“As a sales rep, you can sort of get into a rut or the same routine and get to your wit’s end, in some cases, in trying to reach people,” says Michael Pace, vice president of Americas direct sales for Infor Global Solutions, a $1.8 billion business software and services provider.
Because of this, Infor is always looking for ways to improve. Enter Vorsight, a Virginia-based company that specializes in sales training and meeting scheduling. Some members of the Vorsight team came in and worked with Infor about utilizing different sales techniques.
Pace says one of the first keys for your sales force to improve their approach is to use Web tools, such as Hoover’s, LinkedIn and the prospective company’s website, to do more research and understand that organization better. It sounds simple, but it goes far.
One of the other keys Infor learned about was learning how to leave better voice mails that would generate interest on the recipient’s end in returning the call. About half the calls Infor’s team makes end up in voicemail, so this is critical.
“When you leave a message, make sure they understand you know who they are and what their business is,” says Tim Young, regional vice president, distribution sales for Infor. “Try to relate something that might be of benefit.”
For example, your salesperson could say something like, “X company is a customer, and they’ve really benefited from our product. I see that you’re similar to X company, so this might also really help your company, and I’d like to set up a meeting to talk about it.” This approach shows a genuine care for the prospective company.
Additionally, Chris Huard, regional vice president, channels distribution sales for Infor, says your sales team has to be very strategic in how they leave their messages.
“Each time you’re leaving it, don’t overload them,” Huard says. “Make it short and sweet. Leave our number once at the beginning, and leave it again at the end. Speak clearly and slowly. Each time we leave a message, leave a piece of value with that customer to make them want to call back.”
Another key is to make sure your team doesn’t stop at just leaving a voice mail. Take it a step further.
“A lot of people leave voice messages, and some people leave e-mails, but statistically, they’ve proven that a combination of e-mail and a voice mail are three times more effective in getting a response,” Young says.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get people who are set on their approach to try new techniques, so part of the training consisted of Vorsight and Infor people making calls right there in the training to put these techniques in action. Huard says seeing the training team making these calls using these techniques and having success — right there in front of everyone was a huge buy-in booster. That buy-in is critical, so showing people how it can help them will help them personalize what it will mean for their success.
“If you have sales people who are motivated by money, and if they use a successful sales technique, they’re going to get more at-bats and be more successful at bat and hopefully hit more homeruns,” Young says.
As a result of the training and trying new sales techniques, Pace sees a clear difference.
“At a high level, we’re much more efficient in reaching the people that we want to reach,” Pace says. … “We’re more efficient at doing that, we’re more creative, and I think our pipelines are more accurate and cleaner because we are able to deal at the executive levels, at the decision-maker levels because we’re having conversations with the team, and the deals we’re working are more real.”
Infor used Virginia-based Vorsight, a meeting scheduling and sales training company, to help it improve its approach to sales. Steve Richard is the co-founder of Vorsight, and he says one of the biggest tools you can have your sales team use is the switch-board operators at the companies you’re calling on.
“Most people approach the switchboard the wrong way,” he says. “When they call the switchboard, they either identify themselves, or they start trying to get transferred through to the right person instead of getting the information from the switchboard first.”
For example, in some cases, you may be trying to reach the CFO, and you may know who the CFO is, but perhaps you don’t know who the CFO’s assistant is or what his or her e-mail address or direct phone number is.
“Getting that simple information first, and then by calling into that direct dial number, you have a much higher probability of getting that person on the phone,” he says.
He says that clients tend to see better results when taking this approach.
“They were finding that the connection rates were much higher, and they were able to engage these people in discussions that were qualified appointments, and, in turn, qualified opportunities,” Richard says.
Jim McCarthy was frustrated. He worked hard to hide the fact that his employees at Goldstar Events Inc. were one of the biggest reasons for his frustration. They just didn’t get it.
They were worried that a sudden surge in the number of competitors offering half-price tickets to live events was going to be too much for Goldstar to handle.
“Our employees and other people started thinking, ‘Are we going to be overwhelmed? Are we going to be ignored because of this massive wave of discounting everywhere?’” says McCarthy, co-founder and CEO at the 50-employee company. “I’ll confess it was mildly annoying to me that my employees just didn’t get it.”
What they didn’t seem to understand is that Goldstar had gotten pretty good at what it did and was well-positioned to deal with some competition.
“I realized I wasn’t doing enough to help them understand the picture,” McCarthy says. “My approach to that and the approach of our management team as a whole was to really center people back on a couple of things.”
McCarthy reminded his employees of the attributes that made Goldstar great and encouraged them to quit worrying about what other companies were doing.
