Nancy Koenig is keenly aware that the people component of Click Commerce Inc. is the company’s most important resource. The team got the company where it is today, as a subsidiary of manufacturing giant Illinois Tool Works Inc. since it was acquired last year. Click Commerce, a provider of software solutions, no longer makes public its financials, but it posted 2005 revenue of $58 million.
To ensure the momentum continues at Click Commerce, Koenig, who serves as president, makes sure she always has talent in the pipeline, ready to help the company take advantage of the opportunities that customers and prospects present. She also emphasizes building her team by celebrating the victories but also encourages employees to never be completely satisfied with their accomplishments.
Smart Business spoke with Koenig about why it is wise to create a talent pool to draw from and the importance of communicating your company’s mission.
Q: How can a leader prepare an organization for fast growth?
It starts before you’re in the fast-growth phase. I had a very good strategic mentor early in my career, and his advice was to make sure that you’re cultivating options. That applies whether you’re recruiting talent or pursuing new markets or entering new geographic markets, so leave your options open.
Our raw material is human brainpower. That’s why the things that keep me awake at night are related to the people in my company. I am always cultivating talent because in our world, our team is everything, so the best way I can prepare is to create a pool of talent to draw from.
Q: How do you confront the human resources challenge?
We’re paying closer attention to recruiting. We’re beginning programs with local universities so that we can have the early edge on recruiting. We’re beefing up our internal communications around our strategy ... so that we keep everybody driving in the same direction. In a period of growth, it’s important that no effort is wasted. So keeping everybody in tune with our strategic direction and strategic intent is of vital importance.
Q: What should a leader do to ensure that fast growth is not overwhelming?
Right now, my focus is on building a strong operations team that can communicate
where we’re going and why. It sounds pretty simple to do, but I think it’s easily overlooked.
When people are excited about the company’s mission, it pays off 100 times in talent retention. ... They want to know that they’re part of something that’s real, a part of something that’s fun, part of something that’s winning.
Often executive management teams get so caught up in the inner workings of the operations or dealing with board members or outside shareholders or any of the other things that can occupy your time that your most important asset sometimes gets overlooked. So when we fail to communicate, it shows up in retention and attrition metrics.
Q: In periods of fast growth, what are the most important things a leader can do?
It’s having a good pulse on the market because the periods of irrational growth ebb and flow. So in order to predict when it might flow, when opportunities might be had, it’s knowing when to make the move.
It’s sort of like a race: When do you surge? Do you surge on the backstretch or on the homestretch? To know that, you have to have the tempo of where the customers are going, where the competition is going. I think it’s more art than science. I think for those leaders who are good at it, it’s more of an innate sense.
Q: How do you sustain enthusiasm in your team?
Never underestimate the human desire to be part of something greater than coming to work and collecting a paycheck. Intrinsic rewards are as important, if not more important than extrinsic, for people to feel part of the strategy, part of the team and part of the process of winning. Winning is contagious, so inasmuch as you can make people part of the success, it’s contagious. They walk lighter; their heads are up. ... Our sales cycles are long, they’re arduous, and you’ve got to, even if it’s just saying something to someone in the hallway, you’ve got to recognize the little victories along the way. What I tell my team is be proud, but let’s not be satisfied.
Q: How do you prepare your senior staff for growth spurts?
One of the things that I do and encourage my senior staff to do is always be networking and always be looking at resumes that come across their desks. Even if they don’t have a position for them now, meet them, buy them lunch so that you’re developing a Rolodex of bench strength, so that when the time comes, you’ve got options to fill your talent pool.
When you do things like that, you can bring a new senior person on board in a week. It’s saved my life a couple of times.
HOW TO REACH: Click Commerce Inc., www.clickcommerce.com