When Greg Dukat took over as CEO of Indus International in 2004, he had two options: change, or lose the company. He chose to change, and during the past two years, Dukat has merged conflicting corporate cultures, better trained employees, focused on customer and employee satisfaction and re-evaluated goals. The result is he now has 620 employees cohesively working to grow the $142 million provider of service delivery management solutions. Smart Business spoke with Dukat about how he has effectively led change within the organization.
Start change with communication.
Change although change always makes people uncomfortable was necessary. But what we found was important, both three years go and today, is educating people on the things we’re trying to change and why it’s important to the company to be successful and getting their buy-in into the changes that are necessary and some level of comfort that the change we’re doing is taking the company down the right path. It’s education, open communication, the comfort level of the management team to answer any question and not be afraid that a question might be a difficult one from the employee base.
(It’s) everyone being comfortable in taking some level of risk because you can never get all the information to make the proper change. (It’s) a comfort level from the management team that if a decision is made and it’s not the right one, that they’re not so married to the decision that they’re not willing to make another change that would put the company back on the right path.
Make employees think as a team.
We consider ourselves, in a lot of ways, like a 25- or 30-year-old start-up. The philosophy we have is the mindset that everyone, including myself, has to be willing to do whatever it takes. It has transformed the company in our ability to deliver some of these things that, if we had the perception that it’s not my job, we’d never get that accomplished.
We’ve changed the mindset of our organization over the last three years. We’ve had to make hard decisions where we had people that wouldn’t fit the new model, and we tried to hire people with that mindset.
Then we’ve used the management team, to continue through repetition and through these training programs, to get them to think about breaking down barriers and be willing to do things that might be outside their normal realm of responsibility that would help the company be successful.
We encourage employees to be comfortable with suggesting and being involved in other parts of the business ... and do that professionally and with the utmost respect and get people to work as a team in a team orientation. That has really helped people be comfortable suggesting new ways of looking at things, of doing things and stretching past their normal day-to-day responsibilities and help the company be successful.
Merge corporate cultures with care.
We first discussed with our employees that no one culture is right because we’re the culmination of about four acquisitions over the last eight or nine years. We took the best of those cultures and we built a new one.
We said we really need to build through this new entity. We need to build a new culture that’s based on a value system that everyone is comfortable with, we all feel is important, and we can use as a decision filter for decisions we make in our daily business life.
The foundation is on a value system that fostered people to be honest and fair, to set expectations and exceed quality, communicate openly with respect, be good stewards of our resources, encourage development and reward performances.
We took people from all parts of the business, from different cultures and said: ‘What is common? What worked well? What set those companies apart?’ Even though the words used to describe the values were different in each one, it came down to seven or eight value systems that were consistent across every company. Then we asked those folks to come up with new language that would articulate this new value system.
Once we were able to get agreement, we used those people as the ‘evangelists’ into the organization. We took people not necessarily in a leadership role but who were informal leaders within each of those organizations, and we tasked them with going out into our organization and spreading the word about the new value system, the new culture ... and fostered that through their own informal leadership.
Always look to improve.
The fundamentals of our business are very important, and they’re what have made us successful. And we continue to be dedicated to those fundamentals and continue to work on them where we see things we can improve on. It’s not an overnight process, and that’s probably one of the toughest parts for CEOs.
You have to be patient. You have to continue to work hard on this.
You have to have an organization that’s dedicated to continuing to improve because you’ll meet certain objectives, and then you have to look at those objectives and say, ‘How can we take this to the next level and improve even further?’ We continue to re-evaluate how far we’ve come with surveys to both our employees and customers. We say, ‘OK, we’ve reached a certain level of objective. We need to set new goals. How can we enable ourselves to get to the next level?’
Be honest with customers.
The patience level of a customer and their willingness to work with you increases greatly when they think you are trying your best to improve the process. Even though you might misstep, if they truly believe that you’re genuine in this desire to improve and working hard to do that, even though there might be a moment or two where they say, ‘This isn’t working out,’ they’ll tend to say, ‘But I know you’re working on it, and I know you’re going to do the right thing in the end.’ That gets you through some of those tough situations.
You can’t be perfect all the time, and we never will be, but if they truly believe that we’re trying and continuing to improve the process, you’ll have a customer that says, ‘Even though we had an experience that wasn’t the best last week or two years ago, these guys are trying to improve.’
That’s what we want is our customers to believe, that even though there might be a challenge, they can look at it down the road and they say, ‘We stuck with them, they did the right things, and today, we’re one of their best customers.’ That’s the kind of experience we want them to have.
How to reach: Indus International Inc., www.indus.com