Brian Horn

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Answering the call

In 1989, while attending The Ohio State University, Carl Albright was all set to be a part of ESPN’s National Sports Trivia Championship. But at the last minute, it was discovered that the two partners he qualified with weren’t actually students at Ohio State. As a result, he had to take his two roommates who didn’t know much about sports.

That meant Albright, who is now president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp., would have to carry the load and guide his team to victory. He did just that, but don’t expect to hear any bragging coming from his direction

“I knew sports,” he says. “One’s a doctor; one’s an engineer. I’m sure if they were medical questions, I would have struggled, too,” he says with a laugh.

It’s that type of humble and likeable attitude that is driving InfoCision’s culture.

Albright wants all of his employees to like and respect each other at the telemarketing company, which posted $173 million in 2008 revenue.

To back up his point, he stresses that by exemplifying the culture and getting along with people, employees will succeed at the company. To be promoted at the company, you have to hit your numbers and impress your boss, but you also have to get along with people and be on the same page.

“I tell people, ‘That’s how you are going to advance, that’s how you are going to do well, that’s what your clients are expecting, that’s what are culture is, and that’s what I am expecting,’” he says.

Because with that kind of culture, the company is more likely to succeed.

“If people like being at the job, I think they are going to work harder for me, for the company and ultimately for our clients,” he says. “If they don’t like it here and they don’t have friends here, I think then they are literally going to start phoning it in.”

Be friendly

It’s the simplest action a person can do — saying hello to someone you pass in the hallway. Yet, it’s a simple gesture that will go a long way in building a positive corporate culture.

“It’s treating people like you want to be treated,” he says. “Knowing that I want to be talked to a certain way and I demand that everyone talks to me this certain way.

“If I’m walking down the hall, I expect the cleaning people to be nice. I expect us to be nice to the cleaning people. I expect the receptionist to be friendly and kind. So, I definitely, expect our senior vice presidents to be friendly and kind.”

Albright also wants his team to learn what employees do outside of work and get to know them outside of the office.

“Now, you can’t be friends with everyone and it’s not healthy to be that way,” he says. “But, if I know a little bit about you, what sports you like, what TV shows (you like), then I can have a conversation outside of your day-to-day reporting. … Now, you’re going to pass that person six times in the hall that day, you’re not going to say the same thing every time. Then it’s a nod of the head, that kind of stuff — the simple acknowledging to someone that you value who they are.”

While Albright wants to keep friendly relationships with employees, and he encourages friendships between his employees, you, as the leader, have to draw a line on what is appropriate.

You can’t be going out for drinks with employees and acting like a fool. You have to use common sense and realize no one will have respect for you if you act inappropriately.

“The main thing is you have to remember at all times, it’s about the company first,” he says.

Show appreciation

InfoCision has golf and bowling leagues, a fitness center, and other amenities that make working there enjoyable. While all of that helps, it’s minimal to what really matters, and that’s showing employees that they are appreciated.

“I think people, if they are paid well for their job or at least fair market value, it’s really about how they are treated,” he says. “Do they like the people they are working with, and do they like the company they are working for?”

Albright has open forums for employees to express any problems or ideas they have and to give them company updates. By keeping employees in the loop and asking for their opinions and questions, they know that they are appreciated and that they matter to the company.

“I’ve got to make sure almost everybody I come in contact with knows that I appreciate them, that they know the direction of the company I preach in the culture,” he says.

“Then, I’ve got to make sure my senior vice presidents, my vice presidents are doing it to their directors, the directors to managers and managers to supervisor and supervisor to front-line people.”

He does about 15 town-hall meetings a month at each call center to give an update on the company and to give employees a chance to ask questions.

Some people will be hesitant to participate in a town hall, even though they have something important to say. To create an environment where people are going to be forthright, you have to be mindful of your body language.

