How a methodical approach helped Thomas Moran settle in at Addison Search

Thomas B. Moran, CEO, Addison Search

Thomas B. Moran felt the weight of expectation when he arrived at Addison Search for his first day as the professional staffing firm’s new CEO. Some of the expectations were good, some were bad and others were mixed.

Call it par for the course when there’s a new sheriff in town.

“Any time a new CEO comes in, the automatic thought processes change,” says Moran, who took over as CEO at the 1,000-employee company in October. “Oh, he or she will change everything. In some cases, that’s true and sometimes you have to do that. But in reality, that’s more of a thought process than anything. The challenge is making sure you manage everybody’s expectations through a lot of communication.”

One of the first things Moran had to deal with at Addison Search was the fact that some employees weren’t happy about his selection as their new leader. Add that to the pile of everybody else’s curiosity about how he was going to lead the business and suddenly, Moran was dealing with a lot of pressure.

But he didn’t see it that way. There was no way he could address everyone’s concern and answer every question on his first day on the job. So he didn’t even make an attempt to do that.

“The biggest mistake a lot of people make is because you’re the CEO, you have to show instant change to say you’ve done something on day one,” Moran says. “I’ve done that in the past and it’s come back to burn me. Understand your landscape, learn and stay quiet for the first 30 to 60 days so the first decision you make is a powerful one, a well-educated one and one that people realize is well-thought-out.”

Moran chose to take a methodical approach to his new position. The first step was to begin building relationships with the people who were now working for him.

Get to know people

One of the first requests that Moran made when he became CEO at Addison Search was to get a copy of the company’s organizational chart.

“I wanted to know what was in every office and at every layer of the organization, whether it was front office or back office,” Moran says. “Then you select individuals as you travel within those groups. You can’t meet with everybody. So you make sure when you travel, you know what is in the offices and you’re tackling every aspect and touching different levels for every group.”

You need to ask open-ended questions and ask them with a tone that reflects your desire to learn, rather than dictate.

“The first question you always ask is, ‘Just tell me a little bit about yourself,’” Moran says. “‘What do you do for the company? Tell me about your background. Why did you join the organization? Do you still feel the same as the day you started? Why or why not?’”

The key thing about all these questions is they show your employees that you’re interested in what makes them tick.

“They are more toward the individual rather than, ‘Tell me what’s broken in the company,’” Moran says. “‘Where do you want your career to go? Where do you see yourself in this organization?’”

This effort to build rapport was even more crucial with the people who weren’t happy about Moran being their CEO. You shouldn’t confuse “getting-to-know-you” questions with avoiding the topic at hand, however.

“Tell me the truth,” Moran says, of his first words to the people who were unhappy. “I understand you’re not happy. That’s fine. You have a right to be. I’m new. Ask them straight out, ‘Tell me why. I can’t address you until you look me in the eye and tell me why.’”

Even if you’re not a new CEO, you certainly have faced or will face a situation where people working for you aren’t happy with you. The same principles apply. You can’t just be a bully. You need to try to soften the conflict and solve the problem that exists.

“It’s all in your word choice,” Moran says. “‘Hey, I understand this is uncomfortable for you that there is some change here and that’s normal. I completely get that. A new CEO comes in and you may have some past things, I get that. All I would like to know is why you feel that way so I can understand how to work with you in the future. I value your opinion.’ It’s all in the word selection.”

Take the approach that you’re there to learn, and not dictate, and you’ll make a lot more progress with whatever group you’re trying to make connections with.

“I want to learn as much as I can about the organization, and I’d love your advice,” Moran says. “I’d love your input to help me learn. Right there, that makes me feel more comfortable if I’m that person. There’s no wrong or right answer. This is not a political environment. You can tell me whatever you want to tell me. You can feel as comfortable as you want to feel.”

Pick your battles

A good way to demonstrate that you really are interested in what your people are telling you in these conversations is to take notes. If you’re talking to 40, 50 or 60 people over a period of a few weeks or months, it will help ensure you don’t forget what the third person told you and remember only what Nos. 69 and 70 had to say.

But it will also help you identify common themes in all that you are hearing.

“You may take pages and pages of notes, but it usually comes back to every individual honing in on three or four of the same things,” Moran says. “And so you start to hear it more often. I gather it all and look through my notes and I really start to understand where the business is functioning. So you take what you’ve learned and put that into a scenario of where you want it to drive the strategy.”

As you begin to pick up on themes of areas that need to be addressed in your business, you again should take a moment to remember that you can’t do it all at once.

