Celia Willis is CEO of KWI Communications, the small but mighty force that serves as a key communication and community-building mechanism behind some of Atlanta’s most respected corporations.
A trailblazing leader, she boldly fosters a company culture characterized by collaboration, innovation, and a truly people-first vision, which guidesKWI’s approach to its client work and business. Celia connects with her team and manages the balance between growth and community within KWI.
She loves the challenge of building a company of dynamic, strategic consultants who move with an ever-changing client landscape. With a background in economics and communications, she brings a unique perspective to client projects and business management.
Prior to KWI, Celia was the communications director for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a local non-profit, and The South Fork Conservancy, which focused on connecting communities with inner-city trails.
Her top strengths are Connectedness, Futuristic, Strategic, Ideation, and Arranger.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About KWI Communications
- A unique approach to solving business problems for your clients
- Role of communication in business
- End-to-end guidance and support
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio brought to you by on pay Atlanta’s new standard in payroll. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:24] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor on pay without them. We couldn’t be sharing these important stories today on the Atlanta Business Radio. We have Celia Willis with KWI Communications. Welcome.
Celia Willis: [00:00:43] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:44] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about KWI Communications. How are you serving, folks?
Celia Willis: [00:00:50] Well, so Kateb, why is communications and management consulting agency based here in Atlanta? We actually began as an internal comms team with an embedded with embedded consultants who worked hand in hand with corporate communications staff to really build employee engagement within companies.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:09] Now, what is kind of the the typical client you have, are they like large enterprise companies?
Celia Willis: [00:01:16] Yeah, we tend to have sort of mainly private companies. Fortune two hundred and Fortune 500 generally at least one billion dollar companies.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:26] And then what’s the pain that they’re having that K-Y is the solution?
Celia Willis: [00:01:31] Well, a lot of companies reach a size where they suddenly realize they’re having trouble maintaining quality standards, reaching people, making sure people have all the information they need to do their jobs well. And that’s where we come in. Or is this how we started? So and we’ve expanded over the years to helping them with other pain points related to people. So not just communications, but how how is their structure enabling people to do their job as well? What do you need leadership development? You need coaching. So we do a lot of things to address people pain, so to speak.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:07] Now what are some of the symptoms that like things are happening? It’s a larger company. How do they know they have a problem like I do? Certain incidents happen is that they’re having a hard time filling slots. Is it? They’re getting a lot of turnover, like are there symptoms that are telling management that, Hey, this is something that’s not right, we’ve got to fix this?
Celia Willis: [00:02:30] Well, it’s interesting. You use the word symptoms. We actually like to talk about organizations as though they’re a human body. So if you think of the human body, there’s different muscles, there’s the skeleton, there’s the connective tissue. We say that the different departments may be the muscles. The connective tissue is the communications that keeps everything together. The skeleton is the company structure. And then at the heart of the people. Right. And so what we do is we kind of go in and diagnose the problem. We use surveys, focus groups or just anecdotal evidence if we can’t do those other things. And it’s usually we’re brought in because someone says they’re not hearing us. People aren’t doing what they need to do or like, you just said, we’re losing people, we’re not communicating well enough with our salespeople because they’re not selling the right products, you know, so it’s different for everybody. But we like to come in and do a really deep analysis of what’s going on
Lee Kantor: [00:03:26] Now, a trend that we’re seeing in just the economy, in business in general. Is this great resignation, right? What does that speak to you regarding this issue that the dissatisfaction that employees are having, it seems like across the board, across industries, at all levels?
