Humility could be Gary Olson’s middle name. As the president and CEO of St. Luke’s Hospital, Olson is under no illusion that he could do it all himself.
Olson says that in his 30 years of working for the Chesterfield organization, he’s learned that it takes a team effort to create a strong institution where employees enjoy coming into work every day.
“I’ve been given the opportunity, and if I use the talents of the people here, the skills that they bring to the table, that’s what moves this organization forward, not one individual whatsoever,” he says.
Olson leads his 3,000 employees at St. Luke’s with an emphasis on collaboration, and in fiscal 2007, the organization reported $363 million in total operating revenue, an increase of 7 percent over the prior fiscal year.
“Being surrounded with outstanding individuals makes you want to perform better with them,” he says. “Not for them but with them.”
Smart Business spoke with Olson about steps you can take to make your organization a great place to work.
Define your ideal workplace. For me, an ideal workplace would be a place where you can enjoy coming to work, actually have some fun and accomplish the specific goals that have been assigned to you. This is a place where you can be proud of what you’re doing your efforts as well as the results and it would be an A effort.
An ideal workplace here is an environment where people like to work with you and be around you, and you feel like you’re all working toward the right things for your patients. This work-place provides the resources and tools that a person needs to be able to do the things they’re trained to do. It’s an atmosphere where you can actually have friendships beyond the work-place, if that’s your choosing.
You’ll pull together if something unexpectedly becomes a challenge, and you’ll want to be a part of solving it. Employees will want to contribute to the success of the organization. It’s a place of teamwork as opposed to individual successes.
Start with communication. Business leaders can begin by going out into the different parts of their organization, visiting with staff and having significant amounts of communication accepting and receiving feedback and explaining to individuals why decisions are made so that there’s full understanding.
I want whoever brings me a concern to be able to state it clearly, and I ask that they also state the potential solutions to the concern, as opposed to just handing it to me. Their decisions impact others so, where possible, input should be sought before bringing the final recommendations to me. If they feel comfortable, I would let them make the decision and not have to bring a recommendation to me.
A title can define somebody’s authority, but more importantly, a person’s performance over time defines their authority. They know what they can decide on their own or with their staff, and they know what they should run by management for input before proceeding. When you allow employees to make decisions on their own, it demonstrates that you value their thoughts, their opinions and their potential resolutions to concerns.
Maintain corporate culture. Provide an atmosphere that allows your employees to use the skills that they’ve learned and let them apply those and feel good about them. They have to see results for others, more so than for themselves, and they have to know that they were a part of those positive results or outcomes.
In health care, it comes down to doing things not only with great care but with a caring attitude. Success can be defined as feeling good about what you’ve accomplished and knowing that you’re not done you need to do more each and every day.
Leaders should provide an environment that is constructive, collaborative, communicative, friendly, and all of those fall under the umbrella of high quality.
Solicit feedback. We measure these things through employee opinion surveys. We use an outside firm to do that every 12 to 18 months. When we receive feedback, we share the results with the employees. We priori-tize the results and then develop action plans to improve our performance where it’s appropriate.
If you’re going to ask employees for feedback, you have to be prepared to act on whatever it is. If it’s a positive, we want our fellow employees to know that these are the things we think we’re doing well. If there are some things we could do better on, we’re going to work on a plan with them to improve on those things.
Turn the negatives into positives. As concerns are identified, they have to be addressed. First, identify the employee’s concern and get a good understanding of it. Since the survey is anonymous, you want to give the concern back to the area from where it might have come, and if you can, bring in individuals that identified that concern and ask them to further elaborate on it.
Hopefully, the people identifying the concerns can be part of the solution, as opposed to them saying, ‘Here’s the problem. Now you fix it.’ Then, they’ll work with the employees who have the ability to help rectify those concerns.
Get that group to develop a game plan and identify expected results that everyone can be happy with ... and then monitor the success. You want to give that A effort. Sometimes you have great efforts and the results aren’t there, but the efforts matter.
HOW TO REACH: St. Luke’s Hospital, (314) 434-1500 or www.stlukes-stl.com
Elvis is alive and well and working in the banking industry inthe person of John Featherman.
Or so he would have you believe. Last year, Featherman chairman and CEO of First Chester County Corp. and First National Bank of Chester County donned a jumpsuit reminiscent of The King and climbed aboard his company’s float at the Christmas parade.
“We paraded around in front of 10,000 people who are customers as well as our employees,” Featherman says. “The people enjoy the parade, and it’s consistent with our role as being a community bank.”
With 258 employees and $68.2 million in 2007 revenue, First Chester County Corp. is the bank holding company for First National.
