Chris Boue had a problem when he took over CH Mack Inc. last January.
The company didn’t have a strategic plan. It had about five.
“But day to day, those strategic plans weren’t executed on. What was executed on was what they needed to finish out this quarter or this year,” Boue says. “We had to figure out what our horizon was.”
So the new president and CEO rebranded the company, which provides health care technology solutions. As a result, it saw $5 million in 2008 revenue, a 140 percent increase over 2007.
To fully understand what the company had to offer, Boue had to start with a clean slate.
“It’s real easy once you’ve seen market successes to put those market successes on as sunglasses and miss a lot of things,” says Boue, who leads 60 employees. “But when I came here, I had to put some of those successes away because your biggest successes can also be your biggest downfalls.”
Smart Business spoke with Boue about how to assess your company with fresh eyes to uncover your core.
Do your research. The worst thing a leader can do is have all the answers. I had to clear myself of my history so that I could have a better future. I relayed this to staff as I was talking to them, individually and in groups, that I love success and I love to take a group with me, but we need to figure out our winning strategy. I talked to some of the customers and the board members and investors and even some of the key employees, before I started with the company.
Anybody that is looking at changing a company, whether it’s new walking in or they need to see it with new eyes, needs to look at three categories. The past performance was the first one — things like why were they successful in some areas and why were they failing in some areas. The answers to both of those, and particularly the failures, can usually lead to how you have higher leverage in the future. The second major one was present strategies, where they are now. The usual suspects in there are the people that are involved, the processes that are used and the technologies that allow you to leverage your people and your processes. And then the third is future challenges and opportunities — things like barriers to your success, resources that are going to be needed, what type of culture changes need to happen in order to promote success.
A fourth one, and it underscores everything, is you have to know what land mines are there. The reason the enemies use land mines is that people aren’t looking for them. So as a leader of a company, you have to be looking for the problems. In fact, we had a session where we told all leaders we needed to have on our doors, if not in our language, to ‘Bring me the bad news.’ It was that type of attitude that I’d recommend anybody start with because you can’t really know what to improve or what to change unless you know what’s needed.
Gauge employees’ visions. When I joined the company, I sat with every staff member. It was necessary to start at the staff level to understand people’s perceptions. And then [I sat] with the different groups to ask them some key questions from an internal standpoint: ‘What would you change if you were in my role? What things would you leave the same if you were in my role? And what things would you suggest everybody else do that somebody in the company’s doing?’
[The] staff had to know that what they told me stayed with me. I took a lot of efforts and a lot of time to make sure that people had time to spend with me and they got to tell me what their feeling was about the future. From an external viewpoint, like knowing the market, I also talked to the sales and marketing folks and then [our competitors].
One of the best things you can do is talk to the competition about the strengths and weaknesses of the company. We needed salespeople at the time. I was in the interview path of sales candidates, so I could talk to those from competition nationally about where the market was but more specifically where they saw our company.
Discover your core. To be successful, you have to know what your passion is, you have to be great at it and you have to be able to make money at it. So I was looking for what our company was truly passionate about, not only from internal [standpoint] but what the people from the outside saw. I was really looking for what we were great at on our best day and our worst day.
The direction was more about seeing the need in the industries that we service. And then after seeing the need, go back to all the feedback, both internal and external, to see what our real strengths and weaknesses were. I wanted to come from a place of integrity on what we could truly do, not what we wanted to do.
So I got the idea of where we were, which I think is one of a leader’s greatest strengths, if they can truly know where they are and then get a vision of where they want to go. The vision for our company is to make a substantial difference in health care through care management software. That’s a big vision. To do that, we can’t have just a local or regional focus. We have to have a national focus. That means that we have to step up and talk to large customers.
And then secondly, I had to figure out what the core was — meaning your strategic people, processes and technologies, the things that are really going to get you to what your vision is. If you can know your core, those are the things that you protect and grow relentlessly, without question. And then, of course, the last thing you have to execute, you have to figure out how you get your core things to be leveraged so that you can meet your vision.
How to reach: CH Mack Inc., (513) 936-6000 or www.chmack.com