In 1989, while attending The Ohio State University, Carl Albright was all set to be a part of ESPN’s National Sports Trivia Championship. But at the last minute, it was discovered that the two partners he qualified with weren’t actually students at Ohio State. As a result, he had to take his two roommates who didn’t know much about sports.
That meant Albright, who is now president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp., would have to carry the load and guide his team to victory. He did just that, but don’t expect to hear any bragging coming from his direction
“I knew sports,” he says. “One’s a doctor; one’s an engineer. I’m sure if they were medical questions, I would have struggled, too,” he says with a laugh.
It’s that type of humble and likeable attitude that is driving InfoCision’s culture.
Albright wants all of his employees to like and respect each other at the telemarketing company, which posted $173 million in 2008 revenue.
To back up his point, he stresses that by exemplifying the culture and getting along with people, employees will succeed at the company. To be promoted at the company, you have to hit your numbers and impress your boss, but you also have to get along with people and be on the same page.
“I tell people, ‘That’s how you are going to advance, that’s how you are going to do well, that’s what your clients are expecting, that’s what are culture is, and that’s what I am expecting,’” he says.
Because with that kind of culture, the company is more likely to succeed.
“If people like being at the job, I think they are going to work harder for me, for the company and ultimately for our clients,” he says. “If they don’t like it here and they don’t have friends here, I think then they are literally going to start phoning it in.”
It’s the simplest action a person can do — saying hello to someone you pass in the hallway. Yet, it’s a simple gesture that will go a long way in building a positive corporate culture.
“It’s treating people like you want to be treated,” he says. “Knowing that I want to be talked to a certain way and I demand that everyone talks to me this certain way.
“If I’m walking down the hall, I expect the cleaning people to be nice. I expect us to be nice to the cleaning people. I expect the receptionist to be friendly and kind. So, I definitely, expect our senior vice presidents to be friendly and kind.”
Albright also wants his team to learn what employees do outside of work and get to know them outside of the office.
“Now, you can’t be friends with everyone and it’s not healthy to be that way,” he says. “But, if I know a little bit about you, what sports you like, what TV shows (you like), then I can have a conversation outside of your day-to-day reporting. … Now, you’re going to pass that person six times in the hall that day, you’re not going to say the same thing every time. Then it’s a nod of the head, that kind of stuff — the simple acknowledging to someone that you value who they are.”
While Albright wants to keep friendly relationships with employees, and he encourages friendships between his employees, you, as the leader, have to draw a line on what is appropriate.
You can’t be going out for drinks with employees and acting like a fool. You have to use common sense and realize no one will have respect for you if you act inappropriately.
“The main thing is you have to remember at all times, it’s about the company first,” he says.
InfoCision has golf and bowling leagues, a fitness center, and other amenities that make working there enjoyable. While all of that helps, it’s minimal to what really matters, and that’s showing employees that they are appreciated.
“I think people, if they are paid well for their job or at least fair market value, it’s really about how they are treated,” he says. “Do they like the people they are working with, and do they like the company they are working for?”
Albright has open forums for employees to express any problems or ideas they have and to give them company updates. By keeping employees in the loop and asking for their opinions and questions, they know that they are appreciated and that they matter to the company.
“I’ve got to make sure almost everybody I come in contact with knows that I appreciate them, that they know the direction of the company I preach in the culture,” he says.
“Then, I’ve got to make sure my senior vice presidents, my vice presidents are doing it to their directors, the directors to managers and managers to supervisor and supervisor to front-line people.”
He does about 15 town-hall meetings a month at each call center to give an update on the company and to give employees a chance to ask questions.
Some people will be hesitant to participate in a town hall, even though they have something important to say. To create an environment where people are going to be forthright, you have to be mindful of your body language.
“If I have a nonverbal communication style where I don’t look like I’m open to this or I’m rolling my eyes or squinting my eyes or actually telling them, ‘That’s a dumb question. We’re never going to do that,’ then I think I’m stifling them,” he says.
“But they’re making the calls, they’re taking the calls, they’re our front-line people. I want to hear how we can get better.”
