Company culture is an amazing thing. It shapes the way your organization is perceived. It sets the pace of work and the way decisions are made. It impacts the people you are able to recruit. It is the responsibility of everyone and no one at the same time.

How can it be no one’s responsibility? That may be an overly simplistic statement, but the point is that no single person can declare, change or be held responsible for the corporate culture. The culture does start at the top, because how the leaders treat their co-workers and their employees will resonate throughout the organization.

An individual treated with respect and trust is more likely to treat others with respect and trust. An individual berated by their boss is far more likely to turn around and do the same thing to others. But a single person can’t stand up and declare that a new culture will begin like they could with a new budget or product strategy.

So how do we impact and shape our corporate culture?

Assess your culture.

What is your culture now? How do people treat each other? How quickly do they respond? What is the pace of work? How willing are people to set deadlines? Are deadlines met? How do employees describe the company?

Evaluate the value of the current culture.

What parts of the current culture are productive? What parts of the culture appear to be creating problems? This is the delicate part. Beware of quick assumptions. Ask questions until you have the real answers to what is working or creating pain.

Reward the right behaviors.

When you recognize and reward behaviors, you will get more of that same behavior. Do you want speed? Reward the fastest producers. Do you want teamwork? Reward team players for helping others. Do you want innovation? Announce innovations that are added to the products or services you provide and innovations that help the company run better.

Communicate carefully but authentically.

Plaques and posters that don’t ring true to the team will destroy your efforts. But when you see a good thing happening repeatedly, promote it as part of the culture. Tie the stories of those successes to the culture of the business that helps make them happen. Tie the elements of the lore of the organization to the desired elements of the culture. This will reinforce the positive.

Hire for culture.

It often takes more effort to assess someone’s cultural fit in the organization than it does to test their skills, but the effort is worth it. Seldom do you hear stories about someone quitting or being terminated because they just didn’t have the right skill. It is almost always about their approach to dealing with others or the pace and style they use. If you can assess an individual’s ability to meet the cultural expectations of the organization, the result will be a more successful hire.

Trickle the good stuff into everything.

Unless the positive elements of the culture are widely agreed on and articulated, you are not ready to put a description of it on your coffee cups. But you can infuse the desired traits through all your areas of business. If speed is your need, then shorten your meetings and push the comfort zone to speed up the delivery of information. If innovation is spotlighted, then continually allow for new ways of doing things while applauding the risk-takers for even their small leaps of faith.

When a concerted effort is made to enhance the best parts of the culture, you will be rewarded with a stronger culture. ?

Lois Melbourne is co-founder and CEO of Aquire, a workforce planning and analytic solution company based in Irving, Texas. Visit www.aquire.com for more information.

Published in Dallas

In a way, John Myers is not unlike the guy who paints the foul lines at the local baseball field. He defines boundaries.

The president and CEO of Rentokil North America, the regional wing of Rentokil Initial — a U.K.-based facility management company that provides, among other things, pest control services — has been tasked with integrating a company that has changed dramatically over the past decade. At one point, Rentokil’s North American footprint consisted of about a dozen operations sprinkled throughout Ontario, the Mid-Atlantic States and Florida.

Then, over the span of two years, Rentokil acquired a trio of pest control companies. With the acquisitions of Ehrlich, Presto-X and Watch All between 2006 and 2008, Rentokil’s growth exploded. The company expanded to nearly 80 locations in 35 states.

But with those acquisitions came differing cultures, policies and processes. Myers had to get everyone aimed in the same direction.

“Most people will tell you that acquisition plans and models fail because the integration wasn’t done as defined,” Myers says. “But it can be really hard to do. You have disparate businesses with long histories and a strong belief in their culture, and there is either a reluctance to integrate or companies integrate too quickly and kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Myers had to figure out a way to balance the best practices of the acquired companies with the need to create a uniform set of objectives and values under the Rentokil umbrella.

“When I first started here, I was new to the business and rather agnostic toward each of the brands,” says Myers, who took over the company at the end of 2008. “What I saw was that everyone agreed that we needed to change, but when I started making changes, they all said, ‘No, what we meant was, you need to change those guys over there.’ Everybody wants to change; they just don’t want it in their area, because change is hard.”

Myers solved the challenge by starting at the top, with his own leadership team, and working his way down.

Identify the themes

Myers needed to simplify things. With bits and pieces of varying cultures, processes and objectives fluttering around the company like pieces of confetti, he had to vacuum everything up, sort it out, keep what was relevant and discard the rest.

It’s a process that requires a set of ground rules. And those ground rules are formulated on the management level.

“It’s tricky, because these have been successful businesses in their own right, and they’re used to doing things their own way,” Myers says. “The natural tendency is to say that you’ve been successful using the techniques you already had in place, so why would you want to change?”

To combat that type of resistance, Myers gathered his leadership team and tasked them with helping him set the strategic vision for the company  —  a long-range vision to serve as a set of end goals for every business unit. Any goal or strategy that existed among the acquired companies needed to help Rentokil progress toward its strategic vision. If it didn’t, Myers’ team would discard it.

The strategic vision sessions also helped identify areas of the acquired companies that aligned along common themes, giving Rentokil an area of strength to leverage.

“The good news is, we really looked at our businesses and realized they had some very common elements in their cultures that we could rally behind,” Myers says. “For example, we believe in providing the highest level of customer service in the marketplace, and not everybody believes that should be a part of their strategy.

“As an example, you can compare a small hardware store to Home Depot or Lowe’s. The small hardware store will give you personalized service. Home Depot or Lowe’s — while they’re both very successful companies — might provide a different level of service while trying to compete more on product selection or price. We are more like the smaller hardware store in that we’ve made customer service part of the culture of the business.”

Customer service became one of the five strategic thrusts for Rentokil, as outlined in the plan formed by Myers’ team. Along with customer service, Rentokil also formed objectives around organizational capabilities, operational excellence, operating at the lowest cost possible while still maintaining high service standards and delivering profitable growth.

The development of the five strategic thrusts was critical for Rentokil and any other company trying to define its future strategy and goals. Once the pillars of the strategy are defined, you have to allow the company to be guided by those principles over time.

“The reason these themes are important is, as we work on tactics, if we can’t easily slot something we’re working on under one of these, we shouldn’t be working on it,” Myers says. “That is why it’s important to maintain those thrusts.

“In a change management environment, you can’t change the themes every day. You can’t have a flavor of the month, because people will start to get confused and question whether your strategy and objectives are real. We just finished the third year in which we’ve operated under the same five strategic thrusts.”

Roll it out

With the playing field outlined by the strategic pillars you have constructed, your next step is to tell the entire organization how it will accomplish the goals related to those pillars.

Myers began by rolling the plan out to everyone on the management level of the organization, followed by a rollout to the organization at large.

“First of all, we have an annual management meeting where we present our key tactics under each of the strategic thrusts,” Myers says. “I present the thrusts, then I present the initiatives that we are going to implement in the coming year to support the strategic thrusts. We stand in front of our entire management team and tell them what we are going to do.

“The second thing we do is we then have regional meetings in which every colleague in the company attends, and we make the same presentation. Every technician, every sales representative, every office manager, from front-line colleagues all the way to the top, are all hearing the same message, and they’re hearing it from the executive leadership team.

