Challenges welcomed Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

When Kevin P. McCarthy was having a disagreement with someone about how to run a meeting, he asked that person to bring it up at the next meeting. The president and CEO of Modern Office Methods wanted to make a point: He wanted people to see that it was OK to challenge other people’s ideas — even his — and to get involved in developing programs.

“If (a manager) has a lot of say in developing the program, then it’s his program to make succeed or fail, rather than, ‘This is a program that Kevin mandated, and I have to do this,’” says McCarthy about how things operate at the $30 million integrated document solutions provider.

Smart Business spoke with McCarthy about how he handles mistakes and how to find employees with the right attitude.

Q: How do you let employees know you are listening to them?

Those who have been around awhile know I listen to them because they know me; for the new ones, if they have a suggestion or bring something up that is a good or bad idea, responding to them and letting them know what we are going to do based on what they said. Then, keep them in the loop.

A lot of people don’t like to hear complaints. I don’t mind hearing complaints from clients or employees. The reason I don’t is because my philosophy is if somebody is complaining about it, then everyone else is thinking about it and is not willing to stand up and say something about it.

Typically, in their own little peer groups, they are discussing those issues. If we can address those issues where it’s a problem, then it gives us an opportunity to make our company stronger.

Q: How did you establish your corporate culture?

A lot of it just evolved on its own. I could write all the corporate mission statements, but if I am acting differently, then that’s the reality. It comes out of what your true core values are as an individual. I don’t think you could make a culture that isn’t really you. If you could, you would be acting every day, instead of, ‘This is what my values tell me is the right way to be.’

If they see me cutting it up and not working, then it’s like, ‘This must be OK. I’m all right with people cutting up and having fun, as long as they get the job done.

Q: How do you know if a potential employee will fit in to your culture?

There are certain things you can ask.

If I’m interviewing a sales representative, rather than asking, ‘What would you do if you came across this issue, and how would you handle it?’ a better question would be something along the lines of, ‘Give me some examples of how you’ve handled a particular type of adverse situation in the past,’ and make them explain it. ‘Tell me what you did to overcome it and where you were an underdog, and you should have never succeeded; tell me how you did it.’

Even if it was something in high school, you want to find out what they are made of.

I tell our managers, ‘I would much rather have a bunch of (hardworking underdogs) on our sales team than a bunch of thoroughbreds who don’t have to work hard because everything has always been easy for them.’

Q: How do you handle failure?

Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to, ‘Maybe we put together a bad business plan, or maybe we put the wrong person in charge,’ and we have to figure that out.

I like to keep people upbeat, but if someone is not doing the job or makes a bad decision, you have to address it with the individual. If someone does something great, you want to praise them in public. If someone does something wrong, you want to pull them in and discipline them in private.

I don’t think I’m going to develop any loyalty if I criticize you in front of a bunch of people. In fact, I would guarantee I would develop zero loyalty.

If I say, ‘Brian, stand up for a minute. Hey everybody, I want you to hear what Brian did. Brian did this, and here is what it meant. By the way, great job.’

Brian’s on cloud nine, and everyone is saying, ‘Good job’ and slapping you five. There is mileage out of that.

Now, if I stood you in front of everybody and said, ‘Brian, let me tell you what Brian did. Brian stinks.’ It not only weighs heavy on Brian but everybody. Everyone is going, ‘Do I get the next bullet?’

HOW TO REACH: Modern Office Methods, (513) 791-0909 or