Equal opportunities Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

Bruce Cameron has seen just about everything in his more than 30 years in management.

“I’ve been with start-ups that have literally exploded with growth,” he says. “I’ve been with start-ups that, after a year, have closed their doors. I’ve been with dot-coms that were the eighth-largest IPO in 1999 and sold two years later for a fraction of their net worth at that point in time. I’ve been with $500 million companies and $5 million companies.”

But through it all, one thing remains constant, no matter the situation.

“I think the one thing that is very, very important is just getting back to the consistency of operation — setting your bar, setting your comp, and then being consistent with that year over year so that people can dig in.”

Now, he’s president of the $240.8 million CDC Software Corp. Building that consistency has been key to aligning the software development company and moving it forward.

“A lot of these, if we’re going to develop a new piece of software, it’s two or three years,” Cameron says. “Sometimes a big sale can take one or two years. Our ability to remain consistent through that period of time is very important.”

Oftentimes, leaders will try to change course right away if they see any sort of problem, but Cameron takes a different approach.

“A lot of people come in and change their strategy every week or every month, which indicates that it was wrong to begin with,” he says. “You have to put a stake in the ground and be consistent with your employees and, most importantly, consistent with your customers so they know what you’re all about.”

Here’s how Cameron uses goals, mentoring and a compensation strategy to drive consistency through his organization.

Set goals

When Cameron does the annual budget, he does it both top down and bottom up. It may seem like an oxymoron, but it works.

He first looks at last year’s data and adds 10 percent, and then looks at how that plays out across the organization. Then he gets the numbers from his individual regions to understand what their challenges are for the next year. He then takes his top-down analysis, combines it with his bottom-up analysis and meets in the middle.

“The more I can play to what the fields can commit to, the better off we can all commit to,” he says. “ … It’s a matter of No. 1, understanding what the manager can commit to, No. 2, checking that with the top-down budget of what we’re expecting, and that’s the delta I have to manage to get everybody to the same goal line.”

Having solid data and regional input helps him justify the company’s overall goals to the board.

“We’ll get expectations from the board, and the right thing to do right then and there is to make sure we have all the data and we can go back to them if we feel the numbers aren’t fair and such,” he says.

But just because you set company goals doesn’t mean you’re going to reach them. You then have to take those company goals and break them down to different departments and individuals.

“The biggest thing is setting the bar realistically on both sides,” Cameron says. “Some management style says, ‘If I want to get 10 out of my team, I’m going to say 20, and they’re going to work as hard as they can, and maybe they’ll hit 15.’ I’m not a big fan of that management style because even if they hit 15, they’ll feel that they’ve failed because you expected 20.”

Instead of setting the bar too high, look at the data you have and push the envelope a little past the current performance.

“I’m more of a fan of, ‘OK, if 10 is a fair bar, can we squeeze maybe and get to 11 or 12?’” he says. “So 12 is a fair number, we’ll budget on 12, and then if you get to 15, you’ve done tremendously well and feel real good about it. I think one of the things that is most important is people need to feel they can achieve their goals. Goals can’t be too low. They can’t be too high.”

If you’re not sure if your goals are reasonable, then look at how people are currently performing under the standards you have in place.

“Understand your business well enough to set reasonable goals,” Cameron says. “As a rule of thumb, 60 to 70 percent of your team should be hitting their goals. A subset of that should be exceeding their goals, and you’ll have 10 to 15 percent that, for whatever reason, are not coming near their goals. They need to be retrained or retrenched.”

If you set reasonable goals that people can achieve, then you’re going to foster a fair and consistent work environment where people feel good about the company.

“More than half the time, people should feel they’re achieving the goals set out for them,” he says. “If that’s not the case, you’re not going to have a company that people enjoy working for. You’re not going to have a lot of success stories. You’re just going to have a lot of frustration. It’s the guys that are overachieving that breed enthusiasm for the rest of the company to believe they can overachieve on their role, as well.”

Mentor people

Cameron has four sons, and as a result, he has coached about 700 soccer games in his life.

“I’ve never played the game myself, but I’ve learned an awful lot about dealing with younger people and understanding and learning what’s important to them, and people need to be treated as an individual,” he says.

That learning has been put to good use. He’s been in management since he was 27 years old — so more than 30 years at this point — and his favorite part about the job is sitting down with his employees, learning what’s important to them, building rapport, helping them map out one- and five-year plans and then working with them to get there.

