Setting the course Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Even in a difficult economy, Jonathan D. Rosen says you can still steer with a steady hand if you’re always honest with your customers and employees.

“Sometimes that involves tough choices,” says Rosen, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Entaire Global Cos. Inc. “But if you have an honest dialogue … even if you’re delivering bad news, they’ll respect your perspective.”

Involving employees in every aspect of Entaire’s business, from vision planning to financial review sessions, has been a vital key to the company’s success. Since co-founding Entaire in 1997, Rosen has grown the company’s revenue to $16 million in 2008. The company, which works with business owners, medical practitioners and legal professionals to find solutions for their financial and retirement planning problems, has 33 full-time employees and 3,500 independent contractors.

Smart Business spoke with Rosen about how to create a plan that will allow your company to reach its goals and why you need to buy more lunches as your company grows.

Work backward toward your goal. The first step is dreaming about where you want the thing to be. If you look out five or 10 years into the future, what do you want that landscape to look like for your business? You draw on your internal resources and your external resources and your advisers, and you say, ‘If I were painting a picture, what would I want that picture to be?’

Then, you back up and you build pathing between where you are today and the end goal.

Along the way, you check and make sure you haven’t deviated from your course.

It’s a lot like navigation — you know where you are and you know where you want to go. It is a lot easier to make simple course corrections along the way than to get three-quarters of the way there and then realize you need to make a huge course correction.

You try to get more information sooner. Then you can create more landmarks, find more landmarks and get a real feel for where you are. So if it turns out that a course correction is essential, you can go ahead and make it now rather than later.

Get the data. The first way to make sure you’re maintaining your course is by looking toward actual data. Once you find that data, then you try to validate what the data tells you through anecdotal evidence. Then, you see what others tell you. It’s amazing the wisdom you can get when you walk around the office.

If you want to know what’s really going on, you walk out into the workspace. You would be amazed at what you hear and see and what it can teach you about your business. You’ll be looking around and you will discover, ‘Gee, we’ve got a huge opportunity,’ or ‘Uh oh, we have a major problem.’ You can discover those things merely by listening to what others have to say.

It’s tough to maintain that kind of an open-door policy as a business grows. So you have to create forums for dialogue.

As we’ve grown, it has become harder and harder to do that. One thing we’re doing this year is I’m buying a lot more lunches. Somebody on the staff came up with the idea that we would have team lunches with the CEO. It is simply three or four people, and we all go out to lunch. I’ve found that with a couple lunches a week, you can get there. It gives people a chance to actually ask their questions.

Let your employees participate. Another thing we do that I’ve found effective is to have financial review meetings. We have a sign-up sheet once a quarter for these.

People who want to come look at the financials of the business can sit down in the conference room with us and we’ll go through the statements and answer questions. We talk about what we did right and wrong and why we are where we are. It’s participation — you need to let them in.

Employees believe that management and leadership operations occur in this giant amorphous black box. One of the things I encourage them to do is say, ‘How’d you make that decision? What were you thinking when you did that?’

Then I give them an honest answer. You say, ‘Well, I struggled with this; I considered that.’ And if it was the right decision, you say, ‘And it looks like it benefited us.’ If it was the wrong one, you say, ‘I got that one wrong.’

Encourage your employees to speak up. At first they are reluctant to share. Then you find through their questioning you get an enormous amount of wisdom. What happens is, people will start to connect the dots and say, ‘Oh, that’s why we do that that way.’ Yes, it is.

And as you’re going through that dialogue with them, you’ll get snippets of information like, ‘Oh, now that I understand that is the objective; in customer calls, we get a lot of calls that look like this. How would you answer that question of the customer?’ Then you’d say, ‘Interesting. Didn’t know we were getting those calls. Here’s an answer I might give.’

Two or three weeks later, you’re walking down the hall and someone says, ‘I tried that explanation you gave us the other day. The customer really got it, and as a result, they referred a client.’

How to reach: Entaire Global Cos. Inc., (800) 871-4442 or www.entaireglobal.com