Leading with passion Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008
As president and CEO of Karlsberger, Mitch Levitt knows he can’t go it alone, so he makes sure he involves his 150 employees in the decision-making process.

Levitt — who joined Karlsberger in 1979 and took over his current positions in October —spends time with employees listening to their opinions and ideas before he ultimately makes the best decisions for the architecture firm, which focuses on the health care industry.

As leader of Karlsberger, which posted fiscal 2007 revenue of $34.2 million, Levitt also has to live the company’s vision and clearly communicate it to his employees so that they understand it and live it each day, as well. And you have to be excited about that vision, Levitt says, just as you once got excited for Christmas or summer break from school.

Smart Business spoke with Levitt about how to create that passion and excitement for your vision and how to get everyone to buy in to it.

Make the vision exciting. The vision has to have that surge of energy and excitement that people can get behind. It’s that kind of excitement and feeling you get that this is the kind of place I want to be at and the passion that I want to be a part of.

If it’s not exciting, why set out on the journey in the first place? And if it’s not something you can get behind, you’re not going to want to get up in the morning and come to work. It has to be attainable. It should be a stretch, but it should be attainable.

I don’t believe you can have a vision that’s too far-reaching. You have to have a vision that’s based in reality. It’s attainable, it’s there, but do you ever feel like you can get there?

No, because you should always be pushing to do it better the next time. The point of the vision is so you don’t become stagnant or rest on your laurels. I’ve got a big whiteboard here for our message and written on it is, ‘Don’t do what clients want, do something better.’

Don’t settle for what you’re doing now and what you’ve done in the past. Try to do the next thing better than what you’ve done before. It’s pushing yourself and your colleagues to be better.

Constantly repeat the vision. You have to be able to articulate your vision. My job is to build upon the image of the firm and help transform us to reach that vision and those goals.

A big part of that is listening to what people have to say, while at the same time constantly and passionately repeating what the vision is. Any employee in any organization will follow and buy in to that vision as long as you provide that certain level of transparency.

It’s being consistent, not wavering, and letting people see the passion and drive to reach that vision. A lot of people, while they might not be able to repeat our vision or mission word for word, can tell us our core values.

Help employees understand the vision. If people can’t live by our core values, mission and vision, they probably shouldn’t be here.

Sit down with employees and make sure they understand what it is, how it impacts them and how they can go by it. In reality, mission and vision and values, if it’s something they can’t live by, they’ll leave on their own. You won’t have to invite them to leave, they’ll just go find another job.

Employees have to feel like they’ve had a part in creating it, and if they feel like that, they’ll stand behind it. They’ll talk about it and get others around them excited about it. Your core values, mission and vision are pretty constant. You may tweak your vision as you go forward, but it should not be changing drastically.

What you get are happy and committed employees, employees who are passionate about what they’re doing and the overall vision. Everyone wants to be part of something that’s successful, and everyone wants to be successful. It’s looking to achieve respect in everything you do, have excellence in all areas of what you’re doing and be dedicated and committed to doing it better and be passionate about it.

Get out and communicate. Don’t do everything through e-mail because it’s too easy to read an emotion through e-mail that may or may not be there. Make it more face-to-face communication and hear what I’m saying versus read what you think I’m saying, and be consistent.

Be consistent in your communication. Don’t say one thing one day and say something completely different the next.

People remember everything you say. It could be a year later, but they’ll remember what you had said and will call you on that. The people around me have no problem if I say one thing and a week later contradict that because they’ll say, ‘You just said that last week.’ Your job is to not be wishy-washy but consistent. Have communication based on the vision, and don’t waiver from that.

With face-to-face [communication], more people hear it and truly understand what it is you’re saying. They also see the passion and commitment, in many instances. Even if it’s a tough conversation you’re having, they understand why you’re doing it and what it’s about, and they likewise will communicate that internally and externally to others.

HOW TO REACH: Karlsberger, (614) 461-9500 or www.karlsberger.com