John O’Donnell is by no means shy; he just prefersto keep interaction with his senior team to a minimum. In a highly functioning organization, he says, this hands-off approach is the best way to elicit imaginative input, and the only time leaders should ever intervene in the boardroom is when their staff has hit a wall and cannot find a solution.
At Stark State College of Technology, the president fosters that self-directed culture by surrounding himself with 797 of the “best and brightest” full- and part-time employees in the industry. This laissez-faire approach is generating positive results: The institution, which has an annual budget of approximately $40 million, is the seventh-fastest-growing, midsized public two-year college in the nation.
Smart Business spoke with O’Donnell about how listening builds a great team and how to get your team members to raise their hands and contribute.
Listen to your best and brightest. The author David Halberstam wrote a book called “The Best and the Brightest,” and it was about the cabinet Kennedy recruited from academics the best there was and the brightest there was in their areas of expertise.
After Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson kept many of them. What happened under Johnson was they stopped talking. They stopped the debate. The best and the brightest became ineffective.
Kennedy wanted to learn, and he wanted debate, and he wanted give and take. Johnson really felt locked in by his own ego and his own perceptions of how things should work.
The base of communication is actually listening. Many leaders fail because they start talking too soon, don’t listen and don’t turn to the natural talents of the individual to solve the problem.
Don’t start with your value-added because plenty of other people have great ideas, great solutions, great abilities to facilitate. In a highly functioning organization, the only time a leader has to intervene is when the group ... has really hit a wall and cannot find a solution.
I firmly believe that most people do their jobs very well. By listening, what you do is pull out their expertise.
Display your expertise by tapping into the expertise of others. The individuals and the group have to trust in the leader’s expertise. They have to believe that the leader can bring a value-added to their day-to-day operations and to the organization.
Pull out the facts that they know about the problems. Pull out the gaps that they have about the problem. It’s in any interaction or forum, just asking questions and listening. Don’t pepper them with questions, though.
Say, ‘Here’s where we can go to fill these gaps. Here’s what I know that would fill the gaps.’
What you’re doing is really getting the complete picture of the organization because everybody sees it in a different way, and you have a comprehensive view of how it’s working.
Listen and respect the expertise of those around you. You show your expertise by bringing that value-added comment when they present you with a problem.
By giving the value-added and listening, everybody is more willing to trust. You build a team that will work together to make the organization great.
Look at history to gauge future performance. For any individual who is applying for a position, regardless of the type of organization or job, the best window to that individual is their job history and their references. History is telling.
How we behaved in the past is perhaps the best predictor of how we will behave in the future. If you speak of an individual’s core character, there’s a constancy to it over time.
And then, here’s something that is very often left out of a job interview: the expectations of the organization, letting folks know right upfront what the expectations are.
It’s an issue of match, and it’s an issue of match on two levels. One, are the tasks and the responsibilities they will have, is their skill set a match with those tasks and responsibilities?
The second part is an issue of spirit. Does the person really feel and believe in the mission of the organization?
People are very insightful. If they hear the expectations, they can hear that there’s really not a match with their history and their answers as they sit right before you in terms of the organization’s expectations.
Get your team members to raise their hands. I spent many years teaching, and [during] the first class I would say, ‘In order to have this class work, I really need you to put your hands up. It’s OK to be wrong. Don’t look at being wrong judgmentally. We’ve ruled out one of the possible solutions or one of the possible data elements. Keep putting your hand up because that means you’re thinking critically.’
That’s what it finally gets down to. It is not the right answer or the wrong answer. It’s the critical look at the problem that’s on the table.
At some point, there has to be a final product we have to make decisions but every question and every presentation of another viewpoint really should get you to rethink the hypothesis.
I would tell (another CEO) to admit that he doesn’t have the answer, and that he really needs their help. Then be quiet and listen. People love to help. They love to talk about what they’re doing and their job. Just pull back and listen. (Employees are) a window to effectiveness.
HOW TO REACH: Stark State College of Technology, (330) 494-6170 or www.starkstate.edu
It is said that you don’t know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Ask Adrian Cohen and he’ll tell you that you don’t know a business until you’ve walked a mile in every position at the company.
Since being hired fresh out of college in 1974, Cohen’s advanced through every role at Widom Wein Cohen O’Leary Terasawa from print boy to designer to project manager. Now, as president, CEO and managing partner of WWCOT, Cohen has put his intimate understanding of the architectural design firm to good use, building trust with his 170 employees and leading the firm to 2006 revenue of approximately $25 million.
“You need to know every part of your business in order to lead it,” Cohen says. “If you don’t, you have to talk to people, find out what they do and really hear what they’re saying.”
Smart Business spoke with Cohen about trust, autonomy and how to foster employees’ personal growth.
Q: How do you grant employees autonomy?