“What I made very clear to people is, ‘Don’t be focused on the success or failure of other companies,’” McCarthy says. “It doesn’t help us for other companies to fail and it doesn’t hurt us if they succeed, unless we don’t do a good job. … You hear about the seven deadly sins. When you see a company growing like crazy and getting popular overnight and that kind of thing, one tends to be a little envious of that. But there is a reason why envy is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s not good, and it’s not helpful.”
McCarthy decided he needed to step up his game and unleash a barrage of communication through multiple mediums to convince his employees that as long as they continued to work hard, there was no reason to fear the competition.
“If you feel your communication is adequate or sufficient, you’re almost certainly undercommunicating,” McCarthy says. “I felt like if I was being a nuisance, it was probably just enough. Here’s what we represent, here’s why it’s good, here’s why it’s unique in the marketplace, and here’s why the success of others doesn’t necessarily make a difference to us one way or the other.”
Overcommunicating doesn’t just mean repeating the same message over and over again. Then you’re a nuisance that serves no purpose but to annoy your people.
“You have to show, not tell,” McCarthy says. “Don’t tell me we need to be distinct and stand on our own values. Show me an example of something we do that nobody else does. Show me that the feedback system we have on our events is unique. Show me that nobody has the ability to get as many venues on one site. If your strategy is coherent, you should be able to tie it all back to the same core ideas.”
Alignment is critical to getting employees to buy in to your message.
“If we’re saying our venue relationships are a critical part of our strategic success, but the group is understaffed and undertrained, the message is really hollow,” McCarthy says. “The objectives of the organization and the work that people are doing on a daily basis, it has to line up with what you’re telling them is important. If the things they’re being asked to do in their work don’t match up with it, it doesn’t work.”
Two years later, McCarthy’s strategic overcommunication onslaught has paid off and helped employees get their mojo back.
“Our growth has sped up and the organization is stronger than it’s ever been,” McCarthy says. “Now they get it.”
How to reach: Goldstar Events Inc., www.goldstar.com
Find your greatness
When an employee brings you a genuine concern, you need to resist the urge to blame that person or anyone else for the problem. It’s a lesson Jim McCarthy learned as he fielded employee worries about how competition might hurt business at Goldstar Events Inc.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that it was a me problem and not a them problem,” says McCarthy, the 50-employee company’s co-founder and CEO.
“It’s like when you take your kid to the ice cream place and they sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ The employees have probably sung ‘Happy Birthday’ 50 times that day. But to your kid, it’s the one and only time. It’s very important if you’re in the ‘Happy Birthday’ chorus, that you sing it like it’s the first time. I try very hard that if someone asks me a question, I’m giving the information as though it were the first time I’m delivering it with that kind of thoroughness.”
As much as you may embrace the glory when you make a wise decision, you also need to embrace and respond to your own imperfections when you make a mistake.
“I wasn’t frustrated from the sense that I was annoyed that they were asking questions,” McCarthy says. “It just took me a little while to recognize that what I had was a management problem of my own.”
James Young identified a company that was successful but tired when he arrived as president at Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp. more than seven years ago.
“The business was actually very successful and profitable,” Young says of the family-owned tree and lawn care company. “But the first-generation energy and appetite had brought it to a point where they had achieved their success and ultimately had exhausted themselves to get the business there.”
Young needed to find a way to re-energize the business, which has 75 independent franchise owners and does business in 27 states. His goal was to do it without destroying the cultural foundation that had been nurtured so meticulously by the founding family over the years.
At the same time, these changes would need to be purposeful and bring real value to the business.
“If it’s not going to move the corporation forward, why are we doing it?” Young says. “Because it’s a better way to do it? Well, that’s probably going to be met with the most resistance.”
When considering change, you need to identify areas where that change will make a visible and positive difference in the organization. You then need to illustrate those differences and demonstrate why they are good for both the business and the employees themselves.
“It’s easy for the new guy to say, ‘We can be a $100 million organization, and we can do it in the next 10 years,’” Young says. “I have to figure out how to grow their business and put money in their pocket and any change I want is going to occur much easier.”
Young quickly identified consumer marketing as the area of greatest need. Spring-Green was still doing most of its marketing by telephone and Young decided it was time to incorporate some new technology into the mix.
“What I saw was a very dismal future for growing our organization with the current marketing methods,” Young says. “We had to really change our thinking in how we were going to acquire customers and we needed to not skip a beat. We needed to become great right out of the gate.”
Young wanted to use technology to stay in touch with consumers and more quickly advise them of new products and services to drive both satisfaction and revenue for Spring-Green.
“The difficulty in any business is staying in tune with all these up-and-coming changes and trying to be receptive to them,” Young says. “We wanted to have an integrated approach to become more effective and efficient with what we did.”
One of the keys to making sweeping changes is the inclusion of your people who are out in the field interacting with your customers. Don’t let them feel as though they aren’t vital to the success of your plan.