“Usually, I have a vice president on my team go out and present this material to every colleague, face-to-face.”

After the initial rollout, you have to perform frequent maintenance in the form of direct communication from the top. Myers reinforces the strategic thrusts and tactical initiatives through monthly CEO messages, delivered to the entire Rentokil organization throughout North America.

“I’d say nine of the 12 messages I have each year relate to a strategic thrust and one or more of the initiatives associated with it,” he says. “So I will say simple things like, ‘As you know, we believe in delivering outstanding customer service. So today I’d like to talk to you about a new initiative that was launched just last week. We talked about it at our recent company meeting, but I want to give you an update.’

“It’s the old idea that you have to tell them and tell them again, because people are busy in the day-to-day world. You need to reinforce the idea that there really is a plan and you are following it.”

The message needs to come directly from you as the head of the organization. The further down the ladder you delegate your reinforcement communication, the less impact it will have. That’s not to say communication involving a department head or direct supervisor is irrelevant, but on matters that involve the direction of the whole company, your words carry the most weight.

“There are two main reasons why this kind of communication has to come from the top,” Myers says. “First off, I go back to the fact that everyone is busy and working hard, so getting a reminder of what the top boss thinks is important helps to refocus what you work on. It’s like you always hear about finding out what’s important to your boss and working on that.

“The second thing is, it’s reassuring to the organization to be reminded that there is a plan, and we’re sticking with it. You’re not trying to figure out what you’ll do each month.”

Myers’ unification plan has taken root and helped propel Rentokil’s growth. The company generated $350 million in North American revenue during 2011 and continues to maintain a strong market share in its space.

“Ultimately, people are motivated to buy in to a plan when they know three things: What are the expectations, how are we doing against those expectations and what are we going to do to get better in the areas where we’re not delivering at the level we want?” he says. “When there is clarity around the plan, there is greater opportunity to implement the plan in a timely and effective manner. By reinforcing the message from the top level, it does those things better than just hoping it happens.” ?

How to reach: Rentokil North America,

(610) 372-9700 or www.rentokil.com

 

The Myers file

Education: B.S. in marketing, University of Vermont; MBA, Mercer University, Atlanta campus.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I’ll give you two. The first one is to share the risk as well as the reward. I’ll never forget a job I once took in sales management. I was new to the company where I was working, and I decided I would negotiate a deal with a customer myself. It didn’t go well. My dad told me that I wanted to show everybody that I could do it myself, but it’s not about that. It’s about the team delivering the desired result. That should have been the goal, not me trying to ensure that I’d deliver the result myself. I should have brought other people onto the project.

The second thing is knowing that everyone wants to do a good job. Your role is to ensure that everyone knows the expectations, knows how they are performing against those expectations and knows how you’ll work together to improve the things that aren’t working out.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

I get asked that all the time by college graduates. The first thing I always tell them is to lead with humility. My view is that our frontline colleagues and customers know what is needed in the marketplace, and it takes humility from the leadership team to remind yourself of that fact. You have to have the humility to ask for insight and advice from the people closest to the customers.

What is your definition of success?

Success is utilizing really strong methods to deliver strong results. We use a phrase here that I like in our leadership training: Success versus excellence. If the concept of your methods is robust, the predictability of your success is better.

It’s like in golf. You can hit a good shot once in a while, but you can’t repeat it if your swing isn’t good. You can sometimes find success with bad methods, or you can consistently find success with good methods.

Published in Philadelphia

Peter Kellett is an attorney. He’s also the chairman and CEO of his firm, Dykema Gossett PLLC. But Kellett will be the first to tell you that he is more than just an attorney leading attorneys.

Behind Dykema’s approximately 400 lawyers in 11 nationwide offices is a support staff that interacts with the firm’s clients on a daily basis, handling administrative tasks, billing and accounting, and other tasks essential to prompt and comprehensive client service.

If those employees aren’t engaged in providing an excellent client experience, it can damage the relationship before an attorney has a chance to sit down with a client.

Since becoming CEO a year ago, Kellett has made it a point to recognize the important role each person plays in the client experience, and he has focused his efforts, along with the efforts of his leadership team, on uniting every person, in every position in the firm, around a common goal: serving clients with the highest possible standards.

“It is a work in progress, but I am deeply committed to improving all of our levels of client service,” Kellett says. “That is not to suggest that they have been deficient, but in this environment today, it is really important to distinguish any service — whether it be a legal service or any other type of service — in how you deliver service to your clients and customers.”

Driving that level of customer service throughout Dykema — which generated $174 million in revenue during 2011 — has required Kellett and his team to remain vigilant in listening to customers and maintaining a dialogue with employees, as he continually gauges the needs of clients and works with his staff to figure out the best way to meet those needs.

Look outside

To start promoting a comprehensive client service philosophy, Kellett had to broaden the firm’s concept of what it means to serve clients.

“I believe, and our management team believes, that the notion that the only service a law firm provides to clients comes from the lawyers is mistaken,” Kellett says. “Survey data would show you the average client has more interpersonal contact collectively with the nonlawyer staff than with the actual lawyer who might be representing them in a given matter. There is so much support that goes into the client relationship. It could be making sure an invoice for services is properly formatted or making sure a communication is properly delivered. If a client wants to see something by email, we have to make sure it’s delivered by email and not snail mail.”

They are matters that might not be directly related to the actual legal work done for a client, but if the firm fails to handle the support tasks in an efficient and effective manner, it will eventually have a negative impact on business.

“The services delivered by people who aren’t lawyers comprise much of what the client sees, and quite frankly, you can fall down in that regard if you aren’t careful,” Kellett says. “It’s so important to the client’s overall feeling regarding how they’re being served by the firm.”

With that in mind, Kellett went directly to Dykema’s clients, soliciting feedback on the service experience that the firm was delivering. Representatives from Dykema interviewed many different clients, asking questions related to a number of different client service areas. The firm representatives brought the feedback gleaned from the interviews back to the leadership team, which then used the feedback as a component of a firmwide client-service training initiative.

“We report the information back to the membership of the firm in a way that is understandable and teaches different lessons about what we do really well, as well as the areas in which we can look to improve,” Kellett says.

“We have also brought in specialists to do client service training workshops — in fact, we recently had an officewide session for all our nonattorney staff, which was moderated by an expert in client service delivery. The goal of the session was to try to raise consciousness on everything related to client service.”

The feedback and the client service training workshops produced a set of client service standards that all staff members at Dykema are expected to know and promote. Kellett and his team fashioned the standards into a set of basic statements that clearly outline, in a straightforward fashion, what the firm will deliver to clients.

“It’s nothing that is high-level, but it is straightforward and understandable, and it transcends different practices and offices,” he says.

Kellett’s initial information-gathering process finished with a follow-up component. Late in 2011, firm representatives conducted a series of follow-up interviews designed to gauge the process that the firm had made in improving its approach to client service.

“We went back to the first group of clients we interviewed and talked to them again,” he says. “We asked them to honestly grade us. How did we do in responding to some of the things you wanted to see us implement on your behalf?

“Then we go back to the office and hold people accountable to that feedback. If someone here at the office is in charge of managing a client relationship, you are expecting them to lead on this issue of improving, responding to and being attentive to the things your client wants to see you deliver.”

