’ve also learned how failing to communicate well drains the energy and productivity out of your team. In the absence of authentic communication, people are more likely to speculate, draw inaccurate conclusions and waste a lot of energy worrying about the future.

The most important component to developing an ownership mindset is showing employees how they can make a difference. Leaders must continually connect each individuals’ actions back to their company’s values and show how they combine to serve customers. They must equip their teams to succeed and give people the autonomy to get the job done. With that autonomy comes a sense of responsibility and personal accountability for achieving results. When employees succeed, recognize and celebrate the effort. When they fail or make a mistake, use it as an opportunity to help them learn and grow.

Read all answers to the Fortune 500 Insider question: What’s one quality that drives your company’s success?

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