Stephen Toups: Communication is key to leading through change

Stephen Toups, president and CEO of Turner Industries. (Collin Richie)

Navigating a company through periods of change can be challenging for even the most seasoned business leaders, but embracing that change is often essential to the company’s future success.

Turner Industries CEO Stephen Toups, who is featured in the latest episode of Business Report’s “Strictly Business” webcast, understands these dynamics well. The heavy industry and industrial construction sector has experienced rapid change in recent years, with disruptive forces like AI, digital transformation and off-site modularization pressing companies to adapt or be left behind.

Toups’ main tip for navigating such change is a simple but important one: communicate.

“Any transformation, just by its very nature, requires an interruption of the business flow,” Toups says. “You’ve got to manage that to some degree. Communication is imperative. You’ve got to communicate with your customers and let them know what’s going on.”

In the event that employees within your organization are resistant to change, Toups says internal communication is every bit as important as communication with your customers.

“Show that there are opportunities for advancement,” he says. “I think it’s important to create a clear goal that people can envision. I also think it’s very important to ask for feedback.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when employees and managers alike were uncertain about what the future would hold, Toups saw firsthand just how important communication could be in times of unprecedented change.

“We kept our cool,” Toups says. “We increased communication. I think the most important thing was very open explanation of what we were doing. We were at the gates at 5 a.m. greeting people, welcoming them to job sites and telling them we were doing everything we could to keep them safe.”

Of course, attempting to enact meaningful change in any organization does come with risks. To mitigate them, Toups refers to a risk management plan commonly taught in business school: “Avoid, reduce, transfer, accept.”

“You first identify [the risks] and then you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to avoid these suckers at all costs.’ If we can’t avoid them, can we reduce them? If we can’t reduce the risks, can we transfer them away somehow?”

Watch the full discussion on Business Report’s “Strictly Business” archive.