Everyday actions Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2010

Chef is not part of Michael B. Weidner’s job description, but he doesn’t mind picking up a spatula now and then.

Recently, the president and CEO of ACRT Inc. was found flipping pancakes and sausages for an employee breakfast.

Similar events, including a chili cook-off, are a small gesture to keep employees motivated, but a leader’s real work is shown through everyday actions, Weidner says.

Communication and transparency are the two factors that Weidner uses to empower his 400 employees at the utility vegetation management consulting company.

Smart Business spoke with Weidner about how to motivate and empower employees.

Q. How do you keep employees motivated today?

The job can be stressful. We’re contractors; we’re always bidding on work. We have a lot of stuff going on and (people need) distraction and a sense of team outside of just pounding out numbers, trying to reduce costs, dealing with the economy.

The best way to do that a lot of times is to get people involved in doing something else, something as simple as making them breakfast. They can get a raise and a nice review and whatever else, but you need to say things during the course of the year that show them more than just tell them, actually demonstrate you care about them as people.

(Breakfast) that is just a little thing, it’s what you do every day. My grandfather always talked about doing what you say and saying what you do is the best means to gain respect.

People hear your words, but they watch your actions. What sticks more is what you do. We expect from our executive team, our leadership, our managers, to exhibit these qualities. The qualities of the company are honesty, hard work, respect, trustworthiness.

Q. What are the keys to empowering and motivating employees?

Personally, I’m a transparency guy. The more the people know, the better off they are.

If you give everybody the whole picture, then they can be engrossed in the whole story not just a little piece of it. Let’s say you’re the receptionist here, if you know exactly what’s going on, then in your job if somebody asks you a question, you have a better answer than if you just keep them in the dark.

We’re in a competitive environment so there are certain things, if they got out in our industry, it would take away some of our competitive advantage. What we share with (employees) is pretty much everything except for the secret sauce: how we do pricing, what are some of our key advantages over our competitors, how do we bid for work.

We’re having our annual shareholders meeting and all of our employees, because we’re employee-owned, have the opportunity to sit and watch. I just give them an overview of the last year and what our plans are for the next.

We provide all of our financial information to our middle management so that when they’re out talking to employees they can tell employees what’s going on, how we’re doing and why we’re doing the way we’re doing.

We have newsletters. We do a lot of things to keep people informed.

Our biggest challenge is communication. We’re about 400 employees spread across 25 states and our people don’t report to an ACRT office, they often just work out of their truck out in the field. Communication is really a difficult thing.

On an annual basis, I see probably 50 percent of our employees in person. I go out and visit customers, visit employees and just find out how they’re doing and how their lives are going.

Because we’re an ESOP company, if our employees know more, then they make better decisions that lead to a better line for the company.

If you don’t know something, you’re going to make up an answer. That’s what people do. We all do it.

If nobody tells you what the answer is, you’ll figure it out yourself and maybe it’s the wrong answer. By being transparent — ‘This is what we’re doing; this is why we’re doing it’ — people all have the correct answer and people can make good decisions on spending money, on how they work, customer interactions.

Overall, it’s a wonderful thing when everybody gets it. Now, that’s impossible because not everybody gets it every day. But the closer you can get to that, the better off you are.

Q. What is the best way to effectively communicate?

I would get out of my office and go and physically see the people and talk to them as individuals. Not from the role of CEO but from, ‘Hi, my name is Mike. I work at ACRT. Can you help me understand what’s going on?’ And tell them what you see is going on so they see your opinion, too; have a conversation.

I’ve often said we do a good job of providing information to our employees but we really don’t have an all knowing. We don’t have complete understanding until we have a conversation so we can ask questions of each other.

‘Did you understand what I said?’ And if they said no, ‘Well, what didn’t you understand?’

I can send you a list of all the things I think, and if you just take that and write that down, you have no clue what I really think because you didn’t get to ask me any questions. If you get to ask me questions, I get to answer your questions. I get to ask you questions. Then we have thorough understanding.

I would get out of my chair, and if I was in another company and I didn’t know the answer, I would go find the answer.

How to reach: ACRT Inc., (800) 622-2562 or www.acrtinc.com