A proponent of infusing fun into the workplace, Featherman’s also been spotted in a tuxedo at his company’s recent annual employee meeting, and he opened the ceremonies at his company’s Hollywood-themed gala that included dinner, an annual company report and employee participation awards.
Smart Business spoke with Featherman about how he manages the fundamentals of leadership.
Know all the characters. I’m a huge relationship person. I focus on building relationships with all the parties that I’m involved with. That includes our employees, customers, clients, executives, shareholders, vendors, investment bankers, community members and competitors.
On a personal basis, I know most of the CEOs of the other banks and financial institutions that we compete with. I’ve been here for a number of years, so I know a lot of them just through business activities, community activities or social activities.
When you get to know your competitors as best as you can, it helps you to understand their business model. You see what succeeds for them and what doesn’t succeed, and you learn from that. It’s a big part of knowing your marketplace.
Manage by walking around. I try to be as visible as possible. I look for participation and collaborative efforts.
For example, we hold our executive meetings once a week, and we move them around to different areas of the bank. I’ll arrive early at the meeting, and I’ll go into the employee lounge and talk with whoever’s coming in to get coffee. I’ll say, ‘Good morning, how are you doing, what’s going on, what’s new?’
Then, after the meeting, I try to have enough time to walk through that building and talk with people that I see or stop into someone’s office and inquire about a project that I know we’re working on. You can learn a lot about what’s going on, and the employees see you in a different light.
Another example is our Chairman’s Birthday Breakfast for the employees who celebrate a birthday that month. We have a breakfast at a local country club. During the breakfast, we each have the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing at the bank and what we’re doing in our personal life our families, our children. That’s another opportunity for me to meet with the employee in an unstructured atmosphere.
They seem to enjoy that. I pick up a lot of information, and they have the opportunity to ask me questions about anything going on with the bank.
Other companies could do something similar to that, in which the employees bring their own lunch to a lunch meeting so it doesn’t cost the employer anything.
I’m an optimist, and it’s an opportunity for me to show confidence and optimism about the direction that we’re heading, in the way I carry myself and the way I conduct the conversation. Also, it gives the employees the opportunity to express their concerns, and I wouldn’t get that information if I just stayed here in my office and did all the work from this location.
Foster employee relationships. If we hire a new teller at the main branch, I purposely do personal banking in the branches just so that I can select a teller or a customer service rep that I don’t know well or haven’t worked with before and interact with them. I’ll talk about something in addition to the business so I can form a relationship with them.
The more people, the more difficult it is to know everyone. To me, it’s all about people. You have to care about them, and that’s something that goes on 24 hours a day.
That’s not fake; I want to know what’s going on.
Practice good listening. One of the most important skills that a successful business leader needs is to be a good listener. I find that it’s absolutely imperative to listen to people but also watch them and try to ascertain all that they’re trying to convey.
I was a lawyer for 35 years before I took on this job, and I learned early in my career to listen to clients who came in to see me. Many times, what they thought they wanted wasn’t really what they wanted at all, and if I listened long enough, they would eventually get around to expressing their ultimate concern.
When you go into a business meeting, whether it’s with other executives in your own company or with your customers, you need to remind yourself to listen and be conscious of that. Perhaps, you can listen until everyone else has spoken, and then if you feel you have a contribution to make, speak and ask questions. And never, ever interrupt or talk over someone it’s a matter of showing respect for the other person that you’re dealing with. You’ll see the results and see how engaged the other participants are.
HOW TO REACH: First Chester County Corp., (877) 362-0100 or www.fnbchestercounty.com
Tom Jackson enjoys the freedom that comes with running his own business.
But, he says, there is also a responsibility that goes hand in hand with that freedom.
“Most business owners like the flexibility and the opportunity to make good money,
but if you don’t have a plan in place, that’s going to dry up and you won’t have those benefits,” says the co-founder and CEO of Jackson Systems LLC, an HVAC manufacturing and distribution company.
To help him create that executive game plan, Jackson meets every other week with a business coach.
Smart Business spoke with Jackson about how those meetings — and the lessons he’s learned from them — have helped him grow his business to 2007 revenue of $8.2 million.
How does having a business mentor help you become a better leader?
You sit down together, and the coach’s questions drag things out of you. It makes you realize that if you don’t get your act together here, it’s not going to be a good thing.
My business coach is very into all of the proper things, whether that’s developing long-term goals, mission statements or core values statements. While sometimes people don’t like all that touchy-feely stuff, it makes you think about what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be touchy-feely if you don’t want it to be, but it makes you think about the long-term goals of the company, and that’s probably the most important thing.
