John Tomsich has an advantage over you.
Tomsich, president of NESCO Resource, spends every day considering new ways to get in better graces with his 200 full-time employees to create a bond with them at his staffing solutions firm.
“I do think today that the only competitive advantage that businesses have left is the quality of the people and how they feel when they get up in the morning and they go into the office,” Tomsich says. “How do they feel about the company? Are they excited? Are they motivated? Do they love where they’re at? So you have to spend that time focusing on those issues, making the environment people work in great.”
In so doing, he has built a company culture where his employees don’t see his title as much as they see his efforts. And therein lies the company’s advantage, as employees feel enthused to perform.
Smart Business spoke with Tomsich about how to hire to fit that culture you’ve built and how breaking down barriers can turn a B-plus employee into an A performer.
Get out and break down barriers. I’m surprised that ‘president’ — the title — that sometimes people have a certain expectation of what you’re going to be like and how they’re supposed to talk to you. And that’s why you have to get face to face with people to break down those barriers.
Even in this world where that word ‘virtual’ is used so many times, I believe people want face-to-face visibility from their leadership. To my VPs and my leadership, that’s what I tell them: Be visible leaders. You can’t manage from behind a desk; you can’t manage through e-mail.
I spend time asking people about their lives and their families and then trying to make the connection. I have two kids — we talk about their kids and what age they are. You make little, simple, personal connections to make yourself a real person.
Listen more than you talk. Some people think that, as president, you have to have all the answers. And I think it’s OK to say to your people, ‘Listen, I don’t know how to solve this problem; what do you think?’ Then they see you as a real person, and that you really care about them as an individual. Plus, then you can get so much information.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but, if you can parade the success stories [of those who do speak up], it really does start to have an effect, where people are, say, C-plus performers, they’re pushing to be a B. Or the B-plus are pushing to be an A.
Think about ways you can personalize things. It’s the little things you do today. Writing notes to your employees — we write to every employee on their anniversary of being with the company, thanking them for their dedication.
Their birthday, we write them a handwritten note. In an electronic world, it stands out when you take the time to write somebody a handwritten note. And that doesn’t cost you anything, and you’d be surprised how appreciative people are when they get that handwritten note from me saying, ‘Thanks, you did a good job.’
And it’s maybe kind of old-fashioned, but I think it works.
Share the details to create transparency. Another thing we’ve done in that performance culture is, every quarter, we give every employee their P&L, which is their cost — salary, benefits, taxes, the commissions we’ve paid them — against the revenue that they generated.
Employees sometimes don’t understand, for example, medical benefits. How much those really do cost. There are taxes that we pay that they’re not aware we pay. We’re willing to set up a compensation program — a commission program — where they will be rewarded. But it also comes with, they’re going to have to put the effort in, the work in, to get that reward.
And it’s clear. It’s simple. You can see it every month. It’s not a complicated formula. For example, a new business, we would pay a salesperson 10 percent of the gross profit.
That was not my instinct at first, to share all this information, but over time, I learned that was the best thing to do.
I’ve seen some compensation programs that are very complicated. I don’t think you build trust with your employees doing it that way, because they always think maybe the commission formula’s being manipulated.
Keep your culture by hiring people who fit. We look for people who are more hunters than gatherers, we look for people who are competitive, people who have good communications skills, and then we interview.
We interview them many, many times before we make a decision. So they may go through five or six interviews before we make that decision.
You look for things in people’s background. Were they on a competitive team in high school, college? Did they help contribute financially to their college? Did they work during college?
Another technique we also like to do is, before we’ve actually hired the person, they will travel and spend a day with one of our salespeople — somebody they’ve interviewed with — or sales managers actually in the field selling.
And see what it is like, a day in the life, so to speak. So I think people who maybe aren’t well-suited for that kind of a position would experience that, and they may back away from the position just because they don’t feel comfortable doing that day to day.
HOW TO REACH: NESCO Resource, (440) 461-6000 or www.nescoresource.com
Go ahead and throw out all the trite lines you can think of about the success of Ellis Yan and Technical Consumer Products Inc., the Aurora-based manufacturer of energy-efficient lighting.
Come on, try one. Yan has bright ideas. TCP is lighting the path. ... You could go on and on. And you’d be right. That’s because Yan, the company’s founder, president and CEO, has led TCP to unthinkable heights since it opened for business in 1993. Not only has the company seen unbelievable growth in its numbers sales have increased fivefold since 2000, reaching more than $300 million in 2007 but it continues to drive innovation in its industry and beyond.
Yan has pushed employees to be the market leader, and that’s exactly what TCP has done. A five-time Cascade Capital Growth award winner, TCP has mushroomed to more than 200 employees including employee growth of nearly 200 percent since 2000 and is basically rewriting the standards for success, innovation and eco-friendly behavior in its industry.
The growth since the turn of the century is certainly partly attributed to the boom in consumer interest around products that are better for the planet. While many major lighting companies decided that it would be OK to put energy efficiency on the back burner for a few years, Yan made it a priority at TCP. He became interested in energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and made it a company focus. As the consumer culture turned more environmentally conscious, it became TCP’s time to shine. The company already had an edge on competitors in ideas and production, and it took advantage almost overnight.
But beyond the environmental interest, TCP has also become a model of efficiency. Though only a fraction the size of its competitors, TCP manufactures nearly 1.4 million energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) every day, accounting for the majority of the CFLs sold in the U.S. Those numbers also equal an annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of more than 118 million pounds.
To keep up those impressive numbers, TCP has transformed the CFL manufacturing process, introducing the automated machine to bend glass into the CFL’s spiral shape. By automating that process, TCP has dramatically increased its capacity and can continue to supply the ever-growing demand for the bulbs. In fact, each automated machine produces more than 5,500 pieces a day nearly five times as many as produced by a manual process.
TCP has also developed the first low-sodium, lead-free CFLs with reduced levels of mercury to provide brighter, more energy-efficient lighting that is even better for the environment. TCP is the first manufacturer using 100 percent amalgam, a small pill that is a solid-state form of mercury and other elements. The amount of mercury contained in the pill is 70 percent below what the Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR program mandates.
Yan has also helped the company sharpen its focus on designing the lighting products of the future. In May 2008, TCP announced its new specification division, ecoVations, which combines energy-efficient technologies for a creative approach to helping facility owners and managers reduce rising energy costs while protecting the environment. From linear fluorescent and LED lamp hybrid fixtures to innovative down-lighting options, the division responds to the difficult and diverse needs of both existing and new construction projects as well as industrial facilities.
With its look toward the evolution of the industry and a long litany of first-to-market technology, Yan is constantly getting TCP customers involved to see what needs they have and how the company can fulfill them. In so doing, TCP’s latest catalog contains more than 1,000 energy-efficient lighting items to suit industries from residential to retail. By constantly keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry, Yan has turned TCP into the name brand in the lighting business.
