Moving forward Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008
When Frank Murphy merged his company, Smart Document Solutions, with Companion Technologies last year, the president and CEO of the newly formed HealthPort had to act quickly to get 2,700 employees on the same page. He knew he had a limited amount of time before the blame for ongoing problems would shift from past management to him, and he wanted to make sure everyone understood what he expected and where the health information services and products company was headed.

Smart Business spoke with Murphy about how his penchant for action made the transition successful.

Take action. When I was first appointed to my first CEO position, my boss told me as we were walking in the front door, ‘My first boss told me this, and it’s served me well — hire somebody, fire somebody and paint the lobby.”

That is not as literal as some may interpret it. It’s a figurative penchant for action. What he meant by that was take noticeable action, and do it quickly.

When you take over a new role, you have 90 days, after which you own everything that happens — good, bad or indifferent. There’s no more blaming the past manager or team for what you inherited for the culprit for business woes.

You own it, so take noticeable action, and the people that are going to help you make the business more successful will quickly join in. Get somebody doing something that they weren’t doing before, and people stand up and notice. ‘Hey, this new team is taking action. The new leader is taking some action that needed to happen a long time ago.’

Be decisive. A leader who does-n’t make decisions, who waffles, gets his management team into a position of standing still — ‘If he’s not going to make a decision, I’m not going to make a decision because I don’t want to go out on a limb.’

When you start getting that groupthink of, ‘Inaction is what he or she wants,’ then you develop a company that is focused on inaction. Then you have your customer facing managers who need something to happen and confused about what corporate is doing. Then the frustration starts to build, customers start to feel it, and your business starts to go sideways.

Delegate. If the CEO holds too much responsibility or decision-making authority (himself or herself), you start to develop a management team that isn’t going to challenge themselves or challenge their team or think outside the box. They’re going to come back to you for everything.

Delegate a portion of the responsibility all of the time, whether it’s research this or decide which way is the best way to go, and go do it. It depends on how important a decision it is. Some of that depends on the experience of the particular manager or management team member that is handling that particular initiative.

Gauge the priority of the initiative, the financial impact of the initiative. As CEO, be involved in the large decisions always and in the decisions that don’t have the major financial impact but may be new online marketing initiatives. Give your managers the opportunity to try new things without constantly coming to you. Allow them to be inventive, creative, think outside their zone.

Help people make decisions. I empower my management team and encourage them to make decisions but quickly tell them, ‘If you have questions, ask. If you’re unsure, come to me — I’m not going to make the decision for you, but we can talk through different angles that I may have experience with or where I see a hole in your analysis.’

So [I’m] getting them to the point where they’ve looked at the ins and outs of a particular decision and then make a recommendation to me where I say, I agree with that completely.

That instills confidence. Now, it may fail, or it may be wildly successful. Either way, they looked at it, they analyzed it, they brought questions to me, so we’re in the decision together, even though it was their decision.

Then a CEO has to be careful to place blame. If someone tried something creative, and it didn’t work, you have to encourage at least the self-initiative. I had a boss once tell me, ‘It’s OK to make a mistake — just don’t make the same mistake over and over again.’

That allowed me the feeling of freedom to try things. If it didn’t work, do something different the next time. Just don’t keep trying the same thing. I think it was Einstein that said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result.’

Address personnel issues. Recognize when someone is going to be more successful in a different company because they’ve lost the passion for the business. You hurt your own business by waiting to outplace someone too long.

It’s a delicate balance. What I look for is when does that person stop trying? I will give people a lot of opportunity to be successful as long as I see they’re continually trying to get it done.

HOW TO REACH: Smart Document Solutions, (800) 367-1500 or or HealthPort, (800) 999-0788 or