How Steve Giacin maintains respect when tough decisions need to be made

Steve Giacin, President, Kaiser Electric Inc.

Steve Giacin has felt the pressure that comes with being the president of a business during a time of economic recession. But he doesn’t try to compare his challenges to those of the people he has had to lay off from Kaiser Electric Inc.

He doesn’t think you should either.

“One thing leaders say that they shouldn’t say to people is, ‘This is a lot harder on me than it is on you,’” says Giacin, president at the 150-employee electrical contractor. “I’ve heard people say that, and I don’t agree with it. Leadership isn’t a some time thing, it’s an all the time thing. If that’s what the task is and that’s part of leadership, you need to rise to the task. You have too many people relying on you.”

Giacin has been forced to let employees go who had put in more than 10 years with the company and he’s issued salary reductions for those who remained. He says the key to getting through these difficult decisions is decisiveness.

“It is important to try to look like you know what you’re doing in that situation,” Giacin says.

One way you can be effective at that is to keep cutbacks from being spread out over multiple occasions.

“If I saw a cut or two here and a month later, a cut or two there, it would make me wonder if the leadership of the company really had a handle on what was coming at us,” Giacin says. “When you make those types of cuts, if you guess, err to making another cut rather than having to cut someone else a month later because something changed.”

Giacin says his feelings have changed in this area based on the rising uncertainty that has plagued the economy of late.

“Before we were in the heart of how bad this situation is currently, the last thing you wanted to do was cut too much, too quick,” Giacin says. “I don’t think you can do that anymore. If your company is right-sized for what you’re faced with and you see that you have to reduce that, you better do your homework and you better be looking out further than a month or two when you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and families.

“I think the status quo is over for all of us. I don’t think it exists anymore. If you’re not on your game every day, you’ll be eaten alive. You won’t be around very long. I believe everybody in the company has that same sense of vision. They are all looking at me for what direction we are headed and how we are going to get there.”

Facing that kind of pressure, Giacin says it’s incumbent upon any leader to take time for himself to gather his thoughts and think them over before making a decision.

“It’s impossible to do when you’re here in the fire every day,” Giacin says. “All leaders need some avenue to be able to step back. You’re never completely away from it. But like I said, you can step back and not be in the office. You can truly reflect on some things and evaluate what’s working and not working moving forward.”

Once you’ve taken that time to pause, report back to your people on what you’ve come up with.

“That’s part of the constant communication you have to have,” Giacin says. “When you have a company our size, it’s a very close, family-type culture. When you let someone go and there is no communication, I don’t feel that’s appropriate. We typically get everyone together and discuss where we’re at and what led to this decision and how we’re going forward with what we have in front of us and who is doing what going forward so everybody knows.”

How to reach: Kaiser Electric Inc., (636) 305-1515 or www.kaiserelectric.com

Stay in front

If you work for Steve Giacin, you better not be lazy about returning phone calls or e-mails. It’s a big no-no in the eyes of the president of Kaiser Electric Inc., particularly in tough times such as these.

“With all the mediums that we have at our disposal these days, I consider that to be unacceptable,” says Giacin, who leads the 150-employee electrical contractor. “Don’t let the day go by without returning a phone call or sending a reply to their e-mail. Just to say, I did receive your request and I’m working on it. I either have the answer and here it is or I’m looking into the situation and I will be back in touch with you tomorrow.”

Giacin expects a lot from his employees, but he expects even more when his company is going through a difficult economy like it is now.

“Everyone in our company is working harder than they ever have,” Giacin says. “We have fewer resources to cover the things we need to cover on a daily basis. So you have to maintain that consistency and have constant communication through the ranks of your company.”

And that has to start at the top with Giacin.

“I can’t have a lack of responsiveness to my employees or to our customers,” Giacin says. “That has to be transparent to them. If that means my work day and my work hours have to be expanded to cover that, that’s what has to happen.”

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