Erik Cassano

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Tech-tonic shift

Sometimes good really can be the enemy of great.

There was nothing wrong with Compuware Corp. as it stood two years ago. President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Paul was running the day-to-day operations of a billion-dollar IT solutions firm with product offerings that were selling to an array of customers. It was a stable business with established revenue channels and no outward signs of trouble.

But Paul and the leadership team at Compuware saw something different when they looked past their company’s stable surface. They saw a product-driven business that had diluted itself by covering too much ground. It wasn’t a fatal flaw, but under that set-up, Compuware could never hope to be more than what it was: a producer and seller of prefabricated products and solutions.

Paul and the other leaders of Compuware wanted more. They wanted to know what their company could really excel at and then focus on those areas.

“We were in all kinds of different business environments, selling different business solutions and products into different IT categories around the world,” Paul says. “So the new strategy we introduced was really deciding what we were going to be the best in the world at, and aligning the entire organization around the goal of being best in class.”

To make that happen, Compuware — which generated $1.1 billion in 2008 revenue — needed to more directly address the needs of its customers. The company’s leaders shifted their focus from developing and producing products and services to identifying customers’ IT pain points and constructing solutions to those problems.

“It was basically changing the conversation from ‘What does the product do?’ to ‘What customer problem are we solving, and how are we differentiating our ability to solve that problem?’” Paul says. “As a result of that, we doubled down our investment in the area of education and training, we divested ourselves of some core solutions, and through all of that, it gave us a great opportunity to reinvest and accelerate our positions in some key areas.”

Shift the focus

Shifting from a product-focused mindset to a customer-solutions-driven mindset was more than a strategic shift. It was also a cultural shift. Paul had to change the way his developers and salespeople thought about creating products and taking them to market.

At an established company like Compuware, with entrenched processes, the shift needs to first occur on a tectonic-plate level — at the absolute base of the company’s foundation.

There was a lot of prior inertia that Paul and the leadership team needed to rein in and redirect.

“It’s a very common trap for technology companies to fall into,” Paul says. “They become so enamored with their own technology, they often lose focus on what is going to be required to value for the customers in the marketplaces they serve.”

To shift the ground beneath the company, Paul started at the top. Compuware assembled a core group of business leaders from within the organization and proceeded to hold off-site sessions with the assembled team over the course of several months. In the sessions, the selected leaders began a frank, honest dialogue about where Compuware needed to go in the future and in which areas the company could build the most core-competency muscle.

Compuware’s leaders were quickly able to define areas of strength and sketch an outline for goal-setting across three periods, dubbed horizons one, two and three. Horizon one was defined as the immediate future.

“We identified horizon two as anything beyond that quarter, and horizon three as anything beyond that fiscal year,” Paul says. “So we started investing in the capabilities we defined with the understanding that this is how we were going to accelerate the business. It’s all about focus.”

After setting ground rules regarding strategy and time frames, Paul and the leadership team began to roll out the new company focus with a three-pronged strategy focused on communication, process and consistency.

The first leg of the communication process involved staying on the message, making sure that every manager was hammering home the idea of identifying customer problems and fashioning solutions to address those problems, then repeating the concept at every opportunity.

“We were consistent in our communication bulletins that we sent out, we developed a global online collaboration portal where we talk about the problems we are solving for our customers,” Paul says. “At many levels, we were communicating business problems and value creation in the same sentence or paragraph.”

The second leg was to focus on the company’s process of allocating people and resources, again placing a priority on creating value and solutions for the customer, as opposed to solely developing products.

“We created checkpoints where you could not pass unless you had the problem and the value creation solved first,” Paul says. “From there, we’d go into how the solution is supporting that.”

The third leg involved getting people at different levels and locations within the organization involved in promoting the messages. Paul and his leadership team couldn’t be in all places at all times, so as the cultural shift began to take root, the leaders closer to ground level began to play an integral role in making the messages stick with employees in every corner of Compuware.

“Some of our leaders got it right away,” Paul says. “Some of our leaders are new to the organization and didn’t have the history of ‘That’s not how we do things.’ So we got everyone on board through a relentless pursuit of consistency not only in communication but in discipline around the processes.

“What is very rewarding is to see our internal IT group or our research and development group, they won’t even start to do work now unless they understand how it supports the customer problem. When you have a clear articulation of a core strategy that you can then align everybody else behind, it is amazing the kind of leverage and agility that you can have when executing in the field. It is a very powerful business model.”

To make it happen in your organization, you need to build a strategy, build a team and build trust.

“The most important thing in all of this is focus,” Paul says. “Focus on a business strategy that is going to be effective. Then, by bringing in cross-functional key leadership from around the organization and starting to frame the conversation first, you then have the opportunity to come up with what you want to be when you grow up to the next level as an organization. Only once you’ve gotten that strategy figured out can you really start to make all the other decisions relative to aligning the organization around that strategy.

“So you get the focus, get the strategy right and then start cascading it through a series of effective communications and decisions that are consistent, and narrowing the organization down to what you believe you can be the best in the world at.”

Create change agents

Any organization that undertakes a major shift in the way it does business will need people to step up, set an example and create buy-in from the people around them.

Paul says Compuware already had a number of such leaders in place. But he is always on the lookout for additional change leaders.

To find them, he sets clearly stated goals and observes who has the most success — and fewest setbacks — in reaching those goals.

“You will learn who your main players are in the near and medium term if you have set goals,” Paul says. “I set up quarterly goals for each of our business leaders that are all very measurable. You can tell who is capable of breaking through walls and achieving those goals. It can take a bit of time, but it’s something where you can kind of get there in the medium term.”

In the long term, you need to create an environment that develops and nurtures leaders who can help anchor and grow your culture and strategies. Paul creates that environment at Compuware by looking both inside and outside the organization.

“I have done a combination of things,” he says. “I leveraged the best and brightest that were already in place, plus I hired a bunch of new people to work with the existing people. The newer people are ones I thought would bring an outside perspective, a fresh attitude, agility and nimbleness. Then, we set up processes internally through training and evaluation programs to really encourage and foster the future leadership.”

Paul also wants to see a leader’s ability to groom and mentor other leaders. In order to be promoted, a manager at Compuware has to show not only excellence at their current job but also a demonstrated ability to mentor candidates who could potentially fill the role to be vacated.

The ability to teach as well as learn is, once again, rooted in effective goal setting. Paul wants employees’ goal-setting processes to be both collaborative and focused on the business plan.

“In goal setting, the No. 1 process is that you get the business plan right,” he says. “Every year, we go about the exercise of putting together a fair and achievable but aggressive business plan across the organization. We then break that down into geographies and solutions. From that, we expect two things to happen: One, that there is an evaluation process that happens between every manager and employee. Separate from that, there is a collaborative discussion about what that manager’s goals are for their team. It’s a very quick cascading from the business plan, and it creates alignment around the business plan.”