If someone raises his or her hand with a complaint or an issue, Albright and his management team get together and, about two weeks later, they give an update or answer about what is being done by posting it in the break room.
Sometimes you may be put on the spot like Albright has been after people ask for raises in a public setting. You have to be direct and honest when confronted with what could possibly be uncomfortable or controversial topic.
It can be especially difficult for Albright because someone will point out how well the company is doing and suggest that everyone deserves a raise. Before you know it, the group is cheering and applauding because of the statement.
Albright keeps his cool and, again, is straight with them. He tells them that if they feel they deserve a raise, then they should state their case to their manager.
“They can ask me any question at all, just be respectful, but don’t ask me to make more money,” he says. “That’s a personal one-on-one thing.”
It’s great to spread your message throughout the organization when you interact with people in person and at town-hall meetings, but you need to monitor in order to make sure employees are actually following through with that message.
At InfoCision, most employees anonymously complete peer reviews about management, supervisors, administrative assistants and other employees whom they work with.
Peers do not review communicators in the call center, but their supervisor, manager and human resource coordinator do. There are three sections to the review — performance, personality and open-ended questions.
It’s really a 360-peer review,” he says. “Everybody you come in contact with regularly is going to be reviewing you.”
To start a peer review at your company, you need to first ask yourself some questions to know what to ask on the reviews.
“Get everybody together and say, … ‘What’s important to your company? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want an account executive to be; what kind of person do you want them to be?’
“Same thing with managers, IT, accounting, basic questions, and just send it out with the people they work with or for or who work for them. You’re going to get very, very, very enlightened feedback.”
Before the reviews went companywide in January 2002, employees thought everyone loved them and everyone got along. That, however, was not the case.
When the reviews first started, 4 out of 5 was considered a good score, while 4.5 was amazing. Now, because the reviews have helped shape the culture, 4.7 is the average score.
“If I stop sending out peer reviews in the next five years, I don’t think we’d ever go back to a 4 being the average, but I guarantee that number would erode, because there is accountability toward it,” he says.
The company started with 75 questions, but now has it down to just 10 personality questions and 10 performance questions. For example, a performance question would be: This person pays attention to the different levels of detail that overall helps the company be successful.
The personality section would feature questions such as: This person shows a great work ethic by working hard, working smart and being accountable.
For those two sections, employees rank their peers on a scale of 1 to 5, as well as answer open-ended questions such as: What is your overall view of this employee’s performance?
To gather complete and accurate scores, you need to make sure employees get reviewed by everyone they work with. Albright approves the peer review lists for management on up. Management approves all other peer review lists.
“They send a list to us, and we look at this and say, ‘He’s leaving off a couple of people he doesn’t get along with,” he says. “Or, ‘She’s getting people that are just her friends.’ “So, they send it to their boss and their boss’s boss and we decide, ultimately, who we are going to send the peer review out to.”
The feedback allows employees to see where they are strong but also where they need improvement. Some employees may not agree with the assessment their peers gave, which could prompt a negatively reviewed employee to confront the people they thought gave them bad reviews.
You have to be clear with that employee when you talk to him or her that the review is not meant to list everything he or she is doing wrong. It’s meant to help the employee improve in areas where his or her peers feel he or she is struggling.
As a leader, advise employees to ask the reviewers how they can do better and not to focus on receiving a bad peer review.
“It’s not to play internal affairs or gotcha or police,” he says. “We want to create a more positive culture for everyone.”
While the number of people an employee works around determines how many people will review them, about 30 people will review the typical employee.
With those numbers, an employee can’t say that it’s only a few people who dislike him or her. There’s strength in numbers, and if 30 people say someone struggles with a certain aspect of the job or the culture, there are facts to back it up. It’s those facts that will help you mold a culture that drives your company to success.
“Business is a lot about accountability,” he says. “I still would deal with people that were a problem, but now it’s an exact science, too. I can sit there and say, ‘This is a problem.’ (They say) ‘I don’t understand. All my people love me.’ Well, now I’ve got actual numbers to go through it.”
How to reach: InfoCision Management Corp., (330) 668-1400 or www.infocision.com