At every level, there has to be delegation and trust. If you micromanage, you’re really never successful because people then lose their interest in whatever job they’re doing.
You know what their strengths and weaknesses are and basically delegate everything you can based on their strengths. If you know someone is going to be a great, creative designer, just let them go and let them explore ideas.
Just because I’m the CEO of the company doesn’t mean that I’m smarter than everybody else. The thing that makes me smart is if I can see that someone is better than I am at a certain aspect of the practice and trust them and let them do that job.
Opening up that opportunity that people feel that they’re working for themselves is really what allows us to grow because now you have all these individuals who hopefully feel that they have their own practice, and they’re working really hard to do better projects and bring projects to the office.
Q: How do you build trust with your management team?
In order to trust somebody, you need to know them well. It shouldn’t be blind trust. It should be trust based on what you know their abilities are.
I generally attend the project meetings. I try to personally attend key meetings to gauge how the project is going, to see if there’re any changes that we need to make in terms of our approach. That’s really how I know.
I’m also involved in the billing, so I see what progress we’ve made on the project and how we’re doing based on the fee that we have. Usually, you see if the project is going smoothly or if there are some challenges up there that we need to work on.
Q: What one thing can prevent growth?
A company that doesn’t provide opportunities for personal growth.
No matter what kind of industry you’re in, people want to grow. No one wants to be stagnant. When you get up in the morning and you don’t want to work, you’ve got a problem.
Make sure that every supervisor in the firm knows that part of their job is to provide opportunities for the people they supervise.
We have a performance review, which takes a very interactive approach. We have specific forms in which we ask the employee to not only talk about their performance and how they rate themselves, but what needs do they have that are not being met and what can we do about it.
At the end of that employee review, you develop a plan for the next year in terms of not only if they need any improvement in their performance, but also, you identify their needs and growth desire. That plan might include specific training on an area that they want to grow in. That might be going to conferences or seminars or those kinds of things.
The only way (the company’s) going to grow is having those very unique individuals that have an ownership in the company. And by ownership, I mean actually feeling that their personal needs are being fulfilled.
Q: What else do you do to foster personal growth?
One of our senior partners here, he spends a lot of time teaching our younger people. We have classes like a university class that’s done in a long lunch hour, and we invite people to come in and talk about a particular subject that’s important to our profession.
That is part of the personal growth, understanding more and more of what is happening in your chosen career. It gives you an understanding of the entire operation. It also enforces everybody to work toward the same goal because they understand the big picture.
HOW TO REACH: Widom Wein Cohen O’Leary Terasawa, (310) 828-0040 or www.wwcot.com
Ian Andrusyk is no stranger to entrepreneurship he started his first company in his parents’ basement when he was 15.
While running FabsFreebies.com, a Web site that listed free goods available on other sites, the Iowa teenager found a reliable hosting provider was hard to come by, so he bought a server and started his own Web-hosting business.
More than 10 years and a few businesses later, the 26-year-old Andrusyk now serves as co-founder, president and CEO at FastServers.Net, a 40-employee dedicated hosting provider with fiscal 2007 revenue of $9.1 million, up from $5.9 million in fiscal year 2006.
“When we first started, we were at a ‘grow at whatever means possible’ operations mode,” Andrusyk says.
Today, the wunderkind takes a more calculated approach to finding outlets for growth.
Smart Business spoke with Andrusyk about how to uncover business opportunities by treating vendors as partners.
Q: How do you recognize business opportunities?
We always treated vendors more as partners. That’s given us opportunities.
Working with them more on the partner role, we’ve been able to customize a lot of our vendors’ offerings specifically to our needs to develop new services and offerings that maybe that vendor’s not offering to anybody else.
Q: How do you create that partner relationship with vendors?
Many of the products that we use right out of the box are not quite up to our specifications, or we or our customers find a few things wrong with them.
We always try to sit down and say, ‘Here’s the product you’re offering so far. Here’s what we’d like to do to make it even better, to customize it for us. How can we get there?’ If that involves jumping on a plan and sitting down with (them) for a little bit or anything along those lines, whatever the situation is.
The most important element is getting as much face time with these people as possible, making sure that you’re going to be at the same conventions and same industry-specific things that you’d expect to see them at.
Q: What else can you do to recognize opportunities?
Make sure to take what’s hot in the industry and try to capitalize on it. Start putting out offerings that match the buzzwords.
See what people are asking for. If we are getting consistent requests for a type of service or a type of offering that we don’t have, that’s obviously a quick way to recognize it.
Q: How do you keep that close eye on the industry?
There’re certain blog authors that I read on almost a daily basis. There’re certain industry forums that you kind of just page through. Obviously, you can’t read 20,000 posts a day. Just look for the main topics.
Keep an eye on your industry’s own specific trade publications and their trade magazines.
Take a look at your competition. See what they are and aren’t offering.