“Everybody needs to be included,” Young says. “You need to find relevancy and meaning for all your people, regardless of the company’s changes. You can go out and champion it, but it needs to be echoed through all the channels.”
Keep those channels open so that your people feel part of the change but also comfortable offering their input about what’s happening with the business. When you’re taking over a business that has a great deal of history and still has involvement from the founders, you need to keep them apprised of what you’re doing too.
“Make sure your core values align,” Young says. “I was fortunate to come in and say, ‘You’ve got this great core structure, but what it needs is some new energy and an updated vision of where it can go and maybe some updated thinking when it comes to marketing and technology.’”
Of course, success is ultimately the best way to earn support, whether it’s a founder you work for, your board or one of your franchisees. Spring-Green’s revenue grew from $32 million in 2009 to $34.2 million in 2010 and a projected $36.5 million in 2011.
“The statement I’ve made publicly is lead a franchise owner to profitability and their trust will follow,” Young says.
How to reach: Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., (800) 777-8608 or www.spring-green.com
Set the ground rules
When James Young arrived as president of Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., he wanted to know the ground rules for what he could and couldn’t do in leading the business. He didn’t have a board to report to, but he did need to work with the family that had launched the business back in 1977 and built it into a success.
“Define your authority,” Young says, identifying the first key to success in this situation. “Is there anything you don’t have authority to do? That’s pretty much for any executive leader. Is there anything I don’t have the authority to do? What are the things the founder or ownership would like to have influence on?
“What are the areas of the business they want to have some influence on? If you have that, you can develop a communication style and a working relationship under that context. Without that, it’s hit and miss and you’re learning as you go.”
Young was able to build a positive working relationship with the company founders, and it has resulted in success for the business. Revenue is up more than 70 percent since 2004.
“It took us several meetings to establish what those boundaries were going to be,” Young says. “Looking back now seven years ago, it was probably some of the best conversations we ever had.”
When Lynn Jurich and Edward Fenster co-founded SunRun Inc., they started out making all the decisions about the company themselves. However, when SunRun doubled in size in a matter of years, they quickly realized it was time to pass off some of those decisions to others.
“You really want to find that balance between providing a real, single and unified vision for the company but also giving enough decision-making push down and control down at the lower levels of the organization where people are really making the day-to-day decisions,” says Jurich, president of SunRun.
The “highly aligned, loosely coupled” culture Jurich and Fenster implemented at SunRun has been popularized by high-profile companies such as Netflix Inc. It is characterized by using strong top-down alignment to allow more freedom in employee decision-making.
“What it means is that everybody is very clear on what the big strategic goals are,” Jurich says. “They don’t have to be micromanaged. They don’t have to go check in with eight other different people. They don’t have to hold a staff meeting to make a decision. They can just feel empowered that, ‘OK, I know what the right decision is for the company, so I’m just going for it.’”
A major component of the approach is communication. While SunRun employs around 100 people, its sales force consists of hundreds more nationwide. To create strong alignment, Jurich estimates she spends 75 percent of her time communicating with her team to help articulate the vision and remove obstacles to employee success.
“That’s in weekly one-on-ones with people,” she says. “That’s in quarterly meetings. That’s in having really clear goals, division by division, that are communicative, that are written, that people can find easily just on their desktop. Then what that enables is for you to have a really loosely coupled decision-making process. Because everybody knows what the high-level corporate goals are, it’s easy for people to make decisions in their daily lives that are consistent with that.”
By maintaining strong alignment and communication on goals, Jurich is also able to make important decisions without always relying on consensus of the group.
“Sometimes there have to be decisions that get made, and when you’ve earned people’s respect, I think people prefer — at the least the feedback I’ve gotten is — people prefer operating in that type of an environment,” Jurich says. “Things can move fairly quickly because there’s somebody who is not afraid to make a decision to get us going, but everyone knows that their view and their viewpoint is going to be really heard, thought out and that we’re not making a decision with any sort of arbitrariness.”
It’s about never becoming a micromanagement, bureaucratic type of organization but cultivating trust by giving people more freedom, which keeps SunRun nimble and fast moving. Under Jurich’s leadership, the company is growing 500 percent per year and has expanded its offerings to eight states.
“In a lot of organizations where you have to set things up, where there are a lot of cross-departmental buy-in meetings, keeping people in agreement becomes really important,” she says. “And it kind of turns a little bit dangerous and inefficient. Whereas if people really trust each other and they’re clear on what the goals are, it gives individuals and smaller groups of people within the organization the ability to just be creative, move quickly and actually get things done. That’s how you stay innovative. When everything is you have to get internal buy-in and there are all these consensus-driven kinds of meetings, you lose the individual kind of spirit to really run with an idea.”
