Jerry Kline is the kind of guy who loves to promote people who work for him, but he also likes to hire new people into those positions.
It sounds contradictory, but not to Kline, chairman and CEO of Innovative Interfaces Inc. Kline, who built the $70 million integrated
library system company from the ground up, appreciates the history his current employees carry, but he also understands that new
employees can bring fresh ideas to the table. By working hard to retain a large core of employees while occasionally peppering the
mix with fresh faces, he keeps his 310 employees motivated with a path to promotion while working to carve out new challenges.
Smart Business spoke with Kline about how to balance your hiring system and why sometimes you just have to let someone go.
Balance the hiring of internal and external people.
I believe in hiring from within where we
can. We’ve been able to retain bright
people, keep them motivated and give
them a path. In our industry, where we
are evolving, having the history and
knowing why we made past decisions is
But it’s also important to bring people in
from the outside for fresh ideas. Just
because we’ve been doing things a certain
way doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go
forward. So both are important.
When you’re looking at each situation, we
can always bring in people from the outside, so if there is a chance someone can
step up internally, we tend to default to
that. If we see there is someone who clearly can do the job or deserves a chance to do
it, then that’s what we do.
Seeing that there are people who have
been here a long time sets an example
for everyone. I see way too much
turnover in IT companies, and as a customer to other IT companies, seeing new
reps and policies all the time can be really disruptive. From that angle, retention
and consistency are important.
Still, sometimes we have to bring in
somebody new because there is no clear-cut inner hire — and that’s when we do it.
So start by asking the question, ‘Is there
somebody within the organization that fits
this job so we don’t have to train someone?
Hire for retention. We’re looking for people
who want to be here for a while. We are
looking for people who are not trying to do
You have to look at their history — have
they always bounced around every two
years or had they been somewhere a long
time, and then maybe hit a few situations
where it wasn’t working? We have a lot of
people here who are perceptive and can
understand that you look at people’s situations and figure out what they’re likely to
do. For example, are they tied to the area,
or are they just moving in and moving out?
I learn things about this company every
day, so certainly somebody who has been
here for a year is still at a point where they are learning a heck of a lot. Somebody
that’s been here two years is just starting to
really give us the return, so if they’re jumping ship that quickly, that’s not so great.
Go ahead and delegate. The challenge for
me was learning where I should stay
involved and where I bring the right people in to let them go. Going from a one-person, two-person, 10-person company
to 300-plus employees, you find out that
if you’re going to lead, it has to be a different kind of leadership.
In most places, I turn things over to people who can run the day-to-day operations
without me, and I get more involved in
areas where I can make a difference. You
can’t do everything when you’re mediumsized, and when you’re coming from somewhere where you were very small, you
probably did do everything.
But you learn from your mistakes, you
learn that if you are going to be directing
every decision, then every decision is
going to come to you, and your directors
will start turning to you for everything,
and you don’t want that — and can’t do
it, frankly. You learn that if you’re going
to grow, you need to turn over the leadership on a lot of things to other people
and, even if it’s not exactly as you would
do, you have trust in them.
Set the standard for your employees. I’m
actively involved in the company every
day, talking with our employees and customers, and that keeps me knowledgeable about what is going on.
My interest, excitement and passion
for what we are doing helps keep them
motivated. It lets them know that this is
interesting stuff, it’s applicable and
touches many people. Showing that
enthusiasm for what we do, and coming
in and talking to customers and talking
to the staff here, makes me knowledgeable to a deep level where I can talk
about where we’re going, and that helps.
Have front-line employees help you evolve.
Talking to your people that are out-front
every day is important, I don’t know a
better way to keep on top of it. Having
working executives here in the office as
my decision-makers — the ones who are
talking to our customers on a day-to-day
basis — and allowing them to shape our
direction based on those conversations
is really important.
I watch companies where decisions are
made at a board of director’s level,
where they may not even understand the
business, and that’s one way to go, but I
don’t think it’s the best way.
Having the people who are making
these decisions working here every day,
saying, ‘This is going to work for the
next while, but we need something new
next year,’ and trying to make those decisions of what we can start changing next
month, that’s the key to staying ahead.
It’s more than sitting down and talking at
a high level about where the company
needs to be in five years; it’s knowing
that the company needs to be different
every year and, even without knowing
exactly what that means, having those
people in the front in positions where
they can quickly make the decisions
when they see what changes have to be
HOW TO REACH: Innovative Interfaces Inc., (510) 655-6200 or