In my case, I met my business coach through a colleague here at work, and the relationship developed that
way. My business coach is a small business owner himself, so he has a lot of knowledge to draw upon. Just sitting
down with him and having him ask me a series of questions is a good deal, and sometimes he has a specific topic that we cover, like increasing sales or how to develop the culture at work.
Having someone there to ask you questions, someone who’s an outside sounding board, is really important because
that person’s not there at your company every day, and that person can give you a different perspective over what everyone else in the operation sees.
What lessons have you learned to help you grow your company?
Have your goals written out — people who write out their goals are much more successful than those who don’t have them articulated on a piece of paper.
It’s just the power of the mind. If you take the time to write down the goals, and you review them every once in awhile, your mind just automatically starts working on those things. It knows that is the ultimate endgame, that you’re trying to get to this goal.
The other thing I’ve learned is being smart about borrowing money. We’re not over-borrowed in any way, but one of my goals within the next few years is to have no debt.
If times get bad and you have no debt, it’s a good thing. But, if times are really good and you want to grow the company a lot more, if you’re not saddled with a bunch of debt, you can grow even quicker.
Smart debt management is a key thing. The best thing that we’re doing is tracking it every day. My chief operating officer wrote scripts that automatically generate all of this data for me; every morning I get a dashboard report e-mail that shows me exactly how much money we have borrowed, our accounts receivables and our accounts payables.
We have very defined goals on how much debt we’re trying to get paid down each year, and it all ties back in. If you have the goal and you’ve written it down and everyone knows what those goals are, you start working toward that.
How do you share those goals with your employees?
Every quarter, we have a company staff meeting, and we have these little booklets that are our 10-year road map that we read together. It’s our mission, our values, our strategic position, our target customers, our themes and all of our visions.
We go through those every three months so everyone is in tune with what we’re trying to do. It’s got an objective of lowering debt, and we talk about how we’re doing. I don’t put up a bunch of financials for them to try to figure out, but everyone in the company knows that we’ve got money borrowed, and they know it’s one of our goals to lower the amount of money. Everyone knows what our sales objectives are and who we want our core customers to be.
In the beginning, there were a lot fewer people in our business so it wasn’t as big a deal to share those goals. It shows them that we’re sincerely interested in moving everyone forward in a positive way. It allows our employees to advance their careers and get raises and bonuses.
HOW TO REACH: Jackson Systems LLC, (888) 652-9663 or www.jacksonsystems.com
For the last 20 years, Howard Tellepsen Jr. has been seeking professional help, not only for himself but for every employee in his company.
For Tellepsen, owner, chairman and CEO of Tellepsen Builders LP, this help comes in the form of an industrial psychologist who has become an essential member of the Tellepsen team.
This outsourced counselor performs compatibility tests with job candidates, facilitates team building and visits the company two days each month to help Tellepsen’s 345 employees manage personal and professional issues.
“It’s an ongoing commitment to have this industrial psychologist as a resource for our employees,” Tellepsen says.
The fourth-generation owned and operated construction company posted 2007 revenue of $283 million, and Tellepsen says that making a counselor available to employees has reinforced his company’s philosophy: Treat everyone with mutual trust and respect. He says this leads to a feeling of ownership, which fosters an atmosphere of empowerment.
Smart Business spoke with Tellepsen about how he builds the foundation for his company’s greatest asset its employees.
Hire to fit your culture. We work closely with our industrial psychologist in terms of recruiting employees in the first place. Culture is very important here, and it’s based on values.
The most important value mutual trust and respect is how you treat your employees, and it’s how you get that same trust and respect from them in return. Mutual trust and respect is how you want them to conduct their business with the people they deal with internally and externally.
These tests that are given by our industrial psychologist have allowed us to identify people who have a high probability of fitting into our culture and growing with the company. We have very low turnover because we spend time on the front end making sure that we are the right culture for them. It’s important to make sure that employees are going to fit into our culture because our company was built in 1909, and our culture is well established.
When you have that kind of culture and you have employees who fit that culture, it makes it easier to be able to empower them because you can trust them. Somebody certainly might be smart enough to work here and they might have experience, but they may not be able to thrive in our culture.
When they understand the culture, it allows us to empower them to be responsible for their actions, and holding them accountable is part of the empowerment. You have the right people in the first place, and then they understand that’s how we function in terms of giving a lot of responsibility to the employees. We allow them to make decisions because we want them to take ownership and to be held accountable.
Don’t take chances. If an employee isn’t compatible with a company’s culture, especially when the company has a very strong culture, you risk a low-performing, unhappy employee, and that is not healthy to the rest of the employees. You then risk a short-term employee who does-n’t stay.