HOW TO REACH: SunRun Inc., (415) 982-9000 or www.sunrunhome.com
Consult and decide
As a leader, it’s important to have a leadership style that reflects the culture you want in your company.
“You have to adapt yourself over time to the needs of the organization,” says Lynn Jurich, president of SunRun Inc.
Jurich has adopted a “consult and decide” style, which allows her to make decisions inclusively yet independently and within the framework of SunRun’s highly aligned, loosely coupled culture.
“I would say it’s different for every decision,” she says. “I really like to go to the people who are on the ground, the people who are really seeing the day-to-day information from the customer, from the partner. … If you have the alignment that we are going for, they typically can give you the right decision.”
Furthermore, when people feel they’ve been heard and there’s been a rational decision-making process carried out, they are also more inclined to support a decision even when they don’t agree with it.
“It’s that ability to have the real strategic foundation and not be afraid to share that and make tough decisions,” she says. “People want to see that out of the leader. They want to see somebody who is going to make the tough calls and who really has an authentic basis to make those decisions.”
Mike Vinton was just venturing into the business world out of high school when he found his vision. There was a catch — he didn’t have any formal education on how to operate a business, much less on being a leader. However, it didn’t stop him.
“I knew at that time, there was no doubt in my mind that was the kind of work I wanted to do,” he says, after a stint on a tennis court project in Michigan inspired him to be a sports contractor.
“When you fall in love with doing something, you will know it,” says Vinton, president of The Vasco Group. “It’s just an overwhelming desire to get up and go do it. And somehow, some way, in spite of any circumstances good or bad, you’re going to make it happen. You become willing to do just about anything.”
Despite the obstacles faced, being relentless and doing the right thing along the way brought rewards. Vasco’s 2010 was the best financial year in its 44-year history.
“If the spark starts to burn inside any man ? if it truly is a passion, a vision ? he will go to just about any length to explore that to make it happen,” Vinton says.
Once illuminated with a vision, the would-be leader would do well to seek out mentors.
“Watch other leaders ? what they are doing, how they act, how they treat people,” he says. “Just try to do what the winners are doing.”
People that are successful usually are willing to share advice.
“The big part is asking for help,” Vinton says. “Once you ask, I’ve found that people want to help. I’ve been blessed in that respect in that people have always taken me under their wing and helped me.
“Mentor other young people that want to be leaders. Read leadership books nonstop, and study leadership styles.
“I heard someone say a long time ago that if you want to keep wisdom and knowledge, you’ve got to give it away. That was always modeled for me and that’s what I try to do as a leader today.”
Pick a mentor that works in a different industry.
“Choose people that you came across in relationships,” Vinton says. “I had a commercial real state developer take me around and show me his properties. We would discuss what a leader would do in certain situations.”
Then as you develop your skills, the time comes for more specific mentoring. In a competitive field, it’s a reality check that no one is going to share tips to a possible competitor. But a suitable alternative can be found through associations. Securing a board position on an industry association puts you in touch with professionals from all over who are open to helping.
“I’ve never had people in the industry help me until I was part of national business organizations that did not include local contractors,” Vinton says. “I got many contacts that way.”
The camaraderie will help develop the principle to treat other people as more important.
“One of the most important leadership principles is servant leadership,” Vinton says. “Learn it, teach it and model it for young leaders that serving people in your area of influence is more important than yourselves. Give others the credit when things go well.
“As a leader, be intuitive and aware of the people around you and make yourself available to them on their time.”
How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or www.thevascogroup.com
When it comes to acquiring another company, there are two tips that shouldn’t be overlooked: Be patient, and see that synergy ? when a combination is greater than parts alone ? is a component of the decision.
“Make sure you have synergy between the two companies ? that the company fits with your core competencies,” says Vasco Group President Mike Vinton, whose vision included company expansion into other cities and states.
“Get your key people together and ask, ‘Does this create synergy or does this create division?’ That’s a huge thing in making sure that synergy is a part of it.”
Your management team needs to have complete buy-in that the two companies can work hand-in-hand, each pulling its own weight, with no negative feelings.
As the team gets on board and supports the decision, not just the leader’s edict, negotiations can go forward. Timing is everything in acquisitions.
“Don’t be in a hurry,” Vasco says.
Take your time, and be ready to cancel negotiations if a red flag appears.
“I walked away from a deal once. The fit was not good. Three months later, he called me back and said he was ready to start talking again. We did a deal within a month.”
How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or www.thevascogroup.com
Like many other companies and organizations during the 2008-09 economic downturn, HealthNet Inc. found it necessary to tighten its belt, and Booker Thomas was struggling with how to tell the staff.
“It really hit our bottom line in terms of providing services to so many people,” says Thomas, president and CEO of the $50 million organization.