Motivate your employees

Providing excellent client and customer service is important not only to the people you serve outside the organization but also to the people you employ internally.

A focused company is a healthy company with employees centered on a set of common goals. That, as much as improving the client service culture, was a motivating factor for Kellett.

“I would tell anyone in leadership that it is important to develop a comprehensive customer service plan, not just for the value proposition but also for the health of the organization,” Kellett says. “You’re trying to do more than just motivate. You’re trying to excite.

“If you are in a service business, you want to get your people excited and feeling very positively that they know what is expected of them. Because if folks in a service organization don’t know what is expected of them, they won’t always do what is optimal for service delivery.”

By training your people to deliver the best possible customer service experience, you’re investing in them. The end goal is to please your customers, but the entire process of customer service training is focused on allowing your employees to perform their jobs at a higher level.

“It is important that you are sending a loud message to your entire organization that you see value in your people,” Kellett says. “You are investing in them for a reason, and that is a powerful message to send. I found our staff has been very receptive and appreciative of the fact that management thinks they are important enough for management to invest time and resources in them.”

It’s especially important if you run an organization in which one group of employees often basks in the spotlight, while others toil in obscurity. With that type of setup, it can become extremely easy for resentment to build if those behind the scenes feel underappreciated.

Kellett prevented that at Dykema by ensuring that he crafted communication specifically aimed at the nonlawyer staff in the firm.

“When I’m communicating with the nonlawyer staff, it is certainly tailored more toward the likely activities they will be engaged in and the community they’re likely to be serving,” he says. “In fact, some of our internal staff’s client base is composed of their own co-workers.

“When it comes to our IT staff at the firm, a big part of who they serve is made up of users within the firm. That’s a really big part of the message, telling them that no matter what they do, they’re involved in client relations.

“If your service is internally focused, you’re still helping those who are externally focused to provide excellent service to your external clients. You are as important as anyone in that broad chain of client service delivery.”

Ultimately, the behavior you exhibit toward your employees is the behavior they will exhibit when dealing with clients and customers. If you communicate frequently and thoroughly with your people, they will do the same with your customers. And that leads to a stronger, more positive relationship between your company and the people who purchase your products and services.

“You can’t communicate enough with your people, and they can’t communicate enough with your clients,” Kellett says. “They want to be kept updated more often, rather than less often. You can never assume that they know what is going on just because they’re sophisticated or have been through the process before.

“Tell them more, when in doubt. Or you can always ask them to tell you when to stop talking and start listening. That is something we have learned collectively as a firm: Your people want to be kept apprised of what’s going on, as do your clients. And they want to know sooner rather than later.” ?

How to reach: Dykema Gossett PLLC,

(313) 568-6800 or www.dykema.com

 

The Kellett file

Born: Detroit

Education: B.A. in history, University of Michigan; Juris Doctor, Wayne State University Law School

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I’ll give you two: One is to not try to do everything, or you’ll risk getting nothing done. You have to try to set priorities and not try to do everything at once. The other is something that I was once told: It’s amazing how much an organization can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit. We’re trying to build teams that are focused on client service, with a shared-credit approach to that, and it has been really beneficial for us. Credit will fall where credit is due, but let’s not worry about that. If you have that type of environment, you won’t have people insecure or worried about getting their due.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

First and foremost, it’s honesty. You also need to be a good listener. That doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone ad nauseum, but you do have to be a good and fair listener. And ultimately, you have to be decisive. Admit your mistakes, learn from them and move on. If you can package all of that, you’re well on your way to being successful.

What is your definition of success?

Achieving a reasonable performance from a financial and business-goals standpoint, which preserves the culture and integrity of the organization. It requires a balancing act. Businesses are in business to do well right now, but you need to preserve the long-term integrity as well. If you’re chasing the top dollar, it can’t come at the expense of the culture.

Published in Detroit
Tuesday, 01 January 2013 10:34

Terry Cunningham: Hire better, fire faster!

One of the questions I wished I focused on earlier in my business career is, “How do I ensure my company remains a great place to work?” The answer: You consciously craft its culture.

What is culture? Try to think about your company as a person, with a specific personality. Do you like it?

You may be thinking the personality (culture) of your company happens organically, or that it’s simply an extension of you. Most founders I’ve met start their companies with a strong vision and a passionate belief in what they’re doing.

When a company is small, it often adopts the personality of its leader because the leader is in direct contact with every employee daily. His or her personality is so dominant that it outweighs all others.

But before you know it, you’re on the road to success and it’s time to hire more people to grow your business — and this is when culture can get away from you.

New people bring new attitudes to work that may be different from yours. But in the spirit of working together, accommodations are made to try to keep people happy. Soon, the company isn’t what you imagined. People aren’t handling customers with the same care you would. Going to work every day isn’t fun. You find yourself thinking: How did we get here?

Assessing an individual’s fit is always a challenge. We all want to hire smart, hardworking, creative individuals. A touch of genius is nice too. Yet if you’ve ever hired anyone, you know that the hiring process is tricky. All kinds of personalities show up for interviews. One candidate arrives with an extensive skill set or impressive resume but a questionable work ethic or flat personality. One shows up with a great personality but less-impressive resume. Whom do you hire?

Use the ultimate test

A friend of mine, who had a successful career as a venture capitalist, once told me about an ultimate test he would apply when investing in a company, called the “Toledo Test.” Here is a variation: Imagine a massive snowstorm in Toledo, Ohio, and you and your hiring candidate are stranded. The airport is closed. You must spend the weekend sharing a hotel room with this person while the storm passes.

If the thought of being with this candidate in this situation strikes fear in your heart, do not hire the person. If the thought sounds fun, evoking images of the two of you solving the world hunger problem over a few drinks, then hire the person.

We can’t always accurately assess someone right off the bat, and that’s OK. Mistakes happen.

Admit your errors

The other key to building and maintaining great culture is admitting when you’ve made a mistake and fixing it. The greatest mistake I made in all my years of business was not firing people fast enough. A bad fit negatively affects the business and also the good hires — employees who are killing themselves for the cause, sacrificing family time and vacations while they watch others goof off.

Now some of you may feel this sounds a little harsh. However, I’ve learned that firing a person who is clearly a bad fit is not only good for the company, but it’s good for the individual. Don’t believe me? At a wine tasting in California, I ran into a woman whom I had fired years earlier. Now she owns the beautiful winery and is so much happier.

So the answer to crafting a successful culture is hire better, fire faster. Spend more time finding the right people so you make fewer mistakes hiring. And when you discover you’ve made a bad hire, remove the person as quickly as possible, before they affect the “personality” of your company.

Terry Cunningham is president and general manager of EVault Inc., A Seagate Co. He founded Crystal Services, which was purchased by Seagate in 1994 and integrated into the company’s software division, which then became Seagate Software. His accomplishments include serving as president and COO of Veritas Software and founding, building and leading two other successful software companies.

 

Published in Northern California

PricewaterhouseCoopers was biding its time. Like many other professional service firms, the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009 kept the company’s leaders conservative in their people strategies, but they were also waiting and ready for growth to resume. Because when it did, they were ready for it.

