Oral Histories

Angela Buonocore

Interview Segments on Topic: Trust/Credibility

Angela Buonocore Biography

Angela Buonocore is senior vice president and chief communications officer for Xylem, a spinoff business from ITT Corporation. She is responsible for global brand and reputation management, public relations, employee communications, corporate advertising, community relations and corporate philanthropy.


INTERVIEWER: Which leads to a second question which is, what are the challenges and the opportunities of communications leadership for a spinoff firm such as Xylem, officially formed just last year?

BUONOCORE: Right. So, working on a spinoff I think is really a highlight of anyone’s career and I would really recommend it to anyone. It’s very hard work but it’s also extremely satisfying to be able to think through what are the most important aspects of the company that is spinning businesses off that each company wants to retain, and what are the aspects of a new culture and a new personality that you want to create for the new brand. But it was really just a lot of work, not only around those strategic sorts of questions which, once the CEOs were chosen for each of the companies, the communications team, my communications team, worked with each of them to start the ball rolling on that. But it really also was, all the important things you have to do in cooperation with finance and legal to be able to separate companies. And, keeping the messaging very clear, because as you might imagine when you announce that sort of change, employees are very anxious and they have a lot of concerns and questions and it’s the communications team, along with HR and your other partnerships, to get employees to really understand every step of the way what’s going on and a lot of times what you have to tell employees is, “This is still work in progress. Everything isn’t worked out yet.” But it comes to the question of trust. Do the employees have trust in the enterprise and trust in their leadership? And that is a lot, where you draw on the equity you have in your bank of this relationship that you’ve built with your employees over the years. And understanding and telling them that you do understand that they’re anxious and frankly everyone is a little bit anxious because it’s an endeavor that you’re really sorting through, you’re doing it to create more value for the shareholders and you know, when you create more value for the shareholders, it creates more opportunities for employees, so it’s setting the right context and trying to allay people’s concerns, but to do it in a way that people trust in. Because it isn’t all going to necessarily work out maybe exactly the way they expected, but your hope is that they will trust you and, in the end, it will result in a better value for the shareholders, three great new companies in this case—or in the case of another spinoff, I did another initial public offering where it’s one new company but, it’s just the question of wanting to stay with you for the ride and to really understand that you have to do your day jobs for the people that are involved in the spin and keep the engine room running while you’re still doing work associated with the spin. In a lot of cases, the vast majority of the employees at the company, even though they may end up in the company with a different name on the door, would be doing the same sort of the work that they had been doing, although in a new construct.

INTERVIEWER: What do you feel are the keys to building trust and credibility in an organization?

BUONOCORE: I think there is a lot that goes into building trust and credibility between employees and the senior leadership, between peers as you work together; and I think some of it is just common sense—it’s how do you build trust in your own personal relationships? Do what you say you’re going to do. Listen to what other people have to say. Reflect. When you make a mistake, admit it. When something is not right, make the right steps to change it. Be transparent. Don’t have hidden agendas because employees can sniff that out immediately and I will tell you, some of the biggest things I’ve learned in the 30+ years I’ve been in corporate America is that your frontline employees know a lot. If you really want to know what’s going on in an organization, get out of your office, go out into the field, sit down and ask questions of the people that are on your manufacturing line, that are working with your customers face to face day in and day out. They will tell you the truth and they will know when you’re telling the truth. And you’ve got to be able to, I think, connect with people in a way that they understand that you’re serious about driving results but, there’s a quid pro quo there. People are going to deliver for you; you have to deliver for them. It isn’t all about just what can the employees of an organization do to move the organization forward. And these days, because employees generally don’t join a company and stay there for 30 or 40 years like they used to do, it’s part of—not a written contract—but a contract nonetheless that employees have with the place where they work. As long as they are happy and satisfied and whatever that means to them, which usually means having the opportunity to learn, grow and develop—of course people want to be paid fairly—but I think more what people want is a workplace that gives them an opportunity to exercise their own self potential and their own ability to move forward in whatever way that they view that, in their own career development. A lot of it has to do with engaging and feeling that they’re working on something that has meaning. And that comes back to the full circle of what the communications team, I think, can do really well. People want—the vast majority of people want to make a difference. They want to make a difference with their own families and in their own communities and they want to make a difference in the place where they spend most of their time, which is their workplace. And so you’ve got to be able to explain to them what it is that this company does that makes a difference and makes it different. What’s unique about this company, why do they want to work there and what do they get for doing so—beyond just the basics of their salary and benefits which are givens and certainly important. But I think it’s those sometimes intangible things that people get when they work in a certain company that, if you can explain them well, makes for a much better contract, that unwritten contract that exists between employees and their employers.

INTERVIEWER: Certainly argues for a strong internal communications program

BUONOCORE: Without question, I think internal or employee communications is one of the most important functions and I think CEOs are really getting to understand that. For years we focused on the external, and external is always going to be important, but internal is extremely important because internal—every single person in your company is an ambassador for your brand. Now, obviously if you’re doing a really good job, you have a lot of people outside your company who are also ambassadors for your brand. But to me as a given, I want to get every employee to be a very positive force around the brand or brands. And the way to do that is to really engage those employees and the way to engage employees is to make sure that they really have literacy around the business. That they understand not only what the business does and how it makes money, but where the business is going. What kind of company do we want this to be 3 years from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and how are each of you important in getting us there? It sounds very simple but it’s not that easy to do and if you can unlock the secret of doing that and figure out a way to do that so that everyone in the organization is aligned and understands where the organization is going and understands why they’re important in helping the organization get there, you unlock tremendous potential—and I have done that several times in my career and those are the days that you feel just the happiest of all because that is such a satisfying thing to be able to do, really to be able to do. And you know when you’re doing it.