Success express Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

When the three partners of Relay Express make decisions, majority rules. And because the person who comes out on the short end of the stick may have a bias against the decision, co-founders Matt Seiter, Robert Smith and Mike Bernecker appoint someone else to relay the decision.

“We try to give one voice to the people,” says Seiter, president and CEO of the courier service. “There is that little bit of, ‘Hey, they didn’t like my idea.’”

Seiter and his partners have grown Relay Express’ revenue 75 percent from 2005 to 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Seiter about how to deal with employee mistakes, what to look for in employees and how pictures of family serve as a motivator.

Q: How do you give employees the freedom to work their own way?

It’s tough to just let go when you see someone making mistakes time and again. I try to stay away from them. Not out of the office, but out of their way. If I see someone making the same mistake over and over again, then I can see they aren’t getting it.

If they are making a different mistake, then I see they are learning. If they are making the same mistake, then maybe it is my fault for not teaching them the proper way to do it.

We do let people learn from their mistakes, and, in the long run, they are self-sufficient.

We try to retrain or have someone else in the company help them. I say, ‘They aren’t getting it from me. Maybe you can help them.’ We cross-train everyone so there’s not just one person who knows this part of the business. When there is a problem, they may be a better teacher for that person.

Q: How do you know a potential employee has the qualities you want?

When you go to interview somebody, if you like them right away, they can change when they come to work for you. We try to hire people we want to hang out or go to lunch with. If I like to talk to you in an interview, then I’ll like to go to lunch or dinner with you.

Everyone we hire, we tell them upfront that there is a 90-day period we want to have you work because they may not like us. It is a fast-paced business. There can be some burnout in it quickly. We try to eliminate the stress by having the personalities around that everyone can lean on everyone else.

Q: How do you retain employees?

We’ve had problems in the past with this where we have brought them in, let them go, and that’s not worked. In the last three or four years, we put up a picture board in the lunchroom where it’s everyone’s family.

We try to do more family-oriented things and to give weekly bonuses. ‘You did a good job, here’s a $25 gift card.’

That whole process of trying to get people involved in the company and each other’s lives has helped us retain employees. They want to see what they are doing makes a difference, and we have tried to show that in the last three to four years.

When we first started, we didn’t know what we were doing. We would ask our employees, who were older than us at the time, ‘What do you think we should do?’ Those first five to 10 years, we would go out to dinner with these people and their families. It was really a family culture.

After we did this for 10 years, it got to the point where my family started to come first.

So, we’d hire people to run the company for us, and the three of us stepped back and got out of the way. That whole family culture went away, and we had some turnover problems.

So we thought, ‘This isn’t working, we need to get back involved in this.’ Not so much in the day-to-day basics but involved in the people because they want to belong to something.

Q: How has having family pictures in the break room benefited the company?

If you are happy at work, you will do your job better. If you aren’t doing your job, you look at that board during lunch and you think, ‘I’m not just letting down the company, I am letting down these people.’

I know it’s been brought up quite a bit. People talk about it all the time. When a new picture goes up, I may not notice it, but a lot people go, ‘Did you see the new picture of so and so?’

I know it’s looked at every day. It’s like a motivator in there.

HOW TO REACH: Relay Express, www.relayexpress.com or (800) 860-6288