“During the recession, we were really focused on retaining the people that we had across the firm, expecting that when things started to turn around and client demand increased, that No. 1, we’d want to make sure that we kept as many folks as we could by avoiding reduction in force during the recession — a big investment,” says Jim Henry, who was PwC’s U.S. client and industry leader before becoming the managing partner of the San Francisco market in 2010. “And then No. 2, coming out of it, we knew that we’d need to significantly build up our resources to match client demand.”

As the new managing partner, Henry walked straight into the hiring blitz. In just 24 months, he helped PwC San Francisco grow its head count from 1,000 to 1,400 people, all while retaining a top team in one of the most competitive talent markets in the country — the Bay Area.

Here’s how Henry builds a team of talent that can serve the needs of PwC’s clients.

Expand your search

At PwC, building a top-performing team starts with the hiring process.

Historically, the firm has been a big recruiter of entry-level employees, using local campus hiring as a primary source of new talent. However, as other Bay Area businesses have rebounded, it’s been more of a struggle to attract enough local students to build out the firm’s advisory, assurance and tax business lines.

“To meet the demand, we’ve really expanded our recruiting network to bring in people from schools outside of the Bay Area,” Henry says.

Today, about half of the firm’s entry-level hires come from outside the Bay Area, a significant change from the past. Companywide, PwC has also opened its campus recruiting programs, which used to target only local accounting graduates, to students from a variety of backgrounds — information systems majors, engineering majors and MBAs.

The firm has also put a greater emphasis on acquiring experienced employees from other companies to help broaden its capabilities in strategic and high-growth areas. And again, it’s achieved better results by taking the search national.

“It’s all about us having the right capabilities to serve clients in the areas of their growth strategy, their operation effectiveness, and making sure that they’ve got efficient and effective risk and compliance processes,” Henry says.

“We prefer to find local people, but given that the Bay Area is a really attractive place right now, how vibrant the economy is and that it’s a very desirable place to live, it’s becoming a bit easier to attract people here from out of the area. So we’re really approaching it as a national search in most of our experienced hiring.”

Today, the company utilizes a combination of internal recruiters and outside search firms to identify experienced hires who would be a good fit with the firm. Still, whether these efforts are local or national, the best recruiting leads tend to come from the firm’s existing employees.

“We’ve asked them through our internal communications, and then offer recruiting referral bonuses to help them identify talent that they think would be a good fit in the firm,” Henry says. “As a result, we’ve had more than 40 percent of our experienced hires come through employee referrals. That’s absolutely the best source.”

Offer helping hands

Just because someone makes it through the screening process doesn’t mean that he or she will have immediate success at your company.

As PwC has hired more people in entry-level positions and management roles, Henry has found that many people need help and support as they integrate into their new job and corporate culture.

“It’s critical that both the new people who join the firm and our existing employees have very clear and frequent feedback about how they’re doing and get the support they need to make sure that they’re successful,” Henry says.

One way the company helps employees adapt to the new environment is by plugging new hires into teams where they can quickly understand what’s expected of them. Working in teams allows people to seek guidance and feedback from more experienced peers, who can also serve as coaches and mentors.

“That’s really key to success,” Henry says. “As people are working in teams they better understand how their background and experience fit together with the rest of our people when they are out serving the needs of our clients.”

It also provides opportunities for different teams to learn about each other’s activities. For example, as it began adding more new people from other companies, the San Francisco office began holding a monthly “meet and greet” for its experienced hires.

“They bring their own lunch and meet at our office in a conference room,” Henry says. “It’s an open door thing for whoever is interested and available just to talk about their backgrounds and share some of what we’re doing in PwC.”

New teams are also encouraged to get to know other teams and find ways to complement their efforts if possible. The company’s new national sustainability team recently visited San Francisco to share its goals and learn how it can incorporate them throughout the firm.

“They’re getting their goals and priorities aligned and then trying to understand how they fit into the rest of the firm, someone who might be doing supply chain consulting or tax advice on moving operations,” Henry says. “Just about everything else that we do in serving our clients could have some element of sustainability. And that can be brought into making sure we’re creating the most value for our clients.”

Give people success models

Of course, offering competitive compensation is an easy way for employers to show people value when they bring them on board. However, long-term retention requires that companies show people an ongoing commitment to their financial and professional sucess.

As more people integrate into the company’s culture, Henry and his partners have looked for new ways to connect them to the goals of the business. One way is by helping diverse talent excel in the organization by having each partner sponsor three diverse individuals in the firm who represent strong leadership abilities.

“The sponsorship piece of it originated in our diversity programs, looking at the goal of trying to have the same diverse mix of talent at our leadership levels as we do at the entry levels,” Henry says. “What we find is with all the best work and coaching and development, we still have attrition for different groups at different career points.”

The sponsorship relationship goes beyond coaching. Each partner serves as a personal advocate for their sponsees, whether it’s by creating opportunities for advancement or nurturing their professional growth.

“That’s reflective of the work that we’re doing to make sure that we’re creating opportunities for people who really demonstrate the leadership abilities,” Henry says.

In addition to prompting positive feedback from clients, PwC’s diversity efforts have earned it the No. 1 spot on Inc.’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2012.

Establishing a “milestone rewards” program is another innovative step the firm has taken to show employees their growth potential. The rewards program gives employees special incentives as they rise to different levels within the firm. So a promotion to manager is now accompanied by a large cash payment or an employee who reaches the level of director is rewarded with a brief sabbatical.

“So when you’re promoted, there’s actually something that’s unique to that promotion on top of the normal compensation and reward system,” Henry says. “It’s those kinds of things that change the conversation from comparing dollars to dollars with one job to another to really understanding what people need and value at different points in their career.”

Build a rep

One of the chief reasons that PwC is able to entice experienced hires and new grads to its ranks is its reputation as an enjoyable and attractive workplace. In 2012, the company was named on Fortune’s top 100 best places to work for the eighth consecutive year.

“The really important aspect of people retention to me, aside from all the programs and different focus areas, it’s got to be an environment that people feel connected to, that allows room for innovation and that they can have fun,” Henry says.

Creating an enjoyable workplace requires leaders to be responsive to their people’s needs. Companies that consider options such as flexibility and work-life balance in addition to compensation will have an easier time keeping employees happy long-term.

“Flexibility seems to be the No. 1 issue that comes up as we talk to people in our surveys and direct feedback about areas that they think we can support and help them in their personal and professional career development,” Henry says.

Ask people what they need to be successful in their jobs, and then look for ways to support that, Henry says. PwC has each team work closely with its members to plan for their desired flexibility as they organize client service work. The firm has also adapted certain company policies, such as the flexible summer Fridays program, to account for the way employees want to work.

“Instead of telling people what day we think would be good for them to take off, we’ve now changed it to just say summer ‘flex days,’” Henry says. “Each week everyone should be working with their team, determining what flexibility they would like to have in their work schedule and building that into their team plans. For one person, it might be that they need a Tuesday afternoon off to do something, and for others, it may be a Friday. But that’s got to be something that’s very individual-based.”

Henry knows that another key ingredient in an attractive workplace is an atmosphere where people can let their hair down from time to time. So when it comes to having fun, he is happy to lead by example.

“We’ve done a lot of things here to just put a little humor into work and allow time for people to get together and hear the strategy but also have some celebration and some fun in the process,” he says.

