Pamela J. Neckar was concerned. Bostwick Design Partnership had gone from two partners to five in the relatively short period of two years, and Neckar was unsure how everyone would mesh.
“We’ve got five different personalities,” says Neckar, director of finance and human resources at the 38-employee design firm. “How do we mesh? How do we make sure we are sending a consistent message? When you have a change in leadership, you have to figure out how everybody is going to work together.”
Neckar’s solution was to develop a leadership training program that would get everyone in the firm, from top to bottom, aligned to a consistent way of doing things. When managed effectively, a training program can provide leaders with a better sense of how to reach their employees.
“What makes leaders successful in our industry is being able to have an open environment where staff can freely give out their ideas,” Neckar says. “The best products that we create involve awesome creativity and participation from everybody. The only way we can do that is if our leaders understand how to communicate and how to engage the staff.
“A leader needs to realize that leadership is not just about them, it’s about the process. It’s about getting the mission to everybody in the organization to understand and buy in to the mission.”
To get the most out of the training effort and generate that enthusiasm and fruitful dialogue, it’s best to hold sessions outside of the normal workday.
“You have to focus on leadership when you’re not distracted,” Neckar says. “We do it at the end of the day, and everybody knows it will last until 8.”
Neckar leads the program instead of having them conducted by an outsider, who would only be able to meet with employees during the leadership sessions.
“It’s something we think about every day,” Neckar says. “Everybody feels vested. The way we have built that ownership is because it’s something I’m running. We don’t have someone come in from the outside once a month and say, ‘Let’s talk about leadership.’”
To be effective, you have to make sure that the substance of the meetings is relevant both to employees and to their day-to-day jobs.
“Everybody at the table needs to see how it fits in to their everyday work or the program will lose credibility,” Neckar says. “Nobody will want to participate and conversations will not be open.”
Get employees and managers together, and they can each learn what the other is looking for.
“One of the biggest challenges for a leader is to make sure their resources are aligned,” Neckar says. “When you have your resources aligned, you have people on a particular project performing a particular role that really gets them excited about coming to work every day. Once you know what makes them tick, it will be easy for them to come to you, and you’ll be able to have an open dialogue.”
Bostwick uses project teams but keeps them in a transitional state so that people can work with different leaders and see which style fits them best. The leadership sessions represent a great opportunity to compare notes and see how other people within the firm do things.
“The idea is to build consistency with each project manager,” Neckar says. “When we find something that works, we run with it.”
Success is defined when you can see your people collaborating on work and discussing projects with each other.
“We don’t want engineers doing one thing and our architects doing another and our contractors doing another,” Neckar says. “We want to be together. When you see your leadership team helping each other, that’s success.”
Leaving the zone
It’s a simple enough statement, but it can make a world of difference in an employee leery of trying something new, says Pamela J. Neckar.
“The first thing you need to do is tell them you believe in them,” says Neckar, director of finance and human resources at Bostwick Design Partnership. “Tell them, ‘I’ve seen your work, and I believe in you.’ They will then start to believe in themselves.”
You also need to be a proactive leader if you want to get the most out of your people.
“When you own what goes on in your work life, people will feel comfortable,” Neckar says. “But you have to initiate. You need to say, ‘You know what, I believe you can do this. I’m here to help you. Let’s do this together.’”
When you take that step, however, you have to stay by their side and provide the help they need.
“You can’t put somebody out of their comfort zone and then walk away,” Neckar says. “Reassure them in a proactive way. Tell them you believe in them and you will be there for them.”
HOW TO REACH: Bostwick Design Partnership, (216) 621-7900 or www.bostwickdesign.comPamela J. Neckar, Bostwick Design Partnership