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Thought leadership Featured

12:28pm EDT May 23, 2005
Mirifex Systems' Bill Nemeth describes his management style with this anecdote: A field consultant called, complaining that the employee who handles billing was pestering him about turning in his time sheet.

"I said, 'Why are you calling me?' He said, 'You're the boss.' And I said, 'Not of that.'

He said, 'But she's hassling me,' and I said, 'That's her job.'" "(The consultant) said, 'But you've got to stop her,' and I said, 'I'm not stopping anything. Everybody here fills out a time sheet. If I don't do mine on time, she comes and beats on me. If you want to sit down with her, I'll sit with you, and we can discuss it all, but whatever she says, goes.'"

Nemeth is president and CEO of the Strongsville-based business and technology consulting firm but "that doesn't mean I'm in charge of everything. I'm here as a support organization. You're just as likely to see me making coffee and sweeping the sidewalk out front as anybody else. But that's also the difference: Anybody will do that here."

Smart Business spoke with Nemeth about leadership, growth and innovation.

How do you define thought leadership?

Thought leadership is not necessarily taking the same path as everybody else or looking at things in a traditional way. There are a lot of things that you can transfer from one industry to the next. The problems that a financial institution or health care institution may be running into now, the automotive industry ran into 15 years ago.

There's a lot to be said for taking people from different disciplines and having them be creative in new areas. Thought leadership comes down to getting smart people to think in new ways and applying knowledge they've gained across the years and across industries to new problems.

How do you foster innovative thinking among your employees?

Cattle prods. (laughs) Sorry. ... It's cultural here. If you're around me and the leadership team enough, you'll learn not to rely on what you knew. There's always a different, better way. Don't do something just because you've always done it that way in the past; that doesn't mean it's right.

Everybody here is challenged over and over again because we're not a hierarchical organization, we're a merit-based organization. Any work product is open for challenge by anybody here, so you get a lot of collaboration, peer pressure almost, to let's see if we can do it better.

We bring people in as part of the team who have that proclivity ... but then give them the opportunity to be creative. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations may say they want it, but they want it within a box -- we want you to be creative within these bounds.

Well, that's not being creative. We'd rather take the bounds off and say, 'Let's figure out the best way to do this.'

We try to get people with a variety of expertise ... who can come together and say, 'It might be better if we did it this way. Here's my scar I got the last time I tried it that way.' The teams we bring together are made up of people with diverse backgrounds who have been through multiple specialties. I don't think we have one person here who only does one thing well.

What techniques do you use to manage growth?

A Ouija board. (laughs) Techniques? That may be giving myself too much credit. We're also a responsibility-based organization.

If you've got something to take care of, whether it's a project or putting stamps on envelopes or running a practice with 100 people in it, it's yours. You're not going to be second-guessed. You're not going to be lorded over, and there is no backseat driving or meddlesome detail-oriented micromanagement. Everybody's expected to do the right thing, pull their own weight and be responsible.

(A key to growth management is) hiring people who are self-motivated, can manage their own work, can collaborate with other people and know enough to raise their hand and say, 'Hey, I need help.'

We try to take advantage of the systems that we espouse, rather than creating a pyramid-based bureaucracy. Everybody's fully accessible, and initiative rules. Empowerment is probably the biggest way we get things done. We do all those typical things, but it's more work ethic and cultural than it is spreadsheets and methodologies.

What is the next big wave in business technology?

The true adoption of wireless, and I'm not just saying that to be self-serving. The penetration, the use and the potential of wireless information technology and wireless handheld-type platforms is in its infancy, and it'll give true location independence. It won't matter where you do your job.

The other wave I see is being driven by my generation and younger who (understand) computers, the Internet and what it can do, and aren't willing to be denied capability, which is going to force the smaller and mid-market companies, both from a competitive standpoint -- because now you're competing with China and everybody no matter where you are -- that they're going to have to use information technology as a weapon, as an advantage.

You're not going to be able to snow (the younger generation) with 'Oh, we can't get to that' or 'That's too tough.' Those people are going to (move) information technology departments outside of their organization. They're going to rely on the experts. You're going to see more people utilizing a salesforce.com-type of architecture, where it's an application service provider or a hosted application.

They're not going to rely on an in-house technology staff; they're just going to buy it when they need it. You're going to see outsourcing at a smaller level because it's going to be necessary to compete.

What technology can companies use to increase productivity?

That's the fallacy that people have fallen into: They look at technology first, instead of business first. Look at your business problems and then figure out if there is an application for technology.

The problem with looking at technology first is, we produce more crap, faster, instead of the right stuff. So if you start with, 'How do we make the right stuff?' you end up not wasting money. It's a different mindset.

The industry as a whole has slowed down in growth. People don't crave the next, biggest, greatest. There is no giant earth-shattering thing coming along I've seen that's going to demand a wholesale change in technology. (Analyzing business issues first) appeals to the businessperson because you're not telling them, 'You've got to get it because it's newer, shinier, faster.' You're trying to work with them to make their life better.

HOW TO REACH:

Mirifex Systems, (440) 891-1210 or www.mirifex.com