Try to make long-term decisions rather than short-term decisions. Our people are our most important asset, so it’s a long-term decision to spend that time on the front end having them test with our industrial psychologist. It’s a real investment.
You’re only as effective as your people. I don’t know how you could not make a long-term decision on your people because they are the ones who are representing you every single day to your clients. Your company becomes in the eyes of your clients who your employees are, how they conduct their business and how they treat their customers.
Provide opportunities for feedback. Employees appreciate the time that we’re taking on the front end, and then every single month, there’s an opportunity to see this industrial psychologist. Not every employee gets to see him each time he’s here, but we continue to provide that resource throughout their career at Tellepsen and show them that we have a caring environment.
Each session that employee has with our industrial psychologist is confidential, but if there are growth issues from a personal side or a business side and the employee gives the approval, the industrial psychologist will double back to the employee’s supervisor, and then all three of them will sit down and talk about it.
Having a counselor available to our employees provides another avenue for them to communicate their interests and share what’s on their mind. Over a period of time, a confidential environment is created where the employees are comfortable, and they feel that the company cares about them.
Use that information as a springboard. We translate input we receive from the industrial psychologist, and then during our annual evaluation with each employee, we discuss the employee’s development what they would like to learn about and what areas they would like to grow in and we establish a plan for them to take courses, attend seminars, go to conferences whatever it takes for them to accomplish the agreed-upon growth issues that the company feels would be helpful for them.
This continuous process is reviewed on an annual basis to see how we’re doing, and that’s the accountability part. The company is accountable to the employee; we need to help them and give them the tools to continue to grow personally and professionally.
HOW TO REACH: Tellepsen Builders LP, (281) 447-8100 or www.tellepsen.com
Rick Dennen answers his own phone, types his own letters and sets his own calendar and he expects his employees to do the same.
“Everybody in the company is involved in the leadership,” says the co-owner, founder, president and CEO of Oak Street Funding. “Everybody in this company contributes to the bottom line of this business.”
Declining to hire administrative staff is one way that Dennen, who founded the company in 2003, keeps overhead at a minimum at the commercial finance company serving the insurance industry. Today, the business has 36 employees and posted 2007 revenue of $15 million.
Smart Business spoke with Dennen about how he hires his staff members and fosters their leadership skills.
Q. What is the key to growing a successful company?
The key is hiring good, ethical, talented people and giving them all the resources that they need. That includes technology and proper training to accomplish their job in the best way they can.
Q. How do you find the best people?
Our most successful employees have come from referrals from other employees and from colleagues. If they’re good, we’ll find a place for them.
If you could find somebody through your own referral network, they seem to have a higher success rate. People can put a lot of different things on resumes, and it’s tough to validate that.
We try to have many people interviewing candidates. I try to at least walk in and introduce myself, if I know a candidate is in, and be a part of all that.
Q. How does having other employees interview candidates help you find the best people?
It’s important so they get a different perspective. I don’t want them hearing just my perspective on the culture. I might be a little bit biased, being the founder. I want other people’s perspective and honest feedback on what the job entails and what the dayto-day is like.
We undersell versus oversell. I don’t candy-coat what their job is going to be or how hard it’s going to be. I take the opposite approach; I tell them that it’s going to be more difficult so when they come in, they’re happy. If a company over-sells, they immediately have a dissatisfied employee.
Q. How do you ensure that a job candidate will fit into your culture?
We try to introduce them to as many people as possible, and we explain our family-based culture. That’s clearly a top priority for people when they come to work here.
They still have a job to do, but if they’re happy at home, they’re happy here. That goes a long way for job satisfaction, turnover and all those types of things.
People aren’t working 50, 60, 70 hours a week, but they’re going to learn the business and be around here over a longer period of time. Having that tenure in a company is more valuable than working people and blowing them out the doors every year.
Q. How do you invest in your employees’ futures?
We do leadership training once a quarter. We bring in an outside company and put together a long series of leadership classes.
We’ll shut the company down for about four hours and focus on leadership or team-building, something that’s going to make these people better. We also hand out a book for the employees to read after the class, like ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ by John Maxwell or ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins.
These books are tied into the training that we’re doing.
Q. How do you determine what the training will focus on each quarter?
We look at gaps that we have in the company. Maybe it’s a sales gap, communications training or just management leadership everybody being held accountable for their actions. Rarely is it technical. It’s more of the soft skills that you need.
