Meredyth McKenzie

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Stopping the rumor mill

There is zero tolerance for gossip at Select International Inc., and the 70 employees know that if they break the rule, their jobs are on the line. Kevin Klinvex, Select’s co-founder and executive vice president, says that hurtful gossip can destroy a company and that creating a policy forbidding it helps employees to talk to each other directly about a problem, instead of hearing about the problem from others.

This policy at the software package firm has helped create a strong, fast-growing company that increased revenue 60 percent between 2004 and 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Klinvex about how to create a culture that doesn’t tolerate gossip and the importance of getting out of the weeds and out of the way.

Q. How do you create a culture with a zero-gossip policy?

It’s important to have an environment where people feel they count and are cared about. Create an environment where somebody says, ‘I’m doing more than just going to work; I have relationships there that are meaningful and matter.’

Culture should be fun and exciting, with a lot of kidding around and laughing and all that kind of stuff. But hurtful gossip destroys a department. Have a work environment where people feel safe and productive.

Have a leadership philosophy where you say, ‘I’m going to hire builders, get out of the way and not be controlling.’ If your mentality is, ‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,’ you’re hiring the wrong people, and if you’re hiring the right people, you’re driving them crazy. Be open to feedback.

If you’re going to say you have a zero-gossip policy, then when you find out a person is gossiping or meeting behind closed doors with others and spreading rumors, act on that. We don’t immediately walk up to the person and say, ‘You’re fired,’ but we do walk up, collect the information and say, ‘This cannot happen again, and if it does, then we will let you go,’ and we actually do.

Q. How do you get employees to buy in to that culture?

It starts with the hiring process. Hire people who are smart, strong leaders and fit the culture. You will find people who are builders, cutters and maintainers.

You’ll see those passionate people who are builders, who are high achievers, who account for many of the great ideas and services in the company. You’ll have maintainers — people who are there to pick up a paycheck. They say, ‘I’m not going to hurt the company or do great things to help the company; I’m going to do my job.’

Then you have cutters who do damage to the company. One cutter can ruin an entire department.

Fire your cutters. Don’t rehabilitate them, try to work with them or try to put them in another department. Fire them, and get them out of your company as quickly as possible.

Q. How do you become open to feedback?

The first step is awareness. There is coaching and assessment where things come out, because oftentimes, it’s part of a person’s personality.

Once you have that awareness, you become a different person. You don’t have to go into a meeting having all the answers and feeling bad if you don’t because no one thinks you had the answers to begin with. You were the only one who thought that.

It’s a work in progress of moving from that, ‘I’ve got to look and dress like a CEO, and when I go into a meeting, I need to control and intimidate everybody.’ When you’re to the point of, ‘I am who I am,’ everybody breathes easier.

Usually when you have a command-and-control culture, you have people who hold communication in because they’re afraid to talk and afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing and get their wrists slapped for it. When you have that culture of openness, it increases communication, and you get a lot better ideas.

Q. How do you get out of the way and allow employees to do work on their own?

Believe in the people you’ve hired. When you’re in the weeds, you’re not looking at the big picture and can’t be everywhere. Start to realize that what you need to do is keep up with the trends, the markets, the biggest clients, and decide where your company is going next.

I got out because I was told to get out. Have that open culture with your leaders, where they can walk in and say, ‘Get out of the weeds; we don’t want you involved in the meetings anymore.’ Listen to it. If you’re not listening, you can’t stay there and think, ‘They need me here; they need me everywhere.’

Good people don’t. They’re smart and know their area better than you know it, so let them go. Ask for feedback of what they can do on their own, where they don’t need you anymore.

HOW TO REACH: Select International Inc., (412) 358-8595 or

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

A coaching mentality

Mary Spangler says leading an administrative team is like coaching a basketball team. An athletic team must include many different types of players because if it had only one type, it wouldn’t win or reach its goals. Spangler says it’s the same in business; you need different types of people with different strengths and weaknesses to be successful, and you need to help them understand their contribution to the team by playing to their strengths and learning how to improve on their weaknesses. As chancellor of Houston Community College — an education system composed of six colleges throughout Houston with a fiscal 2007 budget of $225 million — Spangler has encouraged her 5,391 employees to shine.

Smart Business spoke with Spangler about how to be a cheerleader and coach for your team to help it keep reaching goals.

Develop and encourage teamwork. Work with employees to say, ‘I don’t have all the answers. We’ve got a problem here, we all recognize it as a problem, but I’m not going to tell you what to do. We need to figure this out together; how are we going about doing that?’

Don’t talk about members of the team to other members. When you start talking about one person, then that person says, ‘OK, when I’m not here, is she talking about me?’ Be consistent, fair and open.

In a big organization, it’s hard if you’re deep in it to feel like you are making any kind of difference. Develop a vision and identify key goals. Hold in your head specific things, five or six things that you need to accomplish in order to achieve the goal.

If everybody can grab on to a piece of that, you can move something so that people feel that there’s energy and direction. Focus them on things you have done, not on the things you haven’t. Look at what’s good that is happening.

