Bob Coughlin involves employees at Paycor Inc Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Five years ago, when Bob

Coughlin’s company was posting about $10 million in annual

revenue, he met with his management team.

At that meeting, a statement on

the wall asked what prevented

Paycor Inc. from becoming a

$50 million company. There were

also pictures, and one of those

— a drawing of someone in a

rowboat trying to pull an ocean

liner — spoke a thousand words.

The group saw the parallel in the

effort; as the rowboat didn’t have

the ability to pull the ship, neither

did the payroll service provider

have the management depth and talent to pull the company to the

next level.

The management team members concluded that Coughlin

should hire another level of management above them to take the

company to where they wanted it

to be. Coughlin says it was important that they came to that conclusion on their own because if he

had said it, they would have been

defensive. Coughlin, founder and

CEO of the 450-employee company, says using a collaborative

approach has helped his company

reach $47 million in revenue for

fiscal 2007.

Smart Business spoke with

Coughlin about how recognizing

your strengths and weakness

can help you take your company

to the next level.

Involve employees early in the

process. I’m a big believer in

having people involved

upfront and buying in to

what the goals are and even

maybe in setting the goals.

We have a position within

the company, which I think

is game-changing for us,

who’s a chief quality officer.

Essentially, their job is to

involve all the stakeholders

in laying out a successful initiative, including putting

stickies on the board and

deciding what the goals are.

Sometimes, you start with a

weakness-based statement

like, ‘What prevents us from

doing something?’ Put some

parameters around it, and

then get the team involved in

coming up with the issues

and coming up with solutions. That, versus a top-down approach of saying,

‘Look, I’ve studied this, and

here’s what we need to do,’

[is better]. I think they’ll

prove me wrong.

Don’t try to change people. We do

basic personality profiling

here, and it’s very useful.

Starting with just the basic

personality profile and

understanding people’s DNA

is important.

I don’t think you can fundamentally change certain

things about people. So

knowing that somebody is

particularly structured in

their approach or conceptual

or data-driven or using these

different quadrants that you

might have of people lets

you understand that you

can’t try to change them.

You’ve got to work within

their strengths, and if they

have weaknesses, figure out

how you are going to shore

those up, either with a structure, with some help, with

somebody else on the team

that can help them with that.

I think it’s a failed plan to try

to have somebody who is not

structured, for instance, do a

very structured activity.

When I was getting the

business going, I tried to

believe [that] with intent,

you could make somebody

anything they wanted to be.

I’ve learned over time that

it’s more about aligning people’s strengths and weaknesses and not trying to

change people.

Establish a communicative environment. You do it every day.

You do it when you walk by

somebody in the hall and

how you say hi to them. It’s

body language.

I do block out an hour

probably three different

times a week where I just

walk around. Not everybody

is here, but I walk around ...

and say hi to people. I say,

‘Is there anything I can do to

make your job better?’

If they give me something,

I follow up on it. I say, ‘Let

me look into that. Let me figure out what we can do.’ It

could be something as mundane as their chair is broken.

Find a balance with your success. There is always room for

improvement. It seems like,

over time, whenever you are

satisfied with where something is, it goes backward.

Things are always movingupward or downward. So

getting too comfortable is a

potential pitfall. Being overly

uncomfortable is a potential

pitfall because people can

feel like you are so never satisfied that they’re worn out

by it.

It’s as much art as science.

It’s being conscious about

the fact that we just had a

tough meeting about something, and now I need to go

pick somebody up. It doesn’t

do us any good if people are

walking around with their

heads down if we don’t perform well on something.

At the same time, that

doesn’t mean all the meetings are going to be roses. I

think a lot of it is just being

conscious about the fact that

attitudes matter.

Put your money where your mouth

is. If you say, ‘We are going

to focus on training and

development this year’ [and]

if they don’t see anything

happen, then you lose credibility with people.

When they see that you go

out and hire a director of

learning and add a couple of

resources and put money

behind things that you say

you are going to do, the people know they can trust me if

I say, ‘This is what we’re

going to do over the next


If we don’t do it, it’s not

going to be for lack of effort

because we have a history of

doing what we say we’re

going to do.

HOW TO REACH: Paycor Inc., (800) 381-0053 or