Protect morale

When you change your business, the worst thing you can do is keep employees in the dark with regard to the decisions that are being made. When uncertainty is freely flowing throughout your organization, people tend to assume the worst.

When Paul and his team made the decision to divest Compuware of some business segments that no longer fit the company’s long-term plans, Paul was upfront about the changes that would be occurring. Many of those employees were either retrained by Compuware or moved on with the company that purchased the business segment.

But going through the divesting process reinforced a core communication principle to Paul: Don’t let employees think you’re making change simply for the sake of change. No employee wants to feel like they’re a yo-yo on the end of management’s string.

“You have to be sensitive to a person’s predisposition to change,” Paul says. “We have some very brilliant people that by nature don’t like change. You have to bring those kinds of people along slowly.

“You can have them articulate answers to questions that you form for them, so they can come up with the reasoning for the change on their own. It’s a matter of leading questions so they can realize for themselves why these tough decisions have to be done.”

Some people will be gung-ho for change. Those are the people who can become your change agents throughout the organization. But even though you might be enthusiastic about your plan for change, don’t assume that enthusiasm is automatically shared by everyone. Don’t allow yourself to become quickly impatient with stragglers.

“It’s upon the leadership to make sure that you’re taking the time to describe why it’s best for the business and best for the employees, best for the customers and shareholders overall, to make these changes.”

How to reach: Compuware Corp., (800) 266-7892 or

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Bringing it together

As a communicator, Terry Maynard prefers a basic, straightforward approach with the messages that he delivers to his managers in the office and employees in the field.

But that doesn’t mean the founder, president and CEO of MedSource Home Care believes in one-size-fits-all communication for the nearly 300 staff members who comprise MedSource.

Whether Maynard is talking to his support staff, sales force or administrators, he believes in tailoring his message to his audience and trains his managers to do the same. When he’s done delivering his messages, he encourages feedback to stimulate a dialogue throughout the company.

Smart Business spoke with Maynard about how better communication can strengthen the connections among all levels of your company.

Q. How do you create a dialogue with employees?

What I do in terms of training is to start at the top with a clear, concise job description. Then we train them on their particular role. Then, in terms of getting them into the vision and the values of what we’re doing as a whole, I ask my employees for honest answers.

What I use is a questionnaire that I picked up a few years back, that would ask my employees questions like, ‘If you were the owner, what would you change and why?’ and a series of questions along that line. We try to take that feedback and see if we can apply that, see if there is anything we got out of that we could use. Things we can put in our everyday routine.

By doing that, it lets them know that we value that input, in terms of what is good for the company. We ask them questions like ‘What direction do you see for our company? How are we vulnerable?’ Questions like that give us a front-line look at what they might perceive as our areas of weakness.

Q. Why do employees need to have that voice within the company?

You need them to buy in to your concept. You want them to be better than individuals who are consumed with just the work on their desk, their tasks, and at 5 p.m., that’s it. The papers are neatly stacked and it’s time to go home. We want them to understand that how you stack your papers in a certain way affects what we do as a whole. The toughest part about being in business is that it is hard to get people to buy in. If you can get them to buy in to the big picture, they’ll be more effective.

I use the example of individuals who might do sales and marketing. They work on the outside. Some of those folks might get up and go to work when they feel like it. There has to be something that gets them to hit the ground running and give a committed eight hours out there in the field, even if they’re unsupervised. Then, at the end of the quarter, your numbers will reflect that. Motivation is the toughest part about it. I let everyone know that if you’re on goal and on task, it’s part of a puzzle that will help everything else run smoothly.

Q. How do you find and train managers to help you lead and communicate?

It’s very difficult. My basic people mostly understand their roles, but managers especially have to kind of think outside the box and be driven by something other than their salary. They have to help out on a larger scale.

Being in the home health care field, my top position is my director of nursing, and it’s just trying to get people on that level to understand that, one, there is a clinical aspect of the job; two, there is a sales and marketing aspect of the job; three, there is a management aspect to the job, because you have to manage a team of nurses. You have to go talk about the business in different facilities. Trying to find that all-inclusive individual is just a tough project. As a business leader, you are just challenged to find reliable managers that can continue what you’ve started.

Q. What are some keys to effective communication with managers and employees?

Try to use an even tone. If you give a message to them all in one way, it kind of kills them. When I’m talking to my people, I try to use positives with the negatives. I try to use two or three positive statements before I approach them with one negative statement. It shows them that they’re doing great over here, but let’s talk about how you still need to improve over in this other area. Meeting with employees with the idea that you’re going to help them, that’s the real key to reaching them.

You do have to tailor your message to your audience sometimes. If I’m talking to support staff versus talking to managers, it’s a different delivery. If I’m talking to my director of nursing or my administrators, it’s kind of the same message because they all have responsibilities that factor into the overall picture.

In talking to support staff, they’re not so much driven by increasing business. Their role is driven by maintaining a good level of customer service with the existing business that we have. As good as it is if we admit four new patients, it really does no good if we lose four existing patients. So on that level, they need to understand the value of retaining what we have and doing that by providing good customer service. So it is a balancing act at work.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

The perfect prescription

A couple of years ago, a bombshell of sorts hit Gerald Proehl’s company, Santarus Inc.

It was a Paragraph IV certification — an industry-specific name for a problem that too many companies deal with.

Basically, another company wanted to make Santarus’ product and was taking action to try and make it legal. If you’re at all familiar with what a Paragraph IV patent certification is, you know it is one of the channels by which a generic prescription drug company can attempt to replicate a brand-name prescription drug company’s products and take them to market.

In this case, it was Zegerid, Santarus’ flagship product — a proton pump inhibitor that treats acid reflux.

“Our stock was trading at about $6 a share, and it went down to $2 a share,” says Proehl, Santarus’ president and CEO. “It has been a big overhang of the company for really the past two years. It has forced us to focus on the things the company really needs to do to be successful but still not knowing what the final outcome is going to be.”

It was the air of uncertainty that provided Proehl with his biggest challenge as he attempted to pull his company — which generated $130 million in 2008 revenue — through a swamp of patent litigation, case building and, ultimately, not knowing if its backbone product would become, in essence, a shared property with a generic prescription company.

Employees want certainty and stability in their company’s performance, and when you can’t totally guarantee it, sometimes you have to focus your employees on what you can control. A big part of that is frequent and frank communication.

“There are certain things you can’t control, and in our industry, you can’t control whether someone files a Paragraph IV on a product, so you go through the process of keeping people updated on what happens along the way, as far as the different points along the litigation,” Proehl says. “You keep them informed, but beyond that, you keep them focused on what you need to do to be successful.”

Stay on goal

When a situation puts your company in circumstances beyond your control, one of the first things you need to do is focus your employees on what they can control.

At Santarus, Proehl needed to continue focusing his research teams on research, his sales teams on driving sales, his administrators on administration.