“I knew that there would be a lot of ramifications throughout the organization,” he says.
The first step is to analyze the situation and lay the groundwork that the organization is facing some economic challenges.
“Try to be as transparent as possible with employees, and let them know exactly where the organization is financially at all times,” Thomas says.
This can be communicated at staff meetings and department meetings.
HealthNet’s 500 employees had looked forward to annual general wage increases as a type of reward for their dedicated service, but its leadership decided it could not grant the increases that year unless it laid off staff members.
By being upfront, contacting each employee with information and showing empathy for their situations, it can put a better perspective on the issue. E-mail may not be the most personal method, but it provides a timely announcement for all employees and can help forestall rumors.
“I sent e-mails out to each employee to explain our financial issues and that because of the economy, we have decided that we would not give the general wage increase in order to keep everyone working,” Thomas says.
Along with the matter of a wage freeze may come the issue of a hiring freeze. Employees will want to know the organization’s position on attrition. At this point, it should be stressed that the administrative team will review each case and decide if the position is critical to the operation or not.
“If we were able to hold back on support staff, we did that,” Thomas said. “But those direct patient care positions we continued to hire.”
Announcing a wage freeze, which many times may happen around the December holidays, is a tough call, and timing does little to help the matter.
“I don’t think any way is a good way,” Thomas says. “But at least they have time to plan and prepare and make other arrangements prior to Christmas if they knew of the wage freeze beforehand.”
Be prepared for reactions running the gamut of emotions. If you’ve worked your plan well, you may be able to get employees to see the situation for what it is.
“I was honestly shocked that we didn’t have more of our staff sending me e-mails how it had hurt them by not giving the increases,” Thomas says. “I felt sure that I’d get some. So after we made that announcement, I also sent an e-mail thanking employees for their patience.
“I did not get one negative comment out of all the employees. I was just elated because I expected a lot of people to go against that and have their own individual concerns.”
A leader still has a duty to put in a personal appearance to meet with employees, take questions and discuss the decision.
“I went to all of the centers ? we have nine sites now ? and explained to them why we had to make that decision,” Thomas says. “They looked at it and said, ‘We all have jobs, and we’re here to serve the needs of clients,’ and they were OK with that. That’s the dedication we have.
“I told them how I appreciated them and their patience and the support that they have for the organization and the mission that we share, and thanked them for it.”
How to reach: HealthNet Inc., (317) 782-2111 or www.indyhealthnet.org
The time when a new employee meets the leader of an organization is an important time to explain the culture of an organization.
“I speak to every new employee, try to set the culture for the organization, and let each person know what we expect of them,” says Booker Thomas, president and CEO of HealthNet Inc.
“It’s critical right at the beginning,” he says. “I try to give them a feel for the gut of the organization in terms of what we are all about.”
This is an optimum moment to explain that employees, especially those who deal with customers, are ambassadors for the organization. A client will see his or her point-of-contact person as the organization. The experience clients will have with employees will define the company or organization in their eyes.
This is also the ideal time to let new hires know they can voice any doubts they may have at a later date regarding the position. Let them know of the options.
“I will say many of you may work for us for a few weeks or months and see that this is not your cup of tea, this is not your niche ? and that’s all right because everybody can’t deal with clients,” Thomas says.
The employee needs to know that management will work with those who request a different position, as opposed to being in a situation that they didn’t like and in which they were having some problems.
In addition, the CEO has the chance at this time to make employees aware of an open-door communication policy. Describe the feedback channels, and stress that communication is important to the success of the operation. Underscore the fact that the organization wants and needs the employee.
“Each position and each employee is valuable to the mission of the organization,” Thomas says.
Tom Campbell’s business dream team has four simple parts: mission, vision and values, but most of all, an independent board of directors.
“The first place you should start is to put together a fiduciary board of outside directors,” said Campbell, CEO and principal shareholder of Quick Solutions Inc., the 190-employee Columbus information technology consulting firm. “That is absolutely No. 1. And then mission, vision, values.”
Campbell is not hesitant to say what he thinks about midsize companies operated by one or two people ? they’re dictatorships.
“It’s very autocratic, and it’s what they want to accomplish,” he says. “I don’t figure that works well in today’s environment.”
His solution is a strong board of directors, an actual fiduciary board just like a public corporation would have. All directors should be chosen for their levels of expertise. The company CEO and president would sit on the board, as well, making, for example, a total of seven members, five of which are from the outside.
“What that does is it brings outside perspectives ? they give you independent advice without fear of repercussion,” Campbell says. “You’ll get a lot of straightforward advice, and I think that is vital.”
The next step in building the dream team is to get employee buy-in.
