SBN Staff

Every time a plane crashes, while tragic, Scott Ginsburg also say it’s a learning opportunity for the future.

“Anytime the FAA goes out and looks at the scene of a plane wreck, they’re trying to learn something about what happened,” he says. “Was it wind shear? Was it equipment failure? Was it a personnel failure? And usually it’s categorized around those two or three or four things, and then all those pilots go to this case and learn what happened — don’t let it happen to you, learn something.”

If you stick around in business long enough, inevitably you’re going to fail, and Ginsburg has seen those times during his career, but he’s also learned from failures — both his and those of others. He’s had a successful nearly two-decade career in radio broadcasting, forming several successful radio groups during that time. Now he’s leading 1,500 employees as the owner of Boardwalk Auto Group, a chain of automobile dealerships, and chairman and CEO of DG Fast Channel Inc. (Nasdaq: DGIT), a provider of digital media services to the advertising industry.

“(Failure) didn’t happen every time, but the failures taught us a lot about how to succeed,” he says. “We had failures with specific stations or specific managers or specific markets, and those failures created a huge MBA program for everybody because you spend wildly on failures — millions of dollars — but you learn from those failures, and that’s the beauty of business.

“Every day you can change what you do. You can take an incorrect, ill-advised policy and change that to one that’s forward-thinking and plausible.”

Throughout the successes and failures, Ginsburg has learned a few universal truths to successfully running a business: take responsibility for your business, address needed changes and build customer relationships.

Take responsibility

President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here,” and Ginsburg says that leaders have to take on that ultimate responsibility in order to be successful.

“People expect leaders to lead and to take responsibility when things are looking good as well as when they’re looking bad,” he says. “When we started the year in 2009, we saw a scenario, some of which was bad and others of which were very bad. It was a challenge to get everybody on the same page, to agree to the financial discipline to hold expenses in check and to maximize every opportunity for revenue, and they expected me to lead those efforts.”

You have to know what it takes for your business to be successful.

“In order to take responsibility, you have to have your arms around your business, and you have to thoroughly understand each aspect of it,” Ginsburg says.

You might have gotten to your position because you were particularly good at finance or sales or administration, but it takes expertise in more than one area to be a successful overall leader.

“In order to be a leader of consequence, you have to be able to really cross all those disciplines and not say, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about that,’ or, ‘I don’t want to get involved with that,’” he says. “While it’s the comfort zone of most people in one area or another, to be an excellent leader, you have to go outside your comfort zone and learn things you didn’t want to know. You have to learn lessons and go back and learn things that aren’t intuitive for you, that will create the opportunity to help your managers deal with problems that when you bring them in your office, you don’t just okey-doke them.”

This aspect of leadership was particularly important for Ginsburg as he took companies public in his career.

“I’m not an accountant, but if you’re the CEO of a public company, you’re expected to sign all sorts of documents,” he says. “You’re expected to understand how any given decision will flow through a financial statement.”

Address needed change

In the past, if numbers or prices changed as little as 3 percent, it wasn’t a big deal, but that’s changed in the current environment.

“In many of our businesses, what we did was we said, ‘Well, OK, if that goes up 3 percent a year, no big deal, because we were living in an inflationary environment where it was always easy to say yes to a little bit more. We’re not in that anymore.”

Instead of saying yes, you have probably had to cut back more. Perhaps it was cutting your 401(k) match or reducing health benefits or having furloughs. Whatever the situation was, there was one common necessity: Change was needed, and you had to be able to recognize that fact. You do so by looking at the numbers, which don’t lie.

“In all my businesses and all my divisions, we build [data] matrices so that there’s an objective truth, an ability to have a view,” Ginsburg says. “Then, after you’ve gone through it with your managers, you have the ability to articulate what you want because you want to change the matrix — you want to change your sales, you want to change your expenses, you want to change your outcome.”

When the numbers tell you change is coming, you have to start with honest communication.

“Be candid with people,” Ginsburg says. “Tell them the truth. Don’t tell them what they want to hear — tell them what they have to hear. If you tell them the truth, people can have a tremendous capacity to deal with the truth and no capacity to deal with fiction. A salesperson knows if they’ve sold a sufficient number of units, cars, widgets or whatever it is to know that they’re doing well or they’re not doing well, so you can’t tell them things are bad when things are good, and you can’t tell them things are good when they know full well that their commission checks aren’t doing what they have to do to support their own families.”

You also need to be consistent across the organization.

“What’s particularly important in communication is being consistent about that communication so we don’t say one thing to one group or another to another group and then finally another to a third group,” he says. “What we have to be able to do is come up with a consistency and internal logic, and in order to do that, you have to think about your business 24 by seven by 365. Some people like to run a business over an eight-hour day, over a four-day week because on the fifth day, they’re playing golf.”

Beyond consistency, you also have to communicate things early, which goes back to having your arms wrapped around the business.

“If you are so late in the cycle of understanding the dynamics of your business and what’s happening around you, it’s difficult to communicate to your employees early,” Ginsburg says. “If you can get your arms around some of these issues about where you are with lenders, what’s your leverage, if you have a lack of demand and have too many employees to explain that, so not all of a sudden, you’re six months into the dilemma and the next thing you’re doing is you’re reacting. In order to be a good communicator, you always have to be proactive.”

Whenever changes are necessary, you’ll als

o have to address your managers’ attitudes.

“Denial is what you have to deal with with your managers,” he says. “‘The matrix says that over the last four months, your production is down. Why is that?’ The very first thing a lot of managers will say back to you is, ‘Oh, no, it isn’t.’ Now we have to deal with the belief system. ‘OK — what is it about this matrix that you don’t believe?’ You have to get people to confront what is happening in front of them and what the numbers say.”

Build customer relationships

Another lesson that Ginsburg has learned throughout his career is to build strong customer relationships.

“That comes down to having your sales organization not being afraid of asking the questions: How am I doing, what can I do differently for you, what are your needs, how do you see your future, and how can we help you make your business better?” he says.

You want to build that relationship so customers know you care about more than money.

“That is the key to most customer relationships: Are you a real partner or are you a transactional company that’s looking for the quick hit and then go find the next customer?”

That starts with thinking of your customer’s needs before your own.

“The basic advice is you’re not going to win every time,” Ginsburg says. “Be prepared to compromise and be prepared to, at times, sacrifice your own revenue stream because of the needs of any given set of customers. We all like to get up and pound our chest and say, ‘Boy, we can drive revenue through any kind of environment.’

While that’s a good thing to say, the reality is that in this environment it doesn’t happen as frequently, so that’s when you have to try to cooperate with your customers.

“What can be better than if someone, if a company in the customer relationship, takes a step back, understands what the need is, so that when you begin to move forward again as we are in 2010, … then next time around and the next opportunity, they’re wed to you in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be because they know you cared, you listened, you stepped back and you have an opportunity to move forward,” he says.

Also know what you can and can’t do to build the customer relationship.

“You cannot solve every problem for every one of your customers, but in your relationship with them, you certainly have to have enough listening posts and have enough data as we said to put in the matrix that there’s usually a similar story if you listen hard enough,” he says. “You can’t forgive everybody’s account receivable — if you did that, you’d be out of business, but you can hear if someone needs some extra time to pay or someone needs to work on a specific problem they’re having with another one of their customers, so you can become part of the solution.”

You also want to have multiple people in your organization listening to the customer instead of just one person.

“Have your managers and a number of diverse people in the room listening, and then get altogether inside the company and have the opportunity to have an open dialogue and have the participation of a group of people and not try to funnel it all through one person,” Ginsburg says. “Over the years, the times that I have made my largest errors is not reaching out to enough diverse opinion and listening and not having the right people in the room at the time the decision is made.

“This is just a little different that people saying you have to listen to everybody in the organization. That’s a little unattainable depending on the size of your organization, but if you have an organization of 50 to 100 salespeople, and you’re only listening to two sales managers, chances are you’re not getting deep enough, and it’s being channeled in a way that, as the general manager of the business, the CEO of the company, you’re not really listening hard enough.”

By applying these truths to his current businesses, he’s seen DG FastChannel reach $190 million in revenue last year, and Boardwalk Auto’s revenue was slightly greater than $250 million.

“It’s taking leadership responsibility, being candid with people and then communicate as best you can through managers and through your organization,” Ginsburg says. “… You should be able to make it through any period of time, and that’s what we’ve seen over the last 16, 17 months. Those who were ready, it wasn’t such a bad time, but those who weren’t ready, it was a terrible time.”

How to reach: Boardwalk Auto Group,; DG FastChannel Inc., (972) 581-2000 or

Somebody, somewhere higher in the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP structure thought Gary Price was a smart guy.

Somebody thought that Price was worthy of being the Greater Atlanta market managing partner of the accounting and professional services firm. And because somebody thought Price was a pretty knowledgeable guy and could handle that responsibility, the firm gave him the position overseeing 1,300 people across three states.

But just because somebody thought he was a smart guy, doesn’t mean that those 1,300 people think he’s a smart guy, too.

“Just because someone anoints you king for the day, … just because you think you’re doing all these great things and modeling all these great behaviors, it doesn’t necessarily generate the trust and enthusiasm and change you’re looking to get until you make the connection,” Price says.

And it doesn’t mean that his clients think he’s a smart guy either.

“We have to sell ourselves every day, and you can’t sell yourself if your client doesn’t trust you,” he says. “The client isn’t going to trust you because you’re smart. It’s the same analogy about when I stepped into this role. Maybe some people think I’m a smart person, but my partners aren’t going to trust me because someone said I was smart. I have to have a relationship, and the way you have a relationship is you have to invest time.”

Build relationships with customers

PwC used to run a television commercial that said, “Your clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and that tagline has stuck with Gary Price.