To handle the continuing growth that comes with being the top brand, TCP moved into a new 154,000-square-foot global headquarters in May 2007. The facility has a two-story office space, warehouse, distribution center, product testing labs and a customer service call center. TCP also recently relocated its West Coast distribution center to Stockton, Calif., to better accommodate customers in 11 western states. That new distribution center is scheduled to bring as many as 30 new jobs.
With more space and employees than ever, and the industry receiving more and more attention from eco-friendly consumers, TCP looks to you guessed it brighter days ahead.
HOW TO REACH: Technical Consumer Products Inc., (880) 324-1496 or www.tcpi.com
Ron Jankov likens his job at NetLogic Microsystems Inc. to that of a firefighter.
For the most part, he lets his people do their jobs, but when there’s an issue, he’s the first one on the scene to respond. So, while he may not be listed under 911 in the phone book, he is willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help his people with a problem.
Doing so has helped Jankov, NetLogic’s president and CEO, keep his 250 employees focused on the tasks at hand. As a result, the company reported revenue of $70.7 million for the first half of fiscal 2008, putting it on track for a big bump this year after the fabless semiconductor company posted fiscal 2007 revenue of $109 million.
Smart Business spoke with Jankov about how to keep employees from being paralyzed during times of adversity and why just dropping in on a meeting can be a good idea.
Help people calm down during adversity. You have to kind of thrive in adversity. That’s when you have to stand up and say, ‘If there’s a problem, then I own it,’ and almost kind of appreciate adversity because now you’re needed.
We had a problem about six months before we went public where we won a huge project and then, when we started to supply that program, we had a major manufacturing issue where it was costing us more to build the products than we were selling them to for. I had to go back and get a bridge loan we got like $10 million, and we spent the whole $10 million but we kept the program, and today, they continue to be our largest customer.
A lot of getting through that was just saying, ‘Hey, we can do this. I know I can get the investors to trust me to get through this.’ I had to tell the manufacturing guy, ‘Look, don’t panic; just get this thing fixed in six months. It doesn’t have to be fixed in two weeks because I know that’s not possible.’
Paralysis would stick in if you didn’t do that. The whole thing would just stop because nobody wants to make a decision that’s going to kill the company, so you can make them all comfortable by saying, ‘Hey, you can make the decision, and it’s not going to kill the company. You make the right decision, and I’ll make sure that it doesn’t kill the company.’
Direct your staff and then let them go. Once you have good people, you have to trust them and enable them to make the key decisions that they’re tasked with. If they’re VP of sales, for example, let them make those key calls on pricing and which customers to focus on, which suppliers to use. If you try to overrule them, you won’t keep good people.
It’s a thing you develop with each colleague at a different pace, and essentially you earn a certain amount of trust and understanding with each other. You come to some agreement on the philosophy of how this particular segment of the business should be run, and once you come to an agreement on that philosophy, then they move forward with that agreement.
Step into a meeting and take some ideas and criticism. Be out there listening to what people have to say. You want to just drop in on some meeting and say, ‘What’s this meeting about, how’s it going, do you have the tools you need, do you have the resources you need, what problems are you facing this month, this quarter, what’s your biggest single problem, and maybe there’s something I can do or at least I’m aware of it even if there is nothing specific I can do to help out.’
The most important thing is to be seen as being able to accept criticism and be seen as open to accepting ideas that are not your own. If someone says, ‘We don’t like these tools; why haven’t we looked at this new tool on the market? Everyone says it’s hot; why aren’t we using it?’ We go out and we evaluate the tool, and, if they’re right, we buy it.
If you don’t ever do anything about it, people will stop bothering. But if they see that you act on it and you’re listening, then they know it’s worthwhile that they bring things up and are encouraged to do so.
Drive innovation by explaining your problem. If you go to even the entry-level engineers and you communicate very, very clearly what we’re trying to do and why and how it solves the bottleneck the customer has and they understand the problem, then they’re much more likely to come up with a solution than if you just tell them make it five times faster.
If they understand the bigger picture, they may come up with something that is truly innovative, meaning not just doing it faster than last time but also actually doing it differently because they understand the problem.
If you actually expose the entire situation to the employees and say, ‘Look, the customer thought he wanted this, but based on the latest input, now they need to do something slightly different,’ and if you make it very clear and communicate, then everyone will move forward in this new direction.
They need to feel that they are very close to the decision-making so that they can see the logic behind it and be part of that process.
First things first: It isn’t about Art Falco.
If you think that you can get Falco to talk about anything that he’s done without him emphasizing how important his 275 full- and part-time employees are at PlayhouseSquare, then you don’t understand his style.
That’s because Falco, president and CEO of PlayhouseSquare, believes that the not-for-profit performing arts center has a big mission in the community, and involving his employees is the only path to success. Instead of thinking that only he has ideas and that his people need to put them to form, he makes an effort to get out to his employees and hear their ideas. In turn, those ideas become the driving force that pushes PlayhouseSquare’s growth and the expansion of Cleveland’s theater district.
Smart Business spoke with Falco about why you need to get ideas from everyone before you make a plan and how letting people ask you questions can help modify your company’s structure.
Listen to every idea. You have to develop a vision, and develop that vision not in isolation but with your team, and then communicate that vision to the employees as to why it’s important and how having everyone on that team will benefit the organization.
The challenge is communicating and having everyone feel like they’re part of the decision. So we will have retreats, and most of the retreats are at the senior level talking about concepts and directions, but it’s only after the various departments have met to discuss those concepts and directions.
We involve all the departments to have their input into the planning process, and then those ideas are brought to the senior staff, and out of that will come a direction, a goal, a vision or whatever business opportunity that we should pursue.
It’s not that every idea is going to be taken. Many times, there are suggestions that aren’t taken because maybe that employee didn’t have the proper perspective, that, yes, it may look like a great idea on the surface, however, here is why it may not be practical. But we listen to all of them, and that’s the key.
Then they feel that their voice is being heard, and it makes them feel better about being part of the organization, knowing that they are a member of the team.
Get to know your people. More successful organizations have to have successful teams, and you have to treat employees with respect. You have to realize that your employees, whether they’re senior staff or at the lower level, all have different personalities and that you need to treat those individuals uniquely. There isn’t just one way to approach things; with some employees there’s a different approach. And if you treat employees with respect, and you treat them the way you’d like to be treated, you can get to know each other.
I happen to be a person who doesn’t stay in my office very often, so I’m out talking to employees and saying hello, and those things created a culture of inclusiveness.
Then you have to know what makes up a person, and you have to realize that there are some employees and some staff that are risk-averse and some that are very conservative and others are on the other side of the spectrum, so when you’re having conversations and discussions, you have to take into account where they’re coming from.
Get employees together to hire people they like. In the interview process, we involve other staff members to get their perspective because having different people’s opinions and views are important. We try and flesh out what is the true person rather than just the flashy resume.
It would be more likely that we bring in people working directly with them, but we’ve also involved some key board members who might be working with that person.