Emphasizing the variables you are able to control takes the spotlight off the looming issue, at least on a day-to-day basis, and helps keep employees at work on the basic blocking and tackling that is going to drive your company’s success, no matter the influence of outside circumstances.

“If employees understand what the corporate goals are and what their individual goals are, it keeps them focused on the things they can control and the things they can accomplish,” Proehl says. “Most people want to accomplish goals, as long as they are measurable, specific and attainable. It keeps attention on the right things, as opposed to on the wrong things that can kind of weigh people down when things don’t go well.”

At Santarus, setting and communicating goals begins with Proehl and his leadership team. The company’s top management works together to define corporate goals, which then cascade down to departmental and individual goals. Goals have to align from each individual up to the overarching corporate goals.

“You really have to spend time with your leadership team,” Proehl says. “You have to continue talking to them about how their department goals align with the corporate goals. In some cases, it’s easier for some functions or departments.

“Say you have a corporate goal of a certain revenue. It’s easy for the corporate folks to say they’re easily aligned to that particular goal, but it’s more difficult when you talk to someone in research and development or quality assurance. You need to spend more time talking to them about the things they can do to drive revenue. We might get into discussions about clinical trials or how they can provide information to help drive revenue. It all comes back to explaining how departmental goals drive corporate goals, and then showing how each individual’s goals align with the corporate goals.”

Aligning goals vertically helps give each employee a sense of how their daily tasks mesh with the overall mission of the company. If each employee is engaged in that manner, you will form a company of people who realize that each piece of the puzzle is integral in driving profit, maintaining a culture and working through adversity.

It’s up to you and your management team to start that process. You need to take the larger mission and goals of the company and convey it to each department — and by extension, each employee — in a manner that shows how everything fits together.

“At the end of the day, people want to understand where the company is going and how they fit in with the future growth of the company,” Proehl says. “They want to really feel that the company has a vision and a strategy to grow and become a success. If they don’t feel that or don’t see that, people start to get disenchanted or disengaged.”

Develop leaders

When an organization is undergoing a transformation, many leaders try to develop “change agents” within the ranks — people who set a new example and advocate for the change.

You can apply the same idea when attempting to create a sense of stability in your company. When you’re trying to focus everyone on the same basic goals and objectives, particularly in a time of uncertainty, it helps to have leaders throughout the organization who can do the same.

“Again, a lot of it starts with me and my senior leadership team,” Proehl says. “We spend a lot of time talking about the culture, identifying overall values that people have and making sure they match our values system.”

By clearly identifying your vision and the principles upon which your culture is based, you’ll be able to better identify what you want in a management-level employee. Forming those parameters is a critical step, because finding the right leaders for your company starts during the recruiting process.

It’s much easier to hire someone with a matching values set than it is to mold someone who doesn’t quite fit.

“It’s hard to change people’s values systems,” he says. “If someone’s personal values don’t match with what you have developed for the company, it’s probably not going to be a good fit, and either they’re not going to be happy or you’re not going to be happy with them. That’s why you spend a lot of time during the interview process trying to determine whether they’re going to fit culturally.”

Proehl and his leadership team send each management candidate through different rounds of interviews with representatives from various departments. The multipronged interview approach helps develop a wide range of perspectives on the candidate.

“Some people interview for technical or scientific skills, while others might interview more on the cultural fit side,” Proehl says. “When we debrief each other on the candidate, we talk about not only whether the person has the skills and experience to do the job but whether they fit within the c ulture.”

Each interviewer poses an assortment of situational questions to the interviewee, aimed at getting a feel for how he or she would approach a cultural or ethical dilemma and the process behind their approach.

“You want to see how they’d react under stress, under pressure, in a given situation,” Proehl says. “You get them to explain their processes and how they found a solution.

“A lot of this you can also find through the process of checking references. The reality is, you can try to interview some of this out of folks, but if you’re really good at asking the right questions of references, you start to get a feel for how they interact with people and how they fit within a company.”

Managers need to have both the technical skills and the cultural fit for the job. However, Proehl says the cultural fit is the pivotal factor. Leaders need to focus their people on the goals and mission at hand, no matter what distractions might be buzzing around the company. With that in mind, if a candidate has the skills for the job but isn’t a cultural fit or a competent communicator, Proehl and his staff will look elsewhere.

Good leaders have some common skills and characteristics, all of which can help keep the company informed and focused during a challenging time.

“Leaders in an organization need good interpersonal skills, of course,” Proehl says. “They need the ability to think strategically but also do things tactically. We look for people who have the ability to wear multiple hats, the ability to do two or three different things. And you want someone who genuinely enjoys what they’re doing. If someone is just going through the motions, it becomes pretty obvious. Those are the primary things you want to look for.”

Preach patience

When piloting your company through an uncertain time, one of the most critical things you can manage is the expectations of your employees. Employees want to see progress, and sometimes, they want to see it at a faster rate than you are able to deliver.

As the leader, you and your management team have to show progress, but you also have to show the work behind the progress, which can help employees understand the speed at which you’re moving.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult for folks because people want it to happen overnight,” Proehl says. “When you’re licensing a product, people are waiting for it to happen next week. So what we’ve tried to do is explain the process we go through. When we do license something, we go back and talk about it. We talk about how long it has taken. Sometimes it takes 12 months, 18 months or two years from the start of the conversation to finishing the deal. People need to understand that it’s an ongoing process.”

It comes back to showing employees how everything fits together and aligns with your goals. Proehl says you have to answer the question for every employee, “How does it affect me?”

“When we do our surveys, sometimes we find that it’s not necessarily that people don’t clearly understand the vision of the company, it’s that they have to see actions that reinforce the vision,” he says. “It all sounds great, but how does this affect me as an employee, and are we doing the things necessary to drive us toward the vision?”

As of press time for this article, Santarus was still waiting for a final outcome on the Paragraph IV certification, but the company has remained stable, and Proehl says employees remain focused on driving sales and remain optimistic about the company’s future. Keeping things that way will continue to be an ongoing communication task for Proehl and his managers

“You just have to keep your goals and vision in front of people all the time,” he says. “You just want to constantly remind people of what you’re trying to do.”

How to reach: Santarus Inc., (858) 314-5700 or

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Getting to the point

Beverley Pitts says a collaborative approach to leadership can be a good thing. But it can’t be the only thing.

Ultimately, leaders need to move with a purpose, particularly when communicating. It’s something Pitts has taken to heart as the president of the University of Indianapolis, which generated $86 million in revenue in fiscal 2008.

You have to project a focused message and give employees a sense that you have a competent grasp of the material you are communicating.

“People want to have a sense that the leader knows what she is doing, and that there is a sense of comfort in someone seeing the big picture,” Pitts says. “Sometimes leaders — women leaders in particular — get attached with being collaborative, which is a good characteristic to have for any leader, but leaders have to project a sense of confidence and directness that you know what you’re talking about.”