“There’s no specific formula for doing this — it’s an art as much as science,” he says. “It starts with relationships. If I walked into company X’s offices tomorrow and I didn’t have a good, trusting relationship with whoever’s office I was in, I wouldn’t get very far asking questions. The starting point is it’s all about relationships, and you’ve heard that before, and it’s true, and it’s exceptionally true in our business because our product is ourselves.”

But how do you show your customers you care? How do you make them the center of an organization that has not just 1,300 people in one region across three states, but 30,000 people and revenue just below the $8 billion mark across the whole country?

“If you really, really want to, you can turn that into a complicated story, but if you think about what we do at the core, it’s very simple,” Price says. “We help our clients solve difficult issues. It’s that simple. It’s no more. It’s not that complicated. When you’re able to distill it down, it really takes away the complication.”

It’s a simple mission, but even the simplest of tasks can get muddied, so start with how you initially communicate with your customers.

“I always start with, ‘What are you trying to achieve,’” he says. “Whether that’s financial goals, strategic goals in the market, growing the business, product expansions, mergers and acquisitions, and divestitures, tax planning, improving processes in the business, there’s a lot of ways companies like to make themselves better. I always ask, ‘What are you trying to achieve? What are your goals? I want to make sure I understand clearly what your goals are.’”

Show them you truly care about those goals so ask them to not just tell you about them but to show you, as well.

“Most people in most businesses have personal plans where they put on a piece of paper somewhere their goals, and somebody in their organization reviews it and holds people accountable to those goals,” Price says. “We encourage people to actually ask people to review their plans with them. Usually, not always, our clients share those with us, and when they do, it provides a great road map to how you can help them be successful.

“When I have a clear picture of their goals and have that trust with them, then I have the opportunity to step in their shoes and start to break down what’s keeping them from achieving those goals.”

For example, if a client says they want to reduce their tax burden and do some tax planning, he can begin to ask questions.

“Questions you begin to ask are let’s talk about your structure — you start drilling down into the details and let’s talk about where your tax burden is here or overseas,” he says. “Where is your tax burden most problematic? If you say, ‘What are you trying to achieve?’ and they say, ‘We close our books in 20 days, but we want to close them in five; how do we get there?’ So you have to understand what they’re trying to achieve.”

As he builds these relationships and asks these questions, he’s able to see patterns across industries that allow him to pinpoint the real issues for which his employees should be focusing on finding solutions.

“You start talking to multiple companies, and you start coming back and saying, ‘You know what, what we heard from Company X is the same thing we hear from Company Y,’” Price says. “You begin to build a knowledge base, and in a firm like ours, it replicates itself in many ways, and it allows us to be very focused. … We get very focused around the most important issues our clients have. We don’t go into our clients and say we can solve all your problems. One, it’s not true, and even if it were true, we don’t have the capacity to achieve that. But where we do go, we say, ‘Tell us what your problems are; we think we can help you with some of the biggest problems.’”

Through all of this, you have to keep the customer at the center of your focus instead of money.

“You might hear, with professional services firms, the old saying, the billable hour — how important that is,” Price says. “In our mind, equally important is that nonbillable hour where you’re investing that time to build trust with your clients. That’s the baseline. Once you have that trust, how do you get at those things?”

And lastly, you have to be yourself. It’s the best advice that he ever received and it’s true in any situation with customers.

“Some people are always trying to work on things that are viewed as negative and trying to create an image externally with other people that is not consistent with their personality and who they are. I had a mentor and he said, ‘Take that solid foundation and those values and build on it and be a positive person and be who you are. Don’t take on someone else’s personality just because it’s expedient or you think it will get you somewhere.’

“It’s hard to go into a client’s office — and we work with really smart people and clients — and fool them. They see through that really quickly. And then once that happens, you no longer have trust and credibility with them. You walk in, you are who you are, you help them, and by the way, if they ask you a question and you don’t know the answer to it, ‘I don’t know,’ is a great answer. ‘But I’ll be sure glad to find out and get back to you.’”

Taking this approach to building customer relationships will help your customers trust your leadership and what your organization does.

“I used to think that commercial was so hokey, but that tagline is so good,” Price says. “It’s true. … It’s very difficult to outsmart the competition, but if you can build better and deeper relationships, you can outhustle them.”

Build relationships with employees

Earlier in his career, if someone walked into Price’s office or he walked into his or hers, he didn’t waste time with small talk.

“If someone walked into my office, boom we’re talking business,” he says. “But what I learned is we’re all humans with the same issues and frailties that we’re working through. And it’s amazing the connection you make with people when you open up and share.”

Since that realization, Price strives to build relationships with his employees and to really know them.

“That’s a challenge, no doubt about it,” he says. “And it’s an ongoing challenge — you don’t do it once and check the box and you’re done.”

While it’s difficult to know 1,300 people, he focuses primarily on the partners.

“First and foremost, starting with those other 99 partners, was really spending quality time with each of them and reaching out to them,” he says. “It was me reaching out to them and not saying, ‘Come to my office and let’s have a meeting.’ Meeting them on their turf and their terms and really doing it without an agenda.”

Getting some quality time with 99 people can be tough, so he uses a combination of informal and formal methods. First, map out an informal plan for making connections.

“The informal ways are you try to find opportunities where there are intersections between work and personal and social, whether it’s having dinner with a partner or inviting a small group of partners into your home for dinner on the weekend or playing golf with a partner or going to a play or something. Or you bring a small group of partners together with a small group of clients and you have social time,” Price says. “There’s a lot of ways informally to do it.”

He also drops in their offices and asks open-ended questions to just get to know them better.

“It’s just simple questions — ‘What’s going on, how’s the family, how’s the golf game, how was your vacation?’” he says. “You get to know what makes your partners tick.”

Beyond the informal, you have to also find the formal ways to connect with them and get to know them better. Price works with his assistant to rotate through those 99 people throughout the year.

“You start at the top of the list and work your way down, and it doesn’t always work that way if there are certain partners you want to get to immediately, but hypothetically, you start at the top and work your way down, and you say, ‘In the next two months, let’s make sure I get some good quality interaction with these eight or 10 partners,” he says. “Then the next month, pick the next eight or 10, and work through formally.”

While he may be focusing on spending quality time with eight to 10 people each month, he has other ways to make sure he doesn’t lose contact with everyone else when it’s not their “turn.” Monthly he has an all-partners meeting over a lunch hour, and the agenda is to build relationships and trust with one another so they can turn to each other when business opportunities come up.

He also has a small group of six people that he meets with for two hours every two weeks. It’s typically the leaders of each line of business and three key enablers — his human capital leader, marketing and sales leader, and administrative leader.

Combining these efforts, it gives him far more insight into his partners than he would get staying in his office.

“It’s really understanding their personal agendas and really understanding what makes them tick,” he says. “If you think about it, it’s about making them successful … because if you can enable success in the team around you, there’s a lot more leverage and a lot greater chance you’ll personally be successful in that approach and model than going and doing it yourself.”

By taking these steps, it helps people buy in to what that high-up, powers-that-be person originally thought — that Price is a smart guy.

“What that did was start to break down some of the, ‘Who’s this person; what are his motives?’ and enabled us to connect on a more human level,” he says.

And it’s the same approach as the commercial.

“It really gets back to that simple message from the commercial — you have to demonstrate a real genuine care for the person, the whole person, and that’s both professional and personal,” Price says. “When you do that, that engenders trust and loyalty. Strategy is 10 percent of the battle, and everyone has a great strategy, and everyone has smart people. Whatever your strategy is, if they trust you, they will follow it and execute against it, and they will perform well and be successful. That same person could be a very bright person, but without that trust and without that loyalty, that person won’t be as successful, and you won’t get the same productivity out of that person as you otherwise would.”

How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, (678) 419-1000 or

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Measuring sticks

When Linda Galipeau took over Randstad US nearly two years ago, the recruitment company lacked key performance indicators, or KPIs for short.

“Before I came in, there were two big ones but oddly enough, they didn’t correlate with success,” the president says. “I know that’s very strange. One was very ‘amount of activity,’ and one was sort of ‘units sold,’ if you will.”

Both assumed that all activity was good activity and that everything else was done well.

“Since they had narrowed it down so much and said, ‘We’re going to assume that all of those have taken place, and we’re just going to push these two,’ you saw falling away of other KPIs, and since there were too few, you couldn’t measure the fallout of the chosen focus,” she says.

She suspects the thought process was to not give people too much information because then they’ll get lost in the details, so by focusing on just two areas, they’ll gain more traction in those areas.

“But what actually happened was kind of quite the opposite,” she says. “First of all, there wasn’t a lot of buy-in — people are pretty smart, and there wasn’t a lot of solid buy-in and adoption of the value of these KPIs. And there was constant change — if this didn’t work, then we’ll try this, so there was a constant changing of KPIs, and there wasn’t a fundamental buy-in. People weren’t engaged.”

To get things back on course and move the 1,600-person business forward, Galipeau decided that she had to set new KPIs and then get employees engaged in the business.

Set performance indicators

Galipeau had to first find the behaviors and actions that would move the business forward.

“In all businesses, at the end of the day, there’s how the market does,” she says. “You see that after the fact, but even that is very descriptive, but it’s not terribly prescriptive — if you want to be prescriptive about your performance, you have to say, ‘All right, this and this and this gives me that and that and that, and therefore, I’m going to measure how we’re doing on those three areas.’”

She says they should be easy to measure, easy to drive, transparent, visible and timely. One way to identify those is to look at differences in your performers.

“You look at the difference between the highly successful and highly unsuccessful,” she says. “… You can’t just look at the operational input of the very successful and say, ‘They’re successful because of these.’ You have to actually look at what operational inputs differentiate the highly successful from those that are less successful.”

Galipeau divided employees into quartiles based on performance.