“I enjoy the mentoring process,” he says. “I look at what I am here. I’m the coach for the CDC team, if you will. I coach the board. I coach all the players around me. It’s a fulfilling job.”

Those goals vary by person, and it’s your job to find what makes people tick.

“Some people, it’s an earnings goal,” Cameron says. “Some people, it’s a promotion goal. You’d be surprised when you really pin a person down and say, ‘Tell me what do you want to accomplish in five years.’ A lot of people don’t think that way. They’re just trying to survive the day or the next quarter, and they’re not thinking out far enough.”

A strong leader will help them think further out and come up with goals and ways to get there.

One way to begin the mentoring process is to take some time for your people.

“The first thing is just getting to know the person and understanding enough of his personal life to see where he’s coming from, where he grew up, what his parental situation was like, what his family situation is like,” Cameron says. “All of those things add to the type of person he is and gives me enough of a background to kind of understand why he would set goals the way he’s setting them.”

He also suggests getting to know people outside of the office instead of inside.

“I’m a much bigger fan of let’s meet for dinner and get outside of the office and get to know people because they need to trust me, as well, and know that I can add value for this thought process for them,” he says.

Another way he gets to know people is through CDC’s annual club trip, where all of the company’s top performers bring their significant others to a remote place, such as Jamaica.

“That gives me a real special time to not only have some real good one-on-one time, but to understand who their significant other is, who their support system is, and things of that nature,” he says.

The more you do this, the more people will understand their role in the company and how they can contribute, which creates that consistency you’re looking for.

“What’s most important is everybody understands their role,” Cameron says. “It’s well-defined, and they understand what means success for them. I don’t care if it’s the lowest level in the company or the highest level in the company, everyone deserves to know what means success to them.”

Compensate fairly

At most companies, management keeps salaries under lock and key, but Cameron takes a different approach.

“All compensations should be such that any two people can go to a bar, have a beer, and openly discuss their compensation without anybody being disappointed or mad, because at the end of the day, they’ll all know each other’s plans,” he says. “If you have little separate point plans for one person and you don’t for another person, that’s always going to come back and haunt you, so the consistency of the way we’re compensating our people … is really important, as well.”

Just like with setting goals, you have to do some research to set up consistent compensation plans.

“The first thing you need is data, obviously, and what’s tough for us is the size of our business unit in North America is five or six times bigger than the size of the business unit in, say, Spain, so to look at those drivers that allow us to be consistent in both areas is challenging,” Cameron says.

He says to look at some of the same areas as Wall Street does, such as revenue, EBITDA and gross margin.

“By having them put on the same goals as we do as a company makes it very easy for everybody to appreciate the importance, and when we give guidance as a company to Wall Street, everybody is a subset of that guidance, so anyone who doesn’t hit their particular number is going to hurt the team moving forward at this point,” he says. “Those are the hard areas.”

There are also soft areas, which he calls MBOs, or management by objectives. There’s a different one each quarter, and this is where he can break goals down regionally to reflect the special challenges areas may be facing.

“It’s a relatively small part of the overall comp, but it allows me to have a very consistent comp on the very important things but a little bit of flexibility on some of the geographic challenges that they have that I want to make sure they’re focused on,” he says.

Most of the compensation related to the company’s goals are awarded through CDC’s stock-option plan. Then as employees meet their individual goals, that’s where more compensation and bonuses come into play.

“Again, you’re looking for everybody to not only meet their particular budget and goals — the goal is to exceed them,” Cameron says. “We have compensation plans that have no ceiling on them because once they’ve met their goals, all their budget is paid for, so really, the only additional expenses you may have is some sales bonuses and commissions.”

Having the majority of the employees’ compensation tied to their individual goals is extremely important for the company to meet its overall goals.

“If you have a lot of their compensation tied to the entire company, where you have several regions not hitting their numbers and several regions beating their numbers, it can be a demotivator for a guy who could really kill his number but has a lot of his comp tied to what everyone else is doing,” he says. “In some cases, it may cause him to not perform as well as he might when he’s knowing that everything he’s doing is affecting his compensation, and obviously, the better he does, the better the company does overall.”

How to reach: CDC Software Corp., (770) 351-9600 or www.cdcsoftware.com

Story feedback: Kristy J. O’Hara, kohara@sbnonline.com