Communicate often and in different forms. You can’t say anything too many times. People don’t hear it the same way, and once isn’t enough. Use as many modes as you can to communicate that message; keep it focused and ask for feedback. Ask people, ‘Do you understand? Have I made it clear that this is what we’re trying to do? Do you understand what we need to do about it?’

I like to set up forums where I can sit around the table with a dozen people or go into a roomful of people where I can stand and have them ask me questions. They ask you, ‘Why did you do such and such, and are we going to have to do this and that?’ Answering their questions clearly, directly and with confidence communicates to them, ‘OK, this person sort of does understand, has thought about it, maybe does-n’t have all the answers but is enough connected that he or she can come into this environment without feeling nervous or defensive.’

Make good judgments. Watch people make bad judgments. I learned as I was moving up, I watched the person who I reported to and asked myself, ‘Did they handle that well? How would I have handled that? Did they say the right things?’ Look at what happened and ask, ‘Would there have been a better way to handle that?’

The more decisions you make, the better you get at it. When you make a decision, the reason it probably works is that you’ve made a commitment to it. Make a decision based on the consistent principles of fairness, equity and compassion, not making up the rules as you go along but having some guiding principles, applying them and making that decision work is how you learn judgment. It’s a skill to learn through practice.

Keep your promises. It’s critical when developing trust to not tell people more than you can do. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Maybe 90 percent of the time you can deliver it, but they’ll only remember the 10 percent that you promised and didn’t deliver. If you can’t promise, then you say, ‘I can’t make a commitment on this. However, I will review it; I will consider it,’ or, ‘I hear what you’re saying; I understand your concerns.’

Model behavior. Don’t expect people to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. If you want them to be good team members or deliver on their outcomes, you need to demonstrate that yourself.

You can’t expect from them what you don’t do. Those are ways you develop trust, and then they get to know you as a real person and not as a name on their check. It comes from meeting with them in their environment, greeting them and showing them, ‘Hey, I’m a real person.’

Reward those who reach goals. Give feedback. You say, ‘You’re doing a good job, keep it up, don’t give up.’ You have to be a cheerleader and a coach on the sidelines. In a lot of ways, I can’t play the game, but I’ve got to watch all the moving parts and try to maximize that effort.

Not everybody expects an award or a pat on the back, but when there is especially good work done, and it comes to your attention, it should be reinforced. Focus on the positive, and when people feel good, they’re more willing to work hard.

HOW TO REACH: Houston Community College, (713) 718-2000 or

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Bryan Dunn transformed W&S Agency Group

When Bryan C. Dunn became chief marketing officer of Western

& Southern Financial Group in 1995, he was the first outsider

brought in to that position since the family of financial service

companies formed in 1888.

The experience would serve him well.

In 2004, Dunn became president of W&S Agency Group, a $606

million business unit of the parent company that deals with career

and marketing sales efforts.

Dunn saw a need for change to bring the company up to date.

There wasn’t enough innovative thinking going on and too many

decisions were being made based not on current data but because,

“that’s the way it’s always been done.”

But change wasn’t going to come easy.

The company was steeped in tradition, with many of the 2,530

employees having worked there for their entire careers.

The culture was based on long-term internal relationships, making

it more difficult for Dunn, an outsider, to make progress.

“It was high relationship and an understanding of who did

what,” Dunn says. “Employees ... had been with the company

forever and were extremely loyal, had a parental relationship

with the company and (were used to) no outsiders coming in,”

he says.

Dunn needed to transform the organization to make it relevant in

today’s markets, but he needed to do so in a way that would not

destroy the company’s history.

Understand the culture

In order to change, you first must understand the company’s

culture and traditions. Dunn started by analyzing different areas

of the company and speaking with a variety of employees.

“There needs to be a clear analysis and understanding, looking

at the financial numbers and metrics, doing interviews so that

you understand what people think and believe, and doing a

check as to how they align with what the organization is supposed to be doing,” he says.

Dunn interviewed about 50 people in the organization, from

senior leadership on down, as part of the process.

“You’re not talking about an exhaustive time effort, but you

interact, sit down and talk with people who are doing the work,”

he says.

Dunn says to ask employees what the company strategy is and

how they feel they contribute to it. Find pieces of information that

are consistent from one employee to another that give you an idea

of things that need to be changed first.

From these interviews, he learned that customer service was

an important part of the organization’s culture and needed to

continue. He also learned that employees did not understand

the budgeting process. Money was spent in areas because that

was how it had been done for years, instead of looking at where

money was being invested and determining if it needed to be

allocated to new areas.

Employees also did not know how to bring new ideas to the

company, and if they did, they did not feel like these ideas were


“During a change process, people have to see early successes,”

Dunn says. “A lot of times people will tell you what needs to be

changed. If you can enable those things, you start to gain that buyin and emotional commitment to the future.”