Smart Business spoke with Pitts about how you can gain the trust and confidence of your employees with direct, focused communication.

Speak specifically. When you speak, you need to be sure what you’re talking about. I’m a journalism teacher at heart, and that is some of the best training anyone could ever have because you learn to be specific, direct and objective. When you’re projecting confidence, people want to know that you know what you’re talking about. As an example, in the economic situation we’ve all been in over the last many months, many university folks had a feeling of uneasiness. We weren’t sure how many students we’d have. When I talked to the faculty, I told them, ‘This is the budget, this is where we are, this is what we need to do, here are the factors that are affecting us.’ You show them the decision-making process that is being used, so you show everyone that somebody at the helm knows what is happening and how you’re going to handle it.

Don’t talk in platitudes and broad generalities. That’s usually what leaders tend to do, giving everyone the pep talk that we’re all in this together. To an extent, you want to do that. You want to project a sense that this isn’t a unilateral decision, but that’s really a different issue altogether. But you still want to speak in terms of specifics. You want to give people accurate information with a sense of confidence and understanding of the implications of that. That’s perhaps the best thing you can do in the development of your leadership.

Know your audience. I have a lot of talks with my senior administrators, and we talk about communication all the time. It might be one of the most important skills you can develop in others.

I often tell them to think about what people want and need to know. We have had some difficulties communicating with our technology folks on campus. It’s sort of two different worlds with faculty and technology. So I told them to really think about what kind of information the technology people need, why they need it, why does it matter to them from their perspective, and build communication from that.

I try every time I communicate to think about that. When I’m talking to students, what in their world do they need to know? They don’t need to know everything. They need the answers to the questions they have at the moment. When I’m talking to faculty, why do they need to know something? Is it going to affect their own futures or tenures or the direction the university is going? So as we are considering communication in leadership roles, I always emphasize the fact that you have to know your audience. Always recognize that you’re talking to an audience, and they are going to receive the information through their own eyes and ears, not yours. Be cognizant of the audience, and tailor your message to meet their needs.

You discover the needs of your audience by talking to them. You get to know their concerns and fears, their level of knowledge or exposure to something. Get to know the bottom line of what matters to them. I spend a lot of time creating small, informal environments where people can talk to me. I have coffee conversations where I put coffee out and anyone on campus is welcome to come, from the maintenance staff to secretaries to faculty members. We did this recently during the financial crisis because there were so many rumors and so much misunderstanding of what the effects were going to be.

Keep working at it. Communication and connecting with your people is something you have to continually work at because it is so easy to slip away from it, to do your work in your office and not get out within your organization. You have to plan times to have that interaction.

When you think about what you have to do, you set goals for yourself, and that communication and interaction has to be one of them. If you’re going to be an effective leader, you have to do this because you’re going to lose everyone. I have a couple of opportunities a year where I can speak to the entire campus community. Those opportunities are pretty rare, so if I don’t plan these kinds of things, I’ll quickly lose touch and not be a very effective leader.

The other thing I do (is) send periodic community e-mails, so I’m providing once every couple of weeks an overview of stuff that is going on. Somebody might have gotten a new major grant or another new opportunity presented itself, things of that nature. Sometimes you’re talking about problems and sometimes you’re talking about good things, but that voice is always there. I also like people to send me e-mails back. If I find something that is of concern, if I get feedback that indicates that I’ve hit a hot spot, I’ll go look into that. It’s sort of an electronic way of keeping your office door open.

How to reach: University of Indianapolis, (317) 788-3368 or

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Constructing a plan

The Barnhart Inc. that Eric Stenman now leads is far different from the construction company that Douglas Barnhart started more than a quarter-century ago.

Stenman wouldn’t — and couldn’t — have it any other way.

Change and adaptability have become two necessary ingredients for success in just about every business. Change is inherent to the construction business, which can be cyclical by nature. But the economic downturn of the past couple of years has compounded problems and increased the need for adaptability.

Stenman’s solution is to keep all potential avenues for growth open and connected.

“Let’s go back a couple of years,” he says. “The education market was strong, and the temptation is great to put all your eggs into that basket. We became the sixth-largest education builder in the nation, just by building schools in California. Now, as part of Heery, we’re the fourth-largest school builder.”

Barnhart was acquired by Atlanta-based construction giant Heery International Inc. in 2008. Stenman operates Barnhart as its president.

“But you still have to avoid putting all your eggs in that one basket,” he says. “So we kept our presence in the federal market with military. We kept a foothold in municipal work with cities. That way, when the cycles turn, you’re not caught in a place where you have no work, where you can’t build a platform. You always have to remain cognizant of those other opportunities.”

Communication is a major part of keeping Barnhart — which generated $450 million in 2008 revenue — adaptable to both cyclical and economic downturns. In order to stay ready, Stenman has to both inform and stay informed by establishing and continually feeding channels of communication with both employees and clients.

It’s the people at the ground level who are going to notice market trends first and will be able to keep you and your leadership team in the know. But you have to establish and maintain those connections during stable times in order to reap the potential benefits during challenging times.

“There is no secret formula,” Stenman says. “It’s hard work on top of more hard work and delivering on what you say you’re going to deliver.”

Stay close to your markets

Staying close to your markets means staying close to the people you serve. Whether it’s an end consumer using your product, a client with whom you are trying to build a relationship or a business customer, you have to put yourself and your top management in places where all of you can interface with the people who fuel your business.

Stenman says it boils down to two words: stay involved.

“In the education market, we get involved in the coalition for adequate school housing,” Stenman says. “We have individuals who go through training, then speak at national events and state events. We stay close to city managers, facilities directors, we try to understand their program with future construction, what it encompasses, and we try to monitor it. On the military side, a lot of our project managers have come out of the military.

“You need to find a way to understand how the client operates. That’s what helps us respond to these opportunities when they arise. If you haven’t developed that experience and background, it becomes difficult to have success in the markets you serve.”

However, there is more to it than just flying somewhere and shooting the breeze with a client or customer. Informal, nonstructured communication can provide valuable nuggets of information, but if you want to be able to use the information you gather from the customer interface point to help you grow your company, you need a more formalized system for obtaining and analyzing all of it.

Stenman and his leadership staff survey Barnhart’s clients, drawing a picture of how the company is servicing clients in the here and now, and helping to sketch an outline for how Barnhart could possibly better serve clients in the future.

“As executives, we’re charged with the responsibility to continually serve the marketplace,” Stenman says. “So we have to continually survey what our clients want. We find out what our clients of the future might want, then we evolve the company.”

If you’re reaching your customers and meeting or exceeding their needs, it’s likely they’ll come back to you to do more business. Stenman says that is a key indicator when it comes to staying close to your markets. If the customers keep coming back, you’re probably on the right track.

