“I majored in marketing at Ohio State University and actually found the required computer coursework frustrating,” says Burton, area director for CIBER Inc.
But after graduation, Burton’s first job involved selling computer systems. She quickly realized that although she had not enjoyed developing computer programs, she did like consulting with companies on how to use technology to meet their business objectives. CIBER is a systems integrator that builds, integrates and supports mission-critical business applications for private and public clients.
Founded in 1974, CIBER serves client businesses from offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and India. Burton manages the Cincinnati operation and its 85 employees, and has grown the operation 200 percent in the past two years.
Smart Business spoke with Burton about how she manages growth and keeps her staff motivated.
Q: How do you get employees to buy in to your vision and make it a reality?
There are three keys to generating support from staff: passion you must demonstrate a clear and genuine belief in the value of the business; ongoing communication employees cannot get behind what they do not understand; [and] willingness to solicit feedback the team must perceive the strategy and vision as their own.
I have seen managers simply tell employees what to do. Sure, they can do that, but the end result is a less-committed staff. It takes effort to communicate and uphold an open-door communication policy. However, you will get more than 100 percent from your employees in the process.
The test of effective communication is that nothing should come as a surprise to your employees. This can involve difficult discussions, such as addressing negativity, or acknowledging employees who are not a good fit for the organization.
Q: What professional mistakes have you personally made and learned from?
Early in my career, I realized that you have to be close to your employees, but not too close. It is easy to lose your objectivity and to be affected negatively if you don’t respect boundaries that must exist in a healthy employer/employee relationship.
I also learned the hard way that it is important to speak up and trust your instincts. There have been times when I let others guide me, even though I knew in my heart it was not the best approach. I ended up going down the wrong path when I knew better and that was not a good feeling.
I try to instill in my employees the importance of being open and honest about their thoughts. It can be a double-edged sword because when employees challenge the status quo, it can be a management headache. However, the rewards are well worth the trouble.
Q: How do you grow your company?
I can’t do this by myself, obviously. When I first came to CIBER, I took a hard look at the team and made necessary changes. To grow a company, it is essential to have the right team assembled.
Once the team is in place, turnover must be minimized at all levels. You cannot undervalue the relationships that develop between your employees and clients. It takes time to develop trust. Once it is there, clients will take the recommendations of the consultants. Turnover forces this process of building trust to start over again, and that is costly.
Typically, 20 percent of your clients will bring in 80 percent of your revenue. You must always be on the lookout for new opportunities, because your current revenue stream could change tomorrow. Cold calling is difficult these days, since there is so much competition, and everyone has voice mail to screen their calls.
So we concentrate on attending local seminars, networking, and providing technical education and thought leadership in order to get our name out in the community.
Q: How do you set and review goals?
Goals should be attainable, but they need to be a stretch. If goals are too easy, there is not incentive to put forth effort. If goals are too difficult, employees give up before they even get started.
Goals also must be measurable. They cannot be vague or open to guesswork. Consultants need to know the billable hours you expect, recruiters need to know how many new hires they must bring in and your sales professionals need a concrete sales goal. Without these, they are not sure if they are successful or meeting expectations.
Setting the goals is just the first step. Good managers have ongoing dialogue with their staff on the goals agreed upon. If the employee is struggling, draw from your own experiences and others, and give them practical tips for getting their performance back on track.
HOW TO REACH: CIBER Inc., (513) 489-6366 or www.ciber.com
The Women in Business series is presented by Smart Business through the support of Fifth Third Bank.