One early success Dunn implemented was the creation of a team

to change company policies and procedures. The team made recommendations on items that needed to be changed, and the

changes were then made.

“This showed employees that a good idea can be implemented if

properly delivered,” Dunn says.

Another early success was implementing a new software package

and providing a cost-benefit analysis on why this should be funded.

Although this package was an added expense, Dunn and his team

were able to show why this package was necessary for the sales representatives, how it could improve productivity and the expense savings the company would get from it.

“We went back to the executive committee and made a recommendation, which they approved, and our people said, ‘Wow, they

will do things that make business sense,’” Dunn says.

A final early success was to change the profile of future sales representatives and align it with the company’s value proposition and

strategy. Dunn began looking for people who had a past pattern of

success, were disciplined, had an innate ability to learn and had

good interpersonal skills.

“There was a lot of belief that, ‘Gee, we’re not going to be able to

hire people,’” Dunn says. “We were able to show our field managers

sources for these recruits, and they were able to hire more people

than they had before of the right type of competencies that we


Not all recommendations can be implemented, but analyze and

determine which ones will be the best to move the company forward.

“You apply their changes against what the strategy is going to

be and their recommendations as well as the numbers against

the value proposition that is going to give you that strategy,”

Dunn says. “If you see that change enabling that value proposition or strategy, then you put more work in that area.

“Look at internal interviews and numbers, and ask certain questions. Look outside and at your market, your relevance to it and

who your competitors are.”

Dunn was able to avoid slash-and-burn tactics by following this


“With the feedback we received, we were able to identify fat in

the budget that we were able to carve or trim off, take part of that

money and put it into our pockets for improved profitability,”

Dunn says. “We took the other part to fund initiatives that were

necessary to revamp our organization so it could be more successful than it was in the past.”

Create a clear vision

Once you understand what the company is, you need to recreate

the vision to meet the changes and to give employees emotional

buy-in for the future.

Dunn brought together the company’s senior leaders to recraft

the vision and strategy. They focused on defining what type of

company they wanted to be and what they could do on a higher

level to define what the company is. You also need to take the new

vision and integrate it into the company.

“What you want is for people to say, ‘My personal vision aligns

with the company vision. I can see that the way I want to work and

live fits in with the way the company wants to grow and work

going forward,’” Dunn says.

Regular and consistent communication is important to get

employees to understand and buy in to the changes.

“You have to communicate, communicate, communicate, and

when you think that you have communicated so much that everyone has to be sick and tired of hearing what you’re saying, you

communicate again,” Dunn says.

The company hosted several workshops to share the new vision

with employees, which included interactive activities to help employees embrace and understand the vision.

“It is amazing the amount of effort and time that we spend

explaining the vision and strategy, and then taking it down through

the organization to say, ‘If you do your job well, this is how it

works, and this is what you get. When you get that, this is what we

get,’” Dunn says.

You also have to have different types of talks to get your point


“You have the three-minute talk that can tell them exactly what

you want,” he says. “You have the impassioned 30-minute talk, and

then you have the hour explanation, where you talk about how the

pieces fit together and where their piece fits.”

Start with the vision during these talks and what type of company you want to build, and see if the employee is willing to go along

with that change. If he or she is, tell the employee the strategy that

is needed to get the company to that point, his or her role in that

strategy and help the employee understand the need for change.

You may need to change your communication methods to make

sure all employees understand the changes.

“We found that certain methods can sometimes get stale, and

people stop listening or hearing it,” he says. “Every so often, take

a look at your communication strategy and the mediums you use,

and say, ‘Do we need to change that up, so it’s a little bit fresh, so

people will pay a little more attention to it, rather than just the routine numbing effect of getting an e-mail or something in that way?’”

Assemble the right team

The final piece to change is to make sure you have the right talent in place to fill the structure and meet the strategy. You also

need to help employees adapt to the change and deal with those

who may not be able to make the change.

At W&S Agency Group, about 40 percent of the employees had

the skills needed to meet this new strategy. Dunn brought in new

employees to fill the rest of the team, about 30 percent from outside the company but inside the industry, and then another 20 to 25

percent from outside the company and the industry.

Change is hard, especially for employees who have been at a

company their whole career. Share employee success constantly

to motivate others to work hard.

“There are going to be an awful lot of passive resisters who say,

‘That’s fine, but this too shall pass. If I just stay at my desk and keep

my head down, this person will go away,’” Dunn says. “Once you

have identified people who will not change, you need to help them

find another opportunity.”

He says employees reacted in two ways to the change. For those

who didn’t fit in to the new vision, the company tried to find them

another opportunity within the larger financial group.

“We respected their loyalty and them as individuals because we

changed that parental relationship to a partnership relationship,”

Dunn says. “Going forward, you still have a great opportunity, but

you have more responsibility than just showing up. You’ve got to

be able to perform and achieve goals.