Basically, you have to like the person. I know that there are some organizations where the top management tries to essentially pit the employees against each other, believing that type of tension will create greater results, and that may work for some organizations, but I don’t think that would work for us.
The reason we’ve had a lot of success at PlayhouseSquare and a long tenure with many of our employees is because of the culture that we’ve created. We want people to enjoy work and the people they work with.
Modify the hierarchy. You have to have a hierarchical structure because that’s how things are done most efficiently. However, you can modify that structure. It comes down to the senior staff doesn’t feel threatened.
Insecurities are always the reason for some of these hierarchical problems. There just isn’t a situation where someone couldn’t ask me a question. Clearly, they may go to the department head because they all understand that I’m busy, and it doesn’t work to have an organization where everybody has to ask the president every question.
But it’s more management by walking around, and whether that’s in the theaters or the offices, we’ve created a culture where I’m around and I will ask them questions. We don’t have a hierarchical type of organization whereby you can only go to the head of that department to ask a question, who will then go one level up, who will then go to the person who actually knows the answer.
If you know who has the answer, just go to that person, and that creates a culture whereby people don’t feel as hindered.
HOW TO REACH: PlayhouseSquare, (216) 771-4444 or www.playhousesquare.org
To hear Peter C. Roberts tell it, there is nothing more fun than
aligning the culture of a company that operates in more than 700
cities in 60 countries.
Tireless in his interest in the topic, Roberts has been anything but
patient in pushing the culture since coming on board at Jones Lang
LaSalle Inc. in 2003. And it’s a good thing, too, because Roberts,
CEO for the Americas, came on just when the company was taking a good, long look in the mirror.
The early part of the 21st century had been a nearly static time
for the professional services firm that specializes in real estate, but
as it began to right the ship in 2003, the senior leaders got together and realized culture was the engine that could drive the company’s growth.
“Culture, to us, is absolutely critical to our success,” he says. “In
a people-based business, culture is critical to success. Why?
Because people are your assets; they are the fundamental value
creators. If your primary value creator is your people, then who
your people are, what they believe in, how successful they are, will
directly impact how successful you are as an organization, and culture is what unites people.
“I would tell you a strong culture is not created overnight. Nor is
it created by accident. We spent almost an entire day talking about
our culture, and we started with what is our culture. And we came
away with a very firm conclusion, and that is our culture, and I
think anyone’s culture, is the sum or the product of the values that
the organization holds near and dear.”
When you break down what your company actually does every
day, you can begin to understand what you can do to infuse your
values into a functional culture. In a people-based business like
Jones Lang LaSalle, Roberts and the team realized the company’s
hard values but understood from a simple motivational standpoint that if you want people to drive things like professionalism
and superior performance, you need to get people fully invested
in the company. So the leaders focused on integrity, inclusion,
fostering a connection between colleagues and tying that connection back to a career in the firm.
By drawing clear lines around what the company wants to be
and what the cultural responsibilities for leadership are to create
that atmosphere, you create a filtering system for every decision
“That work basically makes explicit for the organization, here’s
who we are, here’s what we believe in and here are explicit filters
through which we feed every decision, pursuit, our strategy, our
clients,” Roberts says.
Set the table
Once you have the idea of the culture you want, you have to get
the word out and create the tone.
“If it’s just 10 people sitting around a table, it’s not going to be
very effective in aligning the rest of the organization,” Roberts says. “The key is around communication, so we are very explicit
about how we communicate with the organization, and we are
very aggressive about doing that, because one of those fundamental values was driving a connection between every employee and
From the moment the leadership team returned from that strategy session, they spent 2004 saturating every communication with
those values. They also made them the focus of quarterly town-hall
meetings where most of the time was allotted to taking open questions from people about the company’s direction.
Beyond putting out the communication, Roberts says you have
to do something that really shows how the company is living its
culture. Because Jones Lang LaSalle wanted to open up, Roberts
and other senior leaders were dropped in the middle of workstations.
“I sit in a cube,” he says. “Most everybody else does, too, and
what that does is it fosters what I like to call atom smashing in the
hallway; it fosters communication on a real-time, ad hoc basis.
“It doesn’t matter if you run a business unit, it doesn’t matter if
you work in the mail room, you’ve got the chance to interact with
leadership or your peers or colleagues and that helps foster communication and gets the message out, as well. It goes back to
authenticity; if we’re preaching openness, if we’re preaching
communication, if we’re preaching connectedness, if the leader
is sitting in the office and is shut off from the rest of the organization, that’s not a very authentic message.”
Drive the implementation
It’s nice to want a culture meant to motivate people in their
careers, but the tripping point often comes when you try to instill
that with thousands of people spread across the world. As Roberts
tried to truly infuse the new culture in 2004-05, he learned that you
have to refuse to make it second fiddle.
“You can’t accept the status quo, you can’t accept the naysayers,
you can’t accept patience,” he says. “You have to constantly work
at getting people to see the vision, you have to constantly work at
getting people to buy in to where you’re going, to buy in to what
you are doing, and sometimes, it’s almost a person-by-person,
“It’s really two sides of the same coin for patience. One is you
can’t be patient, you have to constantly work at it; the other side is
you have to understand that it won’t work overnight.”
That also means you have to keep driving the elements you
believe in when you run into people who are resistant to the new
“You have to work with them to agree to say maybe this isn’t the
right bus for you to be on, and you can’t shy away from those,”
Roberts says. “You have to confront them, but you have to confront them with the commitment and the passion, recognizing
the direction you’re on is the right direction.”
For those open to the new direction, managers have to take the
time to ask them very simply what they want from the culture of
“(Employees) have to be the steward of their own careers, but
we want to be sure the organization is providing them coaching,
mentoring and every tool available to maximize those career
plans,” Roberts says. “Those conversations create an environment
where people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender backgrounds feel like, ‘Hey, I
can succeed here just like everybody else.’”
You have to create a system that ties achievable objectives to
your cultural goals so employees see that you’re authentic.
For example, Roberts points to how Jones Lang LaSalle has
pushed for more diversity through enrichment opportunities that
are the responsibility of each level of manager. The company had
to reshape its outlets for hiring, recruiting, partnerships and promotion — and it ties a portion of each manager’s bonus to working those into his or her plans.
“I’ve got a diversity action plan,” Roberts says. “My direct reports
have a diversity action plan, their direct reports have a diversity
action plan. So it’s making people accountable for them that goes in
their annual goals and objectives, and their bonus is impacted by
how well they do that.
“We tie accountability and metrics to having those conversations. We’re able to track, through technology and our HR team,
those career development plans, so our key managers need to
have career development plans established for their top talent
diverse employee base. And that’s not just for diversity, by the
way, that’s all the action plans. They know what needs to happen,
they know who’s on the radar screen, they know who wants to
move to this geography or this business unit, so that’s how we’re
able to reinforce it.”
Reap the rewards
It’s been nearly five years since that original day spent focusing
on how to improve culture, and Roberts is still pushing the efforts
nonstop. And though he’s not one to slow down his cause to smell
the roses, he says the impact is undeniable.