“If I have a nonverbal communication style where I don’t look like I’m open to this or I’m rolling my eyes or squinting my eyes or actually telling them, ‘That’s a dumb question. We’re never going to do that,’ then I think I’m stifling them,” he says.

“But they’re making the calls, they’re taking the calls, they’re our front-line people. I want to hear how we can get better.”

If someone raises his or her hand with a complaint or an issue, Albright and his management team get together and, about two weeks later, they give an update or answer about what is being done by posting it in the break room.

Sometimes you may be put on the spot like Albright has been after people ask for raises in a public setting. You have to be direct and honest when confronted with what could possibly be uncomfortable or controversial topic.

It can be especially difficult for Albright because someone will point out how well the company is doing and suggest that everyone deserves a raise. Before you know it, the group is cheering and applauding because of the statement.

Albright keeps his cool and, again, is straight with them. He tells them that if they feel they deserve a raise, then they should state their case to their manager.

“They can ask me any question at all, just be respectful, but don’t ask me to make more money,” he says. “That’s a personal one-on-one thing.”

Keep tabs

It’s great to spread your message throughout the organization when you interact with people in person and at town-hall meetings, but you need to monitor in order to make sure employees are actually following through with that message.

At InfoCision, most employees anonymously complete peer reviews about management, supervisors, administrative assistants and other employees whom they work with.

Peers do not review communicators in the call center, but their supervisor, manager and human resource coordinator do. There are three sections to the review — performance, personality and open-ended questions.

It’s really a 360-peer review,” he says. “Everybody you come in contact with regularly is going to be reviewing you.”

To start a peer review at your company, you need to first ask yourself some questions to know what to ask on the reviews.

“Get everybody together and say, … ‘What’s important to your company? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want an account executive to be; what kind of person do you want them to be?’

“Same thing with managers, IT, accounting, basic questions, and just send it out with the people they work with or for or who work for them. You’re going to get very, very, very enlightened feedback.”

Before the reviews went companywide in January 2002, employees thought everyone loved them and everyone got along. That, however, was not the case.

When the reviews first started, 4 out of 5 was considered a good score, while 4.5 was amazing. Now, because the reviews have helped shape the culture, 4.7 is the average score.

“If I stop sending out peer reviews in the next five years, I don’t think we’d ever go back to a 4 being the average, but I guarantee that number would erode, because there is accountability toward it,” he says.

The company started with 75 questions, but now has it down to just 10 personality questions and 10 performance questions. For example, a performance question would be: This person pays attention to the different levels of detail that overall helps the company be successful.

The personality section would feature questions such as: This person shows a great work ethic by working hard, working smart and being accountable.

For those two sections, employees rank their peers on a scale of 1 to 5, as well as answer open-ended questions such as: What is your overall view of this employee’s performance?

To gather complete and accurate scores, you need to make sure employees get reviewed by everyone they work with. Albright approves the peer review lists for management on up. Management approves all other peer review lists.

“They send a list to us, and we look at this and say, ‘He’s leaving off a couple of people he doesn’t get along with,” he says. “Or, ‘She’s getting people that are just her friends.’ “So, they send it to their boss and their boss’s boss and we decide, ultimately, who we are going to send the peer review out to.”

The feedback allows employees to see where they are strong but also where they need improvement. Some employees may not agree with the assessment their peers gave, which could prompt a negatively reviewed employee to confront the people they thought gave them bad reviews.

You have to be clear with that employee when you talk to him or her that the review is not meant to list everything he or she is doing wrong. It’s meant to help the employee improve in areas where his or her peers feel he or she is struggling.

As a leader, advise employees to ask the reviewers how they can do better and not to focus on receiving a bad peer review.

“It’s not to play internal affairs or gotcha or police,” he says. “We want to create a more positive culture for everyone.”

While the number of people an employee works around determines how many people will review them, about 30 people will review the typical employee.

With those numbers, an employee can’t say that it’s only a few people who dislike him or her. There’s strength in numbers, and if 30 people say someone struggles with a certain aspect of the job or the culture, there are facts to back it up. It’s those facts that will help you mold a culture that drives your company to success.

