In the late 1980s, the telephone rang at the desk of Tandy Corp. then-chairman John Roach in Fort Worth. He picked up the handset. The resulting conversation from the then-head of this major corporation sounded very much as if he were giving directions to somewhere. Roach, whose company is best known for its Radio Shack stores, patiently gave those directions.

It’s not the usual view of a corporate executive and so, that image lingers after all the years. But other reporters told me that Roach customarily answered his own telephone when his secretary was not available. He also would visit Radio Shack stores and inform managers of any deficiencies.

Diligence is important in any business, but what is noteworthy here is the communication that went from the bottom to the top. Roach, now retired, might note a dirty store, but he also listened to employees and customers.

In the accounting and tax software market, I see a similar dedication to access at Creation Solutions. Visit a CSI booth at a trade show and you will not just run into sales reps. Chances are you will get to speak to a vice president—sometimes as many as three are in attendance. (Sure, CSI is owned by our parent Thomson Corp. But CSI was doing this before being acquired by Thomson.)

Granted, executives can’t answer all their telephone calls. Granted that all executives cannot attend all trade shows all the time. Granted that they have many other things to do.

But if you think your company is just too busy to grant such access, consider Stampede, the Microsoft Business Solutions conference. Bob Clough, vice president of US sales and services for small business, displayed his email address on a screen than could be seen by the 4,000 or so attendees. Despite the volume of email he receives, Clough assures his audience he answers messages.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how the sins of the Andersen/WorldCom era stems from the separation from the people at the top from those at other levels and a sense of entitlement. (The old-fashioned term for this is they are too big for their britches.) But rather than get too long-winded, the simple message is that information flows both ways in a responsive organization.

A lot of people talk about empowering employees and customers. The way to have a great organization is to make an active communications effort. Manage by wandering about. Talk to people you normally ignore. Unhook yourself from the Internet and email. Anybody who thinks offering mass emails and sites customers or employees can visit is a communications program is fooling themselves. Get off your rear and get out into the field.

And listen.

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