Celia Willis: [00:03:46] Yes, the great resignation is something I’ve been talking to clients a lot about, and it was something that I kind of felt coming in the industry. I think that the past year and a half has kind of shaken people up in lots of different ways, and it’s caused them to pause and reevaluate their lives, which is a very common reaction after someone experience experiences something dramatic or traumatic in their lives as they reevaluate. And I think that to a certain extent is just that. But they’re looking at their companies and they’re saying, Why? What am I doing here, right? Do I feel connected to what this company is doing? Do I feel like I’m growing here? I mean, that I think is at the core. A lot of these people’s resignations is that they they don’t either connect to what the company is trying to do. They don’t feel like they are making a tangible impact. In some cases, they just realize they’re in the wrong careers and the companies can’t do much about that. But there it is, a time for companies to reevaluate their why and how they’re communicating that to their people.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:47] Now what about this kind of lack of trust between management and the employees in terms of, you know, with all the the layoffs and the reorganize and all this stuff that the employees are just getting kind of deaf to the promise of this better future where they just it just been there, done that. I’ve seen this happen. You know, why should I trust you now that this is somehow going to be different than it was, you know, two years ago before the last reorg?
Celia Willis: [00:05:17] Oh, man, this is this is the this is the question. It really comes down to, I think, companies taking fast action. So identifying what they can do right away. And then I didn’t find what’s going to take more time because on the other side, if they move too quickly, they’ll they’ll also get criticism for not doing things right and for not communicating enough and et cetera, et cetera. Right. So it’s sort of a catch twenty two situation, but I encourage companies to really identify those quick wins, the low hanging fruit that they can just go in and say, OK, we’re going to do this, this and this right away. Here are our long term plans and really involving the employees in creating that change and implementing it. So they have a saying that no one thinks their baby is ugly. If someone has a hand in creating something, then then they’re going to be much more forgiving of it.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:08] Now. Some of your work is around culture, and to me, culture is something that is going to be created, whether you’re taking any initiative and being proactive about it or not. What are some of the things that companies can do a better job at improving their culture, at least even having it resonate with their folks? Because it seems like there’s just a big disconnect between what maybe management thinks their culture is and what it actually is?
Celia Willis: [00:06:39] Yeah. Well, I think the first thing they can do is understand that culture is not a stagnant concept. It’s always changing. It’s always, as we call it, community and community to me is both culture and the people. Because as you bring in new people, as you bring in news, offering services, customers, your culture will shift as it should to morph into this new thing based on what people are bringing to the table. So I think companies really need to regularly tap in to say, Who are we now? You know, we’ve grown or we’ve shrunk or we have changed direction. So who are we? What is our culture? What are people value? What do they need? And that requires very regular touch, especially right now when there’s so much change happening and a lot of resignation and hiring and all sorts of challenges. So I think really, at this point in time, almost quarterly deep dove check ins in different ways could really help companies understand what their cultures are.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:35] Now, how do they how does a company kind of improve their culture and community when, you know, sometimes half, if not more of their employees are remote?
Celia Willis: [00:07:47] Yes, and that’s been a challenge. Again, I think it comes back to listening, I found that in a remote world, you know, it becomes a lot less about the office parks and things like that and more about how am I growing, how am I connecting again to that vision of mission? I think when we went remote, all those in office perks, especially for big corporations, were gone. And so what people were left with was, what am I doing here, right? So that clarity of mission and purpose becomes so, so important and also knowing how am I valued, which is how am I growing in the organization? Do they value me at all anyway? And making that very clear, I think is now the new the new currency
Lee Kantor: [00:08:30] And how well the job. Do you think that these large enterprises are doing when it comes to telling the story to their their people? How how are they able to articulate kind of their dream to their individual stakeholders? Because I think there’s sometimes a disconnect where the upper management, you know, they want to go somewhere, but the people that are doing the work are kind of like, I’m not saying that, that’s not how I see the company.
Celia Willis: [00:09:05] Yeah. I think the rate of change has been really challenging for companies and for the people. They feel lost in it. And I think the best thing companies can do in terms of how well they’re doing, it varies. I think everyone’s struggling with it. I don’t think anyone’s saying we’re amazing right now. We’re communicating perfectly for something. There’s not really such a thing. And especially now, it’s almost impossible to communicate everything going on because it’s so complex and changing so quickly. And so I think the best thing they can do is bring them along pretty transparently on that journey and say, Look, we’re in this together. We’re we’re all in a pandemic for the first time to hear, right? So come with us and talk to us, you know, really keeping that open line of communication is going to be their best option to make people feel connected to what’s happening now.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:57] To me, there seems to be an opportunity when you are kind of enabling and empowering your people to be the storytellers about their experience. In some ways, it’s a risk because you may not be happy about the story they’re telling. But on the other hand, it could be pretty powerful to the people around them because they’re getting to share what they’re seeing and articulating it and and sharing it among their team and the whole company.
