Internal marketing

Despite leading RAZOR to 750 percent
growth in just three years, Tom Cole
and Dave Kirwan won’t let themselves or their employees rest on their laurels. As co-presidents and managing principals of the $17 million custom-built retail marketing firm, they continue to develop their vision for growth and get their
employees to buy in to it by sharing goals
and measuring results.

Smart Business spoke with Cole about
how communicating a company’s
progress and financial standing
helps employees buy in to a plan for
phenomenal growth.

Q: How do you create a vision for

We started with what’s happened
in our marketplace. What are the
trends in the marketplace, and
what’s the opportunity that’s surfacing? We had a strong view on what clients are looking for that’s
not being met.

It’s very important to have your
plan and work your plan but also
be prepared to chuck it aside and
rewrite it as the situation changes
because it can be limiting, as well.
If you try to overprescribe how
fast you’re going to grow and what
you need to get there, it never happens that way. It’s a balancing act.

Q: How do you communicate
your plan to employees?

Get everybody involved in where the company’s going — not just what’s happening in
their office day in and day out. We share our
goals from a three-year standpoint with the
entire staff. We share our annual goals, our
financial numbers, then we ask each team
leader to set their own goals in a bottom-up

We measure progress against those goals
at least quarterly. We share financial performance of the company with the entire
staff at least quarterly, often more than
that. We have an internal newsletter and
impromptu announcements anytime anything of note happens, and we have monthly staff meetings where we keep the staff
up to date.

Q: Why are multiple methods of communication so important?

Because a sense of ownership is critical.
The difference between a talented staff
that’s energized or not is if they feel they
understand where the company is going,
how their job is connected to that, how
they can contribute to the overall goals.

If you don’t communicate, I don’t think
you’re fostering that sense of ownership.

Q: Why is it important to share financial information with employees?

Understanding that there’s a context and
a reason for the decisions that we’re making. It’s important for them to understand
the investment we’re making in growth and
how we look at staffing levels. It’s all about
adding the context of why does the company do what they do.

Once the staff understands that, there’s a
lot more buy-in. They have that buy-in of, ‘I
understand why the server room expansion is happening next quarter instead of
this quarter.’ If the staff is disconnected
from that, you run the risk of planting the
seeds of, ‘I don’t know why they do this, but I sure wish that …’ — fill in the blank.

Set it as a goal or a cornerstone of how
you want to lead your organization and
commit to it.

Q: How do you prepare for growth?

Staffing is the most critical variable, and
we try to hire a little bit ahead of the
growth curve. We have a weekly meeting
with our VPs that’s focused on staffing and
staffing planning.

We also have a disciplined bottom-up
process for forecasting the workload that’s
coming from each of our clients, so we can
project when we’re going to have needs.

Q: How do you hire during high-growth

Just make talent and finding the right people for your organization a top priority. It’s a
time commitment to invest in screening,
interviewing and bringing talent on board,
but for every two hours you invest in finding
the right person versus that second- or third-best person, you really save the company
200 hours in terms of lost productivity or the
extra effort that’s spent by management
having to go back and rehire somebody if
you make the wrong hire.

Q: What inhibits companies from growing?

Not setting the right goals or aiming high
enough. Coming off last year, where we
were growing by over 40 percent, we set a
similar growth goal for this year. It would
have been easy for us to say, ‘Wow, coming
off a year like that, let’s ratchet it back a little bit,’ but we’ve set those aggressive
goals, and we’re ahead of those. If we had
set them lower, we might be expecting less
of ourselves and delivering less.

Also, not having the perspective and flexible plan of how are you going to get there.
It’s one thing to say, ‘We’d like to grow 40
percent,’ but how much do you expect
from your current business relationships,
how much do you expect from new clients,
and what kind of products or strategies are
going to deliver that growth? If you haven’t
thought that through, then you’re just hoping, and hope is not a strategy.

HOW TO REACH: RAZOR, or (972) 663-1100