39 best management ideas Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

We’ve all had days where we would rather not open the newspaper, turn on the TV or pick up the phone for the fear of learning about more bad news.

Unfortunately, there have been a lot more of those days for all of us lately.

The stock market is going through extreme ups and downs, capital has dried up, and key customers are cutting back. You start to wonder where the sales are going to come from to enable you to make this quarter’s budget. If things don’t turn around soon, you’ll have to consider drastic cutbacks yourself.

In times like these, what’s a CEO to do? The answer: Get back to basics. Focus on the things you do best and do them as efficiently as you can. Use your strengths to exploit your competitors’ weaknesses and outhustle them.

It’s often the simple things that made you a success in the first place, and it will be the simple things that keep you afloat during the economic storm.

With that in mind, we’ve assembled the best pieces of advice garnered from Cincinnati’s top leaders from throughout the year. We think you’ll find some great ideas to help you improve your business within these pages, and we encourage you to keep this issue as an ongoing reference to help you find your way through the trying times that lie ahead.

Establish a clear set of values

Simon Hay, CEO, dunnhumbyUSA

Simon Hay’s key to a successful culture includes establishing a core set of values. Creating these values and making them an integral part of the culture shapes the way employees work and interact each day and also helps them better understand the company and its culture.

“Values tend to get overlooked,” the CEO of dunnhumbyUSA says. “So find out what are the things that differentiate you, describe what’s important to you and your employees, and what they can act upon.”

Talk with employees and clients about what they see in you. Hay, who was featured in the June edition of Smart Business, got feedback from external partners, clients and employees to determine the company’s values. He says getting feedback from others was the best way to find out what made dunnhumby, a relevance marketing company, different from others.

Once you have that information, summarize it into the few things that define your company and are believable, realistic and truthful.

“If your employees look at your values and go, ‘I’ve never seen that here,’ obviously there’s no connection between your aspiration and reality,” Hay says. “Values have to be recognizable and inspirational, something that people believe and are important to the organization.”

The values also need to be simple and relevant for employees to understand them.

“Sometimes, there is a tendency to list 10 or 12 things, but if you don’t distill them down, how are people going to remember them well enough to act on them?” Hay says.

Once you have the values in place, you need to communicate them so your employees understand them and live them each day.

Regardless of how you try to integrate your values into your culture, be consistent.

“Values are something we talk about every day, they’re not rolled out for the annual business presentation and put away in a cupboard for the rest of the year,” Hay says. “You’ve got to continually highlight great examples of people living those values, reward those people, and consistently communicate (those values) so that they absolutely, 100 percent become embedded in everyone’s daily thoughts and actions.”

Get to know your organization

Bryan C. Dunn, president, W&S Agency GroupWhen you’re dealing with change in your company, it’s important to understand its history and culture. You can do this by analyzing the different areas of your company and speaking to employees.

“There needs to be a clear analysis and understanding, looking at the financial numbers and metrics, doing interviews so that you understand what people think and believe, and doing a check as to how they align with what the organization is supposed to be doing,” says Bryan Dunn of W&S Agency Group.

When Dunn became the company’s president in 2004, he spent time speaking with employees from all levels of the organization.

“You’re not talking about an exhaustive time effort, but you interact, sit down and talk with people who are doing the work,” he says of the company, a business unit of financial service company Western & Southern Financial Group.

Ask employees what the company strategy is and how they feel that they contribute to it. Find pieces of information that are consistent from one employee to another that give you an idea of things that need to be changed first.

“During a change process, people have to see early successes,” says Dunn, who was featured in the February edition of Smart Business. “A lot of times, people will tell you what needs to be changed. If you can enable those things, you start to gain that buyin and emotional commitment to the future.”

Not all recommendations can be made, but analyze and determine which ones will be the best to move the company forward.

“You apply their changes against what the strategy is going to be and their recommendations as well as the numbers against the value proposition that is going to give you that strategy,” Dunn says. “If you see that change enabling that value proposition or strategy, then you put more work in that area.”

Talking the talk

Ken Jones, general manager, Turner Construction Co., Cincinnati division

Keeping open communication with your employees and customers is important. But it’s also important for employees to openly communicate not just with management but also with each other, so they know they can turn to colleagues when a problem arises or to gain new insight on work.

At Turner Construction Co.’s Cincinnati division, General Manager Ken Jones has developed a way to connect his 200 employees together. Jones and Mark Terhar, the company’s operations manager, conduct round-table discussions once or twice a week during lunch with about 10 employees from all different levels. The sessions started about three years ago for new employees but grew from there and are now used to help Jones feel the pulse of the organization and get new ideas from employees.

“Now, we depend on these round tables to inform us about a host of items, including productivity ideas, morale, the market and anything else they want to talk about,” he says. “I look up to the people who work for me. And I try hard not to lose sight of that.”

To make these types of sessions effective, you need to create a comfort level where employees feel free to say anything and build that trust so they know they won’t be punished for bringing information forth. Jones says he loves when employees share rumors, because he’s able to explain the factual ones and dismiss the fictional ones.

“If there’s a rumor, more often than that they already know the answer ... sometimes they may just be testing to see how we answer a question, and the more honest we can answer the question, that develops the trust with them,” Jones says. “If they already know the answer and we answer wrong, they’ll call us on it.”

Once employees start sharing the information, you need to listen more than talk.

“As Mark and I conducted more and more of these, we learned that if we shut up and just listen, we can learn as much as they can,” Jones says.

After you hear those ideas, you cannot let employees just sit and wait — you need to follow up with them. Jones says every idea that you actually follow up on gives you more credibility as a leader and lets employees know you are listening to them.

He follows up directly with the person, but sometimes it comes through a note or e-mail. Direct contact with the individual has a bigger impact rather than sending out a mass e-mail.

People are an important asset to any business, and getting them to interact together makes better employees.

“The more comfortable the staff feels with us, feels with me, feels comfortable walking in my office, and sharing a concern or an issue or bringing an idea, then we will be leveraging the organization better,” Jones says.

Hire the right people

Christopher Cole, CEO, Intelligrated Inc.

Getting the right people is always key for any business to succeed, but Christopher Cole, CEO of Intelligrated Inc., says employee referrals are a good way to find new employees.

“People don’t want to recommend people to come to work in their company unless they believe they’re going to fit in and be good,” Cole says. “The best source of finding people is our own people. The person they’re bringing in, because they know someone inside, it’s easier for them to have a mentor to get a faster start.”

He says you’re not always perfect with hiring, but it’s easy to spot problems, mainly through reference checks. But sometimes employees just don’t fit in at the company.

“You think every time you hire someone that it may take an adjustment time, and that they’re going to work out,” Cole says.

He says it’s better to let someone go sooner than later, but it’s natural to want to give someone time to succeed. If someone is not performing, you need to step in to see if you can change their job or find a different job for them that will make them successful.

“When you have an employee performance problem, the natural tendency is to hope it will get better,” he says. “It doesn’t get better until you confront it. Do it in a nonemotional, factual way, and then work to improve the performance. If it still does-n’t happen, then help that person find a different career where they can succeed.”