Consulting your people Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Luiz Carvalho’s passport is decorated with a lot of stamps, thanks to the time he’s spent traversing the globe to visit clients and employees.

As CEO of Proudfoot Consulting, he recognizes that people are the lifeblood of his $160 million organization and maintains his focus on them.

“We don’t have any assets other than people,” he says. “There are no machines. There is no equipment. We don’t own any buildings. People is all we have. ... It’s so important to spend time with people.”

Besides traveling, Carvalho also keeps in touch with his assets through his CEO advisory panel. Four times a year, he brings about 20 people from Proudfoot’s offices in 14 countries to one destination so he can pick their brains for two days.

Smart Business spoke with Carvalho about how he conducts these forums and how he makes decisions about which ideas to implement and which to put on the back burner.

Conduct forums. We make an effort listening, probing and asking more questions. They will talk for two days about different ideas, ways of doing business and functions.

They advise me on what they see out in the marketplace, what they hear from clients, what they hear from our people, suggestions, views, complaints. There’s absolutely no rule other than the fact that I’m supposed to listen. I go in with an empty yellow pad and just listen and make notes.

The gathering of that data gets spread out amongst the people that work for me — presidents, heads of functions — and we’ll look at some of the ideas. Some we’ll take on and do something about, and some we’ll put on the back burner for next year, and some we just dismiss.

We fit back into the people in our regional local meetings. I’ll brief the group in terms of what we decided to take on from the panel. We don’t try to justify the ones that we didn’t. If you see 20 people for two days, you end up with a huge list of things.

Decide what’s feasible. If the ideas are good, and we believe there’s a reason to try them out, then we will do something.

Our clients are priority zero, one, two and three. Anything that has a positive effect in terms of our ability of delivering to our clients, we’ll take an in-depth look at.

The second would be our people. Things that we can do or ideas we have to improve recruitment, retention, development, succession planning or so forth, we’re also going to take an in-depth look at.

By doing those first two, we’re creating value for our shareholders. Anything that has to do with clients or people will take a priority view. This is really all we have.

If it wasn’t for our clients and our people, we’d be out of business. It’s, in essence, the survival and the growth of the business.

Be a good listener. It’s questioning. A good listener is a person who questions what they’ve been told. I’ve learned to never take the first answer as a given.

It doesn’t mean people lie — it just means the more you probe, the more you understand and the more of a good listener you are. If you just listen to what people are telling you and take it, how much did you really get?

The best question I can ever ask anybody is to understand why certain things are what they are. It’s very useful because you try to get behind a person’s view.

I learn a lot if you just try to understand why certain things are the way they are and why people think the way they do. The Socratical method is pretty amazing, actually.

Hire good people. Our ability to work with our clients and get them to do what’s required is what makes us successful. To do that, you do have to handle people and establish relationships.

You have to embrace their concerns, empathize with them and work with them. The ability to deal with people and handle people is the biggest requirement from a broad recruitment perspective.

The other is character — honesty, integrity — because we are so spread out and our people are primarily by themselves or in small groups delivering to clients all over the world. It’s impossible to manage them on-site — you don’t have executive management in every project. They’re out there, so when you do get a call, you do read a report, you do get feedback, it needs to be accurate, upfront, open and honest. If you have those two characteristics, we try to work out the rest.

Have a hiring process. If I visit and I’m going to spend four days in the unit, they’re setting me up with four or five interviews that they wanted to hire, so I try — and I want my management to do the same — to spend the time interviewing as many people as you can at different levels. The more people you get to see a candidate, the more different views you have.

I always try to put on a sort of tough, managerial, naysayer view to interview people I’m recruiting. Different views are very appropriate.

It’s just not a process of interviews. We have interviews, then most people come in for what we call an assessment center. They’ll be in the office for a day, and they have multiple interviews and have to build case studies and present. They get challenged, and they present to a panel, and then they’re ranked amongst all of them so we get the best. Then there’s perhaps a last interview that’s required. It’s a complex process, which has been very helpful.

HOW TO REACH: Proudfoot Consulting, (404) 260-0600 or