Speaking of success

Louis Provenzano can tell his employees how great Language Line Services is, and he does so every chance he gets. He can talk about all the potential his company has for future success, and he does that, too.

But in order to achieve those lofty aspirations, Provenzano would need to get his employees to believe his words and be willing to put their own skills to use to reach those goals.

“Play to everybody’s strengths, provide them the opportunity of using their own individual strengths and continue to excel,” says Provenzano, president and chief operating officer at the interpretation service provider. “When you’re a successful company, people expect more. My biggest challenge is how do I make people do more and really feel good about the direction of the company.”

Language Line provides over-the-phone interpretation service in more than 170 languages through the company’s 7,000 employees. The key to future growth would be Provenzano’s ability to tap into his employees’ talents and fuel their drive for personal and companywide success.

Smart Business spoke with Provenzano about how to build a team that can help drive growth.

Set clear goals. I had to set the standards to make sure everybody would sing to the same music and have a methodology of going out into the market and explaining our value. It really is making sure that the team really understands their roles, how they can prosper in their roles and how they can use the tools that we currently have in the organization.

Goals have to be very well articulated from the president’s office. You have to ensure that the entire company understands what needs to be accomplished. Setting the goals and objectives and requirements has to be well-articulated. Everybody needs to understand that and understand what their contribution is to achieving those company goals.

Build strong bonds. The thing that a good leader does is they bond with their people, their customers and with their shareholders. Listen and pay a lot of attention to suggestions. We’ve introduced kaizen here at Language Line, which is a continuous improvement methodology.

If you spend a lot of time in the trenches and a lot of time with your customers and ask what their biggest pain points and challenges are and what they need to be more successful, guess what? They will tell you.

I travel an awful lot, not only for speeches and various interpreter sessions, but I’m out there in the market with customers and employees. I’m constantly asking: What can we do differently? What can we do better? What do we need to change? What do we need to do better?

I try to get to a lot of the managers’ meetings on a regular basis throughout the course of the year. I’ll ask what’s on their mind. What went well with our customers this week? What did not go well? What are some of the challenges we’re currently having?

Reward enthusiasm. Encourage people to participate. If they are in an environment where they feel they can contribute openly and honestly and that their feedback is going to be taken into consideration, people will do more of it. People will recognize if you reward for good behavior and you reward when there is great success.

I personally believe in picking up the telephone and making X amount of calls every week to key employees when I see something that is noteworthy that needs recognition. Getting a letter or a phone call from the president of 7,000 employees is very difficult to do from a timing standpoint, but it’s extremely important.

Success always begets success. If you have an open environment where you encourage people to perform at their highest level of achievement and you publicly recognize the top performers, it encourages a healthy environment for everybody wanting to be a part of that excellence.

Develop accountability. People will get paid for great performance. People recognize that management is in this with every single individual in the company. We try to make very transparent what everybody has to do. In doing so, we also make very transparent what people have not done.

Everybody has a personal responsibility to sign up and agree to do their fair share to make this company continue to be a success. Everybody has some objective they are very closely monitored on.

Find out what your customers need and let’s try to be creative in addressing a solution that adds value. You hear people say to think outside the box. There is no box. The sky is the limit.

Follow up on goals. Objectives that were set by the president at the beginning of the year and the objectives carried out throughout the group are reviewed every single week. How are we doing with what we said we were going to do? Where are we ahead? Where are we behind? If we are behind, why are we behind? What are we going to do for corrective action?

If there is a problem in a given part of the business, then it goes back to the communication. We all bond with that problem, and we collectively agree that we need to do the following changes to get ourselves back on track.

Always strive for solutions. With every individual within our company, we have personal challenges and professional challenges. If you have a challenge or you have an issue, acknowledge it and be open about it. But let’s encourage people to be empowered to come up with the solution.

Don’t just bring up the problem. What is your best recommendation for solving the problem? If every one of our managers and executives ask for encouragement on solving the problem, people will feel empowered to come with, ‘Here’s the problem and six suggestions on how I think we can fix it.’

Encourage people to showcase their passion and rise to their level of talent. Give them the opportunity to speak out. If you empower your people to do something with it, chances are you’re going to have a very successful solution.

How to reach: Language Line Services, (800) 752-6096 or www.languageline.com