The motivator Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

To keep his 300 employees motivated, Chris Dalton communicates to them both the progress and achievements of Acquity Group LLC.

However, that gets harder as the company continues to grow.

“You want to stay as active in communicating the health of company and the good things and the bad things,” says the co-founder, president and CEO of the digital communications company, which posted 2007 revenue of $65 million. “The more you do, people rally toward playing an active role in executing on the day-to-day tactics that are necessary to complete the vision.”

Smart Business spoke with Dalton about how to use communication to keep your employees engaged.

Q. How do you create a culture where people will be involved and motivated?

I really believe that people get motivated by passion. As a good leader, you have to be passionate about the business and passionate about your vision. I think those who believe in it will rally toward that, and through that energy and through that excitement and through that vision, I think you can get people motivated.

Now, it has to be something you sustain. So, you have to stay diligent on communication, you have to stay diligent on people being informed and involved in the progress.

I can remember early on in our success, we were crowded in a very small 1,200-square-foot office with quite a few people.

So, it was very easy to know when someone was getting a win or know when someone was accomplishing something because you were within arm’s reach. As you continue to grow, you have to stay diligent about communicating the progress that you’re making within the year and within your multiyear plan.

But you have to do that in a genuine sense. You have to do that with a sense of real conviction and real interest to make it successful.

Q. How do you make sure employees are informed about what is going on?

You can’t be too aloof. You can’t be management from top down and shout out edicts without getting into the trenches. I spend a lot of time in the field. I spend a lot of time talking to people on projects. I spend a lot of time getting feedback from all levels.

I meet every new person that comes into the organization, which is a little challenging given our size. But every person that starts in the organization, after they’ve gone through their recruiting process, comes into orientation and spends a few days in the corporate offices getting acclimated to the business and the different nuances of our operations.

I spend an hour with them, and I talk about how important it is for them to get involved and how important it is for them to take accountability, important for them to stay active in their career and in the development of our organization.

I do that on a very intimate level with every individual because I want them to know my face. I want them to have had time to sit down and talk to me. I want to be able to have said to them, ‘My door is always open, and I want you to feel comfortable to challenging things that you see that don’t look like they are working the way they should.’

Q. Does simply meeting new employees communicate an open-door policy?

It certainly breaks the ice, in a sense. If you never met the boss, if you never met the guy at the top of the food chain, you might walk away from his office more so than toward his office.

What I try to do in my orientation sessions is sit down and talk candidly about why they’re energized and excited about coming to the organization, and I tell them, ‘If you’ve gotten here, our company believes in you and you’ve passed through a number of screening people to validate that you’re going to be successful here. Now, what I’m here to say to you is, we’ve gotten past that part. Now, what can we do creatively together to build upon the vision that we have?’

I think when you motivate people right from the get-go, right out of the gate, they have a choice: They either stay engaged, they stay involved, they take a proactive stance to sort of continue to be involved in that vision, and/or they shut down. If they shut down, I talk to them candidly, and I say, ‘If you do and you got here by chance and somehow you’re not that type of personality, then I can tell you, you won’t be comfortable because everyone around you will be wanting to be adding to the equation.’

HOW TO REACH: Acquity Group LLC, (312) 427-2470 or www.acquitygroup.com