For the firm’s Promotion Day celebration in June, Henry coordinated a celebration at San Francisco’s Port Mason entire office, emceed by an employee who works as a part-time comedian. And when the Giants made it to the World Series several years back, he showed his team that he was more than game for a practical joke.

“Someone got the crazy idea of the Giants wearing beards,” Henry says. “Therefore, I had to have a beard. Even though I didn’t grow one, because I can’t grow a good one, any time I sent out a memo with my picture, my assistant would Photoshop in a beard on it. And then I started wearing fake beards to meetings with our people. We had some real laughs with that.”

In just two years, Henry’s office has added more than 400 new employees, a clear sign that these people strategies are working. But, of course, the number that says the most about the firm’s success is its employee turnover rate.

“Studies generally show that people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses if they go somewhere else,” Henry says.

“We are at record low numbers right now in San Francisco as well as in PwC for voluntary turnover. That’s maybe the best indication considering, in most cases, people vote with their feet.” ?

How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers, (415) 498-5000 or www.pwc.com

The Henry File

Jim Henry

Managing partner

PwC San Francisco

Born: Pontiac, Mich., and grew up in San Diego

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from San Diego State University

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

Working in an emerging technology company.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

Working out in the morning — after my first cup of coffee!

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? 

I enjoy surfing.

What do you do for fun?

My wife and I entertain a lot at our house, and she is teaching me how to cook.

What are best pieces of advice you’ve gotten in your career?

First, as a leader you’ve got to have a clear vision of what’s important. And by that I’d start with what really are your values. What are you really trying to accomplish from a broader mission perspective? Then agree with your team on a few things that for the next year are most important that you are trying to accomplish. Consistently reinforce that in communication and monitor progress. The other thing I’d say is always be thinking about creating opportunities for people who may be your successor down the road.

Published in Northern California
Monday, 31 December 2012 19:39

Dealing with dysfunction

Take a look at the demographic makeup of your staff. Chances are that you’ll notice a broader range of ages and backgrounds than you’ve ever experienced before. Your success is dependent on creating a culture that can get the most from your talent base because a happy workforce is a productive workforce. So how do you build a culture that is conducive to multiple mindsets?

At hfa, we’ve embraced the generational gap in our workplace by creating a collaborative culture that values contributions from multiple perspectives.

It’s essential to take into consideration the differing psyches of various generations: Baby boomers are work-centric, goal-oriented competitors who believe in long hours at the office to get the job done. Gen-Xers are more tech-savvy and adaptable — they value a strong work-life balance. Gen-Yers are even more tech-focused, collaborative and likely to blur the line between work and leisure time because they want to work at something for which they have true passion.

All are valid philosophies

The key to managing differences in mindsets is to understand that they are all valid, viable philosophies that can contribute to your business’s success.

Bringing disparate groups of talent together requires team dedication. The model that our company has adopted to drive teamwork is based on a book called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. The book describes five healthy functions, which form a pyramid that builds toward a results-based, productive environment rather than one that is activities-based and nonstrategic.

The five functions are trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

The most important function is trust. Trust means team members believe in each other, both as people and as professionals. It’s a vulnerability-based trust that forms the foundation of any good team.

Conflict means healthy conflict — the ability to challenge one another in order to find new perspectives and unique solutions. Unhealthy, negative conflict is counterproductive and harmful to your team.

Once the team has gotten past conflict, all members align with the chosen course of action in the commitment stage. Differences are put aside for the good of the team.

Accountability is the act of taking ownership of one’s responsibilities and answering to the team when efforts fall short. An accountable team member will strive harder not to let the team down, resulting in higher quality work.

And finally, everything builds up to results. Establish a tangible goal and measure your efforts against whether that goal is met. A team that performs all five of these steps can expect to start seeing positive results.

Embrace differing talents

Another method we’ve found for fostering a collaborative culture is to embrace the different talents of each individual. “Strengths Finder 2.0,” a book by Tom Rath, stresses the importance of capitalizing on strengths rather than wasting energy trying to shore up weaknesses. It also contains an assessment test to identify an individual’s strengths.

By giving this assessment to our entire agency, we were able to use the results to group associates into teams based on complementary strengths. Furthermore, the information has been helpful in building trust between associates by allowing them to better understand each other’s motivations and preferences.

Finally, a collaborative culture must provide associates with outlets that can help bolster business. Our agency has teams such as our Future Team and Green Team that promote innovation among associates with a strong interest in technology and the environment by encouraging them to explore opportunities and trends to apply in our business.

We’ve also remodeled our offices to create a more collaborative workspace. Adding open gathering areas for informal meetings, for example, now allows associates to quickly exchange ideas and updates.

The secret to growth in the modern business environment is an idea as old as business itself: teamwork. Embracing the multiple mindsets and strengths of your workforce by fostering collaboration is a growth strategy that will pay dividends in any marketplace. ?

Matt McCallum is vice president/talent development at Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc. (hfa), a leading full-service marketing agency in Northeast Ohio, named as one of the Top Workplaces 2012 Northeast Ohio by The Cleveland Plain Dealer. McCallum is in the current class of Leadership Akron, is past president of Torchbearers, a leadership development organization for young professionals, and is a member of the Akron Art Museum’s marketing committee. Reach him at (330) 376-2111 or mmccallum@teamhfa.com.

 

 

Published in Akron/Canton

As the daughter of her company’s founder, Karen Caplan is a hands-on leader.

That’s a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is, she has detailed knowledge of everything that happens at Frieda’s Inc., the specialty produce wholesaler she leads as president and CEO.

The bad thing is that knowledge can sometimes draw her into operations-level matters that take time away from matters of strategy and goal setting for the company at large.

At times, it is a challenge for Caplan to simply cruise at 30,000 feet, without the cockpit radio humming to life with a request to dive in for a closer look at a certain project in a given department.

“I’m guessing it’s pretty common for most CEOs, especially if they’re homegrown, as I am,” Caplan says. “It’s so easy for somebody to come in and get you dragged into some detail that you don’t really need to worry about.”

In the more than quarter-century that Caplan has led Frieda’s, which produces revenue in excess of $50 million annually, she has learned how to keep her distance from matters that don’t require her attention by delegating responsibilities, building a sense of mutual trust with her employees and, quite simply, learning to say no.

“I don’t quickly react when someone asks me something or requests I get involved in something,” Caplan says. “Earlier in my career, my knee-jerk reaction was to solve the problem. But I’ve found that’s not the best way to lead a company. I’ve been very vocal throughout the company that I’m not a detail person. I say it to myself; I say it out loud. It’s going to mess things up when you get me involved in the day-to-day stuff.”

 

Set it down

Caplan’s mother, Frieda Caplan, who now serves as the company’s chairman, founded Frieda’s in 1962. Caplan joined the business in 1977, followed by her sister and COO, Jackie Caplan Wiggins, in 1983. With the business developing into a family affair and Karen taking the reins as president and CEO in 1986, she began to take stock of herself as a leader and how the mother-daughter leadership dynamic at Frieda’s would behave moving forward.

Caplan says the tendencies of her mother and sister initially spurred her to develop boundaries regarding leadership responsibilities. As a young executive, she enrolled in a Dale Carnegie leadership course, which gave her the initial framework for effective delegation.

