People person

Rosemarie Correia knew her employee wasn’t happy, but when she asked, the woman smiled and said she was fine.

Instead of letting it go, Correia gave the employee her phone number and said if something was wrong and she wanted to talk about it, she should not hesitate to call. The woman called, and they worked past the problem to improve the situation.

This president’s attitude about how employees should be treated has helped her grow Systems Source, an office interiors company, to $100 million in revenue this year, a 33 percent increase over 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Correia about how she treats her employees to keep her company growing.

Q: What is the key to growth?

Attract the right people, and when you have them, you can’t take them for granted, or you’ll lose them. It’s very competitive out there.

Some of the people I end up hiring, their employers could have kept them just for a kind word now and then. Employees are valuable assets — they’re everything.

Q: How do you engage employees?

If I hear someone’s unhappy or having a problem, instead of ignoring that or waiting for that person to come to me, I seek that person out and try to proactively solve something, even though they’re not necessarily bringing it to my attention.

Our company is a transference of feelings about how we feel about our product, our company, our service. If we’re not feeling good about it, we’re going to transfer it, even if we don’t use those words. I call it emotional BO — you don’t know what’s wrong, but something’s wrong.

Feeling good about where we work and what we’re doing is critical to our success, and clients pick up on that. If management and owners are concerned with your well-being as well as productivity, you’re going to feel better about it. You’re going to transfer that, even if it’s unspoken.

Q: How do you read what people are feeling?

We all can read people if we’re paying attention. Sometimes you’ll ask, ‘Is everything OK?’ (They’ll say,) ‘Oh yes, everything’s OK’ (and) smile.

But you’ve known this person a long time. This is not the reaction I would have expected or anticipated. We all do that. There’s something wrong, and we don’t want to talk about it.

If someone walks out and they’re not on top of the world, you need to find out what that’s about. Sometimes you have to keep questioning or leave it open or pay attention because people are afraid to tell the boss everything. It makes it a little bit harder, so the boss has to make it easier.

Go seek them out. In order to come to the boss and say something, they’re going to be a little nervous. You’ve got to make it easy.

Q: How do you do that?

Be honest and direct. Trust is such an issue in the employee-employer relationship. By the same token, it cannot all be sunshine.

If someone has done something inappropriate or disappointing, communicate that to them. I’ve seen people that they get a cold shoulder, or they know something’s wrong, but it’s not addressed.

Q: How do you approach employees in those situations?

Come in accusatory, then you feel like a jerk, and you can’t ever get that back. Once you’ve made an idiot of yourself, it’s there. Even if you apologize, the person will feel better, but there will still be that thing.

The first thing I do is think about what I like about this employee. Start the meeting with something genuine. ‘I really like that you do this and this.’ I make sure they hear me because when you’re talking to people, you say, ‘You did a really good job on this, but I wish this one thing had been done different,’ and that’s all they hear. I ask them to repeat back to me the good things, so I know that they heard it and can’t dismiss it.

Do it as a process instead of coming out and blasting. Get the background. I ask them why they did something a certain way. Sometimes it changes the whole meeting. Recently, I thought someone had done something based on what I had heard, but when I asked this person about it, they talked about the circumstances.

No wonder. I would have done the same thing. That was information I wasn’t aware of. We never ended up talking about the other thing.

If you’re still having a problem with what they did, you can then validate, ‘I understand, but this is how I would like it to be done in the future.’ Then get a confirmation on it.

If it’s something really bad, bring them in and say, ‘I know this is a big mistake, but I’m talking to you about it because it’s my desire that we correct this, so moving forward it can be even better.’ I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, and sometimes we do.

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