Ken Sekley Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Success can be a handicap — just ask Ken Sekley, chairman, president and CEO of Patio Enclosures Inc. A few years ago, thecompany was achieving profitable returns by focusing strictly on the sunroom portion of projects. (General contracting was left to thecustomer.) When consumer demand began calling for more ambitious and inclusive projects, Patio Enclosures had to evolve, but thatchange proved difficult, says Sekley, because the company’s previous success had reinforced a set way of thinking and behavingamong its employees. To counter that, the company’s executive team provides continuous feedback to its 750 employees as a way ofmonitoring progress and adapting to change. Such coaching has proven effective: The company’s 2006 revenue of $86 million wasthe highest in its 40-year history. Smart Business spoke with Sekley about how to enhance decision-making with delegation.

Encourage collaboration. You need to have aconsistent message that you’re expectingpeople to act in a collaborative way. If you’reexpecting people to put their ideas forwardand collaborate in the decision-makingprocess, you’ve got to give them the confidence that they can do that.

Encourage them by soliciting input on decisions that are going to be made in a collaborative fashion. Meetings are great mechanisms for pooling available information, andyou have to reinforce it in that context, aswell. It results in better decisions.

Delegate decision-making. Encourage (employees) to make decisions on their own whenappropriate.

If they come to you and ask about a certainsituation, you use that as an opportunity toillustrate, ‘Hey, this is something that I’mcounting on you to make this kind of decision.’

You have to draw the guidelines as to whenyou are expecting them to consult the CEOor their manager in a decision. It’s also important to lay out the sphere of responsibilitythat they have where they can make decisions on their own.

We have over 40 locations that are geographically separated and operate in very different market conditions. On a daily basis,there’re thousands of real-time decisions thatneed to be made about operations andresource allocation and so on.

It’s impossible for the CEO or the seniormanagement team to be involved in each andevery one of those decisions. You really needto put the decision-making power into thehands of the individuals who are closest toand are most knowledgeable about a givensituation and a given market.

Share progress. We put a very heavy emphasison tracking the key metrics that drive ouroperations. Those things are updated weekly.

There’s an overall set of metrics that’s posted on an electronic bulletin board for allemployees to access. We also have separatescorecards for our sales and operations division as well as our manufacturing division.That’s an important part of letting everyone know how we’re doing versus the goals andthe objectives that we’ve laid out.

You have to follow up on a regular basiswith, ‘How are we doing? Are we gettingthere? Are we achieving our goals? Are wefalling short?’

That also helps people understand whenyou have to make a midcourse correction.You say, ‘Look, as everyone has seen in recentmonths, we’re not achieving this part of ourgoal. Therefore, we’re going to be changingour resource allocation or changing our tactic here, and that should help us do better inthis particular area.’

When it doesn’t come as a surprise to peopleand they can understand why the executiveteam is giving the direction they’re giving, itmakes it that much easier to get buy-in andunderstanding of what you’re communicating.

Survey your customer base. For the past several years, we’ve instituted a customer feedback survey in a very simple, straightforwardsurvey that doesn’t take them very long.

We ask our customers about all aspects oftheir relationship with us. We’re able to breakit down into the various components and feedback specifically to the branch locations, bothon a numeric scale as well as the commentsthat we create a space for on our surveys.

In almost a real-time way, our people aregetting an ongoing stream of customer feedback about what went well and what didn’tgo well. Management gets to see that, too, so it’s an aid in our coaching of our managementteams and our employees.

Our surveys are tied in to our warranty registration. It’s not necessary to fill out the survey to get the warranty, but it’s right there inthe same brief card to be filled out.

You can’t ask people to spend half an hourfilling out a survey. It’s got to be quick, it’s gotto be user-friendly, and it’s got to occur in thenormal course of their interactions with you.

For an incremental minute or two, they canrun through a very user-friendly 1 to 10 scaleon several dimensions of their experiencewith Patio.

Not quite as quantified as that, we also goback to the people who decided not to be ourcustomers and understand what happenedthere. We relish those opportunities when wecan understand where we haven’t gotten theoutcome we’ve desired. That is quite possiblythe most valuable information you can getbecause you can correct that the next timearound.

Track performance when coaching. Know what(employees are) doing internally and complement that with the customer feedback. Itpaints a pretty good picture.

When we have coaching opportunities withour people, we like to keep it as objective andfact-based as possible. That lends all themore effectiveness to those performanceimprovement opportunities.

(Managers) really are coaches. Their goal isto improve the performance of their respective teams on a regular basis.

In the case of our design consultants, ourmanagers sit in on those in-home design consultations. They watch the dynamic betweenour consultants and the customer. Thatextends to every area of the business.

They need to feed back that, ‘Hey, you’redoing these three points really, really well.Keep it up,’ or, ‘Here’re one or two things thatyou might be able to sharpen up going forward.’

It’s so important to give that feedback on anongoing basis. We see it reflected in thenumerical results that are produced.

HOW TO REACH: Patio Enclosures Inc., (800) 480-1966 orwww.patioenc.com