Anytime you have the opportunity to attend trade shows, get on a plane and travel somewhere and find out what’s going on.
We’ve got a lot of different people here to set Google Alerts for different companies and different products.
It’s just tracking as many different information sources as possible.
Q: What is the benefit of doing those things?
They let us know what direction the industry’s heading. It’s being able to know what the news is on your competitors, what the news is on your vendors.
The fast pace in which everything changes, you’re kind of left out in the dark if you’re not keeping tabs on it.
Q: You employ a talented team to help keep up with that pace. How do you show employees that you’re actually listening when they present ideas?
It’s the ability to not just listen to what goes on but to possibly craft changes based upon what you hear.
A few examples: after-work socialization. I’ll go out with a group of guys that I don’t do much overseeing. Someone might just get comfortable enough to say, ‘I don’t like this, this, this or that.’
If I just kind of blew it off on the spot, it probably wouldn’t mean much. (It’s) the ability to at least talk about it the next day: ‘This person brought this up. What’s really going on?’
There are going to be situations where people blow off steam, or people are going to have ideas that for whatever reason won’t work. Obviously, you can’t cater to every little thing.
(It’s) being there and showing that you’re interacting with the whole process, that you’re at least understanding what someone is saying. Maybe you don’t agree with it. Maybe nothing’s going to change, but you’re at least feeding it back to them and saying, ‘Well, here’s why this probably won’t work.’
Just that you’re there and willing to sit down and hear what they have to say; that does help lead to overall confidence in whatever your vision and mission is.
HOW TO REACH: FastServers.Net, www.fastservers.net or (866) 753-3278
Success can be a handicap — just ask Ken Sekley, chairman, president and CEO of Patio Enclosures Inc. A few years ago, thecompany was achieving profitable returns by focusing strictly on the sunroom portion of projects. (General contracting was left to thecustomer.) When consumer demand began calling for more ambitious and inclusive projects, Patio Enclosures had to evolve, but thatchange proved difficult, says Sekley, because the company’s previous success had reinforced a set way of thinking and behavingamong its employees. To counter that, the company’s executive team provides continuous feedback to its 750 employees as a way ofmonitoring progress and adapting to change. Such coaching has proven effective: The company’s 2006 revenue of $86 million wasthe highest in its 40-year history. Smart Business spoke with Sekley about how to enhance decision-making with delegation.
Encourage collaboration. You need to have aconsistent message that you’re expectingpeople to act in a collaborative way. If you’reexpecting people to put their ideas forwardand collaborate in the decision-makingprocess, you’ve got to give them the confidence that they can do that.
Encourage them by soliciting input on decisions that are going to be made in a collaborative fashion. Meetings are great mechanisms for pooling available information, andyou have to reinforce it in that context, aswell. It results in better decisions.
Delegate decision-making. Encourage (employees) to make decisions on their own whenappropriate.
If they come to you and ask about a certainsituation, you use that as an opportunity toillustrate, ‘Hey, this is something that I’mcounting on you to make this kind of decision.’
You have to draw the guidelines as to whenyou are expecting them to consult the CEOor their manager in a decision. It’s also important to lay out the sphere of responsibilitythat they have where they can make decisions on their own.
We have over 40 locations that are geographically separated and operate in very different market conditions. On a daily basis,there’re thousands of real-time decisions thatneed to be made about operations andresource allocation and so on.
It’s impossible for the CEO or the seniormanagement team to be involved in each andevery one of those decisions. You really needto put the decision-making power into thehands of the individuals who are closest toand are most knowledgeable about a givensituation and a given market.
Share progress. We put a very heavy emphasison tracking the key metrics that drive ouroperations. Those things are updated weekly.
There’s an overall set of metrics that’s posted on an electronic bulletin board for allemployees to access. We also have separatescorecards for our sales and operations division as well as our manufacturing division.That’s an important part of letting everyone know how we’re doing versus the goals andthe objectives that we’ve laid out.
You have to follow up on a regular basiswith, ‘How are we doing? Are we gettingthere? Are we achieving our goals? Are wefalling short?’
That also helps people understand whenyou have to make a midcourse correction.You say, ‘Look, as everyone has seen in recentmonths, we’re not achieving this part of ourgoal. Therefore, we’re going to be changingour resource allocation or changing our tactic here, and that should help us do better inthis particular area.’
When it doesn’t come as a surprise to peopleand they can understand why the executiveteam is giving the direction they’re giving, itmakes it that much easier to get buy-in andunderstanding of what you’re communicating.
Survey your customer base. For the past several years, we’ve instituted a customer feedback survey in a very simple, straightforwardsurvey that doesn’t take them very long.
We ask our customers about all aspects oftheir relationship with us. We’re able to breakit down into the various components and feedback specifically to the branch locations, bothon a numeric scale as well as the commentsthat we create a space for on our surveys.