“You can absolutely measure kind of the impacts of the results of
some of the work we did driving that culture,” Roberts says.
It has earned accolades the world over, ranging from Forbes
Platinum 400 Best Big Companies to China Daily China’s Top
Employers, Shanghai Region. The efforts have also boosted the
bottom line. Jones Lang LaSalle posted net income of $257 million
from nearly $2.7 billion in revenue in 2007, up from net income of
$103 million from revenue of $1.4 billion in 2005.
Though changing your company culture can be slow, Roberts
says the short-term bumps are more than outweighed by the long-term benefits. With a pile of industry rewards on its mantle, Jones
Lang LaSalle has people selecting the company based on the values it espouses and the clients coming in based on the company’s
Beyond that, the effort to work with employees on career satisfaction also has helped create a feeling of loyalty to the company. Roberts often points to one story of an analyst in the U.S.
who raised his hand and said he’d like to work overseas. Since
his managers noted his desire, he ended up spending a year in
Singapore, and he enjoyed it so much he raised his hand again for
a new challenge and bounced around the world until he ended up
in Dubai in one of the company’s fast-growing segments.
“That’s an example of that connection and inclusion and allowing people to make the most of what they have, that’s critical for
retention,” he says. “So the cultural aspects of it are absolutely critical to retaining people because it adds up to an environment that
values each individual for who and what they are and encourages them to be the most they can be.”
In turn, those employees you take care of will fuel your growth.
Roberts makes it very clear that it is that original effort to push the
company culture at Jones Lang LaSalle that has led to the company’s growth.
“Since the middle of 2005, our organization has evolved dramatically,” he says. “And starting in 2006 and 2007, our organic revenue
growth rate — if you scrub out any effects of acquisitions, you can
grow by acquisitions, but that doesn’t mean you’re growing organically — has started to dramatically separate from that of our competitors. So for example, in 2007, our organic revenue growth rate
was between three and four times that of our competitors, that’s
“It’s fair to say that our brand is very differentiated, known and
respected, and it is absolutely associated with that quality of being
the best,” Roberts says. “I don’t think we would be as clearly differentiated and have as powerful and respected a brand if we hadn’t done the work we’ve done.”
HOW TO REACH: Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., (312) 228-2430 or www.joneslanglasalle.com
It has nothing to do with her demeanor the students at Mills College, where Holmgren has been president since 1991, can attest to the fact that she’s actually quite pleasant. Rather, it’s something a friend once told her about progress.
“He said to me, ‘Remember, Jan, all progress is crablike; you take one step forward, one step to the side and then, hopefully, another step forward,’” she says.
Holmgren thinks of that often at Mills, an independent liberal arts college for women that also offers graduate programs for both women and men. With students, faculty and community members constantly at her door trying to get the college to take on different causes with its $74 million budget, Holmgren’s role is to act as the driving force to make the decisions that will allow Mills to take its next forward step.
Smart Business spoke with Holmgren about how to clear up confusion about who is in charge and why you have to lead communications.
Pick a direction and articulate it. First of all, you make sure that you have gotten a full picture; you have to inform yourself first.
Picking a strategic direction and sticking to that direction is a process for the leader, and you have to know your community that you’re working with, you have to know your budget, you have to know your market. Then you have to have the opportunity to really talk and talk and talk and reiterate and point out the advantages for the whole community to moving forward in a single direction or at least a direction that everyone understands or is a part of.
So it bears complex analysis and straightforward and repeated explanation. And sometimes I get a little mixed up there, sometimes any leader sees so clearly where an institution or an organization should go that you don’t necessarily take the time to articulate why that is and get people behind you.
One of the things that I often say as president of Mills is it’s as important for the public safety officer at the front gate to know the college’s mission and its goals as it is for me as president.
Create clear lines of leadership. There also has to be honesty in interaction and no confusion about who takes responsibility and who has authority because sometimes trust is based on a false assumption of democratic leadership, and that’s not true.
A leader must be willing not only to, in the end, have listened and attended to the concerns of everyone but also be willing to make the decision and take responsibility for it.
Sometimes, you have to use different modes in different contexts. So early on in my presidency, occasionally, I would find myself in a situation where I would have groups of people whether they were students or faculty or alumnae saying to me that such and such a decision had to be overturned or changed, and I would say, ‘You know, I’ve listened, and I understand your concerns, and I have reconsidered, but the fact is, this is a good decision, and we’re going to go forward with it.’
I have yet in my career at Mills to find one of those that I wasn’t successful in addressing that way. But sometimes, you have to be pretty tough; you may have to be even stronger than you anticipated in order to simply make the lines clear so no one steps over the line, either.
It’s like being the mayor of a town. You’re listening to everyone’s concerns, and you want to meet them if you possibly can, but you have to think about where the resources are best put.
Understand that you lead the communications. In terms of the leadership at the top, there has to be a real appreciation and respect for everyone who is part of the community and, again, it’s very important for the president to appreciate and talk to the cashier in the bookstore and to talk to the professor of mathematics.
And, to the best of one’s ability, also know yourself and know that you’re one of that team and people look to you to set an example and also to have the opportunity to be recognized by the leader, as well.
I honestly believe that one’s capacity to reflect civil and respectful behavior is a key element for everyone in every context, but certainly for a leader.
Find out about the desire of potential employees. What I’m looking for often is a real desire to be in the position that I’m interviewing for that is the person who has done her or his homework and has really clearly projected him or herself into that role and has an interest in it and an engagement with it.
You can do it very straightforwardly by saying, ‘What interests you about this work, and what will be some of the challenges? What will make it exciting for you to come to work every day; what will be the difficulties?’ Some people tend to be a little more reserved than others, and often, if I sense that there’s an issue about how enthusiastic they seem, I tend to talk about why I like being in the role that I’m in and what inspires me to go to work every day and that that’s a quality I’m looking for in members of my senior team.
If I don’t get a response on that one, it’s probably not as good a fit.
HOW TO REACH: Mills College, (510) 430-2255 or www.mills.edu
Gregory C. Case would be the first to tell you he doesn’t make
the cut as a great leader.
“I’m not one, but I’ve seen many over my time,” he says. “Great
leaders help people succeed. The fundamental piece to that is
understanding opportunity, understanding how colleagues can
meet those opportunities and helping them be successful in a
way they never knew they could be. When you do that, you create tremendous energy in an organization.”
Of course, some people inside Aon Corp. — the global provider
of solutions in insurance and risk management, human capital
consulting and insurance underwriting — would argue that, that
is exactly what Case does.
After all, Case became Aon’s president and CEO in April 2005
and has had only one goal since then: to unite the company’s
43,000 employees under a vision for growth that will make them
all more effective. So while you wouldn’t get Case to admit he’s a
success, you can draw your own conclusions: Aon grew to $7.47
billion in 2007 after posting $6.65 billion in 2005.
