FocusMark Group LLC makes decisions by data Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Kim Allan Sharp, the

founder, president and

CEO of FocusMark Group LLC, has a saying he has

adhered to all his life: “Not

always right but never in


The statement reflects Sharp’s

view on how important it is for

a leader to not only make decisions but also to empower

employees to make decisions.

He says employees need to

know a leader has the decision-making ability to execute on

the vision of the company.

“If the leader or the CEO

doesn’t make the decision necessary to execute your vision,

obviously, everything bogs

down,” says Sharp, who led the

marketing agency to 2007 revenue of about $40 million.

Smart Business spoke with

Sharp about how he uses data

— and gut feelings — to make


Q. How do you empower

employees to make decisions?

Many times, I’ll bring everybody — or the particular

employees — in, and we’ll talk

about what are the options,

and we’ll narrow down those

options to two or three options.

What I’m always about is, ‘I

can make this decision for you

right now, but here is what I

think, from a consensus standpoint, we agree [that these] are

the logical options that fall in

line with executing our vision.

It’s up to you to decide which

one of those routes to take.’

At the same time, understand

that you’re going to be held

accountable from a revenue

standpoint or from an employee morale standpoint, whatever

road you take. In many ways, I believe, if you can educate your

employees, they will help you

make those decisions, and, quite

frankly, usually they make the

decisions you’d make anyway.

Q. How do you educate your

employees to make those


We’re very numbers-oriented,

so we look at it from a numbers

standpoint. That can be financial numbers, those could be

marketing numbers,

those could be numbers

regarding square footage

of a building.

We always have a way

of saying, ‘OK, let’s say

here’s what the numbers

tell us,’ and we’re a numbers-processed, engineering-type organization in everything we do.

What we then say is, ‘OK,

even though we know

these are what the numbers are, we all know,

even if you are a good

statistician, that about 20

percent of a good statistician is that gut feeling or

the subjective nuances

that you bring into your

final decision-making.’

So, we try to balance it.

Providing people with facts and

figures and then mixing that

with your good, old, ‘OK, this is

what my instincts tell me,’

that’s the best way to have a

powerful mix of information

that allows and empowers our

employees to make the right


Q. How do you react if your

team is married to the data,

but you want to go in another


You have an organization

that, in many ways, you’ve educated to look at the numbers in

their decision-making. Then

what happens is, you have to

come back and you have to sit

them down and coach them

and say, ‘OK, here’s all the numbers. But what, for instance,

would be the impact on that

employee you are talking

about? Or, what would be the

impact — I know we’ve

worked hard on that, I know

we’ve overcommitted the

hours on a project for a client— but what’s the impact? I

understand what the numbers

are, but what’s the long-term


Many times, it’s just coaching

and also educating our employees and senior management

team, that, yes, they have decision-making authority, and yes,

we want them to be aware of

the numbers, but, at the same

time, they have to look beyond

that. There’s a balance between

those two, and we highly

encourage that for them to

make those decisions. Again,

you might have an executive

VP or senior VP from an operating unit, they’re going to follow the numbers, and it may

end up that you lose a client

over it, or you lose a key

employee over that.

I’d rather see somebody

make that type of decision and

see the consequences of the

decision because that is going

to be the best learning tool,

rather than if I am always just

making decisions for people.

Q. How do you handle mistakes?

I’m a big believer that, many

times, you have to fail in order

to succeed because you learn

from your failures. It’s more of

a coaching.

The numbers allow you to

provide analysis. If you have

failed, well, why did you fail?

Let’s look at it from an analytical standpoint first, and then

bring in the empiricals. From a

coaching standpoint, I don’t

mind failure because that

means that employee is trying

and, at the same time, developing that learning curve that

we all have to work on every


HOW TO REACH: FocusMark Group LLC, (513) 583-4660 or