“It’s really capturing what were the differentiators between the top group and the bottom group, because that’s where you see the differentiators,” she says.

In doing this, they identified three success indicators and three outputs that separated the top 25 percent from the bottom 25 percent.

“You have to take a fairly long look at the data and make sure you’re really contracting the extreme in performance before you come to that conclusion,” Galipeau says. “If you’re looking at the top group, the middle group, the submiddle group and the bottom group, you’re just not going to come to that conclusion. … You can’t dissect the struggles and hope to find the recipe for success. I think you can only compare and contrast and find the things that differentiate.”

At the same time, you have to be careful not to lump all successes as leading indicators.

“Just make sure you’re in facts, and make sure you’re always comparing and not only describing a group that succeeds,” she says. “Very often we get caught up in, ‘Gee, this person is doing very well, and they’re doing this, therefore, they’re doing well because they’re doing this.’ That leads to anecdotal leadership, which I think is very dangerous and probably is not doing justice, and sometimes you end up with a series of behaviors that happened to work for an individual but aren’t necessarily organizational success factors.”

For example, you can’t just say that a salesperson does a good job because he or she has X appointments in a week. Instead, you have to look at a ratio of how many appointments did it take to close a certain amount of deals. If one successful person had five appointments and another successful person had three, but then an unsuccessful person had one, that tells you something.

“It took a certain number, there was no question about that, so the people who did more didn’t necessarily do well, but you didn’t do well if you didn’t do at least this number,” she says.

Therefore, you may conclude that three is the magic number to set as a performance indicator.

“If the goal is to achieve sustainable results, you have to measure outputs and inputs and making sure that the ‘more is better’ is not the message, and enough is enough, and now we’re going to look at the content of those activities,” she says.

If you drive the more-is-better mentality, you’ll be hurting your organization.

“If you only look at that, the message that you’re driving has nothing to do with effectiveness,” Galipeau says. “You’re encouraging just activity and not results. Many organizations have done that because it’s easy to measure.”

Once you have clear performance indicators, you can also measure employees.

“You have to have metrics,” she says. “I want to take your blood pressure before you have your first heart attack, so I think we have to make sure that we’re engaging in wellness and not fixing the sick. I think you have to pick metrics you can measure in a timely way.”

Galipeau measures employees weekly, and then stack-ranks them against each other and the overall standard on a monthly basis. Once she found these KPIs and started measuring people, she noticed a difference in the organization.

“The top half did much, much better, and the bottom half didn’t move, which is not surprising,” she says. “The people in that third quartile, you did see some movement up into the second quartile. The people at the very bottom either quickly got themselves out of the situation or realized, ‘I’m not a bad person, but this isn’t the role for me.’”

Engage employees

With performance indicators and top employees established, Galipeau then had to attack the other part of her initial problem — engaging employees in the business.

“Once you have clearly stated to everyone where they stand, then you quickly become paranoid about that top group because they then understand that they’re the top group,” she says. “If you don’t do a very good job of driving, understanding and engaging them, you’ve done yourself a great disservice. They then realize, ‘Gee, I am very good, and I am very valuable, and I’m one of the top people. Do I feel that way? Am I rewarded that way? Am I treated that way? Do I want to be that way here?’

>“The second piece that came to us very quickly was, ‘How do we continue to develop them? How could we keep them? How could we make sure they were engaged? Beware advice from fools, but you certainly want the advice from the top group.”

Galipeau’s primary tool for finding out whether employees are engaged or not is through a staff survey. But even that requires some level of buy-in before it can be an effective tool.

“It’s not just good if the very top leadership accepts it or even, heaven forbid, the human resources department accepts it,” she says. “It has to be owned by everybody who needs to receive the feedback and act on it. A very credible, outside firm that specializes in that will be most well-received, and an employee-satisfaction survey produced and executed internally may not have the same impact.”

Doing it externally helps employees feel more comfortable being honest.

“Employees are worried about anonymity, and you want to make sure that’s protected, and the use of an external party will help you achieve that so you’re going to get credible, objective results that are measuring the right things and people will listen to,” she says.

If it’s your first one or you’ve done them in the past but never changed anything afterward, you also have to convince employees that you will take action based on their feedback.

“You have to explain to them why you’re doing it and what you’re hoping to learn,” she says. “You have to ask them to participate. Typically companies with low engagement scores have low participation — they have to see what’s in it for them to do it. If they’re disengaged, they may be so far gone that they don’t perceive there to be any possible benefit to them, and that’s not going to help you too much, so you tell them why you’re doing it, you tell them what you’re looking to learn, you ask for their participation, and you promise to share the results. I think that if you do that and they see the purpose and they know that there’s no risk to them and they see what’s in it for them, people will participate.”

Once you do the survey and get the results back, you have to then communicate with them what they said needs to be changed, which may be a blow to your ego.

“It can be quite reassuring to them to hear that you now see [the problems] and that you’re going to take steps,” Galipeau says. “Very often, leadership development is an outcome of that. That’s why people are a little hesitant to do it because it’s not so much that your dental plan gets criticized — everybody would always like better benefits, I agree with that — but there’s a lot of feedback on the leadership, so leadership development is often a key priority.”

But just doing the survey isn’t enough.

“Once you get that feedback, you have a mistaken impression that you’ve already began to improve,” she says. “Once you recognize you do something wrong, you think that that great epiphany will take care of some of the problems. That, of course, is not the case.”

Instead, have a process to go through the feedback and create a plan.

“One of the first things that we did was we sat down and said, ‘All right, which of these are consequences, and which of these things are things we initiate — which of these are outcomes and inputs, kind of the way we look at our business, and what are the key elements?’” Galipeau says. “You have to look at the key strengths — these we’re particularly good at because those are easy to get better at, and you don’t want to turn away from that, and organizations typically do that. Then there are the things that are the laggers — the things that are pulling you down. Again it’s the top and bottom approach. You have those things in the middle, but if you look at the top and bottom, there aren’t many things that you can’t impact.”

Start by choosing three major priorities and developing new strategies and programs on a 12-month time frame. This allows ample time to actually work on what you need to, but it will also give enough time for employees to become more engaged.

“Even at that time frame, you have to start to understand that once you start shining lights on this, people will expect more of you, and you have to make sure that you’re going with that,” she says. “Once you say you’re going to work on something, there’s certainly the tendency to say, ‘Well, let’s see.’ So engagement leads should only be undertaken by companies that really plan on changing anything. The status quo will only result in increasingly negative outcomes and lower participation. It will have precisely the opposite effect.

“A very tectonic shift in short time frames is unlikely, but a culture of engagement has to be done by biting these things off, having a plan of attack, and then measure, measure, measure. You have to measure because working on things gives you such a placebo effect of, ‘I’m moving these things forward.’”

After doing all of these things, Galipeau is already seeing a difference in Randstad.

“The organization is clearly performing better,” she says. “There’s no question we have very clear metrics on the results, and the results have improved fairly drastically, so I’d say we’ve seen certainly an improvement in performance and the distribution of performance. The success is much more evenly distributed than it has been in the past — that’s very healthy.”

How to reach: Randstad US, (770) 937-7000 or

Friday, 26 March 2010 20:00

Starting small

When Eric Thomas gets up in the morning, he’s not listening to the radio or watching the news. Instead, he’s listening to “Good to Great” and other business books on CD.

It’s not something that he’s always done, but after hearing a speaker talk about the benefit, he thought it would help him in leading his 46 employees as CEO of FreedomVoice, a provider of toll-free number service solutions.

“He was talking about this idea that you listen to music, and how many words for songs do you know, and the reason you know them is because when you’re in downtime mode, when you’re getting ready in the morning or whenever, you’re listening to that,” Thomas says. “What if you took that time that ingrains and puts all this information in your head and used it to put information in your head that would help you or your company?”

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about the things he does to be a more effective leader.

Look for opportunities. Looking for opportunities is a lot of common sense — it’s understanding the industry, understanding what things are needed, what pains exist for the customers, what problems need to be solved. Then look at those to see if there’s some sort of way to make a business opportunity out of it.

It really just has to do with putting yourself in the position of a customer in whatever particular marketplace and/or product idea that you’ve got. Think of it from the customer’s perspective and try to understand what would make a difference, what would they get emotional about, those sorts of things.

Ask good questions when hiring. You’re looking for people who are the 20 percenters — the 20 percent of the people that do 80 percent of the work, that are creative, driven, self-started. Ask all the questions that might find you those people.

Things that I ask are, ‘What do you do when you’re not at work?’ If you’re hiring a programmer and they say, ‘Well, I play video games.’ That would be less compelling than somebody who says, ‘Well, I like to do research on new programming languages, and I like to read trade journals,’ — things that tell me that they’re passionate about their particular talents and how they’re going to contribute to the company.

‘What are you reading?’ That’s usually an indicator. I like people who read and are trying to always develop themselves.

Give them examples of situations, and try to do it in an open-ended way … to see if they answer on the way of doing the right thing as opposed to what most people think an employer wants to hear. Sometimes people will answer in a way that’s like, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t give them the refund because the company should keep the money,’ versus, ‘Well, the right thing to do is to give them the refund, so I would give them the refund.’ I’m looking for the guy who’s going to look after the customer and do the right thing. A lot of times people think the company is always about the money. Money is on the list, but it’s pretty far down.

Reinforce your values. Talk about the core values of the company. One of our core values is to contribute to the success of our customers through technology and service. Maybe I’m talking to somebody in client services about something that happened and it didn’t go the way I felt it should go. I would bring up the core value as the way to evaluate what the right behavior should be, so that they would automatically learn, ‘OK, to know what the right decision is, start thinking about core values and then weigh it against that. OK, that makes it easy. I don’t have to know the rule that in this situation, do this — I just have to know that I’m trying to help this customer through service; therefore, that feels like the right thing to do, so I’ll do that.’ It’s talking about it, reinforcing it, keeping it top of mind for people.