“My sister and mom are both ‘knee-jerk reaction, everything is urgent, solve it now, do it now’ kind of people,” Caplan says. “I remember taking the course, coming back to work, and I remember saying to them, ‘When you have a really urgent issue, write it down on a piece of paper, set it aside and let it sit there for seven days.

“‘If, after seven days, you look at the paper again and the problem is still a problem, I want you to mention it to me at that point.’ That eliminated 99.9 percent of the issues, right there.”

Caplan also learned to stay away from areas of the company that didn’t overlap her background in sales and marketing. Through trial and error, she quickly learned that if the issue involved pricing or logistics or other areas apart from her background, she was more apt to make a problem worse by getting involved in the matter.

Over time, and through repetition of the message, Caplan has empowered her employees to tell her when she’s complicating matters through her involvement.

“Pricing and logistics are very tactical matters in our business,” she says. “I give direction, but when I get involved any deeper than that, it’s just not a good thing. And my employees know it. Everyone gives me that look that says ‘Karen, stop.’

“I’ve given everyone around me permission to tell me to stop. I feel very strongly that I can’t just have a bunch of ‘Yes, Karen’ people around me. If all you’re going to do is tell me yes, I don’t want you here. I want you to stand up and tell me what is going on. You’re not going to get fired for it. In fact, I’ll actually respect you more.”

Make it cultural

To ensure that the strategy people aren’t dragged into tactical or operations matters, you need a clear organizational structure with a separation of responsibilities. Often, the most effective way to create and maintain a firm organizational structure is to incorporate it into your strategic planning and core values.

If the concepts of personal and team accountability are promoted as part of the culture you live each day, they stand a much greater chance of taking root as foundational principles that everyone in the organization embraces.

“Everybody knows their responsibilities,” Caplan says. “The key is to have a high level of trust with the people you work with.”

Caplan says the best strategic planning processes are often homegrown. Third-party consultants can help you craft your strategy, mission and vision, but if they aren’t leading you in the direction you want to take the business, you’re probably wasting money and time.

“About five or six years ago, I said I was sick of strategic planning and tired of hiring consultants to take me and a group of my high-level people off-site to form a consensus around the company strategy,” Caplan says. “I cannot tell you how many times that did not work.

“So my sister and I decided that we knew what we wanted to accomplish. We worked with our CFO, who is excellent in strategy, and the three of us met for about two hours a week over the span of a few months, creating our company vision, mission and strategy.”

Caplan and her sister centered the company on four key values: personal accountability, service orientation, trust and playing fair.

“Those are what we stand for,” she says. “If you cannot trust the people on your team to do what they’re supposed to do, to go the extra mile and show personal accountability, you have the wrong people on your team. And that is how I feel confident in delegating the tactical issues. There is a very high level of trust in our company. We talk about it every day, and we show it through our actions.”

Hire for trust

Effective delegation requires a sense of trust throughout your organization, and trust needs to develop as a pillar of your culture. But the pillar will crumble if you don’t hire trustworthy people who align with your company’s values.

Finding and hiring those people means putting job candidates through a thorough, exhaustive interview process — particularly for management-level positions. And if you hire people who don’t fit with your culture and values, you need to either find another place for them in the company or send them packing.

“A good mantra is ‘hire slow, fire fast,’” Caplan says. “We spend a lot of time in the hiring process. Our standard is we interview people three different times, by three different people, in three different places. Every time you bring someone back, they look worse. They always look fantastic on the first interview.

“You bring them back, someone else interviews them, and suddenly, they don’t look so fantastic. By the third or fourth interview, you’re probably starting to see the real person. So you don’t get hired at Frieda’s very quickly.”

During the interview process, Caplan and her team don’t want to know just about a candidate’s professional accomplishments. The interview process delves into the candidate’s personal life and personal motivation.

“In interviewing people, you can ask them about why and how they made certain decisions or how they prioritized their life,” she says. “I don’t want to simply talk about someone’s work life. I ask them about their passions in life, about the last book they read, about the things they do on the weekends. That tells me a lot.”

Once a hire is made, the pressure is on to take the raw materials that prompted you to offer the candidate a job and cultivate them in a way that allows you to get the most out of that person. You can plant the best seeds, but they won’t grow without adequate sunlight and water.

“The thing to remember is, your core values can’t be somebody else’s core values,” Caplan says. “They have to be your own. If I didn’t live personal accountability every day, if I wasn’t prepared for all the meetings I’m called to attend, if I didn’t respond to emails quickly, everyone would say, ‘It might be listed as a value, but it doesn’t apply all the time. Karen doesn’t live it.’

“So, whatever you say the company values are, those are the real values. You hire to those values, you live those values, and if someone isn’t living the values, you move them off your team — no matter how wonderful they might be in their position.”

How to reach: Frieda’s Inc., (800) 241-1771

or www.friedas.com

 

The Caplan file

Fast fact: Frieda’s introduced the kiwi fruit to the U.S. in 1962. The company now distributes more than 600 varieties of fruits, vegetables and specialty food products throughout the country.

 

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

 

To treat all people with respect. Everyone gets treated the same, regardless of the role they perform in the company. When someone enters the office and I see them, I say good morning to them by name. You have to make sure that no one is anonymous. If you can address your people by name, you’ll have a much higher level of engagement.

 

Caplan on firing fast: It is never easy to fire someone. That is something else I learned at the Dale Carnegie management course. If you ever aren’t affected when you have to fire someone, you should probably get out of management. But if you are fair, if you have given someone every opportunity to correct their behavior, you can stick by your decision.

I remember with one individual — she hadn’t been with the company long — and I sat her down and said, “You’re not happy, I’m not happy, and we can’t continue this way.” That was pretty straightforward.

You know immediately if someone isn’t a good fit. What happens when you hire someone, within the first week, you know if you’ve made a good hire or bad hire. Every manager, every CEO will tell you the same thing. And if they weren’t what you expected, your gut feeling is to give them more time. We are so ingrained in this country to give everybody every opportunity to correct their behavior. But unfortunately, one week of tolerating becomes one month becomes a year. Soon enough, you have someone who has been on the team for more than a year, and you’re saying to yourself, “I knew they weren’t right for us from the first day on the job.”

Published in Orange County
Friday, 30 November 2012 19:22

Victoria Tifft: What’s your story?

Every business has a story. Most of us are familiar with the stories of how Starbucks and Facebook were created. These stories touch us emotionally and we connect with them. Understanding and conveying the story of your business should be part of your firm’s branding strategy. The story should reveal how and why the business was formed and some essential facts that make your business unique.

If your firm doesn’t have a story or has evolved and grown since the time of its inception, it might be time to think about writing the story or sharing how the firm has changed over time. Revisiting your story is a great way to reintroduce your firm to existing and potential customers.

About two years ago, my firm decided to put pen to paper and share our story with customers. To help with this, I enlisted the aid of a local consultant with a Ph.D. in theater/arts performance.

The consultant asked many questions, and he told us that we had a great story to tell; we just needed to think about how and why we created our firm. He advised us to think about the obstacles and challenges we endured and the lessons we learned as a result. Finally, he taught us how to weave the emotional experiences gained from both challenges and successes throughout our corporate story. Here is what we came up with.

The history of ClinicalRM

ClinicalRM embodies the vision set out by our founder and CEO Victoria Tifft in Togo, West Africa, two decades ago. Tifft served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, as an infectious disease biologist.