“You’re only as good as your last project, your last sale,” he says. “So if you’re getting repeat business, that says you’re performing responsibly. Then you build on that. You make sure you’re staying on top of legislation from your industry. You make sure you attend events that keep you in touch with your market. You have to be very knowledgeable about the markets you serve. You really have to become an expert.”

Stay close to your employees

Managing your relationships with your clients and customers is essential to your success as a business. But every bit as essential — and perhaps even more critical to the integrity of your culture — are your relationships with your employees. It’s an issue that became magnified as the spiraling economy of 2008 and 2009 created tension and uncertainty within many companies.

As with customers, employee communication hinges on the willingness of you and your management team to get out of the executive offices and engage your people face to face.

“Uncertainty breeds fear, so you need to be honest and candid with your employees,” Stenman says. “Not everything will stay the same. Things may change, but you have to keep focusing on the idea that we’re all part of the change process. When employees are privy to that kind of communication, a level of trust is created.

“The more trust that is created, the more confidence they will have in their abilities, and the better they’ll perform their jobs. The last thing I want our employees doing is worrying about having a job.”

Stenman says economic challenges can provide some of the most profound learning experiences a leader will ever encounter. Few things will test your ability to lead your people like the environment that a down economy creates. Employees will crave knowledge and worry when they aren’t kept in the loop.

At Barnhart, messages don’t always start in Stenman’s office. He wants managers at all levels of the organization to stay involved in communication. The cascading communication keeps managers and employees at all levels of the organization engaged on a face-to-face basis. However, it also requires vigilance on the part of upper management. Stenman and his staff need to follow up on their messages to ensure that they’re reaching every corner of the organization.

“You have to have multiple communications and dialogues at multiple levels of the company, on down the line, interacting with employees at each level,” Stenman says. “It’s somewhat difficult to have one single person do all of it, all the time.”

To help ensure that communication stays consistent as it cascades, particularly when it comes to major messages that affect the entire company, Stenman and his leadership

team will put the message in writing before reaching out to the managers down the organizational ladder.

“We’ll develop a message triangle or a message box,” he says. “We’ll figure out the bullet points we need to discuss the message. We usually come up with a single sheet of paper, so that when we go out with the message, we’re all speaking in a unified voice — all singing from the same sheet of music, so to speak. I think that’s important, because if you go off point, something you said can be interpreted differently, and that can create a string of interpretations that you don’t need. You frame the message, then try to keep it intact.”

Prepare during good times

Even if your business isn’t in a cyclical industry, chances are you will still experience another economy-related downturn at some point. That’s why you need to prepare your company and your employees for challenging times, even when times are relatively good.

You need to guard against complacency in your work force. Companies can fall into ruts during prosperous times and not even realize it. You don’t want to mess with a good thing, so your primary goal becomes maintaining the status quo. But if you let your business practices run on a treadmill for too long, if you let some slack into your spending and hiring habits, you could set your company up for a fall when market conditions worsen.

“When times are good, you have to resist the urge to become complacent in whatever market has made you successful,” Stenman says. “We’ve seen downturns in the ’80s, in the ’90s and now over the past couple of years.

“Ultimately, what you have to do is resist the urge to become inflated. We believe in being lean and mean — though you can’t take that to such an extreme where you’re working everyone 80 hours a week or anything like that. What you want to be careful about is when there is a need for a cutback, you’re not so bloated that you can’t respond. You don’t want people within your company to develop an irrational exuberance that everything is going to be great forever.”

The acquisition by Heery, which was completed in June 2008, combined with the economic downturn shortly thereafter, reinforced to Stenman the need to build and maintain a long-range company vision that is foundational but also flexible in certain areas.

Stenman says you should never waver from the basic values and principles that make your company a success to begin with. But when it comes to serving your customers and leveraging the talents and skills of your employees, it all comes back to the willingness and ability to adapt.

“The part of your vision that is fixed is what made you good in the first place,” Stenman says. “How you delivered your services, that you didn’t run for cover when the chips were down, that you’re in this business together with your people, that you have a team approach.

“But you also have to have the flexibility and the talent to respond in a diversified marketplace. If a market you serve heats up, you have to have the flexibility and the talent pool to respond and meet those needs. You have to have flexibility in your systems and processes to be successful. But your core, your trustworthiness, your integrity, that never changes.

“Remember that your brand is not a logo. It’s how you do what you do. That is how your clients and customers will remember you.”

How to reach: Barnhart Inc., (858) 385-8200 or

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Being the compass

Developing a long-term vision for your company and sustaining that vision are two different jobs that require two different skill sets.

Tim Brokaw, who shares managing partner duties with brother Gregg at 26-employee advertising agency Brokaw Inc., knows all about it.

Crafting a vision takes creativity. Putting that vision in the minds and hearts of your employees is a little less poetic. It requires a lot of speaking and listening to employees.

As the leader of your company, you have to be proficient at both.

Smart Business spoke with Brokaw about how you can start and sustain a vision and direction at your company.

Q. How do you and your brother work together on your agency’s vision?

My brother Gregg and I are managing partners, so we’re leading the agency together. The agency was founded by my father on April Fool’s Day, which should definitely tell you something about our agency. So should his three business goals, which are to do great work, make money and have fun.

Today, my brother and I have taken the reins from him, so when I describe a leadership style, I have to refer to both of us. We are kind of a two-headed monster that focuses on different areas of the company, but we still have to stay focused on promoting the same vision throughout the agency.

Q. What goes into building and maintaining a vision for a business?

That is what the CEO’s role is, to be that visionary, to have a clear vision of the future, of where you’re trying to take the organization. Then, it’s being able to communicate that vision to the rest of the organization, to make it actionable. The CEO needs to surround himself or herself with other leaders who are living that vision. To put it simply, you have to provide that vision and provide leadership that points the company in the direction of where you want to go.

In our case, we have several Brokaw tools, one of which is our agency manifesto, which we call ‘How to Brokaw.’ It has our purpose and our values written in a way that is true to our brand personality. We make our employees read it, memorize it, live it. We used to have agencywide pop quizzes that everyone had to take, and we’d post the results in the kitchen, which was sometimes embarrassing.

We also created an employee review form. It is just to get our employees to live our brand. It states our vision and goals for the organization, then turns it around, asking them what their goals are, what they’re most proud of in the past year, where do they want to improve, what do they want to achieve in the next year. But instead of just having them answer with words, we want to have them paint a picture. This is a new tool we’re implementing. We’re going to give them 11-by-17 sheets to show visually what their goals are for the next year, spending 10 minutes drawing, painting, cutting and pasting, whatever. Our mission is to help our clients’ brands rise above the blah-blah, and that starts with our own brand. To do that, your communication of your brand, mission and values has to rise above, as well. You have to practice what you preach to your clients.