Everybody needs to be a leader here, and everybody needs to have good skills. It makes things run better. The company is going to be more successful if everybody knows they have a job and knows that they have decision authority. They need to be a leader to make the company the best company it can be.
Q. How do your employees know they have that authority?
I communicate it to my people. My philosophy is, ‘It’s better to ask forgiveness than it is permission. My people know that, and I encourage them to make decisions. When people first come in, they are a little hesitant to take that approach, but a good leader will make the right decisions, and it speeds things up.
It’s good diversity for the company to have more than just one person making decisions. The business can’t grow if one person is making all the decisions because things just get bogged down. One person can’t be everywhere; they can do that when there are five people in the company, but as it grows, everybody needs to be making decisions.
HOW TO REACH: Oak Street Funding, (866) 625-3863 or www.oakstreetfunding.com
Scott Mauldin runs his business like he drives his car.
The president of Genesis Electronics Manufacturing Inc. occasionally glances in the rearview mirror, but he also looks out over the hood to see what lies ahead.
“If you spend too much time being introspective, the world’s going to pass you by,” he says. “Or if you’re too visionary, you don’t look down to fix the things you need to fix.”
Mauldin combines both those views to lead his $17 million electronics manufacturing service provider and its 100 employees.
Smart Business spoke with Mauldin about how to steer your company in the right direction.
Q. What are your keys to growing a successful company?
There are three key elements that are the 1-2-3s of our daily business, and they’re fairly universal: Hire good people, develop and practice a breakthrough thinking mentality across your organization and have crisp action. Then rinse and repeat.
Q. How do you keep good people at your company?
It sounds a little cliche, but there’s no doubt good people are your most important assets. A company can invest all sorts of money in the most advanced equipment and the best systems, but inevitably, those tools are only as productive as the people that interact with them. Mediocre people given great tools will still, at best, only create mediocre results. But great people with simple tools will create great results.
Once you hire them, you have to retain them so you have to spend time creating a culture and putting things in place that make people want to stay. We have a four-day workweek, Monday through Thursday. We started it over a summer, when our energy costs are highest, and saw an improvement in our energy bills. It helps people save on gas because they don’t have to drive to work on that day. And, if they do have to work overtime on a Friday, they still have a Saturday and Sunday. It’s a very people-friendly perk.
Q. How does that benefit your company?
We have a turnover rate of less than 2 percent and a great deal of employee loyalty. We’ve got people who know the processes and that also helps in our responsiveness; we’re not trying to retrain people all the time. A strong core of long-term employees provides an advantage to your customer.
Q. How do you foster breakthrough thinking among your employees?
We encourage them to look at things that are not value-added. Nobody can improve our processes more than the people who touch them every day. They’ll say, ‘Why am I doing this? Can it be done faster? Can it be done cheaper, or do we really need to do it at all?’
Breakthrough thinking really helps you remove the old euphemisms like, ‘Bigger is better.’ In reality, better is better, no matter what size it is. Good people are always energized by that process. When they’re able to get involved, the ownership that they have increases to a level that is very exciting and satisfying. Once you get that momentum going, it’s exciting.
The process becomes so much more simplified when you start with good people because they love breakthrough thinking. They love to take crisp action. They love to see results, and they’re not afraid to say, ‘That’s ugly. Let’s fix it.’
We think about it this way: If you see something right, you should celebrate it; if you see something wrong, you need to fix it, and in our internal processes, if something is indifferent and not making an impact, then we need to question why we do that at all. If it doesn’t add value, we need to remove it from the process.
There’s a term paralysis by analysis where you spend a lot of time grinding over whether you should do something or not. Our thought process is, ‘Let’s just do it, then quickly measure the results.’ If it works, great, we’ve done a good thing, and if it doesn’t, fix it.
If you’re going to have an impact and service a customer base, you have to be responsive. If customers call us, they’re looking for a call back in a very short period of time. If they e-mail us, they’re looking for an answer as quickly as we can get it to them.
Our mission statement is, ‘Consider it done.’ It’s fairly simple, but that’s how we treat each other, internally and externally. Nobody wants to hear, ‘I’ll get back to you in a week.’ That’s just not the way to garner customer loyalty and customer longevity in our business. The way you do that is by being responsive.
HOW TO REACH: Genesis Electronics Manufacturing Inc., (813) 854-1661 or www.genesismfg.com
And the president of Carefree World Travel ensures that his customers keep coming back by building relationships with them.
“Stay in touch with your customer,” Dusing says. “Talk with them a lot to find out how things are going, and always look for opportunities in your industry to provide a service you’re not providing right now.”