While in Africa, she experienced the devastating conditions that Third World countries endure firsthand. In her work to improve health conditions in Togo, she contracted malaria three times and came back to the U.S. fully committed to the idea of spending her life working to provide treatments for devastating diseases.

As part of this commitment, she worked on-site at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease.

Working alongside many military and government researchers throughout the U.S. Army, Tifft gained a thorough understanding of the U.S. Army’s culture and research objectives. Opening a second operating center in Cleveland, Tifft tapped into the very rich medical, device and clinical research community in Northeast Ohio.

Just after 1999, she expanded the business into a full-service contract resource organization. Today, ClinicalRM operates nationwide and in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Ask questions of yourself

If you are a business owner, there are many benefits to sharing your story. But telling it requires you to look at your company from many angles. When putting our story on paper, our company was able to do this by asking ourselves several questions, including:

  • Where did the idea for starting the company come from?
  • Were there times when you thought the company wouldn’t make it — how did that feel and what did you do to overcome the obstacles?
  • Were there early successes?
  • What have we learned along the way?
  • Was there a consistent culture and philosophy that should be highlighted?
  • How is the firm different today in comparison to the beginning?
  • Were there moments when you knew the company would be successful?

Analyzing the company in this manner gave us a broader perspective and allowed us to see the firm as an entity with a story — a story that needed to be told. We diligently put our story on paper, and now, we use it as a starting point for discussion with new employees and customers.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Dan Doyle Jr. wanted his father to be a partner in his new business venture. So naturally, he brought the proposal to the breakfast table. One morning, over egg whites, he thoughtfully laid out his plan, all the while preparing for the possibility of a tough sell. What he wasn’t prepared for though were Dan Doyle Sr.’s terms.

“In order to get him out of retirement, he made me commit a third of our profits to local not-for-profits,” says Doyle, co-founder, president and CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Dex Imaging Inc. “He didn’t take a paycheck. That’s what he wanted.”

Doyle knew giving away a third of the company’s profits would be a tall order to fill. But he also felt confident that with his and his father’s expertise in the office imaging industry — Doyle Sr. sold a previous business for $3.5 billion — they could build Dex Imaging into a high-growth document imaging dealership.

So he accepted his father’s terms. In fact, he took it a step further, agreeing to distribute another third of top line profits back to the company’s noncommissioned employees.

After all, “It’s not easy to negotiate with your father,” Doyle says.

Since the duo co-founded Dex in 2002, they’ve successfully fulfilled their commitment to giving two-thirds of its profits to employees and local not-for-profits. And in the meantime, they’ve still managed to grow the business from $1 million to $100 million in revenue, spreading its footprint to 24 locations across five states and 560 employees.

Here’s how Doyle keeps Dex Imaging profitable while taking care of its employees and the community.

Make it more than money

Starting out, it was pretty easy for Dex Imaging to meet financial commitments to employees and not-for-profits, Doyle says. For one, the company had just 14 employees. But also, Doyle and his father had been involved in the Tampa community and done business there for some time. The area’s recent struggles motivated them to take on a bigger role with Dex.

“It was during a time when the banks were getting all rolled up and moving to Charlotte County in the Bay Area as well as other areas in Florida,” Doyle says. “So Tampa banks used to support all the not-for-profits, and that kind of diminished as the banks moved their headquarters.”

However, as they opened new offices in other cities, not everyone understood the giving back philosophy and its significance for the organization. Profit-sharing was an easy concept for people to grasp. But Doyle wanted the community involvement to be equally valued by employee and the company culture.

“In the beginning, people kind of questioned us,” Doyle says.

“What our management learned is it’s easy to sit there and say, ‘Yes,’ and find people and not-for-profits that are looking for money. But then we would quiz them on ‘OK, well why did we support this cause?’”

To connect people to the why, Doyle asks each branch of the company to choose which not-for-profit they want to support with the third of their profits. And recognizing that every branch operates somewhat differently, he also leaves how they decide up to them.

Some offices meet weekly to discuss organizations they’re interested in supporting, while others get together monthly or quarterly to talk about their plans and criteria.

“We don’t dictate how we should do it and how they should look at each not-for-profit,” Doyle says. “I just want to know that they’re involved with it, they understand it and that they’re willing to commit themselves to it.”

For Doyle, the main concern before committing the money is whether or not people have done their due diligence. So he likes to ask staff as each branch questions to make sure they’ve dug deeper. For example, “How many dollars end up back in the local community’s hands?” and “What support is the organization most in need of?”

“See if they can give you a little background besides just the title or the name,” Doyle says. “If they said Boys and Girls Club, do they say, ‘Oh, they help boys and girls,’ and kind of waffle on it? Or do they say, ‘They get into this particular cause and they’re finding matches, or we’re supporting the program that helps grandparents that are taking care of grandchildren because the parents are deadbeats?’”

As a leader, asking the tough questions helps employees understand their reasons for getting involved with a not-for-profit. By making them dig deeper, you encourage people to choose missions or causes that speak to them personally and will motivate them to make a bigger impact.

That’s certainly the case at Dex, where many employees give back their time to their chosen organizations beyond  the profit contribution, whether it’s serving on boards and committees, getting involved in events, or just reaching into their own pockets to support a cause, Doyle says.

“The only way to really get into it is to understand that particular organization,” he says.

“It wasn’t just that somebody sent them a letter and they agreed to it.”

It’s also a point of pride when employees see your company’s name linked to organizations they feel benefit their local communities.

“People come in with their son’s or daughter’s soccer league, asking can we sponsor that — all the way to their church or their school, to bigger events that are hosted by whatever city,” Doyle says. “And it’s pride. They see our company’s name associated with these things and people are proud of it.”

Give more to get more

Today, Dex has minimal employee turnover. But the company’s people philosophies don’t just help it retain employees. They’re also a way to attract new talent to the company.

“We know we’ve done a good job when people say, ‘Hey, are you hiring?’” Doyle says. “When we’re hiring people, we tell them the story and they’re hooked on it.”

But making big commitments to people can’t just be a story. You also have to follow through.

During the economic recession, many of Doyle’s employees wondered whether the company would stick with its commitment to distribute two-thirds of its profits to employees and their not-for-profit causes.

“In 2009, I was nervous because — especially in Florida — it wasn’t the best financial year for anybody,” Doyle says. “We’d made some commitments to some local not-for-profits. But it would have been great to have the money sitting in our bank as a reserve.”

Despite the challenges, Doyle says the decision to stick with the commitment was a no-brainer.

“I was brought up under the philosophy that the more you give, the more you get,” he says. “So it keeps your pencil sharp, but it motivates you and it pushes you.

“When we stretched ourselves when we gave a third back to employees — and actually we gave them a little more than a third because we didn’t want anybody hurt — it took everybody by surprise. And once they realized that we were sticking to that and making sure that they were receiving their checks, they realized that we were going to stick to the other third going to not-for-profits.

“It was just another one of those moments where they go to raise their head above some other companies that either went by the wayside or turned the other way.”

The key is view community giving as an investment rather than a donation, Doyle says.

“The theory behind it was if we can support our local community and make it stronger, businesses will thrive,” he says. “And if businesses thrive — our business is very dependent upon other businesses thriving — we will thrive.”