In almost a real-time way, our people aregetting an ongoing stream of customer feedback about what went well and what didn’tgo well. Management gets to see that, too, so it’s an aid in our coaching of our managementteams and our employees.
Our surveys are tied in to our warranty registration. It’s not necessary to fill out the survey to get the warranty, but it’s right there inthe same brief card to be filled out.
You can’t ask people to spend half an hourfilling out a survey. It’s got to be quick, it’s gotto be user-friendly, and it’s got to occur in thenormal course of their interactions with you.
For an incremental minute or two, they canrun through a very user-friendly 1 to 10 scaleon several dimensions of their experiencewith Patio.
Not quite as quantified as that, we also goback to the people who decided not to be ourcustomers and understand what happenedthere. We relish those opportunities when wecan understand where we haven’t gotten theoutcome we’ve desired. That is quite possiblythe most valuable information you can getbecause you can correct that the next timearound.
Track performance when coaching. Know what(employees are) doing internally and complement that with the customer feedback. Itpaints a pretty good picture.
When we have coaching opportunities withour people, we like to keep it as objective andfact-based as possible. That lends all themore effectiveness to those performanceimprovement opportunities.
(Managers) really are coaches. Their goal isto improve the performance of their respective teams on a regular basis.
In the case of our design consultants, ourmanagers sit in on those in-home design consultations. They watch the dynamic betweenour consultants and the customer. Thatextends to every area of the business.
They need to feed back that, ‘Hey, you’redoing these three points really, really well.Keep it up,’ or, ‘Here’re one or two things thatyou might be able to sharpen up going forward.’
It’s so important to give that feedback on anongoing basis. We see it reflected in thenumerical results that are produced.
HOW TO REACH: Patio Enclosures Inc., (800) 480-1966 orwww.patioenc.com
You have just assumed the presidency of a multibillion-dollar institution, and what is your first order of business? To listen. Just listen. That is precisely what Jean-Lou Chameau did. Before starting his job as president of the California Institute of Technology, he sat down with hundreds of the 8,580 employees and elicited their feedback on nearly every aspect of the institution. That is the best way to understand an organization’s culture, problems and opportunities. When that organization has an annual operating budget of roughly $2.1 billion Caltech also oversees NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory developing that understanding is crucial. Smart Business took Chameau’s advice and listened to his thoughts on communication, defending tough decisions, and how to attract the best and brightest to your organization.
Practice transparency. You have to be fairly open and genuine in what you say or do. You have to be very, very transparent.
The benefit is that people will feel good about sharing information with you. They will help you define your ideas, your goals, and they will work with you on the issue if you are very open with them.
Being open means that you will tell them the good, the bad and the ugly, and share the issues with them. In any organization, from time to time, you have tough times. If you have been open with people and didn’t hide anything from them, you build up lots of good will. When the tough issues arise, they’re willing to work with you or give you time to solve them.
There’re always situations in an organization where you cannot share all of the information that you have. And again, that’s an advantage of being very open with people. When you tell them, ‘In this particular issue, I cannot provide you with more details at this stage,’ they will say, ‘Well, OK. He must have a good reason.’ If you have built up trust and good will, people trust you.
Interact with your team. I try to interact oneon-one with as many people as I can.
It doesn’t have to be for long. When I walk across campus and I run into an employee, be it a staff member or faculty or a student, you chat with them for five minutes on whatever topic of interest.
If you keep doing it, every time you do it, you are not only sharing information with one person, you are sharing with many people because they talk: ‘I just met the president, and we talked about this.’
The word goes out. It does filter through the organization.
Try to communicate with people as often as you can on a formal and, more importantly, an informal basis.
Every time you do it, even if it’s only with one person, you are, in fact, influencing more than one person.
Defend tough decisions. You have to be a bit of a cheerleader for the organization, (but that) doesn’t mean that you don’t make tough decisions when they have to be made.
People would not respect for very long a person who is only a cheerleader and cannot address the tough issues. I do not view the two sides as being incompatible.
When you make a decision, an easy one or a tough one, make sure you always have a good rationale behind it.
There are always pros and cons in every situation. You may reach a conclusion, and somebody else may reach a different conclusion, but they will respect you if you have a good rationale behind whatever you did.
Foster research. Try to promote programs and make sure you have resources and an environment that allows people to work on those great ideas that they have.
If you look at it from a corporate standpoint, you have to keep in mind that if you want to assure the long-term success and competitiveness of your organization, the R&D has to be part of it.
You have to convey that to your employees, even in tough times. It’s easy to say, ‘We’re going to invest so much in research,’ when things are going well. Typically, when there is a little bit of a problem or business is not as good, it’s the first thing to be cut, and usually, it’s a mistake.
You have to try to convey the importance of research to the organization. I found that the best way, usually, is to be very specific.