Celia Willis: [00:10:23] Yeah, I think authenticity is a growing idea. Even in corporate America was not something that people even really thought was an option even 10 years ago to be their authentic selves. But with the digital revolution and the social media just taking over, there, really, companies cannot stop people from telling their own stories, so the best thing they can do is lean into that and empower them and really see their employees and their customers as their best assets, their best ambassadors, and be prepared for the negative feedback they get. But really empowering people to be authentic and tell those stories and about how they connect with the company. I think is is what companies really have to. Like I said before I lean into
Lee Kantor: [00:11:14] Now, are you seeing more kind of employee resource groups where there’s groups of like affiliate groups, affinity groups among their employees in terms of allowing them to kind of gather and kind of build community among themselves?
Celia Willis: [00:11:30] I actually know I’m not seeing it increase. I think that was definitely very active beforehand. And I haven’t really seen it grow since everyone went remote. I wouldn’t actually be surprised if those kind of groups took a little bit of a hit just because a lot of that was fueled in person. So I think it’s, from my perspective, stayed relatively stable.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:56] Is that a good thing, or do you think it’s something that that’s an opportunity for enterprise to really connect and build community among their people with that?
Celia Willis: [00:12:05] Oh, absolutely. I think that the idea of communities is changing and people are reevaluating what communities are. They’re a part of who they are. I think there’s a lot of identity soul searching happening right now, to be honest with you. And companies have definitely an opportunity to tap into that, that search and say, OK, well, let us help you figure out where what your community is and help us build a community that you feel like you could be a part of.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:31] Now, a lot of this stuff sounds good on paper. Is there kind of any metrics or stats that say, Hey, investing in our people in this manner and the community and the culture really pays off?
Celia Willis: [00:12:48] Oh, I mean, absolutely, Gallup is often a really great resource for stats like that. There’s lots of there’s lots of evidence. And I’m trying to think I don’t have any at the top of my head that say that the engaged employees are 10 times more productive and they are much more loyal. They stay the companies longer if you build a strong community. Ultimately, people, when you ask them why they stay at their jobs, it’s because of the people over and over and over again. They want to work with a team. They like that they feel connected to that. They feel supported by and a company they feel supported by. They want leaders who have vision. They want to feel connected to that vision. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. It’s very relational, right?
Lee Kantor: [00:13:40] Relationships, I think, are critical. That’s a point of differentiation. I think among the successful companies that, you know, they say that people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. So if you have a really strong team where people respect each other and want to be around them, that person typically isn’t going to leave to make a few thousand dollars more a year.
Celia Willis: [00:13:59] Right? Exactly. I mean, and here we go. Here we go. So companies in the top quartile of employee engagement are twenty one percent more profitable, seventeen percent more productive and experience 60 percent less turnover and plus companies with a great culture experience, they experience three times better stock performance. It’s just there are clear business results from it.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:24] Now is there any low hanging fruit a company could take to improve their community and their culture and their kind of way they’re dealing with their people?
Celia Willis: [00:14:32] I think so. You know, if a company isn’t able to take any major actions. I would tell them to at least do a deep dove survey and be really careful about the questions you ask, make sure they’re actionable because then what they need to do immediately after that is every action they take in reaction to their feedback they’re receiving from their employees. They need to say, because you said this, we did this. It comes back to that communication. Funnily enough, it’s really connecting the dots for them. You said this, so we did this right because they will not make that connection unless it’s very, very clear and they can be really, really small things. I’m trying to think of an example, but it doesn’t need to be totally restructuring the company. It could be, hey, we’re going to start communicating on a biweekly basis because you wanted to hear from us more or we’re going to stop sending so many emails because you said it’s flooding my inbox. I don’t have time to read all these is just things like that can make a huge difference as long as it’s in direct, direct reaction to what the employee needs and that makes them feel heard. It makes them feel like they’re part of something important.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:44] Now, when kW takes on a client as it typically start with one project and expands, or are you doing some kind of major renovation work when you go in there?