The same goes for employees. Investing a third of your profits back into your people obviously has a positive impact on employee morale. But it also gives Dex a competitive advantage. Much of the company’s business is service-related. So when its service technicians have a real vested interest in retaining customers, it creates a better experience for customers.

“Having control of their financial destiny also empowers employees to take on bigger roles in decision-making — something the company already encourages with its hands-off management style.

“So we try to push them to make a decision today,” Doyle says.

“If they think the customer is right, they should give them that credit. And don’t wait and tell the customer, ‘I’ve got to look into it. I’ll call you back.’ That’s the thing people hate the most. People hate being put off.”

To show people he walks the talk, Doyle also subscribes to the management philosophy of leading by example. He knows that employees want to be a part of companies that have leaders who look out for their best interests and the interests of their community.

Sometimes that requires stepping back, for example, when it helps to empower employees. When he sees one of his managers getting overly involved in their people’s decisions, he likes to remind them that micromanaging goes both ways.

“I always ask them if they’d like me to get more hands on,” he says. “If I feel like they might be micromanaging, I’ll say, ‘Do you want me looking at every decision you make every day? And they always say, ‘Well, no.’ And that works doesn’t it?”

Other times it’s about modeling the values he wants to instill in the organization. Doyle serves on numerous not-for-profits boards as well as committees to support causes that inspire him — showing his people that even the CEO can take time to give back.

“I’ve explained to our management that ‘Look, I’m willing to sacrifice my time and my family time to do this,’ and I expect the same from them,” he says. “But they also see what it gets back.”

Admit what you can do

A big concern with giving away a percentage of your company’s profits is what happens if you don’t have the money. What if I need to fund an acquisition, hire new staff or cut costs during a recession? Doyle knows these challenges all too well.

“I don’t think any of us would have predicted what happened at the end of 2008 and 2009,” Doyle says.

“The fear always is that you give away a third of your profits and that’s a third of your profits you could have had as a nest egg, just in case you do end up in a financial crisis.”

But instead of avoiding profit-sharing initiatives, Doyle simply advises businesses considering these kinds of people strategies to be realistic. Don’t overcommit.

“Obviously, the more people see your name out there supporting local causes, the more local causes come to you, which is good and bad,” he says. “You get to learn a lot about local charities that might be small that are underfunded and have a tremendous impact on our community. But it also comes to a point where you have to turn down certain not-for-profits, which is always tough.”

People involved with not-for-profits are typically pretty passionate. And obviously, you don’t want to destroy anybody’s dreams or hopes. But you also need to make sure you don’t promise more than what you can deliver.

“You have to keep in mind that there are things out of your control that might have a financial impact on your organization,” Doyle says. “We took a philosophy that we’re going to push ourselves by donating a third, and even if we give away that third, we can still survive any storm. Obviously, it’s been tested just going through 2009. So just keep that in mind. Don’t overextend yourself.”

One way the company stays accountable to its commitments is by being incredibly transparent about its financials. Three times a year, Doyle convenes all of Dex’s employees at a town-hall meeting, where he goes over the company’s financials.

By letting employees know exactly where the company stands, you show them that everyone is in it together. So the better you do as a company, the bigger impact the company can have for them and their community.

Every now and then Doyle may have a branch overcommit to a not-for-profit. But in these cases, the company has always been able to back up their donation from corporate.

How did Doyle know a third would be a doable percentage for Dex? Well, he didn’t.

“To be honest with you, that was a total crapshoot,” he says. “That was just a deal I cut with my dad.”

So how should you set your goals for community giving? Doyle suggests coming up with a figure that you can stick to as you grow. That way you’ll be able to see your company’s success pay off.

“When we started, we were very small,” Doyle says. “So the impact locally wasn’t big. Now, you look at it, and the last year, we gave away almost $4 million.”

How to reach: Dex Imaging Inc., (800) 886-2329 or www.deximaging.com

Takeaways:

  • Connect people to the organizations they’re helping.
  • View giving back as an investment.
  • Don’t overcommit.

 

The Doyle File

Dan Doyle Jr.

Co-founder, president and CEO

Dex Imaging Inc.

Born: Baltimore, Md., but has lived in Florida since he was five.

Education: Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

I would probably work in the marine industry. I love boats.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

I meet my father for breakfast every morning.  This is where the two of us have time to talk about whatever is on our minds with no disruptions.

What do you to regroup on a tough day? 

I walk the seawall behind my house with my 6-year-old son. He loves the outdoors and all living creatures and loves to talk about them.

What do you do for fun? 

I hang out with my family. My wife and I both love having our kids around. We go out for dinner every year on our anniversary with all of them. It’s just fun to spend time with them and hear what they have to say.

Where would you like to go that you’ve never been? 

I would love to go to the Galapagos Islands.

Published in Florida

Have you ever stopped to think about what leads to great outcomes in your business? How about when a plan doesn’t work? Was it the plan itself that failed or something larger?

It’s important to remember excellent results come from more than just excellent strategies and tactics. It is the character of our organizations that determines the ultimate success or failure of our plan.

The fact that your success will rise and fall on the collective personal character of your organization can be a sobering thought. Of course, there can be other circumstances at play. But all too often, the missing component in reaching strategic and tactical success is a gap in the company’s collective character.

And make no mistake about it: Your company’s character starts with you.

People turn to leaders who exhibit consistent great character. And customers turn to companies who exhibit consistent great character. This is a chain reaction that begins with you and can end with wonderful success for your organization.

Here are five points of character I believe we CEOs should keep in mind when leading our organizations. Modeling these points drives the creation of a collective culture that delivers excellent results from well-laid strategies and tactics:

Encourage mistakes

Employees who aren’t fearful of mistakes reach for new ideas, create new ways to help customers and develop better methods of doing business. Encourage this desire in your team members. Release them from worry of doing the wrong thing and set them free to create the next big thing.

Treat everyone equally

Some years ago, Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson wrote a booklet of leadership observations in which he cautions, “Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with.”

From your leadership peers to the man hauling out your recycling, treat everyone with the same respect and care. When your employees feel valued at all levels and see that everyone matters to you, it fosters an environment of respect and kindness that will naturally carry over to how they treat your customers. You’ll have employees who genuinely want your company to succeed — and who better to carry out your strategies and tactics?

Continuously improve

Stay on top of the most recent research, tools and education in your field, and encourage your employees to do the same. Provide ample opportunities for them to better themselves, both professionally and personally. Smarter, more engaged, happier employees serve your customers better, deliver more and execute plans better. In simple terms, put the best into your people, so you’ll get the best out.

Care

I often tell my wonderful employees that I want to send them home safer and healthier than when they arrived in the morning, and I work to implement processes and programs to support this. Genuine caring for the people who carry out the business of your business reverberates throughout the organization.

As with all of these character points, they ripple from you to your employees to your customers, helping excellent work be done all along the way, resulting in great successes. Care about your employees and they’ll care about your business.

Do the right thing

Helping others, taking responsibility, owning up to mistakes, honoring your word — when these are the types of things you are known for, they become the types of things your organization is known for. A culture of responsibility, kindness and honesty. That is the type of culture that does the right thing — even when the boss isn’t looking.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com.

Published in Chicago