Hire to fit your style. Any leader sets up an organization and hires people to his model. You essentially build your organization around your leadership style.
There are really good people who don’t necessarily work well with me, and it’s a stylistic thing. Initially, I thought it was just about hiring good people, and if they were good people, they could work together. What I’ve realized is that not only do you need good people, you need the right kind of people. It’s not right in an absolute sense, it’s right in that they need to fit with your style and your culture.
Recruiting for that is the hardest thing, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in my own ability to make judgments about people through an interview process. What we have tried to do is to eliminate variables. So, for most of the positions in the company, we have standardized questions that we ask, and we’re trying to build some experience in what works in our organization and what doesn’t work based on a standardized interview report.
We also have multiple-people interviews. Nobody works here in any major position without going through at least three or four interviews — and more like six or seven.
Define your expectations. The leader of any organization sets the tone. You define the culture, and you set the vision and the goals. The better and more distinctively you define it, the easier it is for the organization to become that culture. Then it takes some time. These things don’t happen overnight.
How do you really define those things as a leader? First is you set it out there and say, ‘Here’s what I want’ — culture, goals, planning, strategy, all that stuff. But the real definition comes firstly in who are the people you hire, but more importantly, who are the people you fire? The people you fire send a very distinct message that this kind of person or behavior or approach is not tolerated.
Everybody realizes when you hire that you’re trying to get there, but they give you some slack. When you don’t fire to that standard, whatever your threshold level for firing is, that becomes your standard.
Twice in my tenure I have fired the No. 1 producer in the company. Both times it shocked a lot of people, but those people were not Baird & Warner people. As the leader, almost everybody else in the company knows more about this than you do. You’re the last guy to know about it, so when you don’t do it, they’re watching you.
Even though they might be good people, if they see that you’ll tolerate that kind of behavior or activity or attitude, they will say, ‘He’s not as strong on this issue as I thought he would be, so next time I can come to the meeting a little late.’
If your standard is that everybody shows up on time and you allow a couple people to be 10 minutes late, your standard becomes 10 minutes late.
Reinforce your vision. You always want to look for things that reinforce your vision, your values and your goals. There are some simple ones — compensation programs — that reinforce the kind of behavior you want, but I’m very sensitive to things like what you do at a Christmas party. How do you act? What kind of party do you throw?
In almost everything you do, you are making decisions to do things a certain way. You have to look for opportunities, particularly public opportunities, to make a statement. Some of them are very subtle. How do you build out your space? How much money do you spend? And, if you want to get very literal about it, what’s the tone of the carpet? You project a certain image. We moved our corporate headquarters to a brand-new facility about seven years ago. We had been in the other facility for about 15 years, and it was a reasonably nice office, but when we moved over here, it really defined to people what we were about.
It was an opportunity to make a physical statement. We did some things in the way the space laid out that was more in line with our culture that kind of made all the other things click, and I was surprised it had that much of an impact.
Avoid complacency. Any organization has to be able to change and adapt, whether it’s how they do their business or how they make their products. There are a lot of people who don’t like change, and that’s just built into people’s psyches. Companies become complacent, but change is just a dynamic thing that happens in the marketplace. Organizations that continue to change and evolve are ones that are healthy and growing, and companies that don’t change, it’s just a matter of time before they’re going to struggle or be left by the wayside.
We’re a 152-year-old company. When I took over our company, I gave a lot of speeches about change, how other business have been affected by change and continually reinforcing how it works. The other thing I’ve tried to do is let people know that it’s not bad to fail. That’s a very hard thing to let people know about.
Employees, by their nature, are trying to please their bosses, so to foster a culture where people try things and fail is a really difficult thing to do. You have to be very careful that when someone tries something and fails that they don’t get down about it because if you’re not willing to fail, you’re never going to change.
HOW TO REACH: Baird & Warner, (800) 644-1855 or www.bairdwarner.com