You take a product that you are selling today, and you say, ‘By the way, this was based on that work that we did two years ago, or three or five years ago.’ Working through an example is the best way to show people.
Attract employees with the product. To attract and retain the best employees, you need to have a good product.
The place has to be exciting. They have to feel that they came to a place where there is innovation, to a place which is going somewhere, and that there is long-term potential for them.
As a leader, you can try to be convincing and be a good cheerleader and provide good opportunities to people, but you can never replace the product. If you have a great organization, people will want to work for it.
(If you don’t have a good product), you have to be very upfront with them with the situation: ‘We are at situation A, and I want to go to Z.’ Give them the sense of how you feel you can go from A to Z.
If they realize that you understand the situation and have a decent shot of success, success will make it a very attractive place in the long term, and you can convince people to join you.
People want to be in a situation where they can come and really have an impact on an organization. When everything is going very well, it’s nice to join an organization. But for some people, it may be more exciting to say, ‘Well, there is an opportunity here. I can really transform it. I can really play a role in achieving a vision there.’
HOW TO REACH: California Institute of Technology, (626) 395-6811 or www.caltech.edu
Andy Cohen has a crystal ball. Actually, he has quite a few. And although he may refer to them as “clients” in the vernacular, their prophetic abilities are no less astounding.
As one of three executive directors at Gensler, Cohen looks to the customer to predict the changing needs of a demanding marketplace.
“We have client speakers that are telling us what’s happening within their industry,” he says. “We have client symposiums. We’re constantly listening to how the market’s changing and shifting.”
Such soothsaying has paid off for the design firm as the Los Angeles office of the San Francisco-based company grew to 350 employees with 2006 revenue of $72 million.
Smart Business spoke with Cohen about how to get your staff to buy in by writing on the walls.
Q: How do you motivate your staff?
You really have to set a long-term strategy that people really buy in to. And it’s not just top-down; it’s bottom-up.
Meet with all your key people immediately, understand their goals and aspirations, and really listen carefully to the business strategy. Then set a key framework or vision with your key leaders of where you want to be 10, 20 years from now.
Q: How do you get buy-in from your staff?
Communication is the key. Do a lot of brainstorming sessions. By having these sessions and eliciting everyone’s response, everyone buys in to that vision.
Literally document it on a huge piece of paper. We write on the walls basically, and people put their ideas up on a big piece of paper. That document becomes the script for setting in motion the next steps of the vision and the strategy. Everyone gets a copy of that banner.
We have what we call all-staff meetings, where we’re grouping all staffs together and sharing the strategies with them. We have a lot of different videoconference calls around the globe where we’re constantly sharing ideas and strategies.
The key is to have open transparence and communication with the entire staff. When you have a firm of 3,000 people in 30 cities around the globe, it’s hard to walk the floor. We have many meetings a year where we bring different groups of people together from around the firm to strategize.
Again, it comes back to this communication thing of constantly getting out with the troops, listening to them, understanding their goals, and then repeating over and over again what we aspire to be and where we aspire to go.
Q: How do you analyze the marketplace?
In the different markets you’re involved in, meet with the industry leaders. I like Jack Welch’s statement, ‘You want to be No. 1 and 2 in every field you’re involved with.’
Listen to the industry leaders. Go to specialty group symposiums that are talking about industry trends so you’re really understanding what the leaders in the industry are doing.
Q: How do you recognize business opportunities?
The world is in constant change right now, and there are a lot of different kinds of opportunities that are coming as it becomes more of a global marketplace. We only enter markets where we truly can have a competitive advantage and make a difference in that market.
I would urge a CEO to not go into a highly competitive field where it’s a marginal-at-best level of success.
Q: How do you make sure you hire the right people?
Usually someone who joins the firm, they might go through two, three, four interviews with different groups of people in the office that are handling different areas just to make sure that we all feel comfortable that they meet our criteria for hiring.
It gets cumbersome at times because it slows it down, but you really need buy-in from the people that you’re hiring to make sure that they fit within the culture.
Q: How do you create a unified culture across several offices?
You truly have to have what I call a ‘one-firm firm’ culture, where a client’s able to pick up the phone, and if they’re calling Shanghai, they’re getting a very similar response as they are in Los Angeles.
Even though it crosses cultural lines in different countries, our culture and our brand needs to permeate everything we do and everything we touch.
Q: What advice would you give a new CEO?
It’s about wanting to make a difference in whatever field you’re in, with passion and energy, really wanting to make a difference, to set the bar really high.
It comes back to our mission statement to redefine what is possible. Redefine what is possible in your field. Look at it differently and create your own niche and create your own differentiation, and mentor and coach those people to aspire to be what they want to be.
HOW TO REACH: Gensler, www.gensler.com or (310) 449-5600
Eileen Saffran knows that cancer treatment entails more than just chemotherapy and radiation. Oftentimes, it’s the personal network of family and friends that provide the necessary support for recovery.