“Everyone has to be on the same page, moving in the same direction,” Campbell says. “Mission is very important, vision is very important as is your core set of values.”
Mission is what you are, vision is what you want to be, and your values should include communication, people, character and accountability, among others.
“People need to know what is going on,” he says. “Communication is absolutely vital. You cannot overcommunicate.
“You’ve got to do it in small groups, you’ve got to do it in large groups, you’ve got to do it over and over again,” Campbell says.
Meet every Friday and talk about what was accomplished in the previous week, what’s on the table in the current week and what is getting done. Assign someone to take notes so everyone has a record.
“That way, you are continually making progress and everybody knows exactly what’s being done. It’s transparent,” Campbell says.
Employees should be involved in determining the mission, vision and values.
“Being able to really be an integral part of the team helps move things forward,” Campbell says.
He recommends finding people who will take on new challenges.
“You have to find those people who want to take on additional responsibility, and when you find them, you have to be very clear about what the work is.”
If you are not, the employee could not want to take on the load, and you’re back to square one.
“Once they take it on, it’s like teaching your kid to ride a bike ? you run alongside him for so long, but sooner or later you’ve got to let go and see if they can do it,” he says.
Pick them up if they fall and get them back on track.
“It is amazing when people are truly empowered; it’s amazing what they will do,” Campbell says. “They’ll rise up. The effort that they will put in, the sense of accomplishment, the pride ? there’s nothing better than that. It takes special people, but you’ve got to give them the opportunity to succeed.”
In the end, it’s the people that make the business.
“We sell intellectual capital in the marketplace, but our people, their character, dedication and drive is the essence,” he says. “That’s what you have: Your integrity comes first, your dedication and your ability to do what you said you’re going to do is really what makes a difference.”
How to reach: Quick Solutions, (614) 825-8000 or www.quicksolutions.com
If your company is ready to expand and wants to locate branch offices in other cities, the planning starts with a steering commission, say Tom Campbell, CEO of Quick Solutions.
“We created a steering committee, and then we went through and got a number of people involved,” he says. “We created a plan on how to go about that ? a specific plan on what cities we’re looking at and the work that needed to be done.”
Campbell says if you are fortunate as he was to have a company board member who was successful in launching branch offices, have him head the steering committee.
Once the research has been done and the site selected, the steering committee should draw up another plan to find the right person to head the new branch office.
“It’s a process that’s been used very successfully by some of the larger firms,” Campbell says. “It’s not like recreating the wheel, though. If you don’t articulate what it is you’re trying to accomplish, what everybody’s role is, and then assign that, get out of the way, let people do what they need to do, but give them timelines and have constant meetings set up for communication for results ? you’re not going to get anywhere.”
When Rick Pleczko thinks about the office space his company used to be in, he thinks about a college campus. He remembers open houses with barbeques on the front lawn, free beer, a DJ playing music and all his employees enjoying themselves.
Pleczko, co-founder, president and CEO of BBS Technologies, used to throw these parties as a way to thank current employees for hard work and to attract new employees looking to join the $30 million provider of systems management software.
“We have this interesting environment where, since we founded the company, we have been in three turn-of-the-century mansions in this bohemian neighborhood,” Pleczko says. “Everybody loves it here. It’s almost like a college campus-style environment.”
Over the past few years, the company has grown to new heights and in the process, outgrown its current headquarters. The challenge facing Pleczko and his team was to find a new place to conduct business that would keep that college-campus feel.
“Our big challenge was, ‘Gee, one of the unique things about our company and our culture that attracts folks is this campus-like environment,’” he says. “It wasn’t practical for us to add more houses in this space. It just couldn’t be done in the neighborhood. We knew we would have to move to a tower. Our problem was, how do you recreate that culture in a tower?”
Recreating the company culture was a big undertaking. It took collaboration from his 200 employees to find the right place.
“We talked to our employees,” Pleczko says. “Everybody wanted to be in the same neighborhood or close to it. So we were looking for something within a couple-mile radius of where we were. Then it was going to the staff and saying, ‘What features do you want in this new environment? We can’t replicate what we have entirely, but what do you want to do?’”
Pleczko set up a committee of a few employees to get feedback on the type of things they wanted.
“You have to figure out what the key criteria are to maintain and expand your existing culture and get those criteria from the folks that work for you,” he says. “Focus on the staff and get the information and the feedback from the staff. Then you need to engage a good, talented Realtor.”
Pleczko was fortunate. He found a space 1.5 miles away with 70,000 square feet across three floors of a tower with a spiral staircase connecting all floors.
“We have this environment with a spiral staircase and we’re building it out with almost a Google-like campus environment,” he says. “We set up recreation rooms with Xbox connects, foosball tables and table tennis. Software engineers tend to work long and odd hours, so they like that sort of environment. So we built a couple of playrooms on different floors where people can get together and socialize just like they would walking down to the local Starbucks. We were able to replicate to a high degree our culture inside of a tower.”
