Stay focused Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Kevin S. Noland’s motto is “Be distinct, or be extinct.” It fits his philosophy for A.D.A.M. Inc., the provider of health information he founded. Noland encourages his employees to strive for uniqueness in everything they do, from building products to establishing relationships with customers.

The tech-savvy company has doubled its size in just two years, from $8 million in 2004 to $16.5 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Noland, president and CEO of A.D.A.M., about how e-mail can harm your communications and why chasing rainbows isn’t going to get you very far.

Q: How do you attract and retain quality employees?

No. 1 is having an exciting company. First, you have to create an exciting place to work. Not only are we in a fantastic industry, but we have a very cool company.

We try to build an environment for our employees that really allows them to be creative, that fosters communication and provides a good professional work environment. You attract people who are like-minded. When you get people who are all in the game with you, it tends to foster a community spirit.

That translates into anybody who comes into our office, whether it’s a candidate that we’re trying to attract or a prospect we’re trying to attract. It starts with creating the environment, designing the right incentives. We get people engaged in our business and reward them for that engagement. If we’re successful, then you should get rewarded for that.

Q: How do you create that environment?

You get out and walk around. I hate e-mail. I don’t like the idea of e-mail because what e-mail does is it creates a lot of unnecessary barriers to the way people really communicate. I can say a one-line sentence e-mail, and I might have a perception of it that’s totally different from what you might interpret.

And in smaller companies, and even larger companies, you have to break down all kinds of communications barriers. It doesn’t mean you have to have meetings, you just pop into someone’s office. If there’s something that needs to be discussed, discuss it.

Don’t try to build all these artificial things that extend the decision-making time or create distractions in making a decision. Resolve something, whether it’s a conflict or an opportunity, whatever it’s going to be.

Q: How do you achieve business growth?

By sticking with your expertise and staying focused. It’s not getting back to basics, but it’s staying true to what your company is really good at. A lot of companies, when they see change in the industry, they try to change their company.

Instead of trying to boil the ocean, as they say, it’s much better to watch the trends and try to figure out exactly where you can plug in and achieve that maximum return on your investment. We don’t have the luxury of being able to dabble in lots of different things. We have to stay very in tune to what’s happening around us. You get that from your customers and your associates, and you get it from looking at the industry and trying to anticipate where your services can achieve maximum value.

I’ve always said we’re really good at doing the things we do. Let’s do those things really well and be the best at those things. Because if we can be the best at those things we do, we’re going to find a place to go put those things.

But if we start to dilute our efforts and start chasing different kinds of things and spread ourselves too thin just because you want to go chase the next rainbow, that’s not going to get you very far long term. It might get you some gains short term, but that’s not the way to grow a business long term.

Q: How do you manage that growth?

The key to managing growth is you can’t get ahead of the curve. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself as the company is growing. You’ve got to keep the constant balance. Manage that growth with the appropriate growth in your resources.

It’s about not getting carried away. I get folks all the time who say, ‘Why don’t you just go hire 10 more salespeople?’ That’s not how you manage growth — just throwing more people at a situation. You really need a calculated and systematic approach to managing your growth.

It is a bit of an art form. I’ve got experience from my days in the software business, when there were huge amounts of growth. What you saw repeatedly were companies that got so far ahead of themselves. You saw that in the dot-com boom, companies that went from three people to 100 people overnight.

Then when you’ve lost the contract, or the market downsized, all of a sudden you’ve got all this overhead and you don’t have the growth to sustain that. You need calculated, systematic approaches to monitoring your growth and deploying resources for that and not getting carried away like a lot of folks do.

HOW TO REACH: A.D.A.M. Inc., (770) 980-0888 or www.adam.com