Step by step Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Michael Kogon, founder and CEO of Definition 6 LLC has a simple test to determine whether the right decision is “yes” or “no.”

“When you would be embarrassed to have a magazine article made by your ‘yes’ or if you would be unwilling to tell your mentor, parent or spouse what you’re doing, that’s a good time for a ‘no,’” he says.

Kogon has been making the right choices, and it shows. He has grown revenue to $12 million at his 50-employee company, which develops interactive Internet-based business systems.

Smart Business spoke with Kogon about why you should always focus on the outcome and how you can plan your vision in reverse.

Q. How important is personality to leadership?

It’s hard to be a leader if you’re not comfortable with your personality being present when you are. There’s a lot about servant leadership that is nice, but a forceful personality is important.

Now, don’t take ‘forceful personality’ out of context to mean ‘aggressive.’ Whatever your style is, you need to be very comfortable using it to make it happen, or I don’t know how you’re leading. You’re just collaborating, which is a fine art, but it’s not the same as leadership.

It’s hard to lead people or yourself if you don’t know what you’re trying to do at the end. So by focusing on outcomes, you’re leading. You may not be managing, but you’re leading.

Q. How do you weave those outcomes into a vision for the company?

Can you tell the story of what it will be like when you get to that outcome? If you think about vision, it means I can see it in my head.

As you refine the retelling of your story, you’re able to refine your vision. Then, others who weren’t there when you were creating it can understand it without going through the same process.

For instance, I can see when we are the No. 1 interactive agency in America, these are the types of projects we will do, these are the types of clients we will have, the economic and industry successes we will share.

If you can do that, then you have a vision. If you can tell it as a story — and as rich a story as possible — you’ve got your vision.

Q. How do you decide which step to take first in crafting that vision?

I’m a reverse calendar planner. If I need to be somewhere by Saturday morning, I start with, ‘Am I going to wake up there, or am I going to wake up early at my house and fly in?’ Then I work my way backward to the point where I start.

As I create a vision statement, I say if [being the No. 1 interactive agency] was going to be the outcome, what would I have to be before that? Well, I’d have to be a top five interactive agency. Before that, I’d have to be a regional leader. Before that I’d have to be a citywide top tier. Before that, I’d have to be a consistent deliverer of services. Before that, I’d have to know what it takes to deliver the services.

If you’re doing to get to the outcome, you have to start at the outcome. Then look at where you are and say, ‘How do I go from where I am to there?’

Q. How do you get employees to buy in to the steps on the way to the outcome?

In some ways, I let them convince me to buy in that their steps are the right ones. I try to share the outcome with as many employees as I can as regularly as I can.

We have a culture of meetings to keep people informed. We talk in the generality of how we’re going to get there and what we need — the big steps. Then we say, ‘What do you think?’ Then, they fill in the steps in between the big steps or say, ‘You missed a big step.’

It’s a leader’s job to lay out vision, and it’s management’s job to approve recommendations from their employees, then manage the steps that they said they were going to do to get there.

Q. How do you gain the respect of your employees?

It’s simple things. If you get a gift basket from one of your suppliers that you’ve talked to once but other people work with day to day, you shouldn’t take the bottles of wine and the good cheese, and then leave the stale crackers and the sugar-covered chocolate things that nobody ever eats in the break room and say, ‘Look what somebody brought us.’

Do it the other way. You’re not the reason that vendor is performing well for you, your people are.

Everybody understands you’re going to get the Masters tickets. They’ve got that. You get that because you probably went without a salary for a couple of years when you started the business. And if you’re a leader, you spent 20 years before being the leader, and you watched other people get the tickets.

But not every gift is yours. Most aren’t.

HOW TO REACH: Definition 6 LLC, (404) 870-0323 or www.definition6.com