Q. What would you tell other leaders about defining a direction for a company?

Be relentless in your communication; be transparent and be clear. Live it, don’t just say it. Practice it every day. A key is to overcommunciate, which means being completely transparent and accessible and, as leaders, being accountable ourselves. It’s not putting yourself above anyone. You want your people to know that you’re right there for them and you’re in the trenches with them. Gregg and I both think that it’s just so important to make time for your employees, just like you’d make time with one of your clients or customers. You have to be disciplined about that. You have to make the time. That means doing whatever it takes to make that time, whether it’s scheduling time in your Outlook calendar, taking your people out for coffee or lunch. Just don’t put it on the back burner. You’ve probably heard the cliché that our best assets go down the elevator every night. At Brokaw, it’s more like a 16-foot spiral staircase.

Q. How do you make time to focus your employees on your vision?

Face to face is the key. Making time for face-to-face communication. Especially in this world today, where there is a thousand ways to reach someone, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Skype or whatever. Face to face is still the most effective way to communicate. It all goes back to making the time, being accessible to your employees, letting them know that the door is always open. In the case of Brokaw, we’re a small shop and our physical space is very open. I’m often out in the open with our employees. We almost share a little too much information, if that’s possible. We have two closed-door offices in our space, which we use for private meetings. Having open space in the office shows your people that you’re not above them, that you’re working with them. It’s another thing that speaks to our leadership style, being open with our communication and having an open environment, as well.

How to reach: Brokaw Inc., (216) 241-8003 or

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

The right hires

If your company is going to live the culture you’ve built, you’re going to need the right employees.

Charlene Greene, the head of Southern California operations for True Partners Consulting LLC — which generated $43 million in systemwide revenue in 2008 — has made that one of her guiding principles when it comes to hiring and staff building.

Greene, who holds the title of managing director in the tax services firm, has helped to design and implement a multiple-stage hiring process for new recruits, which includes activities that challenge each job candidate’s communication skills, team-oriented skills and problem-solving creativity.

“First of all, your goal is to hire people who have similar values,” Greene says. “We have a focus on cooperation and values, and people who don’t really adhere to that don’t last long in the firm. You have to have that mentality coming into the workplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Greene about how you can make the right hires who will help build and promote your company’s culture and core values.

Know what you’re looking for. You have to be careful in hiring. You have to know the characteristics that you want at the outset of the process. Sometimes you’re going to make mistakes, and when that happens, you have to accept that you’ve made a mistake, act to correct it and move on.

If you hire individually on a one-to-one basis, as opposed to in groups, it’s much easier to find those characteristics that you want. That’s a general rule I’ve learned.

There are a number of characteristics you want in a new hire, but a big part of it is about finding someone who shows some leadership characteristics. In a group exercise, you’d be looking for someone who would actually present their ideas to the group and help implement whatever idea they would decide to go with. Someone who would listen carefully to the opening presentation and be able to respond.

We also look at everyone that we’ve brought in for interviews. We have people observing them and we’ll take the feedback of everyone involved in the recruiting process as to whether these people will fit into our group. They need to be outgoing, they need to have positive attitudes, they need to work well in a group setting, and they need to be good listeners.

For me, those are important traits because I do value my partners’ input. I try to reserve judgment until I have their input, but I also try to take into consideration the impact of all decisions on our people. That’s sort of overlaying everything we do and the impact on our managers and all our staff.

Test recruits’ interpersonal skills. Rather than running them through a typical day of interviews where they go from person to person and talk individually to each interviewer, we have the students do some activities, and we’re able to observe how they interact with each other. We also see how well they listen, because at the end of the day, we give them a test on things we presented to them at the beginning of the day. It really helps to bring out those characteristics that we’re looking for in people.

In a group, it is amazing that you’re able to see how people interact with each other. You’re able to see if they can lead without being domineering or insisting on their way or the highway. You’re able to see more of their personality if you have them in a group as opposed to just one on one. They come in prepared to ask questions and to just have a typical interview, and you go through this different group process.

And it’s not as competitive as you might think with recruits vying for the same positions. There is a teamwork aspect to this, as well. For example, one of our activities is we have them go off in groups of three, with one of our people (observing) each group. We give them some newspaper and some tape, and they have to build a bridge. It has to be a certain height, so that we can fly a binder underneath it, and it has to be sturdy enough to hold a water bottle. They have a few minutes to plan, and then they can’t talk when they’re actually constructing it.

From that type of exercise, you see which people take leadership, which ones will work well together, and which ones will just give up and just let the others kind of take over the project. It gives you a good feel for how they’ll react in various work situations.

Don’t stop conveying the culture. You have to keep the culture in front of everyone once you’ve hired them. We have some social things we do over the course of the year, such as a bowling team. The more you get to know the people you get to work with, the more you’re willing to work with them, understand their viewpoint, you start to have a dialogue with them as opposed to telling them the way it’s going to be. It’s a lot more fun to go to work every day if you feel like you have a common bond with the people you’re working with, if you feel like you can have a good time with them.

To continue that communi-cation on a more formal basis, I use e-mail a lot, as many people in leadership positions will do. But anything that is going to really impact people, you should speak to them face to face. You really can’t gauge people’s reactions without speaking with them in person, if you’re not in the room with them. Anytime we have an announcement or decision to make that affects people, we’ll get together face to face with them so that we can have that type of personal communication.

How to reach: True Partners Consulting LLC, (213) 417-2500 or

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Buying in

Employee ownership has become a catchphrase in the business world, to the point where it has become something of a cliché. But to Llevelyn Rhone, there is a method behind the concept.

The owner, president and CEO of Geneva Pipeline — a 50-employee pipeline construction and maintenance company that generated more than $5 million in revenue last year — says the whole idea of employee ownership needs to stem from the policies that you lay out at the top of the company. If you set the pace by giving employees a sense of purpose and continually communicate your vision and core values, your chances of building an engaged, unified work force increase dramatically.

Smart Business spoke with Rhone about what it takes to give employees a true sense of ownership in your company.

Q. How do you plant the seeds for employee ownership?

You need to start by setting the tone and pace of the organization and the whole idea that you do value everyone and what they bring to the table. Here, we promote the idea that everyone brings value to the organization, whether it be a crew member who has been with us for 25 years or more, who has vast experience and knowledge of putting pipe in the ground, to working with our controller, who brings a different skill set to the table in his 20 years of being a CPA. All of those things come together to help you form a strong, vibrant company that is positioned for growth, and you need to make sure everyone recognizes that.

You can help set the tone and pace through good communication. After acquiring this business, which had been around for 50 years at the time, I needed to let everyone know what I am all about as a business owner, give them a feel for my direction and where I want to take the business.

Q. What is the reasoning behind giving employees a sense of ownership?

There are a number of reasons why you need to keep employees engaged. First, from an owner’s or CEO’s perspective, it is a smart thing to do because people who are involved throughout the organization can oftentimes find the best ways of getting something done. Secondly, it also gives people a sense of ownership and inclusion if their input is valued and they feel it is valued, that you’re not just paying token lip service to it.

