Walking the talk Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
To perhaps a larger extent than most, it is imperative that Chuck Orabutt and the other leaders of Strategic Business Partners LLC walk the talk when it comes to corporate leadership practices. After all, as management consultants who advise leaders of small- to medium-sized companies, anything less would be hypocritical.

Founded in 2003, SBP is making the transition through which it has already coached many of its clients.

“We’ve grown the company fairly rapidly in a short period of time, and it’s because we have people who have good work ethics who believe in the principles that underlie the organization,” says Orabutt, president and CEO of the company with more than 70 full-time employees and annual revenue of $7 million. “I like to say we’re out of the embryonic stage and into the infancy stage.”

Orabutt spoke to Smart Business about why effective communication sometimes requires a proactive approach and why employee input and feedback are critical.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is collegial and inclusive, yet decisive. I don’t have the market on good ideas cornered.

We have a lot of smart people in this company, so I want to get input from the senior people in the organization, and frankly, I expect them, in turn, to be open to ideas and thoughts from people who work for them. We use them as a filter for the people who are doing our work on an operational basis, and I want to hear what they have to say.

We talk about important aspects of the business, but it’s up to me to make the decisions, and then it’s up to me to communicate why it’s good for the company and good for us collectively.

Q: How can a leader encourage input?

You have to make yourself accessible. I’m sure most CEOs would say, ‘I’ve got an open-door policy,’ but it’s up to the CEO sometimes to take the initiative and initiate contact to make people feel comfortable in speaking to you.

Periodically, I will make calls to individuals who have done something well and congratulate them so they see me as a real person. Our consultants travel quite a bit, but when someone is in the office, I make a point of talking to them, finding out what’s going on with their jobs and finding out what’s going on with their lives.

So I make myself accessible and make myself seem not as a figure of authority, frankly, but as a colleague.

Q: What are the dangers of failing to communicate?

You don’t develop any cohesion in the organization. People work in individual, independent ways, and they develop their own processes, their own beliefs, their own purposes, and it may not be in sync with the broader organization.

If you leave people isolated, they develop on their own, and you can have 70 different people developing in 70 different ways. People have to know where an organization is headed.

We have a decentralized organization. We have about 70 employees in our company, and approximately 25 of them work in our Arlington Heights office. The rest live and work around the country.

It’s important to communicate on a periodic basis the vision and values of the company. It’s important that you communicate what the plan is and then update people to let them know where things stand. It’s critically important the people understand where the company is going so they see where they fit into the picture.

Q: How do a leader’s responsibilities change as a company grows?

The primary responsibility of a CEO is providing people with the opportunities and tools to be successful and looking for opportunities to grow the business, while at the same time helping establish the culture and values of the organization.

As a company grows, the management infrastructure of an organization has to develop, as well. That’s where things begin to get hairy. Whenever you have additional layers of management and you bring in new people, the values and culture begin to get watered down or diluted.

For a leader, it’s all about bringing in the right people, it’s practicing what you preach, and it’s making people see it, live it on a day-to-day basis; otherwise, you run the risk of having your culture diluted. Every time you bring another individual into the organization, there’s another opportunity for that culture just to shift a little.

Things change little by little, and on a day-to-day basis, you don’t notice it. After a year, you can be very far from where you began if you don’t have a focus on what’s happening on a day-to-day basis with the people you’re bringing into the company, how you’re communicating to them and how we, as senior management, are behaving.

HOW TO REACH: Strategic Business Partners LLC, (866) 475-7048 or www.sbp-solutions.com