Alan D. Lev has a plaque on his desk that reminds him to send fewer e-mails, be a better listener and not pick up the phone if he’s in the middle of a meeting with someone. Those reminders aren’t just there for show, either — each is something the president and chief operating officer of Belgravia Group Ltd. was instructed to improve upon for his next performance review.
Who had the temerity to tell the president and COO of a $155 million home building company how to do his job? His employees, that’s who. It’s all part of a confidential review process that the company uses to solicit ideas and honest feedback.
And Lev takes the results of the reviews to heart. If he didn’t work on his personal problem areas, he says, the whole initiative would be a sham.
And because he takes it seriously, his employees do, too.
Smart Business spoke with Lev about how to show your employees that all your opinion-gathering isn’t just window dressing.
Get input and act on it. As a leader, you can foster an atmosphere where you solicit people’s opinions. But the real key is not just soliciting because you can solicit a couple of times, but if you don’t act on it or if you ignore it or if you don’t sometimes accept the opinion, then it stops.
If you have enough foresight as a leader to say, ‘I’d like to get everyone’s opinion on this,’ but it’s just window dressing, you’re done.
The converse is true, as well. If there are a couple of times that you actually implemented something that someone came up with as an idea, people say, ‘Oh, he really does listen to what we say, and he really does try to change things and do things.’
Resist the temptation to micro-manage. I used to micromanage quite a bit, and I saw the light several years ago. As we’ve grown, I’ve weaned myself off that a bit.
I’ve become more of a cheerleader, more of a visionary at the 30,000-foot level of the company. The trick is letting go of some things and letting the great staff we have do their thing.
It’s very hard to go from being the one who does everything when you grow — and we started very small — to the size we are now. You’re so used to having done everything before that the temptation is still there to put your fingers in everything.
If your company is really small, you have to wear a lot of hats. When there were four of us, I did the legal work because I’m a lawyer, I did the development stuff, I used to show office space — I’d walk around with a ring of keys and do everything.
That’s why it’s hard as you start to get bigger to start giving up pieces of what you used to do.
Part of it is who you have. If you have enough skilled people, as a leader, you could and should try to delegate most of the day-to-day and detail work and really focus on being the glue for the organization.
If you’re 10 people, you probably can’t do that. If you’re 35, you can start to do that. If you’re 100, you’d better be doing that.
Be patient with your employees. If you delegate and they don’t get it done, and you lose confidence in your people, then it just doesn’t work. You have to come to the realization that they’re not going to get it done how you would do it exactly, and they’re not going to do it 100 percent right.
You have to have the mind-set that it’s a pyramid. You can’t do it all yourself. As long as they do it reasonably well, reasonably effective on it — they’re never going to reach your own high expectations of what you think you could have done, but it’s the only way to leverage your organization and your time. You can’t do it all.
Be picky with your hires. Our organization has a family type of atmosphere to it. There is a lot of consensus-building around here. Unlike a lot of other organizations where whoever is the president says, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ we don’t operate like that.
We’ve had new hires who came in laterally who had that attitude. They’d say, ‘I’m now head of marketing; this is how we did it at my old place, this is how it’s going to be.’ Well, those people end up not making it here.
We’re very much about including people, getting their opinions, changing the way we’re doing things and trying new things.
There’s the cultural aspect, and then there’s the brain power part. You have to be able to meet both tests to fit in here. There’s the way we interact with each other, and you have to have the knowledge and the skill sets. If you’re missing one or the other, it isn’t going to work.
I’ve had both situations here. I’ve had people who fit in great but you could tell pretty quick they didn’t have the background or the gray matter to succeed. Or, they had all the experience in the world, but they came in like the bull in the china shop. They just didn’t fit in. It takes both.
HOW TO REACH: Belgravia Group Ltd., (312) 751-2777 or www.belgraviagroup.com