No. 3, it’s what customers and clients want to see. We occasionally get ideas from customers and clients that we work with. We’ll take innovation and input from whatever the source and weave that into our business. That is what will make us an evergreen business in the sense that we’re always able to improve and grow and stretch and go in different directions. You’ll be able to do that in many cases if you’re open to feedback, wherever it comes from.

In the end, ownership starts with the expectations you set. When I acquired this company, I had an opportunity to have people kind of regrounded through me setting my expectations forward. I was able to give them a vision for growth and opportunity, particularly one that is based on what they’ve done before. [It] was also a great way to construct a company culture that is more focused on the positives of the opportunities, an open-door communication style as well as one in which we can collaboratively grow this opportunity.

Q. How do you continue to engage employees over the long haul?

To get people focused on the overall direction of the company, first off, that’s going to come from the experience of you as a leader. In my background, I have been well-versed in a lot of teaming environments. It’s all about being open to an opportunity. People see that, and they resonate to that. By nature, most people are social beings, and as a part of that, there is a sense of ownership and inclusion that most owners who are successful in using a collaborative approach learned to convey somewhere along the line. That is something that people can pick up on fairly quickly in a leader. Employees will quickly see how well-tuned that leader is into getting them involved with the business.

That goes back to being a good communicator, which is rooted in some basic principles.

One, you need to be a good listener to be a good communicator. A significant portion of being a good communicator is to listen for what is being said, but it’s also watching for those unspoken words and body language and communication signals that we humans use to convey how we’re feeling or what is on our minds. A good leader is in tune to those who are around as well as the situations that people are in.

One of our advantages because of our size is I try to spend some time with the crews and have some direct involvement with them. I want to have a sense of what is going on with employees outside of the work world, because what happens outside the work environment still affects people when they come into work each day.

All of those elements are a part of being a good communicator.

We use a variety of communication methods, but all of them center on collaboration. Whether it be formal meetings or informal meetings, management by walking around, management by asking questions and queries — those are all viable communication methods, and we use them all. You can weave all of that together to form a multifaceted communications plan.

How to reach: Geneva Pipeline, (440) 466-6611 or

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Recruiting circuit

Bob Akins says the goal of Cymer Inc. is to take tomorrow’s technology and commercialize it today.

It’s not all that different from their goal when it comes to human resources.

Akins, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Cymer, is charged with finding tomorrow’s great talent and getting those people to sign up with Cymer before a competitor lures them away.

Much like the ongoing evolution of technology — a familiar theme at Cymer, which manufactures laser components for integrated circuits — the race for the best and brightest performers is constant and requires Akins and his leadership team to be ever-vigilant in their recruiting and retention efforts.

“It’s the biggest challenge I’ve had in leading Cymer,” Akins says. “We need to attract and retain really great people who can thrive in this environment of high-speed technologies. We need to take technology, mature it, package it and get it to chip makers who are producing their products around the clock. To do that, we need to find the people who really enjoy doing that, keep them here and keep them motivated. And those kinds of people tend to be rare.”

To make it happen, Akins needs more than talent. He needs talented people who can grow with Cymer, embrace the company’s mission and values, but still bring different perspectives to the table, particularly on the subjects of innovation and global growth. He needs team players who are individual thinkers.

Recruiting and retaining top performers is far from an exact science, but there are a number of steps you can take to improve your standing, even as the economy continues to falter. These are some of the ways by which Akins attracts and keeps people at Cymer, which generated $459 million in revenue last year.

Recruit globally

Cymer’s perspective on business is global in nature. With a headquarters in San Diego and a marketplace largely within Asia, Akins and his management team spend a great deal of their time interacting with people from different parts of the world.

The experiences have taught Akins a lesson about team building: Different people bring different perspectives to innovation, problem solving and other issues. It’s something Akins has used as a recruiting principle over his years at the helm of Cymer.

“I have been in many meetings in my history where a group of people are all of one basic type or background,” Akins says. “They all came from one area; they all went to the same two or three universities. They think the same way; they have the same thought culture. As a result, in the face of a problem, they may run into a brick wall where they can’t move forward because they’re all thinking the same way.

“It takes someone from a place like India, someone who has a completely different educational background than everyone else on the team. If you stick that person in the room with everyone else, you might find out five minutes later that the group is on their way to a new solution path. With that basic concept, we have hired from all over the world and tried to create a cross-cultural environment within the company, a culture that can circumvent some of these more common problems.”

Creating an international perspective requires developing a recruiting presence in the countries you want to tap. Akins and his leadership team establish relationships with business partners overseas, and through those networking relationship, find much of their international talent.

“We usually find our talent through some kind of direct contact or reference from individuals that we know,” he says. “To that end, you need to develop presences all over the world. We’re heavily participative in the industry through direct contact with our customers and suppliers as well as participating in various conferences.”

Once the talent has been secured, it needs to be integrated. Akins focuses on creating global teams, which starts with aligning them around the company’s mission and strategy. The mission, vision and strategy of Cymer are frequently reinforced to all employees so everyone in the company is building from the same foundation.

“You try to get high levels of alignment, and that means having an open and often-discussed vision and strategy for the company, so there is no question as to what needs to be accomplished and by what set of rules you’re going to play,” Akins says. “When we staff cross-functional teams for the execution of some major project, we get to know each individual personally, their strengths and weaknesses. From there, a project manager will identify the individuals they need to best execute a project within the company. It’s a working cooperation to make sure that you get appropriate staffing across a number of programs.”

To get to know employees’ individual characteristics and attributes on a more personal level, you need to plant the seeds during the recruiting and interviewing process by drilling down in your questioning and compiling extensive background information. But even with that aspect in place, Akins says there is still no substitute for having a would-be project team member in the company for a period of time prior to installation into a team.

“It gives you time to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses as well as the cultural fit,” Akins says. “But in the end, we kind of believe in a sink-or-swim approach to integration. We don’t allow people much time to get the feel of the road here. It’s very common that people here almost immediately find themselves in a critical path or developing some kind of new program.

“I find that by throwing people in, putting them headfirst into major projects, it’s ultimately the best way to see what they can really do. And it’s also a measure of what kind of mentality they’re going to bring to your company. Here, we need people who are just fighting for the chance to do something important.”

Focus on core values

In addition to focusing employees on your company’s mission, vision and strategy, another key component to attracting and retaining the best talent is your company’s core values.

Your core values are central to your culture. Employees need to know what your company stands for and, in turn, what they need to embody when representing the company to outside entities.

At Cymer, Akins was a part of the founding team that sat down and put the company’s core values in writing. The values are part of the personal belief system of everyone who founded Cymer.

“Over the course of several weeks, we sat down to discuss and write down the values that we shared personally as the company founders,” Akins says. “We took those, determined which were most applicable to the corporate team environment, and made a list of values that everyone has placed on the wall of their office or cubicle.”