“There were other people who chose to retire because they said

this is just too much change, and we tried to show them that they

didn’t have to retire. These 120 years of history, we still believe in

that and in tradition, but at the same time, you need to have that

positive expectancy of the future. You’re not living in the past,

you’re reveling in the past because the future is just as bright, if not


Once you have the team in place, encourage members to

work together and meet goals, and be clear in communicating

those goals.

“You’ll have a strategy and two or three critical success factors,” he says. “Your direct reports will develop their objectives

to align with those factors and identify the drivers in their

organization and what initiatives they need to help deliver on

those success factors. This gives them ownership of how they

think we’re going to get this done.”

You also need to provide the team with a clear definition for decision-making, so members know when they can make a decision on

their own and when they can’t.

“Most people get frustrated when they think they are allowed

to make a decision and they aren’t because they don’t know

when they can make a decision,” Dunn says.

This change process has allowed the company to invest millions of dollars back into the company through new initiatives,

which has resulted in a less than 1 percent expense growth in

the last five years. Some of these initiatives included implementing a client relationship center, broadening the product

offering to become more of a financial services company, repositioning offices to where future customers would be located,

developing a data warehouse capability to house all client

information in one area and enhancing employee education.

Dunn says if these changes were not made, the company could

have faced a harvesting process to try to keep it viable instead of

reinventing and evolving it into a company that could grow on its


Change is an ongoing process that you need to worry about every

day, and you can slip back if you are not focused on it.

“Understand the culture and what you want to keep and want to

change,” he says. “Understand the business reasons to make that

change. Understand that you only change for that sake, not for the

sake of change, and then engage your organization by having

employees participate in activities that can help them feel empowered. Celebrate early successes, and communicate, communicate,


HOW TO REACH: W&S Agency Group, (513) 629-1800 or

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

A cohesive team

As a professional soccer player in Germany, Andreas Roell learned the importance of teamwork and how each player can use his skills to help the team succeed. Today, Roell uses those lessons to create a team environment among his 36 employees at Geary Interactive, an online marketing agency. Roell’s vision for pushing employees to succeed has helped the $11.6 million company grow revenue 303 percent in the past four years.

Smart Business spoke with the company’s president and CEO about how to develop a team that lives the corporate values.

Q: How do you create corporate values?

Clearly identify and establish those on Day One. Once you start bringing employees in, you want them to represent you and the company in the best way possible.

Create a setting where you identify what’s needed to fulfill the client’s needs, manufacture your product or create your service. Think about your culture. Put single words together, create a list of attributes, refine them, and put them into groups.

Narrow it down to five key words and define them. How do we think as a company? How do we behave? Also define what the consequences are for any violation against those values.

Q: How do you communicate values and culture to employees?

Use them in any form of communication. Make them visible and repeat them. It’s important not to just hand them out on a piece of paper and say, ‘These are our values,’ but that they are repeated and discussed.

If an employee is having a hard time with the values, you need to identify that early and face right into it versus letting the individual just hang in there. If the values are strong, the person almost becomes an outsider because he cannot fulfill the values. Address where there is a deviation of the values and provide a path of how that person can get back on.

If, after a period of time and discussion, it becomes clear that there is not an opportunity because the personality might not fit into those values, you need to cut that person loose as quickly as possible.

Q: How does a leader model the values and culture?

Live them yourself. You cannot be a leader that creates them and then has your own set of rules. Hold yourself accountable to those values, and if you violate them, publicly announce that and deal with any type of consequences.

Face reality and understand that a company is only as good as the entire staff versus the individual. There are elements that a single leader cannot fulfill, and the long-term success of the company is driven by teams.

Focus on the business and not yourself. Get an understanding that the company is the overriding principle versus your own career or benefit. Have a servant attitude instead of dominant. Think about how you can support the high goals for people instead of pulling them along the way.

Q: How do you nurture and empower employees who help the values thrive?

Recognition. Make it clear for everybody the people who are living the values and going beyond. Make it publicly known, not just to that individual but to the entire company. Make a big deal about it. Celebrate winnings.

Make them aware in communication channels, such as newsletters or company meetings. Create an environment where others are enticed to identify those who are living the values, like a referral program. When you start building this culture versus where the leader is the only one recognizing employees, everyone starts to recognize others.

Q: How do you prepare for change in your business?

Understand that everything is fluid and dynamic, so what you have put in place initially will not be what you end up with. Do not focus on your exit strategy.

Focus on building a business like it would run for two or three generations after you, and your strategy will come automatically. Have longer-term goals in place. Make decisions on how the company is progressing over the long term.

Every day is not the same. There are a lot of dynamics that will happen, so you need to be understanding and build meaningful relationships with everyone. Trust is a piece that you build over time. Prove it by being on time to meetings, providing resources and fulfilling promises. You then have staff members who will do anything and everything for you and the company.

Provide a sense of reality behind progress. It’s inevitable, and people have to live with it. Set an environment where people understand that change will happen, be it positive or negative, so they are prepared at all times.

Put it into their setting and make employees aware of the benefits of the change, even if it’s bad. Empower them and make them understand that they have choices to make and can move forward.