Have a plan. Each year, we do a road map of what we’re going to do in R&D, in sales, in marketing, in client services, etc., and have an overall road map in the company. That helps because it’s not about activity — it’s about productivity. It’s easy for people to get off on tangents that are interesting but not necessarily on the critical path.

It deals with an honest assessment. You have to understand where you are now, what you might be able to accomplish, and then you start prioritizing and organizing in terms of what things are dependencies — sometimes you need to get this done to be able to do that. It involves meeting and talking about it — ‘No, I don’t think we can do that because this will take us off of that,’ or, ‘That’s more important because it will help our customers this way.’ Meet between the different departments because something that happens for R&D will affect what’s on the road map for marketing. … All of these things have to line up.

Be honest. Doing well has to deal with telling the truth, and this seems like a Sunday school thing, but it’s really critical. … If you are truthful with yourself, you can properly evaluate where you are and make changes. If you lie to yourself about ‘I’m this,’ or ‘I’m that’ and you’re not, you’re going to run into roadblocks. You’re depending on your abilities that aren’t there.

You have to have honest self-evaluation as a company, and you have to promote, ‘I don’t want you to fluff this. I want you to just tell me what you think. I don’t care if you use any flowers around the words. I just want you to say what it is, and then we’ll deal with it.’

If you don’t do that, then things that are wrong build because they never get taken care of. If you are building a culture of telling and facing the truth, then you find the errors. Maybe it hurts you to know that they’re there, but at the end of the day, you actually deal with it, you fix it and you move on.

How to reach: FreedomVoice, (800) 477-1477 or

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Calculated risks

Each morning when you wake up and head into the office, you probably know what to expect for the day’s events. When Joel Lunenfeld gets out of bed, he knows that his day at Moxie Interactive Inc. will be full of new — and often unexpected — changes. To start, the advertising and marketing company, which had $405 billion in gross media and production billings in 2008, is in an industry that changes constantly. Not to mention the fact that the way people interact is changing, as well.

“The way that people get information, get news, the way they view themselves, view privacy, the way they interact with companies that are our customers — all these things are changing, so culturally, it’s an incredible shift that everyone is feeling,” Lunenfeld says.

Then add in the fact that Moxie provides cutting-edge technology to its clients, and they are adapting as they try to do more with less given the economy.

“You put all these things together, and it’s just constantly managing change,” he says. “To do that, we try to breed a culture of disruptive innovation with urgency. I fundamentally believe that Moxie, our business, and really any business today is never standing still. You’re either forging ahead and advancing or you’re falling behind.”

Leading change in any organization is never easy, but Lunenfeld made it a more formal part of the culture when he took over as CEO last year upon the founder’s departure.

“With her leaving, it was, ‘OK, how do we take this culture of change that we have and really crystallize it,’” he says.

He attacks this challenge by driving innovation, leading by prediction and focusing on communication.

Drive innovation

Lunenfeld put out a challenge to his people: Form cross-functional groups of five and create a mobile-based idea to help people connect better with each other or with brands. But it wasn’t simply said in a meeting and forgotten. The winning team won $50,000 to split.

“A lot of companies like Google, they have their 20 percent rule — 20 percent of your time should be working on something that’s outside the company that’s one of your passions or interests,” he says. “Other companies have similar types of ways. For us, this was a way to get collaboration and really just show everyone that every individual person has the power to come up with something, be an entrepreneur, create it, and the company really wants to back it.”

Driving innovation in your company is the first key to nurturing change.

While money may be tight, he says that this is one area that you can’t afford to skimp in.

“If you’re not dedicated to putting resources there, whether it’s people, money or investment dollars, you’re not going to achieve it,” Lunenfeld says. “It’s not just going to happen, no matter how hard you try, because everyone’s going to be focused on the business at hand, which is what we tend to do. We focus on what’s in front of us, especially in times of crisis and in times of economic downturn. … It’s just like working any other relationship or anything else in your life. If you’re not dedicating time to do so, it’s not going to just happen naturally.”

Beyond having competitions, Lunenfeld has also found a daily way to drive innovation by having his employees embrace Sunao, a Japanese word meaning “the untrapped mind.”

“[It’s] more of a philosophy of not being afraid to adopt an idea that might fundamentally change the way you do something today,” Lunenfeld says. “It’s about not being locked in to either a product or service or just a way that you get things done and trying to encourage that culture of change.”

Sunao is not just a mindset but also the name of a group within the company that he created and charged with looking for trends and new ways of doing things. The group is also charged with looking at emerging technology and toying around with new products to find ideas. You may think it’s wasteful to dedicate people to solely looking for new ideas as opposed to doing the work already at hand.

“If it’s not your primary job to do something, you usually do that last, and that usually means, when push comes to shove, it falls off your plate,” he says.

When you create something like this, you also have to set expectations.

“From a business aspect, it’s a leap of faith, and you have to be very clear when you’re doing a group or starting something like that,” he says. “There are deliverables you expect, and those deliverables may not always be billable ones.”

For example, at Moxie, the group is expected to put out a monthly trend-spotting newsletter and quarterly reports. While the group has a lot of freedom, having expectations has yielded results, which has allowed the group to grow from just one person to more than 20.

“It’s things that you want that group or whoever’s leading that to have very solid deliverables,” he says. “Even though it’s more of a conceptual position, deliverables are real and their measurements are real. That actually does turn into profitable, billable project services that pay off, and the group will begin to fund itself.”

Lead by prediction

One day a little girl was watching her mother cook, and she asked her mom why she cut the end off of her pot roast. She said she didn’t know and that her mother had always done that, so they asked the little girl’s grandmother why she cut the end off of her pot roast. The grandmother said that her mother had always done it, so the trio asked the great-grandmother as to her reasons, and she said that her pan was too small for her pot roast, so she had to cut the end off.

“We do that too much, ...” Lunenfeld says. “People look at rules as, ‘This is just the way it’s always been.’ I think studying anthropology and cultures over time, really not too much is permanent, and there aren’t too many things that are completely immovable, so it’s always nice to remind yourself that one person can come up with an idea that can radically change the world.”

When you — or your trends group — find an idea, he says you have to take a risk and lead by prediction, which is the next key to fostering change.

“The power of prediction is pretty underestimated,” he says. “If you’re facing a challenge, and you’re laying out a vision and saying, ‘This is where we will be or this issue is happening now, but in three months, this won’t be happening because of X, Y and Z,’ once you lay out a bold mission, people will naturally march to that. They want to. It works the same way in reverse, so if negativity is breeding, people tend to quickly spiral in that direction, as well. Leading by prediction is a refreshing way to overcome that challenge.”

To do this, take notice of what’s happening around you.

“One [key] is being able to look outside the walls of this company at what’s going on in the industry and the world and looking at the trends [that] the trends group is bringing forward and peeling that back for meaning,” he says.

Good examples right now are social networking sites, such as Facebook an

d Twitter. Look at these sites on a more macro level to predict how they have been used, how they’re changing, how they’re changing lives and how they’ll be used in the future.

“Pull that out and lead that out as a prediction and say, ‘This will continue to grow, or this will continue to shift, or this trend will morph into X, Y and Z,’” Lunenfeld says. “It’s about industry trends and translating the outside world for the company and vice versa — taking what’s going on in this company and giving that story to our clients and the rest of the industry. It’s not being afraid to look at the indicators and make a prediction of where things will go because nobody wants to work with a partner who’s afraid to make a prediction and make a bet on something.”

You can’t be afraid to be wrong either, so plan for that scenario.

“You try to manage all the risk,” he says. “There’s a big difference between mistake and risk. Risk is something that you plan for, you know what the scenarios and outcomes are, and you have a plan of attack if something goes wrong. If you launch a campaign or roll out a product or service and something goes wrong, you should have been able to predict, ‘These are the ways we [could] go wrong.’ Otherwise, it’s just a mistake.”

Risks are often undervalued but will grow your business.

“We ask our employees this a lot, ‘What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your life, and how much of that has turned out to be a disaster, and how much of that has turned out to be something that has grown you?’” he says. “It’s always the biggest risks in life that have grown people, and it’s the same way as a company.”


When Lunenfeld is traveling and wants to let his people know what’s on his mind, he can post a video message on Moxie’s social network portal. From there, people can watch it and comment, in turn, creating the kind of communication internally that they also manage for their clients. And it’s just one way that Lunenfeld communicates with his employees.

He recognizes that they are often overused words, but he says that communication and transparency are the last key to leading and nurturing change in an organization.

“When things are moving so fast and management — and whoever everyone thinks the voices above are — are silent, everyone tends to fill in the blanks and expect the worst,” he says.

The problem is, when most of us communicate, we’re just handing down the edict instead of involving employees.

“It’s got to be something where you’re not talking to people, you’re inviting them,” Lunenfeld says. “If you’re trying to motivate, whether it’s a client or it’s your employees, to get on board and march boldly behind you to do something, you can’t just say, ‘This is the way it’s going to happen.’ You have to leave room for participation and leave room for them to help finish the vision that was started. You can’t ever bring a complete package forward. You have to lead with, ‘Here’s the rallying challenge that we all have ahead of us. Here is why we all passionately should feel inspired to do something about this, and here’s what we need from you.’”

He suggests setting guidelines instead of rules.

“One of the things I’ve found about working with creative people over time is the worst thing you can give a creative person is a blank sheet of paper,” Lunenfeld says. “But if you say, ‘Here’s a challenge, and here’s the seven colors you need to work within, and here’s what we expect on the other end, then you’ll get something absolutely incredible, so you have to set the rules of the game up correctly, and you have to enforce those rules.”

