All together now Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

Alex Gallo has always been a fan of the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain; it amazes him how, no matter which one he stays at, the service is always wonderful.

He began asking himself how it maintains that consistency throughout its locales and how he could do the same at Alexander Gallo Holdings LLC, his court reporting and litigation support services company.

“Anybody who’s ever done an acquisition of a company can relate to the ‘us vs. them,’” Gallo says. “There’s got to be something to bring it together, and maybe somebody doesn’t realize what it is, but it’s culture. I cannot imagine anything as important.”

Since founding his company a decade ago, the president and CEO has seen his business grow to more than 60 offices through 14 acquisitions. With more than 1,000 employees scattered from coast to coast, he constantly draws on inspiration from the Ritz to help him unify his people and create one corporate culture.

Smart Business spoke with Gallo about how to unify people from different backgrounds to create one new culture.

Create a plan.
Hire a very good consultant. Anyone at the senior level who spends time with the people in the field and understands the business could have sat there and said, ‘Hey, here are the top 10 things,’ and you’d be right on. The advice really is spending time from the bottom up with the people in the field who are making the decisions and running the company and keeping it together.

We had consultants come in. It started with interviews with about 150 employees and clients from across the country from the bottom up. They had a general theme of questions they were driving toward, and they assimilated the information and went through it and said, ‘OK, here’s the top 10, 15 hot points, here are the concerns, here’s the direction.’ Some of it is stuff you would generally see — integrity, honesty — but it really rubs in to some of the principles and issues as a company that you would have when you’re bringing together different cultures, the ‘us vs. them,’ and how do you get past that.

Then, from there, it was exploring who we are. What’s the common thread among all of us that drives us that needs to be present for you to wake up and dedicate yourself to what’s required? It’s a guiding principle. It’s the rules by which you operate.

Roll it out.
It shouldn’t be the senior-level management team only kind of spouting off — you absolutely must involve the people and get the buy-in. You’re trying to get people behind a common goal and common vision going a common direction.

It’s easy for people to say, ‘Follow me and run,’ but how many people are sitting there nodding off?

We formulated it into words and print, and then we rolled it out in regional meetings to the company. For something like that, we kept the energy level high. It was about a three-hour meeting, and I spoke about 15 to 20 minutes. We have 14 guiding principles, and you had a different person for each speaking to it and saying what’s the meaning of it.

It wasn’t Alex Gallo saying, ‘Hey, here’s who we are — now act like this.’ It was the people speaking about who they were and who the company was and what makes them do what they do.

When it’s a peer that you respect and they’re talking about, ‘Here’s what this means to me,’ all of a sudden people tend to think, ‘Yeah, I like Suzie. She does live this every day. This is a great thing,’ and people start getting behind it.

There was a realization that this wasn’t a top-down approach. There was that understanding, so it builds momentum as the people saw that we were serious about what we were doing.

Hold people accountable.
When the senior managers hold themselves accountable to it, in their own talk and how they conduct themselves, acting and behaving according to the guiding principles of the culture, all of a sudden people see that this is serious, and they hold themselves accountable to it.

The managers of different departments are responsible for spending time with the employees and talking about it and going over the pieces of the culture, and then they’re held accountable to that. We have a formal book that they would keep track of that in. It’s called the commitment journal.

The commitment journal is broken down by week — here’s the guiding principle that we’re working on this week, here’s the general meaning of it, write down something over the course of the last week that you’ve done that reflects this guiding principle, and the manager will be sitting there and say, ‘Let’s share and talk about it.’

Everybody in the company does it.

It’s a great tool. There are times you’ll go to make a decision and someone will say, ‘I don’t think that reflects what we actually are.’ It causes you take that step back and say, ‘You know, you’re right,’ and we’re to be held accountable to it, too, and you make your decisions according to it.

You don’t cram it down people’s throat, but at the end of the day, you have goals you have to meet and you have stuff that has to be done. If they see that you’re living it and this is really who you are, it’s a good culture. When they see that the company that has acquired them does live it, they get behind it.

HOW TO REACH: Alexander Gallo Holdings LLC, (866) 342-2012 or www.alexander-galloholdings.com