HOW TO REACH: Geary Interactive, (619) 239-5953 or

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

Growing pains

In 2001, Christopher Cole and Jim McCarthy formed Intelligrated Inc., a supplier of integrated material handling systems, services and products. The company started out of a rented building and had 17 employees, the majority of whom had worked together before and knew how to work as a team.

But as business started booming, the company needed more employees to complete the work. The work force swelled to more than 500 people, and Intelligrated has added 150 people in the last two years alone.

The rapid expansion pushed them into a new office and manufacturing facility in London, Ohio, and five other offices across the country for sales, engineering and support.

While growth is good, it also presents its own set of challenges.

“When we started, it was easy, we knew everybody,” says Cole, Intelligrated’s CEO. “Now, it’s difficult to keep that close, small-company feel.”

With a rapidly increasing number of employees who are now spread across multiple locations, Cole has had to change his leadership style and many company processes to match the larger structure of the company.

Here’s how he has conquered some of his biggest challenges as he’s taken Intelligrated to new levels of success.

Growth requires planning

In order to grow, you must develop a plan for growth and what kind of employees you need to achieve it.

Cole mapped out a plan and put together a budget of how many people the company needed. It is difficult to project how many people you will need at a certain time, but he has tried to have enough people to perform the jobs the company is committed to while not having so many people that they don’t have work to do.

“We’re looking as far into the future as we can, always with the idea that we don’t hire to peaks but to the consistent growth curve,” Cole says.

The type of employee you hire is also important. Intelligrated looks for people who are happy, want to be part of a team, have a passion for the business and can share that with the customer.

“You have to like working with other people,” Cole says. “Find people who can work with others and get enjoyment out of seeing other people succeed.”

Cole says you’re not always perfect with hiring, but it’s easy to spot problems, mainly through reference checks.

Potential hires at Intelligrated also interview with several people, and those executives then complete an online survey regarding the candidate.

“If you get the people together and ask them the question, the reactions of some are going to change the minds of others,” Cole says. “If you do it in a blind survey, you get a much better raw impression of what everybody thinks. If areas come up that look like they might be issues, you can probe deeper to make sure either those impressions are wrong, or if they send up a red flag, you move on and find somebody else.”

Employee referrals are useful when hiring, and Intelligrated pays a bonus to employees who bring in new hires.

“People don’t want to recommend people to come to work in their company unless they believe they’re going to fit in and be good,” Cole says. “The best source of finding people is our own people. The person they’re bringing in, because they know someone inside, it’s easier for them to have a mentor to get a faster start.”

While Intelligrated takes its time hiring the right employee, sometimes that employee just doesn’t fit.

“You think every time you hire someone that it may take an adjustment time, and that they’re going to work out,” Cole says.

But that isn’t always the case. He says it’s better to let someone go sooner rather than later, but it’s natural to want to give someone time to succeed after you’ve made an investment in him or her. The company tries to give every new employee as much support as possible through its various orientation programs as well as requiring supervisors to meet individually with employees each quarter to make sure they are working toward the right goals.

If someone is not performing, you need to step in and help. “See if there is something you can do to change the job or change them to a different job that will make them successful,” Cole says. “At the end of the day though, they might be better off finding a different career.”

The demands of rapid growth can also overwhelm some of your original core employees. These people helped you reach your initial goals, but they may not be the ones to get you to your new goals.

This has happened a few times at Intelligrated, and Cole has worked with those employees to figure out where they could add value to the company.

“When you have an employee performance problem, the natural tendency is to hope it will get better,” he says. “It doesn’t get better until you confront it. Do it in a non-emotional, factual way, and then work to improve the performance. If it still doesn’t happen, then help that person find a different career where they can succeed.”

Integrate new employees

In a growing company, new employees are constantly coming in. These employees not only need to learn their job but integrate into the company’s culture and learn to work with other employees.

“By hiring people with different backgrounds and skill sets, we learn new things and ideas and don’t become stagnant by just talking to ourselves,” Cole says. “It takes new blood in an organization to help stimulate that.”

When employees arrive at Intelligrated, they get an initial orientation on the basics, such as benefits and job expectations. After two or three months, employees participate in a “Welcome to Intelligrated” program, where they learn the company’s inner workings.

“It’s after they’ve been here long enough to know what they’re doing and their department does, and they know quite a lot about the company but not everything,” Cole says. “It’s after those months that people have a lot of questions or don’t know somebody who they see every day but is not part of their department.”

Training courses like the ones Intelligrated conducts allow employees to interact with each other and form relationships.

“It’s both a huge productivity and satisfaction boost,” Cole says. “People know a lot more people in the company, even if they don’t work with them. If they have a question, they have contacts who they can ask.”

Supervisors also go through a training course to learn about personality types so they can better communicate to others. This has helped the team become stronger.

Cole says new employees need to know they are a productive member of the team, even if they are not part of the original group that got the company’s growth going, and to prove that they are, Cole gets them involved in projects soon after they start.