“Business is a lot about accountability,” he says. “I still would deal with people that were a problem, but now it’s an exact science, too. I can sit there and say, ‘This is a problem.’ (They say) ‘I don’t understand. All my people love me.’ Well, now I’ve got actual numbers to go through it.”

How to reach: InfoCision Management Corp., (330) 668-1400 or www.infocision.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Storing success

There’s no denying PODS Enterprises Inc. experienced amazing growth in the last 10 years. Under the guidance of co-founder Pete Warhurst, PODS grew from a start-up company in 1998 to a company with systemwide revenue of about $200 million in 2005.

But, it was time to take the company to the next level, which is where current president and CEO, Tom Ryan, entered the picture in 2008.

“The truth is, it was led by and grew through the typical entrepreneurial activities that you would see in a company,” he says. “When a company’s going through that pace of change and growth, it’s pretty usual for somebody within the business to say, ‘OK, I’m not sure how we are going to do X, Y or Z this year, so we are going to try a couple of different things.’ Maybe it’s 100 different new initiatives. If 15 of them stick on the wall, it’s 15 more than they had last year.”

Now, with 2,000 employees and about $350 million in revenue for fiscal 2008, that type of process isn’t the most effective way to generate more growth.

“It’s critical that you actually go through a pretty regimented process as to what initiatives you are going to ask people to execute on,” he says.

Here’s how Ryan is building a foundation to take PODS to the next level.

Surround yourself with talent

In order to position the company to go to the next level, Ryan needed to find the people that had the necessary skills.

One of Ryan’s first steps on the job was finding a good human resources person who would challenge him and his decisions, because Ryan knows he has a strong personality.

“I am very zealous and energetic, and sometimes that can be overbearing to folks,” he says. “I basically embrace my human resources partner to ensure that we instill a level of balance within the organization, which is facilitated by communication at all levels.”

You should look for someone who will formulate their own opinion and won’t agree with you all the time and who also will be discreet and build relationships with people.

“One of the attributes that I needed was somebody that was extremely discreet,” he says. “Because I expect that human resources leader is going to have somewhat of a Chinese wall. She’s not going to walk in and dime out the employee that just gave her information.

“She’s able to communicate things within the company. I also want the ability for this person to be a coach and mentor to me in terms of my emotional intelligence and leadership style and overall effectiveness within the organization. That’s going to be a function of the ability to push back. I really want a strong business partner within the organization.”

Use the interview process to find that person who will give it to you straight.

In the case of the human resources person, Ryan wanted input about himself from the candidate after the interview was over.

“I asked that person for an assessment of me at the end and what kind of advice would they give me and what were their observations within the first hour and a half that we met,” he says. “So, I put them right on the spot.”

Ryan didn’t have any preconceived notions about what that candidate would say.

“I just knew that I wanted to get their read and how quick a study they were and how comfortable they were willing to be candid with me,” he says.

When interviewing potential hires, including for the human resources position, Ryan looks for qualities that show job candidates have thrived in a team environment in the past.

“I also want people that are extremely self-aware,” he says. “So, I will ask them questions, and it sounds a little trite, about what are their strengths and why are they strengths versus anyone else that I might be looking for in the job. At the same time, what are their development needs and what are they doing about it.”

Don’t settle for a canned answer that doesn’t give any insight into someone’s personality. If a candidate gives an answer such as, “I’m an overachiever,” Ryan will be blunt and tell that person he wants more information — he wants the skeletons in the closet.

He’ll ask, “If I were to pick up the phone and talk to one of your biggest adversaries or your spouse or significant other, what would they say are your development needs and what are the things you really need to do about it?”

“Folks that I find are very willing and candid to speak about some of their development needs are the ones I want on the team because I want people that are self-aware and have the ability to grow and the willingness to grow,” he says.