Not only did BBS recapture its culture in a new building, but the company took a big step forward in its growth by moving to a new headquarters.
“The environment that we had was perfect for when we were in the startup stage to about where we are now,” Pleczko says. “But we are now doing business with some very significant and very large corporate entities. When they came to visit us in those funky houses, they thought it was cute and it was like visiting an ad agency in a brownstone in Manhattan or something. We always looked like we were a fun startup.
“Now moving to this new environment, it gives the impression of we’re a $100 million company. It gives us significant credibility with the environment, the space, the décor, etc. But it still enables us to maintain that culture of innovative startup.”
HOW TO REACH: BBS Technologies, (713) 862-5250 or www.bbstech.com
Not only will BBS Technologies’ new headquarters building allow the company to continue to grow and keep its unique culture, it provides change within the organization.
“Change is good,” says Pleczko, co-founder, president and CEO. “It seems to refresh everybody’s morale and attitude and I think it acts as an inflection point for growth. I’ve been able to say, ‘We’re moving into a space that a $100 million company lives in and we’re going to be that $100 million company.’ It enables you to get some pretty good motivating messages out to your staff.”
A move like this takes time and a strategic plan. Pleczko had to understand his company’s growth pattern and plan accordingly.
“This is of great strategic importance, because if we didn’t move, our growth would be constrained,” he says. “We are planning to grow aggressively this year and that growth would not be enabled without this new building.”
Failing to realize that your company is outgrowing its current space can negatively impact the productivity of your employees.
“[Employees] become inefficient,” he says. “You have too many people in not enough square feet and they are bumping in to each other. Things like conference rooms end up being turned into offices. Folks become unproductive simply because of the noise and activity level all around them. If you don’t [expand], you will tend to see productivity go down.”
You’ve taken a look at the balance sheet and your company has lost more than $1 billion in revenue from the previous year. What do you do?
If you’re Brett Good, president of the Southern California district for Robert Half International Inc., you face some very painful decisions. Good manages a small part of Robert Half and not the entire $3.2 billion specialized staffing firm. But he still felt the pressure to demonstrate leadership.
First, he had to get over his own frustration about what was happening.
“I remember sitting one day and just ticking through my head the amount of market capitalization that had disappeared over the course of three or four months,” Good says. “I got up to over $100 billion in market cap and decided I was making myself depressed and just stopped counting.”
Good, who has about 200 employees in his district, had spent enough time wallowing. It was time to make those decisions and do what had to be done to survive. He knew he had to start with his own demeanor.
“I think about the pilot who landed the jet in the Hudson River,” Good says. “He was such a consummate professional. He was poised through that whole crisis. He averted disaster just because of that poise and calmness and the way he approached that situation. When faced with crisis, calm and poise is important.”
If you’re going to get the root of what needs to be done in your business, you can’t have people who are afraid to deliver bad news to you.
“Quite candidly, you want to hear the bad news more than the good news because those represent the areas of opportunity within an organization,” Good says.
As you begin the process of feedback, you need to go out of your way to show that you haven’t already made up your mind.
“People at all levels can contribute to a really good idea,” Good says. “A lot of times, they are so much closer to the problem or the opportunity that they can provide insight that you simply don’t have if you are removed by multiple layers.”
Good recalled discussions he had at Robert Half about reducing variable expenses and cutting costs. When he met with people to discuss possible steps, his attention was on that meeting.
“You’re going to have an important staff meeting regarding a project or cutting expenses or something important to the organization and you spend the time in that meeting checking your BlackBerry or your smartphone,” Good says. “It’s those little things that can have a big impact on the psyche of the staff. How much better would it be if you call that meeting and you say at the front end, ‘Cellphones shut down, put your iPads away. Let’s sit down and really talk about what’s going on.’”
When you feel you’ve reached a decision, you need to demonstrate commitment and belief in the choice you’re making.
“You don’t want to blindly stick to it, but be committed to it,” Good says. “If you and the people around you truly feel it’s the right decision for the organization, whether it’s disposing assets or slashing variable costs, communicate to those who are the key stakeholders what decision has been made and why it’s been made. Reinforce that decision and stick with it. Then follow up on it to make sure it’s having the desired impact on the organization.”
Good is hopeful the bottom has been reached and the economy will continue improving. But when you’re still searching for bottom, he adds that hope is not a very useful tool.
“Time is not your friend,” Good says. “The longer you take to make a decision, it usually doesn’t help the end result.”
How to reach: Robert Half International Inc., (650) 234-6000 or www.rhi.com
You may never think you’re doing enough to get your company out of danger. But working 16-hour days is usually not the answer, says Brett Good, president of the Southern California district for Robert Half International Inc.
