Crunching the numbers Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Ron DeGrandis is doing what he can to smash the stereotype of the staid, boring accountant.

When he was announced as the new leader of the Ohio region of the accounting, tax and business consulting giant RSM McGladrey, DeGrandis walked to the lectern and immediately donned a crown and a cape. The joke put his new “subjects” at ease and established that their new leader would be approachable.

“You’ve got to be a bit of a showman,” says the executive managing director — Ohio.

His style may be unorthodox, but it works for the four offices and 150 employees he manages in Ohio.

Smart Business spoke with DeGrandis about how to encourage communication with your employees and how to talk to your employees, not at them.

Q. How can a leader improve communication with employees?

Make sure you communicate often, and make sure it’s a two-way thing. You just don’t tell people things; you leave things out there so you can see a reaction. Then you can see if what you’re telling them is accepted and done.

Sometimes it is a follow-up communication. Sometimes if you have to tell somebody something, it can be a visit. But in general, it’s getting the information out to everybody that they themselves participate in making decisions about.

There still tends to be some younger people who are reluctant to come talk to the high dalai lama, irrespective of the fact that I’m pretty approachable. But there is still that fear factor that is hard to overcome with younger people.

You’ve got to go out and talk to them and be in their midst continuously. Then they see that this is a regular guy. You have to go to their desk, sit next to them.

You have to be careful how you do it, obviously, because you can’t talk about too many confidential things. But if you go there and just start a conversation, it gives them the idea that you can be approached.

You have to be passionate about what you do. If you can get the passion across to your people, they understand where you’re coming from.

Q. How do you transfer that passion through the ranks?

It’s going out and talking to everybody. The leader has to act compassionate and have the appropriate traits that people aspire to. Then, you need to make sure they see it as being evident.

When I’m up in front of a group, I am really bad if I am given a script. You have to face the people and interact with them when you are talking to them. When you are talking to people instead of at them, you will make the appropriate impression.

Q. How does that open communication affect your management style?

Some people are dictators. I’m the type of person who likes to have participative approaches to everybody involved, but sometimes you may influence the direction of the group and where you want it to go.

But if they’re all pushing against you, don’t fight it. Get plenty of input and make sure everybody is on the same page. Because it’s much easier to lead a bunch of people if they’re all together; it’s like herding cats. If they’re all together to start with on something, just keep it going.

The key thing is you can’t be afraid to try something to see if it works.

Q. How do you create an environment where employees aren’t afraid to try something new?

Don’t be overly critical of people when they come in and make some suggestions. You want to nurture those kinds of conversations and try to explain why something does or doesn’t make sense.

If it makes sense, praise them and make something of it, so the rest of the group says, ‘Hey, Joe came up with this idea, and it was a really good one.’

You have to give people credit for what they do. More often than not, people come in to my office not because they’re trying to tell me something but to come in and (complain) about something.

One of my rules is you can come in and (complain) to me all you want, but you have to provide a solution. If you come in here with no solution, I don’t want to hear about it. If you’re going to do that, my ears are closed. That tends to help.

There’s an adage in law that every dog is allowed one bite. So I tell people that, because everybody’s allowed to make a mistake. But making the same one again is a no-no.

So take your chances; make a decision. I’ll put people in positions where they have to take a chance and make a decision. The only way you can learn to make decisions is from making them and then making some mistakes.

All of us have made mistakes. But you’ve got to be comfortable to think that you can do it and not feel like you’re going to suffer for it. If you make too many of them, you won’t have to worry about suffering. You won’t be here.

HOW TO REACH: RSM McGladrey Inc., (216) 523-1900 or www.rsmmcgladrey.com