This concept is by no means new. Saffran understood it years ago, when her work as a clinical social worker revealed the lack of a community-based organization serving the needs of cancer patients and their families in Northeast Ohio.
To rectify this void, she and a group of like-minded individuals sought out professional council, visiting cancer support centers throughout the country to seek advice and to study best practices.
With this newfound knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit, Saffran founded The Gathering Place, a caring community that supports, educates and empowers individuals and families touched by cancer.
The Gathering Place, located in Beachwood, offers everything from art therapy to a complimentary medical bill consultation to cancer-specific support groups to yoga and tai chi movement classes. The breadth of services offered is no more impressive than their individual prices all of which are free.
Saffran complements traditional fund-raising techniques with more ambitious entrepreneurial projects to offset costs. The TGP Collections shop, for example, sells gently used furniture, jewelry and antiques. “Lemonade Recipes,” a collection of inspirational anecdotes written by a TGP volunteer, is also sold for suggested donations.
Saffran, who serves as executive director, maintains a detail-oriented management style to efficiently and effectively oversee the organization’s many services and programs. For meetings which always start and end on time agenda items are designated with set time allotments to ensure that everything gets covered.
This attention to detail also proves useful when allocating manpower for various tasks. In addition to a regular staff of 14, Saffran employs the use of more than 350 volunteers who offer approximately 11,000 hours of service each year.
Since opening in January 2000, The Gathering Place has helped more than 14,000 individuals and family members manage the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. With plans for a Westlake location opening by the end of next year, that personal network of support looks to spread a whole lot further.
HOW TO REACH: The Gathering Place, (216) 595-9546 or www.touchedbycancer.org
When Terry Taylor joined Wright Tool Co. in 1969, the era’s confrontational managerial style was becoming an impediment to success. A pervading “us versus them” mentality lingered between supervisors and employees at the tool manufacturing company, and progress was inhibited by inadequate channels of communication. In the late ’70s, Taylor hoped to change all of that. He envisioned groups of people working together to better understand the company and how to achieve success. More than 30 years later, the leader’s vision has become a reality. Taylor, now president and CEO, mandates that each of his 160 employees participates in quality systems, sounding-board meetings and the continuous improvement of the company. This team-based initiative has led to revenue growth of 10 percent in each of the past five years. Smart Business spoke with Taylor about internal auditors, Six Sigma and how to end meetings on the most positive of notes.
Stress interpersonal skills training. It’s difficult to be participative, listen and use good interpersonal skills.
It takes more skill to do that than to be autocratic and say, ‘Go do this and that because I said so.’ It’s difficult to get people and have them train properly and have them actually do it.
Management has to be trained in good interpersonal skills, and they have to demonstrate that. The CEO or president has to support that by using some of the same skills and techniques.
Today, there’re a lot of great resources out there to utilize. Universities today offer a great education in the Six Sigma method of continuous improvement.
There’re also some really good things through ASQ [American Society for Quality] and ASTD [American Society for Training and Development]. Those are groups that your human resources, your quality person and, certainly, the manager need to get training on.
We do put our supervisors through interpersonal skills training. There are definite behavior patterns that people can say, ‘This is how you respond in this situation.’ You can role-play and practice and do those things.
Once you get them using this behavior and see the results, then the feedback is positive and you get a good circle going.
Once you’ve trained employees, retrain them. Periodically, you need to go back and retrain. Anybody can say, ‘I trained him, and I’m done,’ or, ‘I got trained myself, and I’m done.’ You need to go back and retrain yourself and retrain people and make sure (to cover) anything new or anything that’s kind of fallen by the wayside.
I’m kind of a behaviorist. I believe that, if you behave in a certain way, you’ll get certain results. And as you behave in that way and get those results, then your feedback is positive, so you, in turn, want to behave in that way more than you have in the past.
Keep communication open. Your goal is to continually improve your process. You’re looking for ideas and ways and things that are going to help you improve in your efficiencies.
By allowing people to be more participative, typically they will respond by helping you be more effective and more efficient in your processes. And you reduce the ‘we-them’ situations that companies had for many years.
There’s not a lot of walls that we want to create between people because of their particular title. We want to have it more open, so that our VP of finance can talk to anybody, our chairman can talk to anybody, and they do.
When I’m in the facility, I do ‘walk the rounds,’ as they used to be called. I think it’s good to do that. Say ‘hi’ and talk to people and let them see you. It’s real important to have impromptu meetings with the managers. Sit down and talk with them. How are they doing? Review their numbers.
It’s great because people know you and can talk to supervisors and to managers. It’s very open and very honest communication. They feel comfortable with saying things that in other facilities you might not be able to say. That’s really healthy to do that.
