Master motivator Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

Melissa Hulsey says one of the keys to growth is staying fresh — and one way to do that is to take a good idea and tweak it to fit your situation.

Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton Staffing, was impressed by Roto-Rooter’s “Pimp My John” marketing campaign and how it increased brand awareness among the under-30 crowd. So she asked the leaders of her $16 million staffing company, “How can we pimp our service?”

The suggestions came pouring in, and now leather chairs, wide-screen TVs and fresh popcorn all contribute to a more welcoming environment for Ashton’s customers.

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about why setting big, hairy, audacious goals can help grow your company.

Q: What have been the keys to your success?

Smart people hire smarter people. So first of all, being confident in yourself and your ideas and abilities, but also being able to recognize that you’re only as successful as the people underneath you. You really need to build your team from the bottom up, and if you focus as much attention at some of your lower-level positions, really building people, that builds your success even greater.

Q: How involved in the day-to-day operations should a leader be?

In terms of day to day, you should be not very involved. You should hire people who are able to do the job you need them to do without much guidance or assistance. But in terms of the vision of the company, the leader needs to be extremely involved.

And in terms of customer service, you need to be in front of your customers. You need to let them know, big or small, that they’re important, and they matter to you very much.

One of the things I see CEOs and leaders sometimes do poorly is they forget to give love to their internal staff. We spend so much time criticizing those who are underperforming, we take our superstars for granted.

Q: How do you motivate and empower employees?

First of all, you have to create a vision that everybody buys in to. You have to ‘KISS — Keep it simple, stupid.’

So once you have everybody on the same page and everybody’s working for the same goal, we set realistic goals, and then we set some good BHAGs — big, hairy, audacious goals — as well. They know what their goals are, and if they accomplish those goals, there are tangible rewards.

Here’s an example: We call our receptionists CSOs — it stands for chief service officers. And we feel our CSOs are the most important people in the company because they make our first impression. So it would depend on the position level, but we would ask ‘If you had an extra $500 to $5,000, and you had to spend it on yourself, what would you do with it?’ Throughout the year, if somebody does something really good, we’ll look back at what they said and maybe get that gift for them.

Q: What are some pitfalls a CEO should try to avoid?

The first pitfall is not managing your finances well and always having a big cash reserve. I see a lot of my peers get extended. Most companies go out of business in a time of growth rather than a time of recession. That’s because they get in such a pickle, they can’t afford funding when their business is growing, and it just kills them.

The way to avoid the first pitfall is to have a sound financial plan, good financial advisers and to always maintain a good cash store.

Q: How do you retain good employees?

We had one girl who was very successful, and her husband was transferred 50 miles away, but she wanted to remain with the company. She telecommutes now. Certain positions you can allow that in; other management positions, obviously, you have to physically be here. But we want to be as flexible as we can with our work force.

Also, we want to be a green company, as environmentally conscious as we can. Be a good corporate citizen. The more people you have working at home, the less cars you have on the road. It just works better all the way around.

Q: How do you create a healthy work-life balance?

Recognize you can’t bring work home after a certain point. And if you have family things, you can’t bring them to work. Each year, I set a personal goal and personal motto. This year’s personal motto is ‘Be in the moment.’ If I’m at work, I’m focused on work. If I’m at home, I’m focused on my kids or my husband.

It’s just discipline and making a conscious effort to be balanced and setting some goals. I schedule family time on my schedule. I schedule lunch with my kids just like I’d schedule lunches with my clients. You have to make an effort to do it.

HOW TO REACH: Ashton Staffing, www.ashtonstaffing.com or (770) 419-1776