Ryan is also a big believer in situational-based interviewing. You want to put the person in a hypothetical situation to see how he or she will handle it. Ryan tells the candidate what the company strategy is and what the critical success factors of the position are and then sees if the person will fit in at PODS.

“I will ask them … questions around their background and how does their background coincide with and their successful track record coincide with what I’m expecting because I am a huge believer in history is the best indicator of future success,” he says.

“Then, to make sure that I triangulate, I will also give them an issue we are facing in the business and ask them how will they structure themselves in terms of how would they define the issue, where would they go to get data, where would they go in the organization to solve the problem. That scenario-based approach is going to allow me to see how they think.”

Create an open culture

Taking a company to the next level requires a culture where people aren’t afraid to bring forth ideas — and Ryan has never encountered a business that he’s come into where people have been completely open and honest.

“Wherever I’ve gone, you always encounter a certain amount of hierarchy and a certain amount of undue respect for senior leadership, and I say undue because there is a certain amount of deference that it creates a gag order inside of people’s minds — ‘Oh, I can’t say that to that person. He or she is the division vice president or the president or something.’”

It was up to Ryan to set the tone and get word around the company that he was a normal guy who wanted to hear what people had to say.

You have to let people know you want to hear their ideas. Otherwise, they won’t come forward. Ryan backed up his words in his first couple of weeks by making the rounds with customers, franchisees and employees and asking them a series of questions. He did so to compile enough information to form a vision, but he also wanted to create an open environment.

“The series of questions was me just getting to know people and letting them talk and listening to what things are on their minds,” he says.

Questions revolved around what employees thought were the core strengths of the business and where were the weaknesses or areas for improvement.

He also wanted to know what employees would change about the company and if they were concerned that he would change something they considered a core strength or a diamond in the rough.

“It really does send the message that you are listening,” he says. “You are actively listening, and you are proactively wanting their advice in terms of what they would do with the company and what advice they would give me to help me be successful . I don’t mean individually but for the overall enterprise.”

You need to spend time upfront getting to know people and getting insight into their point of view, which Ryan’s questions helped accomplish. You also want to send the message in the culture that you want feedback.

“It’s really trying to create that open-air environment that people can recognize and understand that they have an ‘obligation to dissent’ is one of the terms I use around here,” he says.

However, you can’t just ask the questions and expect to get answers. The next layer to that involves presenting yourself in a certain way. You want people to see you not only at a business level but also on an interpersonal level.

For instance, when Ryan does a skip-level meeting with people from different departments, he goes around the room and has all of the employees say how long they’ve been with the company and to share something people didn’t know about them. You, as the leader, also have to share something personal.

“When you share something personal with somebody and you speak from the heart, then they get a chance to get comfortable that ‘Here’s what I’m about,’” he says.

Ryan will share something about his management philosophy or something about himself, such as the fact that he’s taken cooking classes for fun.

“These other environments, whether it’s skip-level lunches or town halls, … I get an opportunity to interact with people and they get a chance to see that I am just as human as they are,” he says. “I am very overt about spending time with folks to let them know I have weaknesses and, when I provide information or ideas or something like that, they’re not always going to be good ideas.”

While being upfront with employees will create more of an open dialogue between you and them, it may cause some managers to feel undermined. You need to stay in contact with those managers if you’ve heard something from an employee who works below them.

“I go back to the manager after I meet with their people and share what things were discussed,” he says. “I tell people right out of the chute that I am the most apolitical person you’ve ever met. So, if I find some information or a nugget or something like that, I go back and share it with them.”

Ryan also doesn’t use names of who he heard something from when speaking with a supervisor or manager.

“We do maintain a level of confidentiality because once you dime somebody out once, then you close off the information flow,” he says.

“You say ‘Look, I’ve heard this from a couple of folks in your department, and it’s something you might want to look into,’ but I never name names.”

You also need to be clear that you do not intend to try to take responsibility from managers or supervisors, and you only have what’s best for the company in mind.