End on a positive note. We have sounding-board meetings with the employees. At the sounding-board meeting, we try to use some of the aspects of appreciative inquiry.
At the end of our meeting, we like to say, ‘OK, let’s think about what’s really great about here, what we really like about here, what we need to continue to do here, and what can we change to make our lives better?’
There are little aspects of things that can help us recognize what a good thing we have and how to keep it good and how to keep it improving.
Stress the big picture. In part of the training, you need to take the person through all of the processes that are related to their process. It could be an office process. I’m not just talking about manufacturing.
They need to understand how the things that they receive and their output affects others in the company, their suppliers and their customers, and how that overall affects the vision of the company.
Have internal auditors in (the) quality system. That really helps people learn more about the company, and it gives them an opportunity to come and sit down in front of the president and CEO and other people and ask them questions about the quality systems in the company.
Internal auditing is really good because now you have a person that’s been working on their particular process for a few years, and now they have an opportunity to go out and audit once they get some training to audit other processes.
We give them direction in what they ask, and we rotate that so people have opportunities to be an auditor. They have to learn a little about what’s done, and then they have a checklist of asking how it’s done and is it being done.
It’s allowing them to see more beyond their own and ask some questions. They’re learning more about the business.
HOW TO REACH: Wright Tool Co., (330) 848-0600 or www.wrighttool.com
When a team member at Grill Concepts Inc. was diagnosed with cancer, Philip Gay took a gamble.
“We had a poker night,” says the president and CEO. “All the proceeds were donated, and then we matched it dollar for dollar with the company.”
Though the employee eventually lost his fight with the illness, Gay’s commitment to his 2,300 employees hasn’t waned. He continues to stress the importance of the person, and uses the acronym PEOPLE Pride, Excellence, Opportunity, Profit, Leadership and Enjoyment to outline the key tenets of the company’s culture.
By putting people before profit, Gay led Grill Concepts Inc. to 2006 revenue of $80.7 million up 14 percent from the previous year.
Smart Business spoke with Gay about how making your business feel more like home can keep your employees from going elsewhere.
Q: How do you foster a family culture?
It’s not just about making a profit. Take care of the team members, and the profit will follow.
We go out of our way to attend life cycle events: births, weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. At restaurants, we hold annual Thanksgiving dinners where we invite the community to participate.
When someone has a problem, we take care of them. We had one team member, who recently had just joined us, and her house burned down. We gave her some money to put her back on her feet.
The company has benefited directly through a lower turnover. Our turnover ratio is about half of what the industry has. On management, the average turnover’s around 30 percent, and we’re around 17 percent.
Q: How do you encourage feedback from staff?
A lot of the people that work in the company have the answers. Sometimes they’ve been put into a culture where they don’t come forward with suggestions, or they’re not encouraged to brainstorm.
In Japan, they have thinking sessions. They sit in their office, blank desk, and they close their eyes and they’re thinking. Not that that’s going to come into American culture, but it raises the question: Are we always being reactive, or do we stop to make sure that we’re plotting the root for our growth going forward?
Have lots of meetings. Have lots of encouragements. Whether it’s lunch or dinner, make time. Talk to them. Sometimes I say, ‘Just came by to say hi and tell me what’s going on.’ No agenda. No nothing.
I give people my cell number. I give out my e-mail. We have a private Philip-and-Bob line Bob’s one of the founders. You can call that line and leave either an anonymous note or a message that you want someone to call you back on.
It’s maintaining that open-door policy of being really sincere. When someone comes in, you’ve got to give them the time of day. You don’t answer the phone. You don’t start doing your e-mails while they walk in. Give them eye contact. Make them know you care that they came down.
Some people might have nine lousy ideas but one great idea. Don’t you want to hear that one great idea?
Q: How do you motivate employees?
Eventually, it’s the WIIFM factor What’s in it for me? People are always thinking about it, so why don’t you be upfront? It’s like, ‘Here’s what’s in it for you.’
We have what we call our PEOPLE awards every month. We reward team members that have exhibited the kind of behavior that we want. We give them cash rewards every quarter. Each and every restaurant gives a $200 award to a member that has been given the awards on a monthly basis. We have an annual award, where we bring one member to our leadership conference and give him $1,000 cash.
It’s not just about the money. It’s all about bringing everyone together, getting the spirit of teamwork and accountability, and enjoying each other’s company.
They have those conversations, ‘Hey, I have this problem. How do you handle it? I want to talk to you about how you handle X, Y and Z.’ It’s about who’s the best of the best and how do we learn from what they’re doing.
Q: What do you look for when hiring?
Surround yourself with people that you enjoy working with. It’s just as important to surround yourself with people you have good chemistry with almost more important than their skill set.
We have a lot of people interview them. Any general manager that we hire, I will interview as well as our VP, area director and a few other people. They go through significant steps before we hire them.