New hires are given a set of five values that they are expected to embrace and represent in all corporate activities: integrity, teamwork, driving innovation, passion for success and balancing work with humor. They are values that form the backbone of many organizations, but just because they are commonplace does not mean they can be taken for granted. You can’t simply assume that new hires will completely understand or practice all of your core values from their first day on the job.

“Obviously, integrity is the most critical value,?

D; Akins says. “When I talk to my employees, I basically say that at the end of your working career, you’ll be sitting on your front porch in a rocking chair. You may or may not have made a lot of money, but the most valuable possession will be your reputation. If you were financially successful but did not maintain a high level of respect, you’re not going to be very satisfied. You need to keep integrity in mind in everything you do. People will respect a company they can trust, a company that operates with a high sense of integrity.”

Fun and humor are becoming an important staple of modern business culture, but it might be less popular as a stated ingredient in a cultural foundation. The reason Akins made humor a core value at Cymer is because it’s no different than integrity, teamwork or passion — you need to work at it in order to make it a success.

“We work extremely hard to support this fast-paced global business, and we use humor to blow off steam and kind of center ourselves individually and corporately as much as we can,” Akins says. “I tell our people that even if they’re in a serious meeting with a customer that has been going on for hours, don’t be hesitant to work in a little laughter. If you can think of something funny to say that is in good taste, use it. You need to break the ice sometimes.”

With the values established and introduced, you need to let them take root with your employees. Building the values within your work force takes top-down communication from your office but also a great deal of lateral communication among employees.

Akins conducts quarterly management meetings that bring the management team together for three to five days. The first half-day of those meetings are spent reviewing the mission, vision and core values of the company.

“I’ll take some time during those sessions and talk a little bit about the importance of the vision of Cymer,” he says. “As management grows over time, you might gain people who don’t have some of the history of the company. By having some of the less-experienced people in that kind of a meeting, getting them involved and allowing them to ask a few questions, people will start to take more of a personal ownership of the values.”

Once or twice quarterly, Akins and his leadership team take the vision and values to the Cymer masses with a large teleconference involving all of Cymer’s locations around the world. On top of that, Akins and other Cymer leaders frequently travel to reinforce the message on a face-to-face basis.

“I and all of our senior management team travel frequently,” he says. “Whenever we’re in various regions, we always take advantage of that time to not just visit our customers but to visit our own facilities and sit down with our people. We’ll have a face-to-face review of the state of the company, where we’re going and why, and how we’re going to conduct ourselves in the execution of that.

“In the end, if you can do that and you can conduct yourself in a way that is consistent with those values, if people can observe that behavior from you, you’ll go a long way to helping the culture take root with all your employees. Our industry is cyclical, but even when we have a reduction of force, I still talk to our employees specifically about how important it is that we treat each other with the utmost respect and sensitivity.

“When people do leave the company, oftentimes individuals will come by my office, shake my hand, and thank Cymer for their employment here and thank us for the help we provided in finding new job opportunities.”

How to reach: Cymer Inc., (858) 385-7300 or

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Lighting the path

Core values are a critical starting point for defining your company, but Regency Enterprises Inc. CEO Ron Regenstreif says you can’t stop there.

If the people at the top of your company aren’t reinforcing the core values each day, your core values won’t take root as the foundational principles of your business. You have to take a personal stake in making sure that doesn’t happen.

“Once you’ve identified the values you want your company to embrace and embody, the pressure is really on you as the leader to keep doing what you’re saying,” says Regenstreif, also an owner and co-founder of the lighting and energy management company that does business as Regency Lighting and which generated $89 million in 2008 revenue. “If you don’t, your effectiveness is going to sink pretty quickly.”

Smart Business spoke with Regenstreif about how you can allow your core values to take root by living them each day.

Identify your values. First, your company should identify what your core values are. Once you identify what they are, probably the most important thing is that leadership lives what they say. That actually is a rarity these days. We’re living in a day where people make a living out of saying things but their lives don’t match up with what they say. When that happens, people recognize it and lose respect for the leadership and end up not paying attention to what they say. If you talk about honesty but you’re not honest in your own life, people see that.

From there, I believe in reinforcement. Human nature just doesn’t do a good job of retaining a lot of information for very long. So most of our meetings are around fairly similar topics. We have a company acronym we use, the four letters ‘RISE.’ Those four letters represent relationship, integrity, service and expertise. We’ve kind of come to realize that pretty much all of what we do can fit into one of those envelopes. We continuously refer back to how this topic pertains to relationships, how it pertains to integrity and so forth.

We have defined what the key elements are in having relationships. It’s really similar to the key elements of all our relationships. It works in marriage, it works in friendship and works at work, as well. We’ve identified respect and listening, things like that. Some of them seem so simple, but they are really dynamic. A person who isn’t a good listener often isn’t a good manager. They’re just going to bark out orders and tell people what to do, but they’re not going to understand how a person feels or what they’re going through. If they don’t ask questions of their direct reports, they won’t understand them as individuals and they’re not going to have a real effective team. So it’s about meeting a lot, talking a lot and reinforcing the core values of your company over and over again.

Welcome feedback. I welcome feedback. I had a managers meeting recently when I used an example of an experience I had, and one of the managers challenged the story I was telling. The manager was saying that my example wasn’t necessarily the best way to handle this particular situation. And what they said was right. That means I had to say that, ‘I’m wrong. What you said is a much better way of handling the situation than I did.’ So it’s living the same principles in front of everyone and not elevating yourself, that you are a person that the normal rules don’t apply to. I’m not a big believer in the idea that we’re in some special category of individuals because we’re leading the company. I struggle with many of the same things that my staff does. Sometimes I’m wrong. I have to admit it, and I have to take ownership of a mistake or missing something. When the culture is that way and everyone takes ownership, and everyone sees leadership behaving that way, it makes everything run more smoothly.

Feedback is hard to solicit at times because people are just afraid to be honest. That is a really big thing in our culture. People don’t want to ruffle the feathers of others. You have to continuously give people permission, ask them and almost plead with them. Tell them, ‘Please, if you see something with me that doesn’t add up with our company values, please e-mail me, come knock on my door, leave a message on my phone. I want to know.’

Create the right environment. Your employees have to know that you are about becoming the very best leader you can possibly be, and if they don’t tell you when you’re doing something wrong, how can you ever learn? It’s creating a learning environment and a growing environment. You have to say to your employees, ‘I’m not perfect. I’m not the No. 1 CEO in the world. I’m learning, too.’ But you have to keep watering, keep fertilizing and keep asking for their feedback.

As a leader, you need to understand the value of getting your employees involved and seeking their input. A lot of leaders don’t. A lot of leaders are either really insecure or they think more highly of themselves than they should. You could go it alone and get up to a certain level, but if you allow the opinions of others, you’ll be able to bring your company further along than you might otherwise.

How to reach: Regency Enterprises Inc., (800) 284-2024 or