When Jerry Phillips returned from a recent trip to Europe, he was anxious to get back to work. It
was the first time he had taken more than a week off since he graduated from college, and the president of Phillips Partnership PC was expecting quite the briefing upon his return.
However, when he returned to his $15 million, 100-employee architecture and engineering firm, he was pleasantly shocked to discover he had nothing to do. All the empowering that Phillips, a self-described “delegator,” had done with his staff had paid off.
Smart Business spoke with Phillips about how to tell if your employees are cups or plates and where to put them in the dishwasher.
Q: How involved should a CEO be in day-to-day operations?
I’ve got a ‘dishwasher theory.’ I was thinking about it one day when I was loading the dishwasher at the house. There were a bunch of cups in the bottom rack, and I had a bunch of plates. What I had to do was take the cups out of the bottom rack, and put the plates in the bottom rack because that was the only place they’d fit.
Now, I thought of this with regards to my company. Some individuals are plates, and some individuals are cups. A cup can go anywhere in the dishwasher.
Me, as the leader, I can do just about any job in the company. I could answer the phones, I could run the mail, I could do just about every job.
But does it make sense for me to do them? Even though I can do them, and I can do them very well, I need to hire someone to do that.
My receptionist is very good at what she does, but that’s about all she can do. That’s what I hired her to do; she’s very good at that task. As for the day to day, I can do it, but it doesn’t make sense. I’m going to stick to what I do best. I’m going to put myself in the organization where it makes the most sense.
It’s best for the organization if the leader is not involved in day to day. Turn that over to the staff. It shows you trust them to do it.
I just got back from Europe. When I came back to the company, I looked around, took an hour to get updated, and I realized I had nothing to do. I had a big smile on my face; everything was running real smooth.
My plate’s clear, so I can practice my vision. I can think about where I want the company to go. That’s what I do best, and that’s what I need to be doing.
Q: How do you come up with a vision for the company?
If you take road classes, the first thing they tell you is if you’re ever in a situation where you lose control of your car, have your eyes look to a safe spot. What people tend to do is focus on the danger another car, a cliff, a telephone pole.
But if you’re in that situation where you’re losing control and you focus on the telephone pole, it could be the only telephone pole in the middle of a cornfield, and you will hit it. You will invariably steer the car toward the danger.
They want you to look for a safe spot, an open area between the telephone pole and a tree. The car goes where you look. The hands follow the eyes.
It’s the same thing with my business. I look to where I want the company to go. It’s always that safe spot between the trees and the telephone poles and all the danger. I steer the company where I’m looking, and I’m always looking ahead. I’m looking at a larger company with improved margins and bigger projects and more opportunities for the staff.
Now, I don’t lose sight of the dangers and the pitfalls, but I don’t focus on those. Because if you focus on the dangers and pitfalls, that’s where you’re going to take your company.
Q: How do you attract good employees?
I hear a lot of people talking about how hard it is to find good employees. I kind of like it that way because if the market was flooded with good employees, then I’d have a lot more competition. You can really focus on recruiting particular individuals and strategically build your organization.
At the end of the day, I generate money by selling people’s time. So I have to make sure I have the right people who are going to execute the work and grow professionally and personally with the organization. It’s those individuals who help perpetuate and grow the company even more because they come on board and do a good job, and clients like them. Then we get more work it starts that cycle.
HOW TO REACH: Phillips Partnership PC, (770) 394-1616 or www.phillipspart.com