“It’s tough to come and join a group that is already working together,” Cole says. “We’ve taken steps to welcome new people and to learn from them. You’re not the new person very long because there’s always someone else who’s newer.”

Welcoming new people can be as simple as introducing them to other employees. An e-mail is sent out when a new employee joins Intelligrated, which includes a brief bio and photo, so everyone has a bit of information on the new hire.

“We try to get it publicized so people know who’s coming in and it’s not just, ‘Gee, who are you?’” Cole says.

Change with the times

One of the biggest challenges of a growing company is the strain it can put on the culture, whether it’s simple communications or just building relationships with those that work for you.

“We had a culture with the core group, and the key is sustaining that as we bring new people in, learning what they can bring and adding that to what we’re doing without losing the passion and ability to have fun and delight customers,” Cole says.

As the company has grown, he has developed more means of recognition and rewards to show appreciation to those doing a great job. In smaller companies, it’s easier to recognize each employee personally for a job well done, but it’s harder in a larger company. Intelligrated has also developed regular celebrations to acknowledge successes, which has helped employees feel like part of a winning team and motivated them to reach goals, including reaching sales of $100 million in 2006.

Communication is another challenge that faces high-growth organizations, and you need to change the way you communicate as more employees are added to the mix.

“When we were small, I was sure everyone knew what the vision was,” Cole says. “As we’ve grown, I have to work constantly at communicating with employees, in person and in groups, to make sure everyone knows how we are doing, what we need to do better on, and to make sure that everyone is part of the process. It’s spending less time doing things myself and more time communicating the vision.”

Cole says time spent with employees changes in a growth situation, from personal, one-on-one meetings to larger company meetings so you can communicate to more people at one time.

Getting feedback and listening to employees is also key in making sure everyone is headed in the right direction.

“You need to listen twice as much as you think you need to and communicate twice as frequently with all employees,” Cole says. “It’s making sure that you’re getting out and seeing enough customers and different parts of the organization and listening to input from different sources. It’s important to get a diverse amount of input, not just from the same handful of folks.”

Getting out of your office, visiting and walking around are ways to get to know employees and customers and find out what is on their minds.

“Talk to the people who don’t directly report to you and as many customers as possible,” Cole says. “Your customers are the window to how well your organization is performing.

“I walk around and people see me or Jim or the management team, and we travel to job sites and to customers, so that as many people as possible can see that the vision is common throughout the company, what we’re doing and can join together and make us more successful.”

Cole also attends training classes with employees, and tries to sit with people he doesn’t know so employees know that he wants to get to know them and hear their ideas.

“You have to make an effort to get out and meet other people,” he says. “I wish I knew everybody as well as I know some of the people, but I work hard at it.”

You cannot touch every aspect of your organization, so it is important to train your managers to carry your vision and culture down through the organization. Communicate and make sure they understand your vision, and share as much information as possible.

Cole meets monthly with his management team, and then individually for assessments. He also meets quarterly with all employees to discuss company projects. During these meetings, he also talks about the overall direction of the company and reinforces his message.

Even as he and the company have evolved to face the challenges of growth, there’s more expansion on the horizon for Intelligrated. Cole hopes to add at least 200 more employees over the next three to five years, reach revenue of between $400 and $500 million, and add new products to meet customer needs.

And while rapid growth can bring on complicated challenges, he relies on a simple piece of advice to survive.

“Surround yourself with the smartest, best people and work hard on articulating a vision of what is possible and where you’re going,” he says. “Learn from your mistakes and never let them get you down. Keep forging ahead.”

HOW TO REACH: Intelligrated Inc., (513) 701-7300 or

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Douglas J. Erwin

Douglas J. Erwin is a culture nut. Culture, he says, allows people to work in a fun environment and gives them something to believe in. Erwin has created fun environments wherever he’s worked, from peddling an ice cream cart around the office and serving tasty treats to employees or turning a parking lot into a beach party. It’s hard to create that environment, but Erwin, who became chairman and CEO of The Planet in 2006, has focused on making sure that his 500 employees are excited to come to work each day at the Web and Internet technology hosting company. The business hosts more than 22,000 small and mediumsized businesses and 2.8 million Web sites worldwide, posting $110 million in 2006 revenue. Smart Business spoke with Erwin about how to get employees excited to come to work each morning and how to create a fun-filled environment.

Have fun and work hard. Create a workplace where people want to come to work. People like to work in cool places. You’ve got to have fun at work. If you don’t have fun at work, that’s not going to get transferred to when you deal with customers.

It should be an environment where, you walk in, the people will say, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ It’s creating an environment where it’s fun to work. Just something that would make it different.

If you could take somebody out of a standard job and move them to something else for a couple of days, it gives them a break and gives them a chance to see that maybe their job isn’t that bad after all.

Try to bring more value to a person’s day-to-day job by involving them in other things outside of their realm of job responsibilities. You get buy-in with these people because they had a chance to do something a little different.