Dusing says you must provide value-added services to your customers to maintain a competitive advantage, something he does at his $14.7 million company by educating his corporate clients about managing their trips and by studying their travel expenditures to uncover cost savings.
Smart Business spoke with Dusing about how he establishes partnerships with clients and how he keeps the lines of communication open.
Q. How do you build partnerships with clients?
We try to establish a relationship at each level of the customer’s company. Personally, I try to establish a relationship with the executive team, the owner, the president and the (chief financial officer) within the company.
Our salesperson is very good at getting in and meeting the travel coordinators and the people that deal with the management of the company’s travel program on a day-to-day basis. And then the agents work on a daily basis with the people actually doing the traveling.
If something goes wrong, we have that relationship and are able to identify the problem and get it fixed fairly quickly. There’s an open level of communication at each one of those levels so that if something does happen, we know about it.
Q. How do you keep the lines of communication open?
We meet and talk with them. It’s not through e-mail; it’s a personal relationship that we try to develop. If we have a new company that comes on board, we identify the people that we need to get to know, and then if there’s an opportunity, we’ll take our agents out and get them to meet the people on the other end of the phone.
Don’t depend on one relationship because when that person leaves, you have none.
Q. What one thing can prevent a company from growing?
Not talking with your customers and not knowing what their goals are. When you’re working with a customer, take the time to learn what their goals are.
You have to work together to make sure you’re delivering what they’re looking for at a fair price. If you don’t know your customers’ goals, you’re just not on same page.
Q. How can executives ensure that their employees hear their message?
There’s an old saying, ‘Somebody needs to hear something six to 10 times before it actually sinks in.’ I do see that, and it’s a frustration of management. If we have a meeting, we’ll put the meeting minutes out in writing, and at the next meeting, we’ll bring it up again because we realize it’s not going to sink in the first time that somebody hears it.
The other thing that I really dislike from a management standpoint is e-mail. I’ve told my managers, ‘We don’t manage through e-mail.’ It’s so easy for a manager to send a quick e-mail out to the staff, but do the employees read it fully? So many employees in the work force today receive so many e-mails, it almost becomes a background for them.
And it’s the same thing in dealing with your customers: If you don’t have all the answers, pick up the phone and call them. Don’t play pingpong back and forth with somebody for a week to try to settle one small issue.
Q. What advice would you share with other leaders who are trying to grow their company?
Sign all checks to keep control over what is being spent in the company. If you’re signing the checks, you can see the money that’s going out and what’s being spent for different items, the office supplies or the travel or the utilities.
If your employees know that you’re signing every check and that you’re seeing everything, it curtails what they spend.
When interviewing someone for a position with your company, I would recommend having them take a personality test, and there are a lot of good personality tests out there. Get a focus on the employee, know what’s important to them and know what values they have before you hire them.
If you take the time to really look at the employee before you hire them, you’re not wasting your time. They’re going to work out, and they’re going to be a long-term employee. They’re easier to work with, and they get along with the other employees.
You want to hire someone that is looking for a career, not a job. I’m always looking for somebody that’s able to grow within the company. Everybody that is in management here has come up through the company, rather than being an outside hire.
HOW TO REACH: Carefree World Travel, (317) 899-4477 or www.carefreetravel.net
Terrie Gilligan manages what she calls “the Ritz-Carlton of paving companies.”
While her $20 million asphalt paving and maintenance business seems worlds away from the luxury hotel chain, Gilligan says her focus on customer service is just as big of a priority as it is to Ritz-Carlton.
The owner, president and CEO of Parking Area Maintenance Inc. instills that philosophy in her 100 employees, touting the idea that a good reputation can help a company sustain sales, even in a down economy.
“It’s so important that your employees realize they’re representing you,” Gilligan says. “When our customers contract with us, they know our employees will be professional.”
Smart Business spoke with Gilligan about how to instill a sense of “ownership thinking” in your employees.
Q. What does it take to grow a successful company?
The employees of the company are so important. You can go out and buy all the metal you want, but if you don’t have the key people in place to operate the company, it doesn’t matter.
Another key thing is our core values. We live by our core values every day. If you were out on a job site, and you were to ask one of our employees, they should know what they are.
Q. How did you communicate that to your employees?
We have quarterly meetings where we get together with all the employees, and last fall, we implemented ownership thinking.
Ownership thinking means it’s not just me having to worry about everything. It’s letting everybody in the company worry about everything. I used to take everything on myself, and now, we share all the information and all of the responsibilities.
We actually opened up our books to all the employees, and they were put on a bonus plan as to how we do in 2008. It’s a flat incentive across the board, down to the field laborers. We’re projecting it to be about $3,500 per employee.
