Knocking down walls Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

John Tomsich has an advantage over you.

Tomsich, president of NESCO Resource, spends every day considering new ways to get in better graces with his 200 full-time employees to create a bond with them at his staffing solutions firm.

“I do think today that the only competitive advantage that businesses have left is the quality of the people and how they feel when they get up in the morning and they go into the office,” Tomsich says. “How do they feel about the company? Are they excited? Are they motivated? Do they love where they’re at? So you have to spend that time focusing on those issues, making the environment people work in great.”

In so doing, he has built a company culture where his employees don’t see his title as much as they see his efforts. And therein lies the company’s advantage, as employees feel enthused to perform.

Smart Business spoke with Tomsich about how to hire to fit that culture you’ve built and how breaking down barriers can turn a B-plus employee into an A performer.

Get out and break down barriers. I’m surprised that ‘president’ — the title — that sometimes people have a certain expectation of what you’re going to be like and how they’re supposed to talk to you. And that’s why you have to get face to face with people to break down those barriers.

Even in this world where that word ‘virtual’ is used so many times, I believe people want face-to-face visibility from their leadership. To my VPs and my leadership, that’s what I tell them: Be visible leaders. You can’t manage from behind a desk; you can’t manage through e-mail.

I spend time asking people about their lives and their families and then trying to make the connection. I have two kids — we talk about their kids and what age they are. You make little, simple, personal connections to make yourself a real person.

Listen more than you talk. Some people think that, as president, you have to have all the answers. And I think it’s OK to say to your people, ‘Listen, I don’t know how to solve this problem; what do you think?’ Then they see you as a real person, and that you really care about them as an individual. Plus, then you can get so much information.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but, if you can parade the success stories [of those who do speak up], it really does start to have an effect, where people are, say, C-plus performers, they’re pushing to be a B. Or the B-plus are pushing to be an A.

Think about ways you can personalize things. It’s the little things you do today. Writing notes to your employees — we write to every employee on their anniversary of being with the company, thanking them for their dedication.

Their birthday, we write them a handwritten note. In an electronic world, it stands out when you take the time to write somebody a handwritten note. And that doesn’t cost you anything, and you’d be surprised how appreciative people are when they get that handwritten note from me saying, ‘Thanks, you did a good job.’

And it’s maybe kind of old-fashioned, but I think it works.

Share the details to create transparency. Another thing we’ve done in that performance culture is, every quarter, we give every employee their P&L, which is their cost — salary, benefits, taxes, the commissions we’ve paid them — against the revenue that they generated.

Employees sometimes don’t understand, for example, medical benefits. How much those really do cost. There are taxes that we pay that they’re not aware we pay. We’re willing to set up a compensation program — a commission program — where they will be rewarded. But it also comes with, they’re going to have to put the effort in, the work in, to get that reward.

And it’s clear. It’s simple. You can see it every month. It’s not a complicated formula. For example, a new business, we would pay a salesperson 10 percent of the gross profit.

That was not my instinct at first, to share all this information, but over time, I learned that was the best thing to do.

I’ve seen some compensation programs that are very complicated. I don’t think you build trust with your employees doing it that way, because they always think maybe the commission formula’s being manipulated.

Keep your culture by hiring people who fit. We look for people who are more hunters than gatherers, we look for people who are competitive, people who have good communications skills, and then we interview.

We interview them many, many times before we make a decision. So they may go through five or six interviews before we make that decision.

You look for things in people’s background. Were they on a competitive team in high school, college? Did they help contribute financially to their college? Did they work during college?

Another technique we also like to do is, before we’ve actually hired the person, they will travel and spend a day with one of our salespeople — somebody they’ve interviewed with — or sales managers actually in the field selling.

And see what it is like, a day in the life, so to speak. So I think people who maybe aren’t well-suited for that kind of a position would experience that, and they may back away from the position just because they don’t feel comfortable doing that day to day.

HOW TO REACH: NESCO Resource, (440) 461-6000 or www.nescoresource.com