And even if you involve people and invite them to participate in the change, recognize that people will still need to process the negative emotions behind it, and that’s natural.

“We still have to remember that it does affect everyone personally, so everyone is going to internalize change, and it’s going to mean something different for everyone,” Lunenfeld says. “You can’t always address that, but you have to be open to talk about it with people and understand that you’re going to go through several stages, but ultimately you’re going to walk away with a better company, a better client relationship.

“The worst thing you can do is fear the fact that this is going to happen and fear what this might mean for a handful of people versus the greater good. You have to be bold in making the right decisions for change. If you’re not changing, you’re definitely going to be falling behind.”

How to reach: Moxie Interactive Inc., (678) 916-4500 or

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Having a party

While the economy is down, Rick “Baja Rick” DiRienzo isn’t letting that stop him from having some fun at Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cantina.

“What we try to do is keep an upbeat attitude with our guests, with our employees,” he says. “We want everyone to have a party atmosphere when they come in here.”

So at the restaurant chain, the food and drinks must be tasty, and if a server wouldn’t eat or drink something him or herself, then send it back. If someone is celebrating a birthday or graduation, treat that person to something special and make him or her feel important.

“We need to create a party when people come to dine with us,” the founder and president says. “It’s like going on a mini vacation. We have to give them a party atmosphere to have fun with it, and by doing that, the guests will keep coming back.”

Smart Business spoke with DiRienzo about how he creates a fun and successful business for his more than 200 employees despite the down economy.

Get employee buy-in. We have to get everyone on the same page. Everyone has to buy in to (the culture) or they won’t be able to work here.

I’m not the one who does that — my managers do that. They’ll call people out if they don’t look like they’re paying attention. They’ll say, ‘Go on home. If (you) don’t want to listen to what I have to say and if you don’t think it is important enough to you, then go home.’

We only want people who are really committed to our entire philosophy, which is service-oriented and taking care of other people. If you start thinking about yourself too much and not about your customers, it’s not going to work.

So they’ll tell them, ‘John, are you sure you want to work here because it doesn’t seem like you do?’ They’ll get that hint that they either come to work ready to listen and learn or else they don’t. It’s a tough attitude sometimes, but you have to. You can’t afford to have people here that won’t give your guests service.

Give customers what they want. Listen to your guests and listen to your customers. They’ll tell you what they want to see and what they want to hear. One of the biggest faults all of us can have is not listen to what the guest is asking for. You need to provide. We don’t know the word ‘no’ or ‘can’t.’ We can do anything. If we have the food in the restaurant or the alcohol, we can do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the menu or not.

Never say no to a guest or a customer if at all possible. There’s a lot of different people who will want some sort of vegetarian meal — we only have one vegetarian meal, but we’ve got all the product — we’ve made vegetarian pizzas on tortillas. We’ve made vegetarian fajitas. If people want to come in and just get 5 pounds of crab legs, we’ll sell them 5 pounds of crab legs. They’re coming to us and spending money, so why not accommodate them. Usually the people who ask for something special, they’re more than happy to pay a price for it. They just want to be able to get it.

You have to fight for every dollar you get. There’s no reason to turn anybody down on anything. It’s like my father always said, ‘Everything is for sale. Just attach your price to it.’

Set the example. Every once in a while something will pop up and you’ll tell them to do it, and it just doesn’t get done or it does get done and it’s just not right. It could be a simple thing like hanging a sign or banner. Sometimes it’s the easiest thing in the world and people just do it, and because it’s so simple they don’t take the pride in it of making sure it’s leveled or straight or centered. I’ll say, ‘Can you put that banner up for me?’ and they’ll do it crooked or it’s not centered. I’ll just do it myself and I’ll show you how you should have done it. Then they look at you like, ‘OK, why is it that important?’ Well, because it is. It’s important that it’s straight and that it’s centered and that it looks right. You’ve got to have pride in what you’re doing and have passion in what you’re doing. If you’re working, you should have a passion for it. Take pride in your work and have a passion for it.

Set goals. We visualize where we want to be three months, six months, nine months, 12 months down the road, and we identify everything we’re going to do and try to reach them — it’s like an onion, and keep peeling back the onion.

All of our goals are set monetarily, so our budgets are pretty much our goals. We don’t make an unrealistic budget — we look at last year, we look at the economy, and we study it. A [former] partner of mine tells me that all of these restaurants are complaining that they’re down 15, 20, 30 percent. I’m very upset. We’re flat. We’re doing the same amount of business as we did last year — we haven’t increased any. He’s telling me I should be thrilled, but I’m not — I’m not thrilled with mediocrity. Our food is good enough and our service is good enough, so we should be up, but everyone tells me I should be happy. I guess in this economy flat is the new up. Flat is not in my vocabulary — even for this year we set our goal for 10 percent higher than what we did last year.

You just need to talk about it and open up your eyes and say, ‘What will help you be better, and what will help us all be better and reach those goals? What does it take? Does it take more advertising? Do we need to spend more advertising dollars? Do we need to look inside our walls or outside our walls? Is there something that we can do? Maybe your signs are wrong? Maybe your front entrance is wrong?’

How to reach: Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cantina, (619) 234-6333 or

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Flipping the switch

Rob Snyder, CEO, Stream Energy

When Rob Snyder co-founded Stream Energy five years ago, he never envisioned having nearly 1,200 percent revenue growth in the first four years.

“Probably the biggest issues that we had were posed by the rapidity of our growth,” he says. “Our growth was far beyond our original expectations.”

In fact, he originally signed on as chairman, thinking he was taking a nonexecutive role that required about 20 hours a month.

“That was based upon our view that our growth projections were going to be a fraction of what they are now,” Snyder says. “Hell, I’ve had 20-hour days here at Stream Energy.”

While his title is still chairman, because of the growth the energy provider has experienced, going from revenue of $70 million in 2005 to $825 million in 2008, he functions in the CEO role and has full management involvement instead of those five-hour workweeks he envisioned. And in its first year of eligibility, Stream landed the No. 198 spot on the Inc. 500 list.

“We really didn’t have the luxury of going from start-up phase to early growth to mature,” he says. “Our growth was so rapid that we had to go from start-up firm almost straight to a mature business platform standpoint and without any transitional stages.”

Snyder admits that while he did some things right, he also did some things wrong. Here’s how he kept Stream from faltering during its high-growth period.

Evaluate your systems

By the time Stream launched, Snyder and his team had spent 1,000 hours planning what needed to happen for success. But he learned some valuable lessons in what he hadn’t planned on.

“Proper planning is everything and assume from the standpoint of your various scenarios for success,” he says. “Do a lot of worst-case planning toward stress-testing what you think will be the operating performance of the business under those worst-case scenarios. Plan for the worst.”

But planning for the worst actually goes two ways. He says part of the company’s downside planning should have been asking itself what are the capital needs of the business if it has three or four times the growth that he thought it would be and how would the company could keep pace with that.

“There are two ways you can look at it,” Snyder says. “One thought is, you don’t get any customers, and then you know really what your downside is in terms of the money and the time that you’re going to put at risk. But another downside is growth that is so rapid that you are unable to keep pace with customer demand, and in a capital-intensive sector such as energy, you can be imploded by your own success.”

He hadn’t planned for the worst effectively, and a byproduct was the problems Stream had keeping its systems up to speed, as well.

“The type of customer systems and customer information service platforms that we were using may have been appropriate for 100,000 customers, but it was a much different story when you get into 300,000 customers, 400,000 customers,” he says.

All of Stream’s systems had been developed internally because there weren’t any off-the-shelf solutions at that time, so evolving them internally was a challenge since everyone was busy and the growth projections weren’t accurate.

“It’s a process where you really need to stay ahead of the curve,” Snyder says. “If you don’t have robust systems that will meet your needs for the foreseeable future, you will always be chasing solutions to major operational impediments. You need to make sure your systems are sufficiently robust to accommodate your most optimistic customer growth scenarios.”

To stay ahead of the curve, you have to do an analysis of what the future may look like for your business.

“It’s really going to be a situation-by-situation analysis,” Snyder says. “ … Perhaps take your growth expectations and stress-test it. Perhaps double it and make an assessment as to whether your systems can handle it.”

He also says that making that assessment may require using outside sources.

“You need professionals,” he says. “You need people who know what they’re doing. It’s such a highly technical area that I don’t believe that even your most sophisticated type of businesspersons are able to make critical recommendations in such regards. You need really the best outside expertise you can find.”

By not planning ahead and having scalable systems, Snyder had a couple years of playing catch-up, but he ultimately got there.

“I don’t think it affected the growth too much, and fortunately, I don’t think it affected our customer service too much, but it did create some fabulous stresses here at Stream in regard to just management attention and management energy,” he says.

Hire great people

While he missed on the process planning, he did great at hiring the right people, but it wasn’t easy. Most people coming in didn’t have the industry experience, so Snyder had to look at other facets of their personalities and experiences to see if they would fit.

“When you’re interviewing, you have to focus less on nuances of a person’s past experience and more upon who they are as people,” he says. “You have to be very probative as to whether they’re open thinkers.”

He also needed people who were more entrepreneurial minded.

“There wasn’t a road map for where we were going,” Snyder says. “The tactical decision-making at the firm really had no good precedence out there, so we were making stuff up as we went along.”

People needed to be comfortable with this kind of decision-making process, and he also needed people who were willing to chip in their own ideas.

“We had to have people willing to offer their best ideas and make the argument for that in terms of the firm’s development and direction, and I think that’s been the greatest key to our success — the quality of senior managers we’ve been able to attract.”

Snyder has key questions he likes to ask in every interview. One example is, “What’s your handicap in golf?” If someone is married and has kids, and his or her handicap is a two, then Snyder won’t offer them the position.

