Mike Jackson was asked to bring some order to Adayana Inc. when he arrived nearly three years ago. The training outsourcing company had grown through numerous acquisitions, and the result was a cultural mishmash that left employees searching for an identity to latch on to.
“People wanted to have more rigor,” says Jackson, the 380-employee company’s president and CEO. “They wanted to understand how to do what we should be doing.”
Jackson began to work collaboratively with employees to develop a corporate framework that would provide everyone with a better sense of identity and purpose.
“I had some perceptions, but you can’t go only on perception,” Jackson says. “You need to validate. So I talked with some folks and just asked them how we could strengthen the company together.”
When you’re seeking feedback from employees, you need to make it personal.
“Don’t just talk with your employees or your leadership team or your direct reports about today’s business and what’s tactical and what’s on your plate,” Jackson says. “You have to ask them where they see both themselves and the company in three to five years. You have to do that regularly.”
If you don’t do this, you end up with the situation that faced Adayana: You have employees doing work without a clear idea of what it means or what it is leading them toward.
Jackson saw desire in his people and he saw energy to succeed. They just needed to know what their leaders wanted them to do to make that happen.
“If part of the aspirational vision for the company is to be a market leader, unpack what that means to individual behaviors,” Jackson says. “It’s about creating a tight linkage between the dreams of your employees and the aspirational vision for the company.”
Give employees a chance to contribute to how you’re going to accomplish your goal to become a market leader. Let them offer opinions on what needs to be done or what’s holding your company back from becoming a market leader.
“When you do that, you’re creating engagement, you’re building inclusion and you’re building ownership,” Jackson says. “‘The CEO is asking us to craft what we should be and what we should do.’ That’s powerful stuff. If you follow that activity with engaging others to actually build a tactical action plan to implement the strategy and initiatives that come from the senior leadership team, all of a sudden, you have a fully engaged team of employees who feel they are making a contribution to not only the what but the how. That’s where most employees live, anyway, in the how.”
It’s about putting an idea out there, such as becoming a market leader and letting your people play an important part in figuring out how to get there.
“You have to pass along that accountability and all the things that go with that,” Jackson says. “It’s about trusting people to pull it forward.”
Trust your people to carry some of the weight while you monitor their progress, break down barriers and offer assistance to help them achieve the big-picture goal. Show them that what they are doing is important.
“If I never ask how you are doing on progress toward that goal, you’re likely to believe that maybe it really wasn’t that important to begin with and it’s certainly not very important now,” Jackson says. “It’s the idea of creating feedback systems and making sure people are in the know about progress. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to empower anybody. You’re going to basically demotivate them because of inattention.”
Adayana has made progress toward becoming a market leader, evidenced by the growth in revenue from $20.8 million in fiscal 2007 to $44.2 million in fiscal 2009.
“There’s no magic. What there is,” Jackson says, “is execution.”
How to reach: Adayana Inc., (317) 415-0500 or www.adayana.com
Mike Jackson could hear the clock ticking as he assessed what was happening at Adayana Inc. Employees were part of the plan, offering him their feedback, but they also were eager to see results.
“You, as a CEO, have to act quickly to deal with the things that are patently ineffective in your company,” says Jackson, the 380-employee training outsourcing company’s president and CEO. “Fix those. If you don’t do that, after a period of time, employees will run out of the hopeful energy that you might have brought to them in the first few days, weeks or months you were walking around asking them how things were and what you should do to improve the company. You have to act.”
That doesn’t mean you should panic and make rash decisions.
“I’m saying once you get to an 80 percent confidence level that this is the right thing to do, do it,” Jackson says. “You actually put together a set of, ‘Here are the things that need to be done on a department-by-department and division-by-division basis.’ Make that part of the accountability of the respective manager so that he or she is able to see that you mean business.”