Q. How did you implement this ownership thinking?
We’ve always shared information with everybody. One of our core values is teamwork, and another is continuous improvement, so it was a no-brainer for us to go ahead and implement this.
We sat down with our employees, explained it to everybody and compared it to their mortgages and their checkbooks. We said, ‘This is the way a profit-and-loss statement works, and this is the way a balance sheet works.’ Everybody really embraced it.
We explained the company’s financials for the last five years and where we wanted to go with the company. I had another meeting where we touched on the economy and said, ‘We all have to look at these things because we have to be competitive.’ The response was great.
Q. How did you get employee buy-in?
I felt if my employees were out in the field or if they were on the executive team, they deserved the same amount because everybody’s contributing to this.
About 50 percent of our field employees are Hispanic, and they said, ‘We’ve always thought we were owners.’ We brought in an interpreter to help us implement this, and those employees were so excited about it and still are.
If you share the information with your employees, they take it upon themselves to look out for the company as a whole.
Q. How has that benefited your company?
Everybody’s looking out for everything. For example, I have lunch with our employees of the month. Through those lunches, they’ve told me about waste within the company. One of them went to pick up a bolt for a piece of equipment and never realized it cost that much.
We also have a suggestion box in our break room. Our HR director checks it once a week, and we get eight to 10 suggestions a month. We respond to them on whether we implemented it or why we couldn’t implement it. They need to know that you saw the suggestion, and that you’ve given it consideration. If you don’t do that, they will think it has gone upon deaf ears.
As long as you give employees the kind of environment where they feel their suggestions are welcome, you will get ideas from them that you didn’t even think about even down to the toilet paper we buy for our office or equipment we really don’t need. For the last six months, it’s saved us from laying off individuals because we’ve been able to cut costs in other areas.
Q. How can other companies grow through ownership thinking?
Case studies say it’s not about compensation; the two top things employees look for are being included in things and being recognized. ... It’s got to be in your culture and in your core values.
If you don’t take care of your clients, by giving them not just value-added services but extraordinary service, I don’t think that you can grow a company. And, if you don’t treat your employees well, they’re not going to treat your clients well.
HOW TO REACH: Parking Area Maintenance Inc., (813) 880-9400 or www.easphalt.com
To illustrate the need to continually evolve your business, Bob Vitale tells a story >about the men who worked on coal-fired locomotives.
“All of a sudden, the guy shoveling the coal would stop and lean on the shovel. When you saw that happen, you knew that train had already started to slow down,” says Vitale, founder and CEO of 70-employee Midwest Industrial Supply Inc. “Never lean on the shovel.”
Vitale says executives must always embrace change -both in their company and in their customers’ companies or their business will lose strength in the marketplace and, ultimately, grind to a halt.
Smart Business spoke with Vitale about how success at his $15.3 million company which provides dust control and anti-icing solutions depends on the success of his customers.
Q. What are your keys for growth?
Focus on the customer. Look through the customers’ eyes to determine what it is that they need and what are their business issues. Then, combine your skills and strengths in a sustained way to solve the customers’ business issues and create value.
Provide customers with a solution, something of value over a longer period of time years, not just a month and work to retain and build those high-value customer relationships.
Q. How do you build customer relationships?
You have to know something about the customer’s industry and talk to them in terms of how they would judge the success or failure for the kind of service and product package you are providing them.
Ask what is changing in the customer’s world. Also, ask the customer and yourself, ‘What can we do to bring more value next year?’ You have to be prepared to change or improve what you do to better serve them.
By allowing customers to turn over the management and problem-solving in a particular area, they can focus on their core business. They can confidently know that they have the best possible steward working to manage an important area that might have all kinds of consequences and problems if it was not handled properly.
Q. How do you earn the trust of your customers?
It is absolutely important that we do what we say we’re going to do, that we deliver to our commitments and that, in effect, we accept responsibility for our conduct and work.
And, if we ever fall down and don’t do something as well as it should be done, we accept responsibility for that and immediately correct what needs to be corrected and always strive for a high-quality performance.
Q. How do you communicate that customer-service vision to employees?
Our road map to success is a 14-page booklet that goes to employees. It is the complete statement of our mission and core values; it prescribes all the attitude, behavior and character of our organization. The road map shares our vision of where we want to go and what we want to become in the next five years. Then we have our scorecard, which allows us to check to make sure that we are achieving the things that we have set out as being the most important things for us as a company to do.
When you’re smaller, it’s easy to communicate what you’re trying to do. As more people come in who are new, it’s very important that all of the things you’re doing your mission, vision and values are communicated to everybody.