“If you take a step back and say, what are the ingredients for an
organization to be successful and sustain that success, you come
back to a few things,” he says. “One is a common vision of what
we’re trying to accomplish. The second is alignment around that
view, do we understand it together, and the third is how we’re
going to serve our clients. The more effective we are in creating a
vision across our firm, the more effective we are in having alignment and collaboration. The more effective we are in collaborating, the more effective we are in trusting each other and the more
effective we are as an organization.”
To create that vision, Case created a vision structure for the company that would improve its ability to serve clients. Then, to build
that up, he went on an Aon world tour, talking with clients and
employees from the company’s more than 520 locations in 120
countries to figure out how to sharpen that view, all with the goal
of taking Aon to new levels of success.
Start with the basics
Case started fine-tuning Aon’s vision by laying out three basic
areas of focus: First, clients would be given the best and most distinctive service possible, second, there would be a high level of
operational excellence that would be driven by the employees,
and third, new clients and talent would be attracted to Aon
because of the success of the first two.
“We’re really only trying to accomplish three things globally,”
Case says. “We’ve worked on that very hard and that actually creates a framework, a basis upon which you can have a dialogue
about how we’re serving clients. It lets us talk about clients in
Shanghai the same way we talk about clients in New York, and that
helps make us a global firm.”
By having a simple starting point, you have an instant screening
process to help you filter through feedback.
“We have a pretty simple motto internally, which is, ‘We will do
about anything if it helps our clients or helps our colleagues help our
clients,’” he says. “So if you put that lens against a global firm —
does it help our clients, yes or no? — it turns out you screen out a
lot of things that are interesting but in the end extraneous because they really don’t fundamentally help our clients or help our colleagues help our clients.”
The process also helped in tying accountability to the vision.
With a clear starting point of success, measurables were more easily created.
“Everyone talks about value, but we’re typically not very crisp in
the definition,” Case says. “So for us, helping clients means one of
two things: Have we helped increase their profitability or operating
performance? That is not an ambiguous question, we’ve either done
that or we haven’t. The second question is, have we helped them
strengthen their balance sheet? If we helped a client do one of those
two things, we’ve added value. If we’ve added value, then we’ve
served them well. If we’ve served them well, we’ll do great things as
As a result of creating that simple starting point, Case was not
only able to spark ingenuity as he toured the company, but he was
also able to put that ingenuity into the proper context.
“We are essentially saying to our firms, ‘Everything you do is
about your leadership in local arenas, these three things we want
to do globally,’” he says. “Turns out when we do those three things
globally, there’s a tremendous step change to the amount of collaboration, the level of how we trust each other to serve clients,
and it starts to shape the firm and its effectiveness shows on the
ground with clients.”
Ask your clients for help
With simple ideas in hand, Case went out and got a few
stamps on his passport. Since taking over Aon, he’s been
around the world and home again, visiting China, New
Zealand, Europe, Dubai and many other places.
That tour cost money and time for the company, but its justification was simple for Case.
“One thing that was very clear from the beginning, it was not
about me, it really was about our clients and our colleagues,”
he says. “As such, I actually spent a great deal of time early on
spending time with those constituents, not the regulators, not
the investors, — all those are important constituents and are
critical, but it was our colleagues and our clients first.”
He focused on how Aon’s clients and colleagues thought
about the evolving world of risk, asking them to really pay
attention to what issues kept them up at night. Then he asked
them how those issues could best be handled in the context of
their business and how they thought Aon did at handling those
“When you ask the same sets of questions, it turns out you
start to see pattern recognition fairly quickly,” he says. “What
was stunning to me is a set of themes that came back from
clients that were very powerful and those themes were common across almost anywhere in the world that I traveled.”
The themes that came to the forefront were the world of risk
is getting bigger, the complexity of risk is increasing, the level
of scrutiny around risk is going up, and finally, risk is about
understanding opportunity as much as understanding any
potential downside. Those themes helped Case learn a valuable lesson in what the market wanted.
“So what you heard loud and clear was the opportunity to get
this right for companies and help them understand risk better
has never been greater,” he says.
To Case, it is the willingness to really take the time to listen
to your clients that really will make a difference in shaping a
“It’s very much shared understanding, shared development of
what we’re trying to do with clients,” he says. “It’s about us
understanding together what we’re trying to do, this is not a
Greg Case answer. First and foremost, you have to listen and
understand to be able to summarize a very simple but specific
set of actions that we’re going to make to improve our firm.
Without talking to clients, you’re not going to get the insight
you need to be effective. So we have to take the temperature,
get understanding, get input and guidance, both about what
they’re thinking about as well as about how we’re serving
Sell it to employees
A simple starting point also helped Case more effectively go
out and get buy in for his vision by talking to his employees.
And talk he did. To date, he estimates he’s been able, in some
form or another, to speak to about 35,000 Aon employees
“Fundamentally, leadership is about helping other people
succeed,” he says. “And doing that from Chicago is not very
To Case, a leader or leadership team needs to put the time in
to get a direct dialogue going with all levels of employees. At
Aon, that’s helped build growth and attracted new talent to the
“It’s really in that context that you go out and have a conversation, and it turns out people are excited about that,” he says.
“That’s really what’s been the basis of our momentum. It’s just
hard work, caring, listening and engaging with our colleagues
on real topics.”
That communication comes in every form for which Case can
make time. He speaks to big groups, but he also meets with
area leaders during each visit and makes time to talk with
employees that approach him. He won’t ever have time to go to
dinner with all 43,000 employees, but he creates as many informal discussions as possible.
“It really is a personal set of discussions, many of them one
on one, many of them small groups,” he says. “You have to cut
across multiple layers of the organization, having the same
conversation with the same 20 people is interesting but not
very impactful. I would also say be very informal — I would
characterize myself as a very informal guy.”
To spark those informal conversations, you have to reiterate
the simple goals of the vision, then remove the hierarchy that
comes with most organizations. It doesn’t mean that you throw
titles out of the window, but you encourage people to speak up
and then you take responsibility for sorting out the chain of command later.
“The issues around hierarchy are always important, but that’s
really a function of respect and trust,” Case says. “It really draws
back to if we have a common vision. If we’ve got alignment around
it, we trust each other.
“When you have very real conversations that are tough, that
are straightforward, you battle out the issues and you walk away
as colleagues to try to achieve something, (and) there’s much
less concern around, ‘Gosh, you shouldn’t have heard that,’ or,
‘That should have come through channels.’ I go through great
pains to play that down to get input and guidance, and then
there’s trust that I’ll circle back in the right way to create movement and change.”
With all that candid feedback, Case was able to work toward
being the type of leader he admires so much. He learned the
areas where his employees needed the most help and got a leg
up on the war for talent by creating a culture that welcomes
employee input. And, with the growth, Aon was able to invest
time and a considerable amount of money into employee-recommended goals to move the company forward.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about what we want to accomplish as a firm, what are the specific areas that we want to invest
in together to make that happen,” he says. “And we have put
together — not me, by the way, but colleagues around the world
— how we’re going to accomplish that, and that’s really built a lot
of momentum in our firm.