“The only way you get that type of handicap is by spending a lot of time in golf, which itself is a time-consuming proposition, and the type of person who would be doing that is spending so much time on the golf course that, in my view, they’re taking away from what they should be doing professionally or with regard to their family,” he says. “ … That’s not the kind of person I want at Stream.”

Another indicator of whether someone will fit in is how comfortable he or she feels talking about his or her personal situations.

“Whether we like it or not, in today’s work environment, it’s almost impossible to completely segregate your personal lives from your professional lives,” Snyder says.

It’s important for people to be honest about any problems or issues they’re having in their personal life, so Snyder can plan for that.

“We can’t accommodate someone’s temporary personal situation

if we don’t know about it,” he says. “Why is this person always in a bad mood these days? Why are they absent from the office more than normal? Unless they communicate those things to us, we can’t know as to how we can help. We don’t know what to expect.”

And this all starts in the interview process.

“When someone doesn’t want to talk about that in an interview process, it sends a signal to me that this is not the type of person who’s going to be receptive to that type of atmosphere we’ve tried to build,” Snyder says.

He just wants to get to know job candidates as deeply and personally as possible in the allotted interview time.

“You want to see how their mind works,” he says. “If you’re a customer service manager for another electricity firm here in the state, you can tell me about all the wonderful projects that you did at this firm that saved the company X amount of dollars and cut down call times by that many seconds, but that goes in one ear and out the other because, all that, that’s what I would expect to hear in an interview.

“By hearing what’s important in terms of their priorities and hearing out loud and getting them to think out loud so I can see their mind operating in real time — those are the key things.”

Get buy-in

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Stream had only been in business for six months, and its EBITDA projection for the year swung from a positive $7 million to a negative $7 million over the course of three weeks, putting a $20 million capital hole in Snyder’s operating plan.

“I had to raise $20 million for the business at a time when we couldn’t give anybody, given the uncertain state of the markets, any determinate guidance as to what the economics for the business were going to look like,” he says.

Throughout an 80-day period, he had to get people to buy in to his business if it was going to survive. Whether you’re growing your business, trying to get your people excited about your annual goals or selling a new customer, it all starts with buy-in. Snyder has to have investors buy in with their checkbooks, senior managers buy in by joining his team and customers buy in by switching providers.

“You’ve got to be passionate and absolutely transparent, and people have to understand your own level of personal commitment,” he says.

Show what you have at stake. For example, Snyder’s situation spoke volumes in convincing one major investor.

“I basically didn’t need Stream to work,” he says. “I was retired, and there was no real reason for me to be doing this other than just the act of creation, but (the investor) knew I had a significant financial stake in this, and, more than that, he knew I had a significant reputational risk here, so he knew I was committed.”

Having that genuine excitement is key to selling yourself, your company or your product.

“Having a reputable investor is key, but more critical than that is people understanding that you are committed and that you believe in the vision of what you are trying to pursue,” Snyder says. “That’s not really something you can fake. I think people sense whether you’re really committed to trying to make things work.”

You also have to show the value in the idea and convince them to trust you.

“It’s basically, ‘Be my friend, give me your business and save, relative to the major competitors in the marketplace,’” he says.

As long as Stream kept its operating costs low, Snyder could offer that value proposition of saving money. For customers, it’s a win because they save on their monthly expenses, and for investors, it was a win because they knew with that value proposition, Stream would bring in customers.

In attracting managers to the business, it was about getting other people as excited as you are.

“You got to get them to not only drink the Kool-Aid, but they’ve got to understand not only do you drink the Kool-Aid, but you love it,” Snyder says. “They’ve got to buy in to the vision.”

The more solid people that you get to drink that Kool-Aid, the more others will want to join you.

“When prospective members of the management team understand that not only is this wild-haired Rob Snyder guy something, but it seems that a lot of smart people are surrounding him; that really makes its own case,” he says.

And the more people buy in, the easier it becomes to lead in the future.

“I am increasingly reliant upon the expertise of the people who have demonstrated time and time again their proficiency,” Snyder says. “People who have been here for three and four years, they’ve completely bought in to the Stream way of doing things. They like it. They embrace it, and when someone has demonstrated expertise, it’s increasingly necessary for me to micromanage less and less and to rely on their expertise.”

How to reach: Stream Energy, (866) 447-8732 or

Story feedback: Kristy O’Hara,

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Equal opportunities

Bruce Cameron has seen just about everything in his more than 30 years in management.

“I’ve been with start-ups that have literally exploded with growth,” he says. “I’ve been with start-ups that, after a year, have closed their doors. I’ve been with dot-coms that were the eighth-largest IPO in 1999 and sold two years later for a fraction of their net worth at that point in time. I’ve been with $500 million companies and $5 million companies.”

But through it all, one thing remains constant, no matter the situation.

“I think the one thing that is very, very important is just getting back to the consistency of operation — setting your bar, setting your comp, and then being consistent with that year over year so that people can dig in.”

Now, he’s president of the $240.8 million CDC Software Corp. Building that consistency has been key to aligning the software development company and moving it forward.

“A lot of these, if we’re going to develop a new piece of software, it’s two or three years,” Cameron says. “Sometimes a big sale can take one or two years. Our ability to remain consistent through that period of time is very important.”

Oftentimes, leaders will try to change course right away if they see any sort of problem, but Cameron takes a different approach.

“A lot of people come in and change their strategy every week or every month, which indicates that it was wrong to begin with,” he says. “You have to put a stake in the ground and be consistent with your employees and, most importantly, consistent with your customers so they know what you’re all about.”

Here’s how Cameron uses goals, mentoring and a compensation strategy to drive consistency through his organization.

Set goals

When Cameron does the annual budget, he does it both top down and bottom up. It may seem like an oxymoron, but it works.

He first looks at last year’s data and adds 10 percent, and then looks at how that plays out across the organization. Then he gets the numbers from his individual regions to understand what their challenges are for the next year. He then takes his top-down analysis, combines it with his bottom-up analysis and meets in the middle.

“The more I can play to what the fields can commit to, the better off we can all commit to,” he says. “ … It’s a matter of No. 1, understanding what the manager can commit to, No. 2, checking that with the top-down budget of what we’re expecting, and that’s the delta I have to manage to get everybody to the same goal line.”

Having solid data and regional input helps him justify the company’s overall goals to the board.

“We’ll get expectations from the board, and the right thing to do right then and there is to make sure we have all the data and we can go back to them if we feel the numbers aren’t fair and such,” he says.

But just because you set company goals doesn’t mean you’re going to reach them. You then have to take those company goals and break them down to different departments and individuals.

“The biggest thing is setting the bar realistically on both sides,” Cameron says. “Some management style says, ‘If I want to get 10 out of my team, I’m going to say 20, and they’re going to work as hard as they can, and maybe they’ll hit 15.’ I’m not a big fan of that management style because even if they hit 15, they’ll feel that they’ve failed because you expected 20.”

Instead of setting the bar too high, look at the data you have and push the envelope a little past the current performance.

“I’m more of a fan of, ‘OK, if 10 is a fair bar, can we squeeze maybe and get to 11 or 12?’” he says. “So 12 is a fair number, we’ll budget on 12, and then if you get to 15, you’ve done tremendously well and feel real good about it. I think one of the things that is most important is people need to feel they can achieve their goals. Goals can’t be too low. They can’t be too high.”

If you’re not sure if your goals are reasonable, then look at how people are currently performing under the standards you have in place.

“Understand your business well enough to set reasonable goals,” Cameron says. “As a rule of thumb, 60 to 70 percent of your team should be hitting their goals. A subset of that should be exceeding their goals, and you’ll have 10 to 15 percent that, for whatever reason, are not coming near their goals. They need to be retrained or retrenched.”

If you set reasonable goals that people can achieve, then you’re going to foster a fair and consistent work environment where people feel good about the company.

“More than half the time, people should feel they’re achieving the goals set out for them,” he says. “If that’s not the case, you’re not going to have a company that people enjoy working for. You’re not going to have a lot of success stories. You’re just going to have a lot of frustration. It’s the guys that are overachieving that breed enthusiasm for the rest of the company to believe they can overachieve on their role, as well.”

Mentor people

Cameron has four sons, and as a result, he has coached about 700 soccer games in his life.

“I’ve never played the game myself, but I’ve learned an awful lot about dealing with younger people and understanding and learning what’s important to them, and people need to be treated as an individual,” he says.

That learning has been put to good use. He’s been in management since he was 27 years old — so more than 30 years at this point — and his favorite part about the job is sitting down with his employees, learning what’s important to them, building rapport, helping them map out one- and five-year plans and then working with them to get there.

“I enjoy the mentoring process,” he says. “I look at what I am here. I’m the coach for the CDC team, if you will. I coach the board. I coach all the players around me. It’s a fulfilling job.”

Those goals vary by person, and it’s your job to find what makes people tick.

“Some people, it’s an earnings goal,” Cameron says. “Some people, it’s a promotion goal. You’d be surprised when you really pin a person down and say, ‘Tell me what do you want to accomplish in five years.’ A lot of people don’t think that way. They’re just trying to survive the day or the next quarter, and they’re not thinking out far enough.”

A strong leader will help them think further out and come up with goals and ways to get there.

One way to begin the mentoring process is to take some time for your people.

“The first thing is just getting to know the person and understanding enough of his personal life to see where he’s coming from, where he grew up, what his parental situation was like, what his family situation is like,” Cameron says. “All of those things add to the type of person he is and gives me enough of a background to kind of understand why he would set goals the way he’s setting them.”

He also suggests getting to know people outside of the office instead of inside.

“I’m a much bigger fan of let’s meet for dinner and get outside of the office and get to know people because they need to trust me, as well, and know that I can add value for this thought process for them,” he says.

