Keywords Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Dean Sellers likes to be involved in his organization, and he spends time with key people at each level to know what is going on at Reznick Group PC.

Spending time with groups of his 90 employees at the accounting, tax and business advisory firm also helps Sellers get their feedback on important decisions in the company, including its vision. He says you need to get people involved in developing that vision, articulate it clearly to them and then focus on it so that everyone understands it so they can help you achieve it.

“If you’re not getting feedback, either indirectly or directly, from all levels of the organization, you have a hard time matching up where your people are with the vision you set — or building your vision, for that matter,” says the company’s managing director.

Smart Business spoke with Sellers about how to develop a vision that everyone can understand.

Get feedback. You have to get feedback so you have an idea of where your team is. It’s almost like a sports team. If some of the people are working off one play and somebody is working off the other, it rarely works well.

If you can’t keep the vast majority of people headed toward the vision, then you’re going to be dysfunctional.

I can’t meet with everybody, but I try to pick a few at less experienced levels within each of the groups and administrative support team to actually meet with them one on one. Maybe it’s only 20 to 30 minutes, but I have a couple of questions for them that give me a feel for where and how they see things. Then it’s a matter of building a vision statement.

I’m primarily looking for the higher performers — sometimes I look for somebody who tends to be outspoken. They may not necessarily be at the top of the class, but they don’t hesitate to share their thoughts.

Make employees feel comfortable providing feedback. You have to set a culture. People have to feel like they’re empowered to take some risk, and that failure from time to time is a learning process.

You can’t have a high rate of failure, but you empower people to step out of their comfort zone. If that gets into the culture, then I find it easy to get feedback because they feel comfortable talking to the boss about their thoughts.

You start by articulating that that is your style. Then it’s a matter of examples of where you selectively pick situations at all levels to empower them to take on something new or different, and they can feel your support in that process.

Their peer level will know that they either had a positive experience in stepping out or a negative experience.

The people who are doing the task know what is impeding their ability to do it more efficiently or with higher quality. And so gaining that feedback from the people at the doing level is critical — it may not be the solution, but it may be the key that allows you to develop a solution that’s better.

Clearly articulate the vision. It’s important to come up with an acronym that, over time, everyone relates to the vision statement. Our vision statement is geared around reaching high standards of high-quality service ... but it’s a paragraph, so we use the catchphrase ‘client service satisfaction.’

So when I say client service satisfaction in a meeting, hopefully all of our people have a similar concept of what that means. But if you only go with the vision or mission statement, it tends to be a little bit unwieldy, even if it’s only a long paragraph.

You can’t repeat the statement every time you want to refer to it, and therefore, bits and pieces can be picked, and it may not have a similar meaning. Whereas if you use (a catch-phrase), I find people tend to get close to the same concept.

The hardest part is finding the (catchphrase). Most times, you can find a couple of keywords that you can put together, whether it rhymes or fits. ... Hopefully, it has words in it that clearly show the direction. So it’s trying to pick something that’s catchy and easy for them to remember.

It doesn’t take long for new people to get on the same page to relate that to the overall paragraph, and then they have a common thought process.

Stay focused on the vision. In the heat of battle, sometimes it’s easy to get off course. From time to time in a meeting, just going back to our vision and challenging ourselves to say, ‘In the last month or two, have we stayed on track with where we’re going, have we got off message?’ It’s easy to get off message, so it’s important to circle back at least with the top brass to make sure we think we’re on message.

The hardest part is to make sure you recognize you did get off message. You’ve got to pick one or two things that you can use with your leadership so that everybody focuses on heading back the message, but you’ve got to be careful you don’t have too many.

If you’ve got one or two things you can instill in your leadership to say, ‘We’ve got to be focusing on these things; we’ve got to be articulating these things,’ I find that the best way to try to get back on track.

Too many times, I’ve seen organizations come up with five ways to get back on track; that’s too many.

HOW TO REACH: Reznick Group PC, (847) 324-7500 or www.reznickgroup.com