“It’s because our firm has said, ‘Listen, we want to work
together to be operationally more efficient.’ That’s why in a
period of time when there’s been some turmoil in our industry,
it’s been a growth period for Aon. And it’s because we’ve been
able to take this global initiative to our colleagues and say,
‘This is the way we fuel growth.’”
HOW TO REACH: Aon Corp., (312) 381-1000 or www.aon.com
Nancy Huber has the perfect presence for public speaking: She has a personable smile, a genuine laugh and a quick wit. But she doesn’t do all of her communicating at Fifth Third Bancorp from the podium.
That’s because Huber, market president Fifth Third Bank, Northeastern Ohio, has learned that no one method of communication is the right way to get through to the nearly 1,000 employees in her market at the financial services company. Instead, she takes her leadership message to every forum she can — from writing for the monthly publication in her market to visiting sales meetings — because she can never be sure where and when the Fifth Third message will get through.
As she tries different vehicles for communication, she focuses on staying consistent so that wherever her employees turn, they find the same message to keep pushing them forward.
Smart Business spoke with Huber about how no one form of communication is enough and why you have to empathize with new employees.
Use every communication vehicle available. Good communication skills are essential to a good leader, and that’s written, it’s verbal, it’s repetitious, it’s redundant, it’s consistent — it’s all of those things. Just because you say it one day does not mean that the next day people will remember it because priorities shift and change.
I have a senior management team here, and we’ve gone down to the next level in our organization, which is the next 30 leaders — these tend to be team leaders or regional managers, people who lead five to 15 associates — and I meet with those people every month. It gives me an opportunity to repeat what I have told their managers so that they hear it directly from me, because when you talk about cascading, they really get out into the organization.
Each line of business also has a monthly meeting, and I attend as many of those as I can. I’m taking the same message to a different slice. We have a monthly publication here that I write something for, and I speak in terms that are appropriate for everybody.
The message doesn’t change, but the vehicle might. If one person doesn’t hear the message, then the message didn’t get through. There is no singular way to communicate; you just have to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.
Help new employees assimilate. I absolutely anticipate when we have a new hire, there’s a learning curve; everybody goes through it.
I know with all the different changes I’ve had in my career that I have a period of time where I have to assimilate, and it sort of gives you enough times to go through things that you haven’t experienced before.
I’m pretty realistic about that. I know it’s not going to be perfect in the beginning, but I give people enough latitude to do what they feel they need to do to assimilate, try to help them assimilate, introduce them to people that can be helpful to them, and share with them experiences in the bank. Over time, they learn to trust one another, to trust the bank, and it’s not an overnight event.
Create avenues for work-life balance. It’s an expectation that everyone down in the organization actively participates in our communities, and it’s not onesize-fits-all. What I care most about is people are genuine in their participation and that they are part of an organization that is meaningful to them.
We talk about it openly, and we give the opportunity to participate in charitable events and donate money. We try to be consistent and support organizations that are meaningful to the city.
I personally believe that people are much more engaged and truly better participants in business when they have a full life, when they have families and churches and schools and things that engage them. Certainly, we all want to do a good job for the bank, but we’re part of a larger world, and it’s important that we participate in it.
It’s also how we know our customers. We’re out in the community. We go to church and go to school and play basketball and go to plays with people who are ultimately our customers, so it’s so important for us to be engaged in the community.
Blend trust and accountability. Accountability tends to have a cold, hard feel to it, but I really believe people like accountability; they want to know what’s expected. And in addition to getting results, people really like the clarity, so I want to make sure people understand what my expectations are.
Then your No. 1 priority is earning trust both ways, from me to them and them to me. People want to do business with and spend time with people they like, and they have to trust one another to have those feelings.
My lines of business have that accountability structure, but they also have a lot of opportunity to put their own touch on their business. I want to understand what’s happening in their business always; I ask what’s happening with their largest customers, I want to understand what their issues and concerns are. Then I trust they’ll make the best decisions for their line of business.
I hope they use me as a sounding board and they value my insight and my broader view since I see all the lines of business. So I support them, give them feedback and am candid about my thoughts.
HOW TO REACH: Fifth Third Bancorp, (800) 972-3030 or www.53.com
Rich Cordova can still tear into the engine of a 1955 Chevy. It’s not really a skill that helps him much as president and CEO for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, but then again, maybe it is.
Cordova has been around the block as an executive during the last 35 years, including leading the Southern California Region of Kaiser Permanente’s Health Plan and Hospitals, but his core style might just come from the mechanic’s sense to tinker.
A native of Southern California, Cordova grew up working in his father’s gas station doing everything from pumping gas to engine repair. The early lessons were lasting: Any one of a thousand problems can keep car off the road, so you have to think about each function of the engine to make things run smoothly. That adaptability is something Cordova keeps in mind with his 3,200 employees at Childrens Hospital, which treats seriously ill and injured children and is affiliated with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.
Since moving into his current role in 2006, he’s worked to understand the discrepancy in employees from secretarial staff all the way up to highly educated surgeons, and he realized that keeping momentum at the organization was all about his ability to figure out the hospital’s problems and get the staff behind him.
“Any leader has to be flexible enough to understand the environment that they’re going into,” he says. “With hospitals, they have this saying that ‘Once you’ve been in one hospital, you’ve been in one hospital,’ meaning the cultures are so different, even though the mission is the same. You have to be flexible enough to understand that your leadership style may have to be tweaked here and there when you approach a certain group of people.”
Here’s how Cordova has continued to tweak his leadership style while working to conquer his field.
Hear and address the problems
There are a lot of differences between fixing an engine and running a business, but one similarity is training your ear for problem noises and adjusting your strategy.
The same way you can hear the loud exasperation of your failed exhaust manifold gasket, Cordova knows you can hear the problems of an organization.
“One thing I’ve been consistent at the whole time to be successful is having open communications,” he says. “I don’t do a lot of work behind the scenes making decisions, I have the executive team that I meet with weekly, we set agendas, and we talk over the issues and get consensus before we go to implement a new plan or program.”
Cordova makes it a priority to regularly speak with leaders in each of his departments. He knows he doesn’t have time to hear 3,200 different opinions on what needs to be done, but, he says, department leaders, a more manageable group to deal with, will tell you their big problems. It saves time in sorting out feedback while still getting to the heart of the situation.
“The key is listening,” he says, “Listening to the concerns of our scientists, listening to the concerns of nursing staff and our practicing physicians, and then understanding what needs to be done to correct the situation. Our whole strategic plan is a culmination of things raised by the faculty here at Childrens Hospital, and we’re fixing all those things.”
Once he’s heard the organization’s problems, he reciprocates their openness with a transparency of his own. For example, he gathers all the department leaders to hear the results of the hospital’s performance each quarter, and then updates what those results mean to the strategic plan so they can share it with their staff. By addressing the problems of the organization and letting everybody know you are not shying away from it, you’ve created the equation for consensus.
