Breaking through the ceiling Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

It is Eric J. Lindberg’s goal to grow MSI International every year, but it’s not because he’s enamored with gaudy revenue growth percentages. Instead, MSI’s founder, president and CEO says that if your business isn’t growing, your employees won’t have the opportunity to grow either.

A stagnant company runs the risk of losing its most talented and ambitious employees when their heads hit the ceiling, and the leader of the $24 million recruiting and placement company doesn’t want his best people to leave.

“The worst thing in a company is losing a good person because he or she had nowhere to go,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Lindberg about how to create opportunities for the future executives in your midst.

Q. How do you create growth opportunities for your employees?

After an employee has been with us for six months, he or she has the opportunity to go to his superior and say, ‘I’d like to be considered for the management associate program.’

If the boss agrees, that person fills out a biographical sketch and is interviewed. If he or she is selected, they go into a three-day, leadership-training program.

We don’t talk about the technicalities of our business; we talk about what motivates people. We do case studies. We have different executives from the company come in and speak to the class. We keep it small, [usually eight or nine people], so we have a lot of interaction and feedback. I teach the class, so I get to know them, and they get to know me.

Q. How does the program benefit the company?

A side benefit is I get to know each one of these people a lot better. I see how they react to questions, how they answer questions. As a result of that, I’m able to identify people that can really help us grow.

Also, the manager of the office that recommended that person gets feedback from me about the person. For instance, if somebody flunks the written test, it means he or she has just not studied the homework and is not very serious about what he or she is doing. So it’s feedback that helps his manager evaluate the individual participant.

Q. What is one of the major traps a leader can fall into?

Hiring weak people because you’re afraid to have someone better than you on staff.

I still see this in some of my managers, unfortnately, because they feel that if they hire a really great person, that this person might replace them. So part of it is fear for their job security — which is wrong, but it still happens.

If we’re talking about the CEO in a company, the same thing can apply. A CEO who hires a really brilliant (chief operating officer) who is really strong, that CEO could have some real fear that this person that is coming in can replace him.

Q. How do you remove that fear from your staff?

They’ve got to feel comfortable that their boss has got integrity and is not going to pull the rug out from under them. It’s a difficult thing to answer because there just has to be a trust between the manager and the manager’s boss, the superior.

A major reason for people staying or leaving their job is the quality of the relationship they have with their manager. If that relationship is not strong, that’s why there is a lot of turnover.

Q. How do you build that relationship?

It’s communication; it’s doing what you say you’re going to do. It’s helping your subordinates achieve their goals and providing support and feedback.

Help them develop their people and develop themselves. If you can do that effectively, you can build that trust.

Q. How do you help your managers develop?

If I send somebody to Dallas to open up an office, that person knows that whatever he’s doing, it’s got to be legal, it’s got to be moral and ethical, it’s got to be within company policy, it’s got to be within the budget.

As long as those four parts of the fence are there, he or she can do whatever, just about whatever, they want to do to grow that business. They know these are the fence posts. As long as they stay within these broad parameters, they can use as much of their imagination and creativity as they want.

They know that I’m not looking over their shoulder. I’m not going to micromanage them. Not only do I want them to, but I expect them to be very entrepreneurial.

Q. How does empowering employees benefit them?

It benefits them only if that’s what they want to do. You have to have the right personality. You’ve got to have the right person who does want to grow, who does want to be his or her own boss. ... It benefits that person because they feel like they’re running their own business, and if they do well, they’re going to make a lot of money.

HOW TO REACH: MSI International, (404) 659-5050 or