If you have someone that’s the brightest of the bright, but they just don’t fit in, then they’re not going to be part of your company going forward.
HOW TO REACH: Grill Concepts Inc., (310) 820-5559 or www.dailygrill.com
For Matthew Jenusaitis, the best way to motivate employees is to show them results of their work. As president of the neurovascular division at ev3 Inc., he shows the company’s 1,000 workers how their efforts effect tangible good in others. When ev3 released a new product to treat arterial-venous malformations, he brought in a 16-year-old professional singer who had benefited from the treatment. The girl, who previously had experienced hospitalization, partial paralysis and near-death, erupted in song in front of 400 employees, eliciting tears with her deep, throaty voice. By making these connections between people and product, Jenusaitis has helped push ev3 to 2006 revenue of $202.4 million, a 51 percent increase over the previous year. Smart Business spoke with Jenusaitis about how to communicate on the right frequency and develop chemistry on your team and why you should celebrate mistakes.
Be receptive to small mistakes. Big companies develop this air of complacency, where there’s safety in not making any decisions because you’ll never be criticized. You become very risk-averse.
When you’re in a small company, you need to be a little more risk-oriented. It’s OK to make decisions that are wrong. If you think in your life, what are the things that have been the most meaningful and you’ve learned the most from? Frequently, it’s mistakes that you’ve made.
It’s when you’re not afraid to make a little mistake that you can really learn a tremendous amount. Create an environment that is receptive to people making little mistakes so they can incorporate them into their final winning formula.
When people make a mistake, I reinforce the fact that, ‘Hey, it’s good that we learned about this early. We learned about this today; it’s going to cost us $10,000. If we learned about it a year from now, it’s going to cost us $10 million. You just saved us $9,990,000 by bringing this up today. That’s a good thing.’
Don’t point fingers at people. Celebrate little mistakes, and take advantage of the fact that they happened early as opposed to late in the process. Inevitably, people will feel much more comfortable surfacing problems early on, and, in the long term, that ends up saving you a lot of money.
Communicate on the right frequency.
People are like radios everybody’s set on a different frequency. Your success on communicating with each other is going to be how good you are at recognizing what frequency somebody else is tuned to and adjusting your own dial so you can cut out the static.
We just went through personality-profiling everybody, where you look at people’s personalities and figure out what’s your communication style and how can you be most effective at communicating with someone that has a different style.
This stuff is not going to make us parts for $2 less, and it’s not going to have an immediate impact on the financial statement. What it does do is get everybody thinking that the company really cares about their employees and is really interested in developing the skill sets of their employees.
Show that you care. At this level, nobody’s really going hungry. Nobody’s worried about having enough money to put gas in the car. In terms of their hierarchy of needs, the satisfaction, the self-actualization and the feeling like they’re part of a team that’s a lot more important than money and benefits.
I want to make sure that they have health insurance and all that other stuff, but I want them to feel like we care about them, their development and their growth. Those are the things that people change jobs for when they feel like they’re not growing, or the company doesn’t care about them.
Actions speak a lot louder than words. Listen to what they say, and come back a week later and say, ‘I remember you were talking about this.’ The fact that we actually listened to what people had to say and then took the time to follow up to demonstrate to them that we were actually listening it’s motivation for them. It’s going to demonstrate to them that they’re part of a team. It makes them want to work there and want to be part of a success.
People will stay around if they feel like you’re committed to them. If people feel like they are valued and are learning new things, then they will become very, very connected with the organization. Part of their soul will be affiliated with how well the company is doing, and they’ll want to stay there.
Get the right teammates. The thing that you really spend your time trying to figure out during the interview process is: Do they have the right chemistry? Do they have the ability to work effectively on the team that we have together in this organization?
These are all the subtle things that you don’t pick up on until you spend time having a meal with somebody or spend a couple of hours and learn about their family or the things that motivate them.
Get people that have the right skill sets, get people that have the right collaborative skills, and then spend a lot of time with them creating a vision for what needs to happen. Help them understand what we want to accomplish. Help them understand what it is we’re really trying to do.
Help them understand where you’re trying to go, and then give them room and let them do their stuff. Then just get out of their way.
Know when to step in. Give people a lot of room to argue about things, and give people a lot of room to discuss them.
I try to be patient with sharing my own opinion for as long as I possibly can, but a lot times, people are at an impasse, and they can’t make a decision.
One thing that is kind of the kiss of death is if we’re sitting in a meeting and somebody comes up with the idea of, ‘We should schedule another meeting.’ I think to myself, ‘We’re having a meeting about that right now. Why are we scheduling another meeting to do it?’
That’s when you should step in. I like keeping everybody focused: ‘We need to make decisions. We need to keep going. We need to keep going forward.’
HOW TO REACH: ev3 Inc., (763) 398-7000 or www.ev3.net