“My success has been to build that consensus,” Cordova says. “Be transparent as to where you’re going and where you’ve been.”
Just from letting people know the inner struggles of the organization, Cordova says you will get more candid feedback on what problems people have that are in the way of strategic goals. The added bonus will be employees who feel empowered by the knowledge of what’s going on.
“The feedback I’ve been getting since I’ve been the CEO has been phenomenal,” he says.
“It’s invaluable to them owning the plan. It’s sharing all that information because sometimes you take a dip in your financial performance and everybody needs to understand why and then understand how we’re going to move in a more positive direction.”
Show short-term progress
To keep an organization with an operating budget of more than $493 million moving, you have to show your entire staff momentum. Cordova makes it a point to show the positive changes Childrens Hospital has made, and then points out that he’s not just inventing ideas in some ivory tower.
“I keep articulating back to them, ‘I am only fixing the things that you told me need to be fixed’” he says. “That tends to motivate them.”
That momentum is something Cordova says has to be fed constantly. He recommends what he calls low-hanging fruit, a series of short-term goals that will help keep the whole organization feeling as if it is moving forward.
“Strategic planning is typically longer-range thinking, but one of the key elements to success is some short-term operational corrections,” he says. “One of our strategic goals was operations improvement to show them that those operational concerns were imbedded in our strategic plan. That’s the first year of implementation of that plan, it was not the 10-year goal, to give them the confidence that we were moving on those issues.”
Those momentum-building changes don’t have to be big, they just need to have a positive impact on many people. One thing Cordova started with at Childrens Hospital was the redesign of the Web site.
“Things like that are short-term to establish that we are beginning to make those changes,” he says. “Did it cost a little money? Comparatively speaking, that’s low-hanging fruit, and it goes miles to show that we are listening and we can make changes.”
That continued effort will keep the emphasis on the organization’s forward movement, but it will also inspire employees to continue to give productive feedback.
“They feel they are being listened to and we are taking care of these issues for them,” Cordova says. “Our job as administrators is to create an environment so that the physicians and nurses can practice the best medicine they can, and you can only do that by listening to their concerns, understanding what needs to be done, developing the plan to get there and having the vision to get to the future. If you do all that, you’ll capture their imagination, you’ll capture their energy, and you’ve got an alignment of the organization.”
Give a chemistry test
While the key to an engine repair may be a new part, there are no stores stocked with employees who will fit your company. So to find new talent for the senior leadership team, Cordova takes a nugget he’s learned in the medical field: He administers a chemistry test.
“The old motto is you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” he says. “You can get a lot of resumes, and, of course, you look for the skill level and the education, but just as important, maybe more important, is the chemistry they bring to the organization. I’m almost inclined to say that counts even more because I’ve seen people who are textbook smart but can’t survive in large organizations.”
Cordova’s chemistry test isn’t complex. He first mixes a job candidate with the people he or she would work with both daily and occasionally and then he finds a way to relax those candidates who make it to a second interview to get to the core of their personality.
“When I select the interview panel, I’m selecting people that I know are going to work with this person,” he says. “Then, I select people that may be further away from that position [but] will have some kind of interaction. I make sure that I get a lot of data points on this person.
“Then I do the informal interview process where I take the candidate to dinner and give a more relaxed atmosphere. I’ve even taken some candidates to play some golf.”
In taking his perception from the casual atmosphere and blending it with the thoughts of staff members involved in the department, Cordova says you can get the right equation of how the person will fit.
“By having my own assessment and the assessment of the key executives that they’re going to work with, we can make a pretty good judgment as to what I call the soft sciences, meaning their people skills, their teamwork, their sensitivity to others, how they are going to work with physicians and nurses, and their team approach,” he says.
Match culture and community
More than just hiring for the right chemistry of the organization, Cordova places an emphasis on matching the culture of the hospital to the community. The Los Angeles market is one of the most diverse in the nation, and if you want to serve others whether they are clients, consumers or patients you have to realize that your people need to reflect that. To Cordova, that starts from the top.
“I look for diversity of the executive team,” he says. “Serving a very diverse community of Latinos, Koreans, Chinese, Armenians and so forth, an organization needs to reflect the community it’s serving, both at the governance level and at the executive level.”
First, Cordova says the way you search for outside talent has to be different.
“You start with the criteria you are using for recruitment,” he says. “You make that commitment. You begin to tell your search firms that this is a priority for you, and you have to start putting the onus on your search firms to help develop a diverse pool of candidates.”
Beyond making that recruiting effort a priority, Cordova says that companies can do the work internally to make diversity happen.
“The other commitment companies can make is to grow your own,” he says. “Develop the pipeline by bringing in students, interns and administrative residents that have diverse backgrounds and grow them in your organization.”
That process requires a leader to groom his or her diverse talent by tying each person to the organization.
“Give them stretch assignments, so four to five years from now, they are going to be ready for a director-type position and, four to five years later, that director will be ready for a vice president position,” Cordova says. “You have two avenues that you really have to pursue. One is grow your own. Two, make a commitment to having a diverse pool of candidates when you’re recruiting and having that be a requirement in your search.”
The ability to integrate that work force is extremely important, and Cordova insists that there is a direct connection between an organization’s quality measure and its leader’s ability to properly match the community’s diversity and emphasize cultural understanding of those whom you’re serving.
“There is a major emphasis on quality, and quality can be measured in a variety of ways,” he says. “I think there is a correlation between having a diverse staff and individuals that are trained in culture competence so that we are able to understand the different cultures that we’re treating, that has an impact on quality. And there’s a direct connection between leadership, culture competence and quality.” <<
HOW TO REACH: Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, (323) 660-2450 or www.childrenshospitalla.org
Deb DeHaas didn’t have the vision when she started her career.
Well before she became the vice chairman and Midwest regional managing partner for Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, DeHaas was a 25-year-old kid wondering about her career path.
Fortunately, she had an eye-opening breakfast with a senior
partner at the firm where she was then working.
“We talked about longer-term career opportunities,” she says.
“He put in front of me a vision of what I could accomplish that
was so much bigger than anything I could have seen on my own
at that point in my career, and that has always stayed with me.”
Today, DeHaas is constantly thinking about polishing individual
employees who may not think beyond their immediate ceiling.
That fits well with Deloitte, the U.S. member firm of Deloitte
Touche Tohmatsu, where mentoring is a key function of company culture. With the work force changing, Deloitte is using that
mentoring philosophy to lead a friendly battle.
“There is clearly, I believe, a war for talent,” DeHaas says. “And that
war is only going to continue to be more challenging. So as a business imperative, and as a talent imperative, we have to make sure
we’re the place where the best people are going to be.”
To make sure of that, the professional services firm has created
programs to help put new employees in position to succeed.
Deloitte’s mentoring efforts have seen strong recruiting dividends:
BusinessWeek named it as the No. 1 place to launch a career in
2007. As a result, the firm, which had total U.S. revenue of $9.85 billion in 2007, is seeing talented graduates and professionals show
up at its door.