“You start implementing on some of the more blatant areas that need to change right away,” Moran says. “We haven’t had coffee in our office. The next day, I call my secretary and say, ‘I want coffee delivered to that office and paid for right away.’ They see you listened. You implemented something quickly. Then it leads to some of the bigger changes that aren’t going to be as popular with most people.”

As Moran met with more people, he sensed that employees at Addison Search were looking for leaders who could do a better job of making decisions and getting everyone engaged in helping to get things done.

His solution was to implement what he called a “bottoms-up budgeting process.”

“Everybody would be tied to the goals of the company down to every desk,” Moran says. “Each manager worked backward to get the goals of each individual rolled up to the next manager that rolled up to the next manager that rolled up to the VPs that rolled to us at the CFO and CEO level. Now everybody is tied to the same goals.”

Moran wanted to show that he heard his peoples’ request for engagement and he understood their desire and willingness to help things get done. He was now giving them an opportunity to make it happen.

“So now I’m going to hold you accountable to those goals and numbers,” he says. “So that was communication, that was accountability and really that was everybody saying, ‘We want to know what we’re accountable for and tell me what I’m expected to do. Well, you’re expected to hit this to help us hit the 2012 budget.’”

The result of hitting the budget would be the opportunity to approve more employee requests.

“If everybody focuses on hitting the 2012 budget, we can afford more,” Moran says.

When employees requested more insurance benefits, Moran could look at the budget and if people had stepped up to meet their goals, he could pursue more benefits.

“I’ve got them tied into the accountability and growth of the organization,” Moran says. “Oh and by the way, if you don’t hit those numbers, maybe you shouldn’t be here. So now everybody understands what they are accountable for.”

Build a foundation

In order to be successful implementing new initiatives, you need to have a strong rapport with your leadership team. So as Moran was getting to know people at all levels of Addison Search, he was also looking to build relationships with his fellow leaders in the company.

He did a lot of listening, but he also talked about his own leadership style and what had worked and hadn’t worked in past experiences.

“Here’s where I am,” Moran says. “Here’s how I’ve been successful. Here’s how people work best with me as managers. People that weren’t successful with me, here’s what happened and why. I let them know that all at the same time.”

Moran shared with his team his desire to make Addison Search an employer of choice and added that he wanted to work with the team to make it happen.

“I set that tone in the beginning and then I say to them, ‘How do we do that together?’” Moran says. “How do you want to accomplish that? How do I want to accomplish that?”

In all these various conversations you have, you’re looking to build a foundation upon which you can conduct the business of your organization. Sometimes that will be good business and sometimes it will be bad. You and your team need to be ready to collectively handle both.

“You have to fix the problems,” Moran says. “Don’t always be a leader that runs to the good side. You have to go to the bad side. I like leaders that go to where the issues are, not one that is going to run up and tell me how great they are doing all the time. Every company has issues.”

Fortunately for Moran, while there were some issues he had to address at Addison Search and some people who weren’t sure about him as their leader, there were a lot more people who wanted to do whatever it took to help him succeed.

“I was thoroughly impressed with the staff we have, the talent level we have and the motivation that they have to be successful,” Moran says. “That was surprising, to be honest with you. But even more important, it was a breath of fresh air from the jobs I’ve taken in the past.”

Had he not taken a patient approach, he may not have given himself a chance to appreciate the quality of his team.

“The worst thing you can do is go in and change something when you don’t even know what you’re changing,” Moran says.

How to reach: Addison Search, (312) 424-0300 or

The Moran File

Thomas B. Moran, CEO, Addison Search

Born: Chicago

Education: Economics degree, Illinois State University

What was your first job?

It was when I was a junior in high school. I worked for the high school, and I basically just did summer maintenance mowing lawns, turning dirt, cleaning the bottoms of desks, painting fences, raking the baseball diamond.

The main thing it taught me is the value of money and the understanding that you have to work for a living.

I learned what responsibility meant and that it doesn’t just mean for me, but it’s for people or a group of people that you report to. The guy you are working for is counting on you to get it done and not only get it done, but get it done right.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life?

Helen Becker. She was one of our top performers in my first job out of college, which got me into the staffing industry. I was a sales producer and so was she, but she was much more seasoned. She was an older woman.

I used to watch her produce. She was a mentor and she taught me what relationships are about in our business. She helped me realize that our business is about developing good relationships with clients and providing them good service and realizing that you need to stick with that relationship and make sure that you always cherish it because everybody is out to take it from you.

She took that seriously. She had cancer and went through chemotherapy in the morning and would come into work in the afternoon. She probably didn’t have to work but she loved her clients and loved her job and loved coming to work.