Have the patience to make changes. It’s not an easy thing to do, to create culture. What’s worse is to start down that journey and not really want to. People will see through you immediately, and you will lose credibility as a leader. Hire somebody that can do it for you. Find somebody on your management team that has that twist.

You can’t just go in and wave a wand and say, ‘New sheriff in town, here’s the new culture, here’s what we’re going to do.’ It’s an evolution, a journey, a slow process.

The first thing I would ask is, ‘Do you really want to do that?’ If that person doesn’t have that passion to do that, it will fail immediately. Throw in a foosball table, big deal. Throw in a ping pong table, big deal. That’s not what makes it cool.

Just tap somebody on the shoulder when you walk by a cube and ask them what they do and listen to them. If they don’t jump up and start rattling off what the company does and how great it is, you know you’ve missed it.

If people are happy at their job, if they feel like they are more than a cog in a machine, if they’re getting paid fair, if their management treats them fair and if they’re n an environment that’s a cool place, you will have loyalty like you’ve never had before. That’s hard to do, and it takes time to build.

Be a model for employees. People are constantly looking at you. You could be walking down the hall to get a cup of coffee, and people know that you went by. Once you know that you’re in the limelight, you have to be on ‘go’ all the time.

When you talk about culture and successful cultures or not, you take a look at any of the successful companies, it starts right at the top with the leadership. Then it has to go to the next level down because if you have guys in the next level that are not leading and doing the same thing, you lose that whole side of the business.

The team should ask, ‘Are we approachable? Are we involved? Do we go out and talk to people? Are we behind closed doors?’

Let employees know their opinion is valued. You might not follow it, but at least you took the time to ask it.

Look for passion, integrity, trust, ownership and customer focus. You can see passion the moment candidates walk in and shake your hand. You can see it in their eyes, you can see it in their body language.

Start talking, and their eyes are either going to be engaged and locked in on you, or they’re going to be distant.

During an interview, I go to my board and start drawing and explaining. The passionate people will sit there and watch, and before the interview is over, they’ll be at the board drawing what they think, and you just see it in them.

Ask questions about how they manage people. Ask them how they fire people. There’s a right way and a wrong way to fire people, and most people do it the wrong way. The right way is to make sure that you’re helping people and that you’re helping them so much that they get frustrated and say, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’ and leave. A firing is usually a mutual thing if it’s done properly.

Talk to them about their style of management. Start asking them to describe their strengths, and the word trust is going to get used there one way or another. That trust, unfortunately, is going to have to be a gut feel.

Turn back around and ask them a question you asked four interviews ago and see how they answer the question, see if the story changes a little bit.

Look for a person whose capacity is greater than the job they’re going to be asked to do.

When a problem occurs, own it. Don’t pass it to somebody else to fix. You might need somebody else’s talent to help you fix it, but you own it until the customer’s happy.

HOW TO REACH: The Planet, or (713) 400-5400

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Karen L. Talbott

As an accountant, Karen L. Talbott loved helping clients solve problems, so when Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates became a client, she was intrigued by the concept. Talbott says she believed in what the in-home health care company did and loved working with the elderly, so she made the leap from accountant to administrator. Today, she serves as the company’s president, overseeing 800 employees and helping the company grow and achieve 2006 revenue of $50 million. Smart Business spoke with Talbott about how belief in the company and passion for your job helps create a successful leader.

Live your vision. Creating a vision comes from your head and your heart. A leader can draft a vision, but it takes a group to perfect it. You have to really help employees relate the vision to what they do.

You’ve got to put it all in perspective. You can’t just pass out a sheet of paper and say, ‘Oh, here’s our vision, by the way.’ You have to get input, and you have to bridge that gap in terms of the vision itself and how employees see themselves relating to it and how they are going to be a part of helping to achieve it.

You have to create that shared ownership of the vision. People have to feel passionate about their vision and their goals, so when they go home at night, they think, ‘I did a good thing; I helped somebody.’ If you can ask yourself that, and you can get excited about that, then you are living and sharing the vision.

Everybody’s job is important. And if everybody doesn’t do their job, the vision isn’t going to get accomplished. Everyone has a role to play, and it’s an important role.

Walk the walk and talk the talk. If you, as a leader, aren’t willing to do what you are asking others to do, you’re not going to have that trust. But if you do that, you will most likely have a trusting relationship with your employees.

You have to be consistent in what you do. And be accessible. These are all things that build trusting relationships.

You get better through perseverance, just continually trying to grow in that area. Staying in touch is very important. Leaders are like everybody else; they only have 24 hours in a day, and there’s a lot to be done. But communication has got to be a priority; you have to be disciplined to make it a priority.

Do whatever works best in your own environment. Certain things work well in one company and not another. And still, you’ll get folks that say, ‘Well, I didn’t know about that.’

Evaluate performance. It’s important for employees to know how they are doing. You can’t expect employees to improve if you haven’t told them what they need to improve in and also get their buy-in to that. They have to know the reasons why you feel they need to improve in certain areas.

