Dean Bellone can think of a few reasons why his employees at CompSource Inc. haven’t gotten too down during the recession that began in late 2007. One of the most logical is that he just hasn’t given them time to feel sorry for themselves.
“It may have been their internal attitudes or I just didn’t give them much time to feel the pain,” Bellone says with a chuckle. “One of the things a leader has to do is try to take the bull by the horns and see if we can steer it in the right direction to at least stay afloat.”
It would have been easy for Bellone, founder and president of the computer hardware and software seller, to have gotten down on himself, let alone his people.
“We had the luxury because we were an online company to see how many people are window shopping,” Bellone says. “We would have 400 or 500 people abandon their shopping cart a day. I kept looking at that number and I’d think, ‘Boy, if we could have 10 percent of those people back, we’d actually be having a better year than our prior year.”
CompSource and its 15 employees generated $12 million in sales for 2008. Bellone says the key lesson the window shoppers taught him was that there is business out there to be had. You just have to be in the right position to get it.
“We got more aggressive through the underground or social means,” Bellone says. “Get back to your roots, and really target market your existing customer base and let them know what you do well. Give them the notion that you’re the low-priced leader in your line of business because that’s what they are looking for right now. Use any medium that works.”
You need to get your employees together and pick their brains for ideas about how to get your business going again, whether it’s a product or a service that you’re providing.
“We have a regular meeting every other Monday and I start it by asking, ‘Is there anything good, bad or ugly that you want to talk about?’” Bellone says. “Go to every person and ask the same question. Some days I’ve definitely thought, ‘Why did I ask that?’ But sometimes, it’s really what I needed to hear. I feel like they have more answers than I do most of the time because they are working in the trenches. I may believe a policy we have is working perfectly fine, and I’ll learn from that, that it’s not the case.
“They are the pulse of the company. We’re just a driver. Realistically, we need their input and we have to be honest about what we expect. We have to let them know they are a huge part of the company.”
Sometimes, you have to do a little convincing to get your employees to fully embrace their role in the business.
“If somebody is new or doesn’t want to give that feedback, I’ll make sure they have something to say at the next meeting,” Bellone says.
The key is convincing them that no matter what they say, they aren’t going to hurt your feelings — at least if you truly want an open and honest dialogue to take place.
“There is nothing that is going to hurt my opinion of them,” Bellone says. “I make them feel that this is their organization as much as it’s mine. If they have something to contribute, I want to know about it.”
How to reach: CompSource Inc., (216) 566-7767 or www.compsource.com
When the times turn tough, Robert G. McCreary III says employees naturally look to their leader for reassurance that things are going to be OK.
“That leader has to have confidence in his abilities to govern the company and lead the troops,” says McCreary, founder and chairman of CapitalWorks LLC. “If he doesn’t have the confidence and he doesn’t demonstrate self-confidence, people pick up on that.”
McCreary’s private equity firm has worked with numerous companies over the years through business transactions. He has seen the benefit of getting out in front of a challenge.
“It’s not whether or not you’re going to have the problems, it’s what you do about it,” McCreary says. “The problems are evident to employees anyway. The good leaders set a path of how you’re going to challenge the status quo. Good leaders set the tone for how you’re going to challenge convention.”
Good leaders also avoid dwelling on the negative in communications with their employees. That goes for rumors that may be swirling as well as negative news.
“Dealing with rumors, the more you deal with them, the more you validate them,” McCreary says. “Good managers don’t deal with what competitors are saying about them from the standpoint of morale.”
How to reach: CapitalWorks LLC, (216) 781-3233 or www.capitalworks.net