Celia Willis: [00:15:55] Oh, it just depends. I would say so. We either start from the very top, so we either go in and say, OK, we’re here to do a company wide community survey is what we call it, our community diagnostic. We go deep, we give them amazing data, we do focus groups. It’s a really fun process and so interesting. Or someone comes to us and says, Oh, I’m drowning, can you just help me? And then we can talk about the strategy later. So we come in from both ends of the spectrum. It’s really we try and meet our clients needs, but we have found that if we’re just there to execute, there’s a limited amount of impact long term that we can make. So we always try to bring in that strategic mindset as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:36] So you mentioned at the beginning, coaching is a part of this. How are you seeing more and more companies kind of lean into coaching and not just save coaching for the highest level people, but it kind of drilling down to some of the, you know, people throughout the company?
Celia Willis: [00:16:52] Absolutely. I mean, there was a lot of evidence, especially toward the beginning of the pandemic, that middle managers were hit hardest. By this, they were suddenly remote. They didn’t know how to manage remotely. They had trouble managing in person. And and so we’ve seen this huge increase in demand for training for four managers. We’ve been doing it for clients. We have St. Cloud, our leadership enablement program, and that’s for managers. It’s not for executives. The executives are actually their coaches. We empower their bosses to coach them after our trainings take place, but they’re finding that middle management really is the key to success. And so I’m really pleased to see that that level is getting a lot more attention than it ever has before.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:36] Now, if somebody was to institute a coaching program for the first time, can you share some kind of do’s and don’ts?
Celia Willis: [00:17:44] Sure. So I would say, don’t assume you know what your employees need, but meet in the middle tight business results. Give them a clear direction. What they’re trying, what they need to be doing. So clear competencies is always something that we, we really recommend be consistent. And I think we found great success is that we’ll we, for example, will do the trainings. We’ll do daylong trainings with employees. But having their bosses equipped to then coach them on implementing the things that we have trained them to do is essential to the success. So make sure you have a follow through plan. Don’t just tell someone to go do something and expect it to happen that follow up and that accountability is essential.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:30] So now your your company might have started out in communication, but obviously it’s expanded beyond that. Is there anything that you want to share about how to maybe begin an engagement, as you know, we talked a little bit about what they typically look like, but if the ideal client came to you, what would be that starting point?
Celia Willis: [00:18:56] Well, you know, I would say that the starting point is saying companies that say, you know, we’re having something’s not working right, we’re losing people, we have a people related challenge, right? They’re not happy, they’re not performing the way they need to. That’s the first indicator that we can serve them if they want to gather more information or great resource for that. If they want to build programs and say, Well, we’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but we know we need to do something. We can really come in and help them figure out what’s going on, what they need to do if they’re having. If they don’t know how to communicate, we will come in and build structures for them. We will help them staff. I mean, there’s a lot that we do in addition to helping them just get the work done.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:40] Now, if you can look into your crystal ball for the rest of this year and into next year, there’s this great resignation. Is it begin to wane? What’s going to happen moving forward in your mind?
Celia Willis: [00:19:53] You know, I think it’s difficult to predict. I don’t think we’re at the end of this sort of deep, self-reflective time period that people are in where they’re moving on. I’ve seen a lot of people just quit completely. They haven’t even gotten another job or they’re going out on their own to do something they’ve always wanted to do. I do think it will slow. I think it’s already slowing down. And I think it will. It will slow down. But we’re going to see a shift in how the marketplace works, I think.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:21] And if somebody wants to learn more about Kawhi and get a hold of you or somebody on the team, what’s the website and best way to get a hold of you?
Celia Willis: [00:20:29] Yeah, reach out to our team and we’ll take the conversation from there are our web addresses. Ww w w w.i seo com yeah. We’d love to talk to you. Well, thank you. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn too.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:47] All right. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Celia Willis: [00:20:51] Thank you for the time.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:52] All right, this is Lee Kantor. We’ll see our next time on it. Land that business radio.
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