The more that mentoring process pays off, the more leaders at
Deloitte feed it. DeHaas has made it a top priority with the 5,000
people in her region, taking the lead by making herself a presence
in every employee orientation. Beyond that, she works to give new
staff members personal counselors that can push them in the right
direction and create programs that will keep them from falling
through the cracks.
Help employees get in the door
The lesson DeHaas got from that memorable breakfast taught
her that the one thing often separating top-level performers from
other talented employees is individual mentoring.
Her initiation into Deloitte helped reinforce that principle. After 20
years in another organization, she came to Deloitte roughly six
years ago and realized that even though she had the core competencies needed to succeed, she had to learn a lot about the organization. Fortunately for her, Deloitte paired her with other senior
leaders who became mentors.
“There are so many things that you learn that you don’t even realize
you’re learning, and when you move to another organization, you
have to learn all over again,” she says. “I was extremely fortunate
because I had a number of senior leaders in this organization who
reached out to help me get connected.”
That lesson doesn’t just apply to senior leaders. DeHaas says that every employee coming in has a steep learning curve and a big part
of their end productivity is how you handle their individual initiation.
“We are a big organization, but we always have to take into
account the individual,” she says. “We have to figure out what’s the
right set of things for that individual that will allow them to get
connected. For me it was one set of things, but for someone else it
might be their industry expertise and their involvement with this
particular group of industry leaders.”
The front end of that is for leaders to understand what a transition
into a new organization means for people. DeHaas says you need to
put yourself in front of people and show empathy for their adjustment. Even with 5,000 employees, she still attends every new hire
orientation in her region.
“I literally talk to every person who comes into the organization,”
she says. “And I give them some perspective on the importance of
them getting connected and how they might accomplish that, and
give them my own personal commitment that if they aren’t finding
that path quickly that they need to reach out to me or someone
else to make that happen.”
Even though the orientation sessions occur every other week all
year long, DeHaas makes the time necessary to attend.
“When you say things are important to you, you need to look at
where you spend your time,” she says “I think periodically things
get out of whack, so you say something is important to you, but,
all of the sudden, you look at whatever it is and realize you’re not
giving it the commitment. I just block it off on my schedule every
other Monday as a commitment, and I go down and spend time
with that group.”
Assign career counselors
Though DeHaas makes helping employees in the door a priority
in her schedule, she simply cannot be the main caretaker for 5,000
careers. Instead, after helping frame how important getting
involved in the organization is, Deloitte has a system that applies
two counselors to new employees. First, there is a leader one step
up from the employee who can help involve them and mentor their
immediate career path. The second is a leader a few steps up the
ladder who can help create career aspirations.
“I’d love to think that I could physically touch all these people,”
DeHaas says. “But in a larger organization, we try to make the
world smaller and make sure that everyone has individual attention (from) someone who truly understands what is important to
them and is focused on helping them achieve it.”
Not only do the two levels give more guidance while keeping any
one leader from getting bogged down, but DeHaas says you can give
varying levels of inspiration to the employee with multiple channels.
“There is a lot of value to having access to someone who is a little closer to them and then also someone who might have a little
more experience in the organization and see out a little bit further,”
The lower-level leader works to help create goals for the person
that are tangible and gives daily interaction on projects. For example,
a senior director sits down with a director and goes over the process
of annual goal setting and reviews current work.
“Every person annually goes through a process of setting their
goals, having those reviewed, agreed to and modified if necessary,”
DeHaas says. “There are multiple test points throughout the year
because a lot of the work that we do is project-oriented, so they are
getting that kind of feedback. We really tried to put some things in
place to make sure that we are having ongoing dialogue with our
people and we know how they are progressing.”
Then, like the mentor who helped DeHaas see a broader vision
of her future, she says occasional meetings with a higher leader
help people plan out a little further in their career than they may
have previously considered.
“I was recently having a conversation with [an employee], and we
talked about some of the opportunities available to him,” she says.
“And he said, ‘This has been great because you don’t always have
those people that push you to have this kind of conversation.’”
Not only has DeHaas found both levels of help to be enriching for
the mentor, she says there is a direct correlation between that
effort and the motivation level of employees because those conversations help put the daily grind in perspective.
“It’s pretty easy to just put your head down and be focused on
getting things done day to day when you have a demanding environment,” she says. “Certainly, I can say that there were times in
my career that I was thinking much more about that than the
longer term. But knowing that you have someone who personally
and professionally you trust, you can have that kind of conversation with, I think that’s critical at every stage in your career — but
particularly at those levels when you just don’t have that much
Make retention a daily priority
DeHaas says the final way to help employees get adjusted is to
make sure training and development programs exist to involve
employees in the culture.
In the same way she was helped by teaming up with senior leaders when she entered Deloitte, DeHaas has created different cultural groups. One example is the Generation Y task force — a group of
volunteers that talk about the desires of the new work force. Not
only does the group give her ideas on cultural changes from younger
employees, but it also gives them an outlet for fitting into the firm.
The group has created avenues for getting involved in green initiatives and more community work, which has modernized Deloitte
while giving employees an outlet that benefits the firm.
“It’s always helpful to get feedback from people who see things
from different perspectives,” she says. “Having a group that is looking at the world in a different way than people who have been in
the work force for 10 to 15 years and knowing how important
they’re going to be going forward, makes us more effective.”
To be fair, programs like that don’t just make employees happy
for the sake of making them happy. DeHaas knows that even
though Deloitte has been noted as a great place to start a career,
employees don’t have to stay forever.
“Once you get someone inside your organization, what you’re
really doing is re-recruiting that person every day,” she says. “They
have a choice about whether they are going to work for you or
someplace else, so why do they choose to work for you? It’s
because of the culture and the opportunity to grow and develop.
“It’s really quite simple: It’s all about our people and our clients.
To me, they are completely interrelated. To do the best work for
clients and to achieve client service excellence and differentiate
ourselves in the marketplace, we have to do all those things
around our people, and so it is absolutely a strategic priority.”
Again, DeHaas knows you can’t spend your entire life making
culture a priority. That’s why the most effective route is focusing
on those transition points — new hires, promotions, annual
reviews — and ensuring that leaders allot time to programs for
“You make the time to do the things that are important,” she says.
“I try to figure out those sorts of inflection points that are important with a group of employees or individual employees and make
those interactions happen.”
Overall, DeHaas makes mentoring a daily priority because it
recruits and helps keep employees engaged and motivated. The
added bonus is that focus has created better-trained employees and
had a direct effect on turnover at Deloitte. Turnover percentage,
which was in the mid-20s a decade ago, is down to roughly 15 percent.
“We have made a series of strategic choices, and our people are
at the very top of the list,” DeHaas says. “It really does capture a lot
of mindshare, not only with me but really every sort of person
who’s at a leadership level. I believe where the rubber hits the road
is every single day when we’re in the field doing work, that’s what
in the long term makes the difference in the lives and motivation
of our people.”
HOW TO REACH: Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, (312) 486-1000 or www.deloitte.com