When you go from two people to 70 people, the order of complexity in communication is such that without one clear road map, it becomes very hard to keep everybody going in the same direction.
Q. How do you establish a road map?
It is very hard to do. We started five years ago, and we keep it alive and fresh with a once-a-year review. It’s got to be a real, living document. The fundamental mission and values don’t change, but you have to address all of the things that have changed in your world and your customers’ world and reflect the current values that the customers expect to get from the money they’ve spent with you.
There’s an old saying I’ve had above my desk for probably 30 years, and it says, ‘Most people grow themselves out of business.’ They either can’t manage it, or they can’t finance it. That’s the whole point. As you grow, you’re always going into unexplored territory; you’ve got more things that you’ve got to do well, and you have more people.
Everybody in the business needs to grow and learn. You need to maintain and improve your individual skills, capabilities and expertise every single year.
It’s a good reminder never to put your feet up on the desk. Keep them on the ground and moving; don’t relax. There is too much opportunity and possibility out there in your world.
The minute you stop growing and stop working for improvement, you are starting to slide backward, and you’re going in the wrong direction.
HOW TO REACH: Midwest Industrial Supply Inc., (800) 321-0699 or www.midwestind.com
Bob Webb depends on his past customers to draw new ones to his custom home-building business, so he knows he’d better treat people right. As president and founder of the $50 million Bob Webb Group, he understands that customer satisfaction is the lifeblood for his company to survive and grow, so he strives to satisfy each and every customer so that they’ll spread the word.
Smart Business spoke with Webb about how he now gauges customer satisfaction through surveys instead of just assuming people are happy.
Measure yourself. How do you measure your business if you don’t have that information coming back in some way? I don’t know. There might be other ways you get that, but somehow you have to find out what that customer actually thinks of you after the process is done and you’ve got their money.
Customer satisfaction is the biggest indicator of the job we’re doing, and we do surveys of our past customers. We’ve probably done that in the last 15 years or so. Before that, we just assumed they were happy.
If there’s something that you see popping up more often, you try to fix it. You learn all the time. We learned that we’re not perfect, which we thought we were.
The business today is much more competitive than it ever was before, and every year, you have to get more creative and follow up on every possible avenue or lead or source of business you can get.
Most everything you do costs a lot of money, but for the benefit, it’s certainly worth doing because we can correct a problem. If we have a problem that starts showing up, we can get it fixed, so I think no, it’s not expensive. It’s the cost of doing business.
You can run all the surveys you want and get all the information you want to get, but if you don’t follow up on it and take advantage of it, it’s worthless. I think companies do that. They think it’s the proper thing to do, but they don’t get the results back, and they don’t study it and don’t decide what to do with what they found out.
Delegate. I started out as a oneman show, so one of the first things that was hard for me to do was delegate responsibilities, but the more I started doing it, the easier it was.
Being able to do that is very important. People who start out in a large company don’t know things to be any different, but when you’re the only person there that’s doing all the tasks, you always think you can do it better than the person hired to do the job. That’s not necessarily so, and the quicker that you realize that you can’t do it all and you can’t do everything the best, the better off you are.
You just have to give it up. It’s like having a kid when you send them to college. You’ve got to turn them loose. You have to start somebody on a job who you have confidence in, that you’ve spent enough time with, that you know they’re very capable. You just have to give them the room to show you that you can.
Create a staff you trust. It takes time. You can interview people, but until you get them into your organization, you don’t know how they’ll fit in and what they’re capable of doing and how motivated they are to do that.
Give them an environment they can succeed in, and when they do, recognize that. Everybody likes that about as much as money. We all need that pat on the back occasionally. We need to be recognized by the people we work with that we are doing a good job and the people that are their bosses recognize that.
That’s throughout the company. That includes the carpenter or whatever job they have. It’s equally important to everybody.
Don’t be complacent. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was never be complacent about your business. About the time you think that you’re pretty good at what you do, if you really take the time and look around, you’re not as good as you think you are. These surveys might tell you that.
Our business, and I’m sure in most business today, it’s changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 30 years, and you really have to be on your toes and do a much better job all the time.
Any product you build, as soon as you build it, go back and think, ‘Is it as good as you can get it?’ Go back a month later and say, ‘OK, I could have done this a little bit better or that a little bit better.’ That could be some function in your office. It could be the way you track your costs or how you estimate a job or whatever.
Your customer might tell you a few things about it, and as many times as you look at it, you don’t see it, but they do.
Associate Editor Kristy J. O’Hara also contributed to this story.
HOW TO REACH: Bob Webb Group, (740) 548-5577 or www.bobwebb.com