Another way he gets to know people is through CDC’s annual club trip, where all of the company’s top performers bring their significant others to a remote place, such as Jamaica.

“That gives me a real special time to not only have some real good one-on-one time, but to understand who their significant other is, who their support system is, and things of that nature,” he says.

The more you do this, the more people will understand their role in the company and how they can contribute, which creates that consistency you’re looking for.

“What’s most important is everybody understands their role,” Cameron says. “It’s well-defined, and they understand what means success for them. I don’t care if it’s the lowest level in the company or the highest level in the company, everyone deserves to know what means success to them.”

Compensate fairly

At most companies, management keeps salaries under lock and key, but Cameron takes a different approach.

“All compensations should be such that any two people can go to a bar, have a beer, and openly discuss their compensation without anybody being disappointed or mad, because at the end of the day, they’ll all know each other’s plans,” he says. “If you have little separate point plans for one person and you don’t for another person, that’s always going to come back and haunt you, so the consistency of the way we’re compensating our people … is really important, as well.”

Just like with setting goals, you have to do some research to set up consistent compensation plans.

“The first thing you need is data, obviously, and what’s tough for us is the size of our business unit in North America is five or six times bigger than the size of the business unit in, say, Spain, so to look at those drivers that allow us to be consistent in both areas is challenging,” Cameron says.

He says to look at some of the same areas as Wall Street does, such as revenue, EBITDA and gross margin.

“By having them put on the same goals as we do as a company makes it very easy for everybody to appreciate the importance, and when we give guidance as a company to Wall Street, everybody is a subset of that guidance, so anyone who doesn’t hit their particular number is going to hurt the team moving forward at this point,” he says. “Those are the hard areas.”

There are also soft areas, which he calls MBOs, or management by objectives. There’s a different one each quarter, and this is where he can break goals down regionally to reflect the special challenges areas may be facing.

“It’s a relatively small part of the overall comp, but it allows me to have a very consistent comp on the very important things but a little bit of flexibility on some of the geographic challenges that they have that I want to make sure they’re focused on,” he says.

Most of the compensation related to the company’s goals are awarded through CDC’s stock-option plan. Then as employees meet their individual goals, that’s where more compensation and bonuses come into play.

“Again, you’re looking for everybody to not only meet their particular budget and goals — the goal is to exceed them,” Cameron says. “We have compensation plans that have no ceiling on them because once they’ve met their goals, all their budget is paid for, so really, the only additional expenses you may have is some sales bonuses and commissions.”

Having the majority of the employees’ compensation tied to their individual goals is extremely important for the company to meet its overall goals.

“If you have a lot of their compensation tied to the entire company, where you have several regions not hitting their numbers and several regions beating their numbers, it can be a demotivator for a guy who could really kill his number but has a lot of his comp tied to what everyone else is doing,” he says. “In some cases, it may cause him to not perform as well as he might when he’s knowing that everything he’s doing is affecting his compensation, and obviously, the better he does, the better the company does overall.”

How to reach: CDC Software Corp., (770) 351-9600 or

Story feedback: Kristy J. O’Hara,

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Building on principles

As Phil Harrison prepared to become the CEO of Perkins+Will Inc. earlier this decade, he discovered that the plan that had originally grown the company was now pulling it apart.

Throughout the 1990s, the architecture design firm underwent a growth strategy that included four acquisitions and the opening of three offices, but it hadn’t gone through a cultural alignment. It’s not that leadership hadn’t tried, but the firm’s leadership in the late ’90s was more passive, and there wasn’t confidence that they could effectively drive a cultural change.

“There were quite a few all-firm principal retreats, and we’d all go off to a nice resort for a few days and talk about this, and nothing would really happen with it,” Harrison says. “It took getting to a point where there had been a series of acquisitions, and we really felt like a surrealist painting where the head was on a different body. A good analogy is a Mr. Potato Head — it really felt like the parts were disconnected and didn’t add up to a whole.”

When he took over as president in 2003, the firm had, in just three years, done three more acquisitions, a merger and opened four more offices, and he still saw these cultural problems. At that point, the board of directors and firm leadership did not see the danger.

“Even though they were pretty high-performance people and were capable, the disconnect on the values side was very destructive,” says Harrison, who now serves as president and CEO. “It took us longer than it should have to recognize that.”

He knew he needed to lead a cultural change, so he set out to identify and communicate the firm’s values and then build on them through more acquisitions.

Identify and communicate values

While Perkins+Will didn’t know what it was culturally, there was no denying it had a strong brand. Employees took pride in their design abilities, and the firm consistently won design awards.

“We sort of thought we knew who we were, and the market sort of thought they knew who we were, but we hadn’t been very explicit in listing, one, two, three, four, five — these are the five things that are most important to this company,” Harrison says. “That’s one of the lessons learned is just the importance of things that seem obvious are often not if you don’t state them.”

First, come to agreement on what your company represents. Harrison and the team engaged people in different ways to find out what people thought they were. Some of that happened in all-firm leadership retreats with opening a dialogue.

“You have to step back and look at fundamental human values — in particular now — and by that, I don’t mean business values, but I mean deeper sort of ethics or social factors — something that’s actually going to mean something on a broad social context,” he says.

For example, Harrison looks at Ray Anderson of Interface Inc. as an example. Years ago, he went through an epiphany about the environment and completely redesigned his carpet company around sustainability — long before being green was in vogue. It redefined the company and made it very successful.

“Companies need to be able to articulate their position in more sort of human and socially relevant terms,” he says. “You need to strip away the business jargon and really get down to what makes a difference to people in the world, and if you can get to that, then a lot of other stuff is easier to make decisions about.”

When identifying values, it’s important to be realistic, yet balanced with looking toward the future.

“Be honest with yourself so you don’t try to be someone you’re not, but on the other hand, you have to have aspirations,” Harrison says. “It’s a combination of being realistic and pragmatic with being a little bit of a dreamer, but you can’t be such a dreamer that you’re switching from being, say, a Ford to a BMW overnight.”

In addition to having conversations internally, Perkins+Will also hired a firm to do research.

“They did an external audit on our brand where they spoke with our clients, both existing clients, and they spoke with clients who we would like to work for but aren’t working for,” Harrison says.

The research firm also spoke with the Perkins+Will’s competitors and with the press to get an idea of where the company stood in the marketplace. Then the company had to reconcile between what the outside thought and how the company internally saw itself.

One of the biggest values Harrison saw that employees weren’t buying in to was business performance. They saw it as something conflicting with design as opposed to something supporting it.

“We had to go through a ridiculously lengthy process to create a language whereby people could accept that high business performance could actually lead to a more thriving design company, …” Harrison says. “It’s simplistic, but it was an important turning point — it was a ‘both and’ as opposed to an ‘either or’ mindset.”

That language and communicating it is crucial to getting buy-in for a cultural alignment.

“You just have to talk a lot and talk and talk and talk, and you have to repeat yourself,” he says. “That’s one of the most important roles of leadership. I’m not an extrovert, and I thought you just say it once, and everyone would understand it. Or put it in an e-mail, and they would understand it that way. Or have an annual address, and they would get it that way. I’ve learned that you have to communicate the same message in a lot of ways — forums, large groups, small groups, etc.

“Things that I said three months ago to everyone, I feel like I have to go back and repeat it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the process of repeating it, articulating some very fundamental aspects of the vision of the company or the values the company has or the business objectives of the company — basic things that could be easily communicated in a short period of time.”

And he’s not talking a three-day retreat. It’s shorter things, like 30 minutes of talk.

“You can get into quite a bit of depth in that period of time, …” Harrison says. “It’s the importance of overcommunicating the things that seem like they should be obvious but maybe aren’t if you’re not overcommunicating.”

The more you do this, the more the people below you will communicate, as well.

“That sort of builds,” Harrison says. “If the executive leadership is doing that, then other people in the company begin to sort of take it on. What you really want is multiple layers of the company doing the same thing but in a parallel way so they’re reinforcing each other.”

Build on your values

After identifying and communicating values, Harrison next wanted to shake everything up by going back toward the very thing that had threatened the culture of the firm: acquisitions.

“Even though acquisitions are disruptive, in our case, at that time, we thought a little disruption is a good thing,” Harrison says. “If you’re smart about it, you can use an acquisition as a change tool.”

The acquisitions would drive

growth for the firm but also help him bring on better leaders, people and ideas.

“You can buy it much faster than you can build it,” he says. “It’s just more efficient, so if you can figure out how to go through the cultural change process and learn how to effectively integrate acquired companies, then it’s a much more efficient process than trying to do it homegrown.”

He looked for companies that had similar values as Perkins+Will but that also represented what the firm aspired to be.

For example, sustainability was a core value the firm’s leadership embraced, but the people hadn’t. They found a Vancouver company that excelled in this area, so they came on board in 2004 and functioned as a rapid change agent.

But you have to make sure that any company you look to acquire will align with your culture.

“It’s an expensive way to make a mistake if you find out that you don’t agree on fundamental business practices with someone you’re trying to integrate into your own operations,” he says.

Most leaders start with the financial implications instead of the cultural ones.

“You start off on the values side and make sure it is integratable,” Harrison says. “In other words, you want to be integrated, so you talk about what their aspirations are as a team and also as individuals, and you make sure that the prospects for integration actually make sense.”

Acquisitions are a little like dating in that after you get to know each other, you only move forward if you see a high level of compatibility and a great potential future together.

“Don’t do an acquisition if you can’t tell yourself a compelling story or the people inside your company a compelling story because you can’t tell your clients a compelling story,” he says. “It all starts there, and if there’s a compelling reason — a business reason, a cultural reason or whatever — it needs to be both to combine companies. Then you can be successful. If there isn’t, it will very likely not be successful.”