“What I found during those really challenging times was leaning a little more heavily on the personal side,” says Good, who has about 200 employees in his district at the specialized staffing firm. “What are some things that can reinvigorate me?
“I’m blessed to have a beautiful wife and three young children. Having the opportunity to watch a tee ball game with the kids all in a mosh pile on top of a baseball and a quiet time to think about something other than the business, that’s what recharged my batteries. It allowed me to put a little perspective on what was happening around me to make those decisions.”
You can’t take the whole company on your shoulders and take all the responsibility for what needs to be done.
“Rely on the input of people around you to make the best decisions possible,” Good says. “That goes a long way with helping to develop them and it may just reaffirm what you’re already thinking, or you could get a different idea that helps you solve that problem better than you would have by yourself.”
Ray Werner finds it difficult to remember a time when he had to break up a shouting match at Arnstein & Lehr LLP. Perhaps it’s because those who work for him know that the managing partner has a very simple, tried and true method for resolving disputes.
“Repeatedly, situation after situation, when you get the facts, it’s so helpful in making the right decision,” Werner says. “The facts sometimes make the decision for you. The facts solve the argument for you.”
Werner presides over 146 attorneys and 176 staff throughout the firm's offices in Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida. Each attorney his or her area of expertise and that could make it difficult for the organization to march forward as one solid team. But Werner says camaraderie is not a problem at Arnstein & Lehr.
“One thing that often works is adult conversation,” Werner says. “You have to make sure that you confront issues in a calm, intelligent, fact-oriented way. So many times when people say, ‘Well, this is happening or that is happening,’ the facts help you defuse that situation. A lot of what I do is constantly provide the facts to the people I am working with. I’m making sure they understand what other people are doing, what the firm is doing and how we’re trying to do it.”
It’s your job to be in tune with those facts, whatever they might be, to serve as a mediator when that role is needed.
“I’ll go and investigate the facts to the extent that I can and then start talking with people about what I’ve learned,” Werner says. “I’ll ask them to challenge what I’ve learned.”
If it’s a dispute of some importance, you need to focus on getting the people who it concerns together in a room to talk out their differences.
“Putting people in the same room and having adult conversations that aren’t emotional conversations is important,” Werner says. “Not shuttling back and forth with what did A say, what did B say, going back to A, going back to B. Get A and B in the same room and let’s talk about it. It’s better that people are able to see each other.”
The worst thing you can do is let disputes play out over e-mail.
“It’s so easy for people to sit behind a computer screen not looking anybody in the eye and jot off a quick e-mail,” Werner says. “The advice is often giving pause before you hit that send button to make sure that what you’re saying is really what you want to say and do. When you wake up at 3 in the morning, you won’t say, ‘Oh God, why did I do that?’”
Werner says that resolving differences among lawyers can present a unique set of challenges.
“Lawyers, especially litigators, are trained to argue and take their side of the case and make the best they can out of it,” Werner says. “That’s just the way they are wired. When they start advocating for their position, they use those same skills. You have to weigh that and say, ‘OK, is there a little bit of overstatement here? Is there a little bit of too aggressively trying to reach conclusion A out of this set of circumstances rather than conclusion B.’ If so, filter that for where the reality might be.”
Your ability to stay level-headed in a dispute is another one of the keys to bringing it to a happy outcome.
“People know they are going to get a fair hearing from you,” Werner says. “You’re going to look at things fairly. You’re going to treat them fairly whether it’s compensation, whether it’s information or whether it’s discipline, which we sometimes need to deal with. But fair treatment, honesty and integrity are absolute keys.”
How to reach: Arnstein & Lehr LLP, (312) 876-7152 or legalnews.arnstein.com.
Ray Werner likes spontaneous encounters with his people at Arnstein & Lehr LLP. He just doesn’t have very many of them.
“Frankly, I often make appointments with people or small groups,” Werner says. “I think the people know me well enough to be candid. But breaking down barriers, we don’t spend enough time getting to know people.”
Werner is the managing partner at the law firm that dates back to 1893. And he obviously has a lot more important things to do, at least in terms of the firm operations, than to talk about how someone’s weekend was.
But such seemingly inconsequential information can be quite valuable in building morale with your team.
“Be human,” Werner says. “Have empathy for people.”
That doesn’t mean you try to be their best friend. But you don’t have to be an automaton either. Seek balance and look at your people as more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.
“I just had a conversation this afternoon with somebody about somebody else’s compensation,” Werner says. “We were talking about this person and how we like them and how we respect them and how we like being with them, but we have business decisions that need to be made. We try to make those business decisions in a human way, recognizing those are people just like us.”