David Chilcote Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007
Over the last few years, The Chilcote Co. has grown to just under $51 million in revenue, and President David Chilcote says if that were goingto continue, he needed to make some changes. He and his management team made every location’s computer systems uniform andupgraded software to get more customer and sales data, allowing them to quickly make informed decisions for the company’s brands,primarily products in the professional photography field. It hasn’t been an easy process, requiring a lot of communication with employeesand empowering them to be actively involved in the changes. Smart Business spoke with Chilcote about how viewing his staff on a bell-shaped curve helps him get employee get buy-in.

Close the communication loop. The key isbeing visible and active communication.We try to get to all the locations on a regular basis and stay in touch. A lot of strategies and policies and communicationemanate here from Cleveland, and it’simportant to have others in other geographic locations feel a part of the organization. And one of the easy ways is bybeing present physically in the other locations.

If I go down to Kentucky and don’t payattention to our service people in Kentuckywho are out on the phone every day withcustomers, then I’m doing them a disservice, and I’m doing our customers a disservice.

Obviously you can’t be everything toeveryone. It starts with communication.Then the next step is trying to assess aprocess or a product and then closing theloop in terms of giving feedback to the people that open the communication initially,so they feel comfortable continuing to beopen with their communication.

They may not like the result. They mayhave a customer who has a need for a specific product and wants this product in ourline ... but if we don’t really see an overwhelming need for a particular product,then we have to close the loop and go backto the customer service representative andthe customer and say, ‘We appreciate thefeedback, but it’s not something we feel wecan do cost-effectively at this time basedon our research. We’ll keep it in the queue.’

The point is, communication is a two-waystreet, and it’s important to close the loop.Don’t just let communication hang outthere without a response, or it will dry up.

Use the best to get buy-in. You need to prepare people [for change]. That’s an ongoingcommunication effort. A lot of our communication methodology stems from being anESOP company.

Back in the early days, we put our ESOPin place, and were having some troubles inhaving people grasping the concept andtaking responsibility for their jobs andfutures. I won’t claim authorship for this —this person told me you have to view your people as a bell-shaped curve.

On the leading edge of that curve, youhave people that get it — they understandwhat ESOP is all about, and they understand how important it is to do their jobseffectively and what it ultimately means tothem for the company to be successful andwhat it means to their individual successlong-term. Then you’ve got the top of thecurve, and you’ve got all these people thatare trying to understand it and trying to dotheir jobs and not completely sure what it’sall about and what it all means.

Then at the trailing end of the curve. Youget the people that don’t get it, refuse to getit and don’t want to get it. It’s just their personality and their makeup.

Ultimately, people who don’t get it anddon’t want to get it, you need to politelysuggest that those people find otheremployment where they might be happier.More critical than that, don’t spend anytime on that trailing end of the bell-curve interms of trying to convince those people.

Spend the bulk of your time, energy andeffort on the leading edge of the curve.Enable them to become ambassadors andto pull that whole curve forward. All thosepeople at the top of the bell-curve, they seethe time, energy and effort that’s beingexpended on those leaders in the organization that get it, and naturally, it makes themwant to move forward in the curve to getsome time, energy and attention.

To the extent that you spend all yourtime, energy and attention on that trailingedge of the curve, the people at the top ofthe curve say, ‘Hey, look at all the attentionthese people are getting, maybe I need togo backward and fall backward in order toget time, energy and attention,’ and obviously that’s not the direction we want totake the organization. We want to take theorganization forward.

Empower the best people. Listen to them andget them involved in a lot of differentaspects of the organization — be it education efforts, if they have product ideas, ifthey’ve got equipment ideas — you getthem involved in committees to help evaluate and study the viability of a new piece ofequipment or a new product.

Empower them to make decisions thatthey think are in the best interest of theorganization and in the best interest ofthem in terms of doing their jobs or managing their particular department, branchor division.

Give them the reigns and say, ‘OK, youfeel strongly about this. I’ll support you.Let’s go ahead and buy this piece of equipment, and let’s make it work.’

If it doesn’t work, don’t chastise somebody for making a decision. Chalk it up toexperience, and try to understand whatcaused it not to work and how can weimprove on that the next time.

The last thing I ever want to do is to criticize somebody for making a decision andtrying to implement that decision becausethey are embracing change and trying tofurther the organization for the better.We’ve made plenty of decisions thathaven’t worked out, and we’ll do so in thefuture.

Hopefully, each time we make a wrongdecision, we’ll learn from it and be able toapply what we learn the next time we gothrough the process.

HOW TO REACH: The Chilcote Co., (216) 781-6000 or www.chilcotecompany.com