If it’s a match, then you have to look at the company top to bottom and do integration planning.

“Look at every element of a company’s operations,” he says. “We figure out how those items might change and develop sort of an integration map, if you will, where we anticipate those operational issues might change at this point in time or these roles might change or these financial matters might change.”

Once you decide it’s a fit, then it goes back to the communication factor with both your company and the one being acquired.

“You tell the story of the acquisition in the context of the power that is generated of the two firms coming together and how that can directly impact their lives as individuals and as a group,” Harrison says.

Then you have to integrate quickly. Sometimes companies want to retain their names, because they believe it has recognition, and that may be true, but the longer you operate as two — by name, function, culture or any other way — the longer you hurt the combined company.

“If there’s some compelling reason to combine two firms — it’s not just that you’re trying to get bigger, but you’re trying to get better — and there’s some qualitative objective that you’re seeking out, the more you keep those two firms from being integrated, the longer it takes you to realize that benefit,” Harrison says.

And Harrison is now realizing the benefit. Since 2003, the year Harrison took over as president, Perkins+Will has acquired 11 firms and opened four new offices, all while reaching $400 million in gross revenue. But the benefit isn’t just new offices and increased revenue. The acquisitions have helped propel the cultural change that Harrison wanted by bringing in new leaders and employees who embraced the identified values. With 1,500 employees now, he’s confident in the firm’s future.

“The change is more organic now,” Harrison says. “It used to be that it was inorganic. It was an acquisitional strategy. Even though we’re still doing acquisitions, it doesn’t feel like they’re changing us as much anymore. There’s enough momentum and resonance in the company itself that the acquisition is actually not viewed as a change force anymore. Change is already sort of built into the organization and it’s part of our DNA right now, so people are more comfortable.”

How to reach: Perkins+Will Inc., (404) 873-2300 or

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

New advances

Eric Norwood was sitting in a meeting with administrators and physicians trying to solve a tough issue facing DeKalb Regional Health System Inc., but he wasn’t having much luck.

“[It] had so many different dimensions to it, it was like a spider’s web of interconnected issues and problems, that if you just tried to solve one, the unintended consequences of the others that are affected by it would offset any benefit that you got,” says Norwood, the medical center’s president and CEO

He noticed that situations like this were becoming increasingly common. When it comes to leading 3,800 employees and maximizing their effectiveness in achieving goals, Norwood now has to take a more collaborative approach to problem solving.

“Gone are the days when a hospital administrator can stiff-arm physicians on the medical staff and say, ‘I’ll take care of running the hospital, and you take care of practicing medicine,’” he says. “We just can’t solve the challenges of health care in the United States that way. We have to, as hospital administrators, reach out and draw in physician leaders and make a place for them at the decision-making table and share that power and authority and responsibility with our physician partners, and it works.”

In order to make any organization more effective, Norwood says you have to build teams for each issue, have better discussions and respect people’s time.

Build a team

A doctor has a very different approach to problem solving than a businessperson. While you may take a couple of weeks to research all of the possible solutions and the effects of each solution, and then, based on the research, make a decision, a doctor is trained to do the opposite. He or she will make a decision quickly based on the information readily available to him or her, and then if more information becomes available, the doctor may change course.

“You may say, ‘Which of these approaches is the better approach to take?’” Norwood says. “I think the truthful answer is it depends on the situation.”

In some situations, if you take the physician’s approach, it may be a false start and cause problems, but in other cases, if you take the businessperson’s approach, it might be too late. So it’s important to have those differing viewpoints whenever you create a team to address any issue or problem.

“Putting those two together in a team is a powerful proposition,” he says. “It’s challenging to lead, because you are trying to build a team with people who have very different personalities.”

Despite the challenge of it, it’s something that you have to do before you can jump into trying to solve anything.

“Whoever is the leader of the team has to recognize that building the team is a very necessary first step, and trying to jump into the action items too quickly may backfire on you,” Norwood says.

Sometimes when people build teams to solve problems, it’s often centered around positions and titles, but Norwood advises to look beyond that.

“It comes down to two real criteria — interest and expertise,” he says. “If you’ve got an issue that comes up that needs to be resolved, I’m going to be thinking about what’s the smallest number of people that have expertise in this area and have an interest at stake, and try to get them in the room. When you get more than eight or 10 people, it’s becoming a committee, and a committee takes on a life of its own.”

Have better discussions

When you build a team of people that have differing views or approaches, you then have to find a way to unite them so you can be productive.

“In whatever business that we’re in, we’re looking for, ‘What’s the common passion?’” Norwood says. “What is the passion for why you do what you do? It’s a whole lot easier to get people’s backs into a project than it is to get their hearts into it.”

But by getting people’s hearts into it, you’ll be more effective. For Norwood, that common passion comes pretty easily — providing excellent care for patients — but maybe you run a business that doesn’t have as clear-cut of a commonality. That’s when you look for the basics.

“Whether you’re building a car or a computer … at the end of the day, if you’re running a successful organization, you’re actually providing employment for people in your firm and all the industries that support your economy,” he says.

You can also dig more to establish further common ground.

“Sometimes the question would be, ‘What’s the outcome that you’re looking for? What do you want to see come out of this?’” he says. “You have self-interest in it, and the interest of your patients in it, what does success look like? I believe that people always act in ways that make sense to them. We can get into disagreements and disputes and look at the other party and say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense,’ but it does make sense to them.”

As a leader, Norwood says you have to go with Stephen Covey’s approach of seek first to understand and then be understood.

“Instead of pushing so hard to try to get someone to do it your way, spending a little bit of time upfront to understand why it’s so important to them, apparently, to do what makes no sense to you, is huge,” he says.

To understand others, become a better active listener.

“It’s someone who says, ‘Let me say back to you what I think I just heard you say — did I catch what it is I think you’re saying?’” Norwood says. “That’s a hallmark of good active listening — you’re showing respect to the other person to say, ‘I wasn’t just sitting here thinking about what I was going to say next.’”

If you can master this, then you’re already halfway there, and you’ll notice people beginning to relax.

“It’s like a pressure cooker,” he says. “You see the pressure valve go off in the chest of that person across the table because they’re showing you that you finally get it — ‘You understand what I’m upset about or what I’m trying to get to.’”

Despite actively listening and finding a common ground, you’ll still have times when people don’t handle themselves well in the meeting.

“I always have a choice of OK, if there’s a conflict, do I take that conflict offline and avoid dealing with it in the group or do I invest the time — not spend the time — right there in the moment to make a teaching moment and say, ‘OK, let’s take a look at what just happened and how could we have done that better?’” Norwood says.

Often, you may ignore it in an attempt to move through your agenda, but look at that teachable moment as an investment instead of a waste.

“We invest in things that we know will give us a return later, so we can stop and catch ourselves in the moment and say, ‘I’m going to cause myself to invest the time right now, when I don’t really want to do it, because I’m going to get a much better return from this if I do it now than if I go write a memo later,’” he says.

Respect people’s time

Each July 1, at the start of the new fiscal year, the electronic c

alendar at DeKalb Medical is completely blank and has no meetings scheduled on it.

“It’s just wiped clean, and they have to be recreated so that we sunset every meeting in the organization, and it’s only recreated if there’s a conscious decision to recreate it,” Norwood says.

The reason is simple — to not waste people’s time. Often, when you initially form a team to solve a problem, everyone is needed, but as you progress, certain people are no longer needed. Or perhaps you invited someone to come to a meeting once and continued asking that person back, but he or she really isn’t needed there. Or throw the people part aside, and maybe the meeting itself isn’t even needed anymore. All of these situations waste people’s time and affect productivity, so to eliminate these issues, Norwood says to simply cancel all meetings every year.

“We announced it a month ahead and reminded everybody that 30 days from now, everything is going to go blank, and you better start now if you intend to recreate a meeting and who should be in those meetings,” he says. “People are building a culture of if you’re invited to go to a meeting, you have the prerogative to push back and say, ‘Now, why do you need me?’ There’s a cultural collegiality to this, but we’re making the point that your time is valuable — don’t waste it.”

Doing this has helped Norwood and his executive team reclaim the equivalent of about two weeks of time that they can now use doing other things to move the organization forward.

“Killing meetings once a year to re-establish what’s necessary versus what’s superfluous starts to build a culture of let’s not waste time in meetings and waste people sitting around in meetings they’re not contributing to, and hopefully, we can make the ones that do occur more meaningful and more productive,” he says.

And Norwood has found ways to do that, as well. For example, he and his team agreed that the BlackBerry can be a powerful, yet distracting, tool. So they agreed that when they have meetings just among their team, they are permitted to be working on their BlackBerrys as well as participating in the meeting; however, if any other person outside of the core team is present at the meeting, it’s a different story.

“It’s off limits,” he says. “We may not use our BlackBerrys, because that’s not showing respect to the person coming in.”

Additionally, when they had guests for meetings, they used to make that person or group wait until their spot in the agenda, but now they’ve reversed it. If a guest has come for a spot in the agenda, they move that person to the top automatically.

“They get the first slot on the agenda so they can come, do their thing and get back to work,” Norwood says.

They also made a commitment to start every meeting on time and to attempt to end early. By doing all of these things, now even fewer people’s time was being wasted. He says you have to, as a team, identify these kinds of little time-wasters in your organization and make changes so you better respect people’s time and move the organization forward.

“It was just what were the things that made sense to us,” he says. “It was saying them out loud, writing them on a flip chart and reducing them to a list that made sense and looking each other in the eye and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to start living this way,’ and it had a remarkable impact on our culture. It was shocking. I don’t think we were really aware of how much we were being distracted by what Covey would refer to as quadrant-one time instead of quadrant-two time.”

How to reach: DeKalb Regional Health System Inc., (404) 501-1000 or