Stay focused. Realize that you can’t be all things to all people. When you lead a company, you want to be all the things you can be to all the people, and you can’t do that. You have to stay focused. When you focus, you have a much better chance of leading your company and carrying out their vision and their goals.

Stay true to your core competencies. It’s trying to look at what you can be the best at and going about and trying to be the best and not getting diverted into things that you’re probably not going to be the best at. Or leave it to others. But you can’t dilute your energies.

It’s hard to stay focused; it takes a lot of discipline to do that. You can hear about a new program and think, ‘Golly, we should try that,’ but maybe you shouldn’t do that. Maybe someone else could be better at that than your organization. You have to continually reassess and stay with your core competencies and your core business.

Model your culture. Culture goes back to an organization’s values, and those values are a reference point for how employees should live their professional lives as a reflection of the organization. You promote a healthy culture by having good two-way and honest communication with employees, by modeling culture, by having those good hiring practices, and that ongoing nurturing and building of trust.

I like to greet new employees. I always thank them for choosing us for employment because there are a lot of different places that they can go for employment, and I want them to know that we appreciate that they have chosen us.

Create synergy through passion. There’s power in synergy. A good idea brings out the best in people, and it brings the best people. You put synergy around a good idea, and good people will come forward.

The people you talk to about the idea have to sense that you’re very passionate about it. I can’t imagine ever doing something that I didn’t want to do or believed so passionately in. If you don’t get up in the morning and look forward to what you’re going to be doing, you’re probably not in the right position. You never should come to work thinking any day is going to be normal, because it isn’t.

If you truly do believe in your vision, and you truly do try to live the values of your organization, that’s what keeps that excitement alive.

HOW TO REACH: Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates, (330) 745-1601 or

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Caring for customers

As an active pilot, a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and now president of Voyager Jet Center, Rich Ryan has dedicated his life to serving people. Whether it’s learning important information about the customer, going out of his way to be available or making sure the customer is safe during tough times, Ryan has put customers’ needs first, which has helped him learn the good and bad of his company from its customers’ perspective and become a better leader.

Ryan’s dedication to serving customers has also helped the 50-employee charter airline company triple its revenue over the past five years to reach $20 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Ryan about how to think like your customers and serve them with a smile.

Q: How do you build relationships with customers, and how does it make you a better leader?

Do what you say, and say what you do to build relationships. If you make a promise to a customer, you have to fulfill that promise, even if it costs you money. Have a system, whether it’s your BlackBerry or something else that jogs your memory when an item is due.

The advantage to building relationships is that you do get to know your customers better, and you also get an appreciation of what it’s like to be an employee, what makes his or her job harder or easier.

It’s important to stay focused and stay apprised of what the customer wants, what his or her needs are, because without the customer, you are nothing. Ask questions, be observant and anticipate the customer’s needs. Anticipating what the client’s needs are makes a big difference.

Always ask the customer, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ It’s kind of a catchall, but it often solicits some type of response. Communication is key.

Q: How do you teach customer service to employees?

I always ask the employee to think what it’s like when they’re the customer. We’re all customers — you buy things, I buy things. So when you have that experience, whether it’s buying a quart of milk or a $100 shirt or suit, think about what you liked whenever you were the customer, whenever you were on the other end, and use that in your business.

Also, I’ve used the Disney experience with my employees. Most people have been to Disney, and it’s been a positive experience for most. Disney works hard at the customer experience, and a Disneyesque company that does something similar to please its customers should be successful.

Measurement is one way to know if a person is exceeding or falling down in the area of customer service. If you get feedback from customers, whereby you have a service disappointment, then you give that feedback in a positive way to the employee, and hopefully, they will get better.

Q: How do you communicate your vision and goals to your employees?

Certainly we have formal meetings ... but I’m a big fan of walkabouts, so you meet one on one and try and understand what it’s like in the trenches.

I ask my employees, ‘Do you like your job?’ The most important question I ask is, ‘How can I be a better president to you?’ Every review I give to employees ends with, ‘What can I do to make your job easier? What can I do to make you a better employee? What don’t you like that I do? What in me, do you not like? How can I be a better president?’

I’m fortunate that all of the senior managers are pretty smart, so I’ve surrounded myself with people, hopefully, that are smarter than me, so you don’t have to hit them over the head to demonstrate the right leadership styles.

I’m a big believer in empowerment, and the only way to get managers to be responsible is to empower them. Give them responsibility for the budget. I give them gross profit and loss responsibilities. For example, how they divide up compensation is their decision and not mine.

Q: What inhibits a company from growing?

Sometimes growth isn’t necessarily good, and the marketplace will tell you that very quickly.

Also, not anticipating the growth, so if you don’t have your systems in place, your personnel in place, then you have individuals working 12 to 14 hours a day. They can do that in the short run, but in the long run, they’ll fail. You end up disappointing the customer, and if you disappoint the customer, the marketplace will punish you.

HOW TO REACH: Voyager Jet Center, (412) 267-8000, (412) 469-0706 or

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