That’s one of the advantages that Bill Frissell and Tom Koly have as co-owners of RAF Automation. Frissell and Koly have been with the Solon-based distributor for a combined 51 years, and their experience has helped lead the 30-employee company to 2006 revenue of $15 million.
Smart Business spoke with Frissell about why it’s important to respect and encourage your employees’ differences.
Q: How do you make a two-owner system work?
Hopefully it keeps you from going off on tangents. Also, anybody can have moments when they are tired or in a bad mood. What’s nice is you learn to shrink within yourself during those times and let the other person steer the ship.
Between the two of us, Tom has more of an engineering background, and I have more of a financial background. So, depending on the type of decision, one of the two of us will take the lead on that decision, or at least throw a different insight toward it. What’s funny is we’ve been working together so long, we can anticipate what the other person is going to say.
We have a lot of confidence in making decisions with the other person’s perspective, even if we haven’t talked to them. It’s almost like a marriage.
Q: How do you create a team culture?
When you have people in similar roles, you have to not say, ‘This is the king, and the rest of you are plebes or paupers.’
You can’t compare everybody to everybody else because people are different and the way they get their jobs done is different. There’s sometimes strength in the fact that they do it differently.
So, if you can help people appreciate how the other people work, versus trying to pit them against each other in a competitive sense, it tends to help the team blend a bit more. Certainly, it would be exciting if the Cavs had five LeBron Jameses, but I’m not sure that team would win, either.
It’s hard for people to relate to how somebody else does it. So if management can help and encourage both people and credit both ways of doing things, then everybody’s happy.
Q: How do you handle problems?
Put the person in a position of answering how the customer must feel, and then role-play that back to them. Say, ‘Because you did this, this is what happened. Could you have anticipated that? Where do we go from here?’
Associate whatever pain it was typically it always costs us money pass that pain along so they can learn from the experience. A boss once laid it out to me, ‘Come to me with solutions, don’t come to me with problems.’ So if I can encourage my employees to come to me with solutions, not problems, then we’re already well ahead on not doing it again.
Q: How do you train and develop employees?
We have a fairly good mix of experienced and new employees. Newer employees that’s somebody with five years’ experience or less they have immediate access with more experienced people. So they see how things are done.
We also have a certain amount of freedom to do things your own way. Of course, you have to defend it if it doesn’t work out, but the fact that you can take a risk gives you the ability to grow on the job, to feel your successes.
Certainly have a training room, and we send people to different parts of the country for training. It’s an investment in people. It’s also an investment in products for engineers to play with, so they’re not just reading about something, it’s a hands-on experience. They’re learning about a new vision camera or robot.
Q: How do you stay ahead of the industry?
By making calls and talking to customers. It would be nice if you could just sit back and play golf three times a week and ask employees what’s happening. That’s not the way it works.
We probably average one to two customers into our facility every day. That helps give us contact. Other than that, we go out and make calls on customers.
One of the good things of having 20-some years’ experience is we’re not afraid to ask customers the difficult questions. What are we doing wrong, what can we do better, how are things changing? All the answers to those questions, whether specific to RAF or specific to how they’ve had to change, give us ideas about what we can do better and allow us to better anticipate what their needs will be.
HOW TO REACH: RAF Automation, (440) 498-8465 or www.raffluidpower.com