“I’ll go back and say, ‘Look, my intention is to create this open-air culture, but I’m never going to go over your head and take a decision about your department. … I’m never going to take that away from you. I’m going to come in and give you ideas or give you some feedback based on a skip-level meeting or a town hall or something like that. If you are in the same meeting, I’m going to let you answer the questions instead of me.’”

Overall, whether you are looking to get the ball rolling on a new culture or you just want to make your culture more open, remember to listen.

“Demonstrating that ability to listen is going to build and facilitate open and honest communication,” he says.

Then, use that trust to show you want employees to dissent.

“(It’s) creating an era that it’s OK to push back and circulate your opinion,” he says. “When you create that open-air environment, you are more likely to get to the bottom of issues and some of the deep-seated problem areas because people are going to be willing to show up and say, ‘Look we’ve got an issue.’”

As soon as you create that environment where people feel comfortable to give constructive criticism, you open a lot of doors.

“We’re more likely to uncover issues more quickly and get to the bottom of things to solve some of the problems that may be plaguing us,” he says.

How to reach: PODS Enterprises Inc., (866) 229-4120 or www.pods.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Driving to the top

Mark A. Carr admits he can be lazy. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Lazy people are very good delegators,” says the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., an automotive repair business.

But with that delegation, he expects his employees to be accountable at the company, which posted more than $60 million in 2008 revenue.

If employees ask him a question that they should be able to answer on their own, he tells them to figure it out themselves.

“But, when they come with a legitimate question, ‘OK, I’ve got this thing here, and I’m not sure if I should go this way or this way. What do you think?’ I love those questions,” he says.

In addition to asking questions or seeking advice, he also loves when employees ask him for a chance to try something different, which is a way he identifies sharp workers.

Smart Business spoke with Carr about how to delegate to employees. 

Delegate. You evaluate the company and you see the sharp ones and you say, ‘OK, you are the head of this department, and this is your responsibility to run this. My door is open. Every time you have a question, rather than try to solve it on your own, come in, talk to me, and let’s solve it together.’ Eventually, they stop coming in. My son works for me, and I got into a tussle with him. I said, ‘Donnie, why don’t you come to your father and ask him how to solve a problem?’

He said, like I’ve had other employees say, ‘Well, I want to do it on my own to prove to you that I can do it.’ I said, ‘I invented the wheel, why would you want to invent it again, make the wheel a bicycle and run down the road with it?’

So, that’s my philosophy. I’m very open and I compliment my guys for asking questions, rather than trying to solve it on their own. No. 1, it takes twice as long and you run the risk of making a mistake.

Get a feel for employees. My real estate guy, you couldn’t offend him if you took a stick to his head. But, you have other employees that are very sensitive. Again, that’s a read. You have to treat everyone different in those regards.

I use the rule where if I have to discipline them, I compliment them first on the things that they need complimenting on. I hit them with the things that they need to fix, and at the end, I tell them how much I appreciate them.

Reward employees. Projects are important. You have a certain project you need done and (an employee) gets it done or the department gets it done very well and very quickly, you can bonus them. But never set it in stone. All the bonuses come across my desk, and the only one that makes that decision is me. It’s totally discretionary.

When you structure it and say, ‘This is what you are going to get,’ they take it for granted.

I’ll put it on the store level. You take your guys and you buy them lunch every Friday. All of sudden they expect it. Well, if you skip a couple of weeks and they really hit a home run and do $40,000 in a week on a Wednesday, you buy them steaks instead of that routine thing. The bonus structure is the same way. ‘OK, if this store closes, I know exactly what I am going to get.’ Well, that gives you no incentive to push harder. If it’s to my discretion and I can see you are really working and putting in the time, I’m going to give you more, and I’m going to give the other guy less.

Know your weaknesses. The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself and be honest with the others around you. Because the guys that try to run a company and try to be everything, they usually get to a plateau or they fail. I would recommend you take a personality test. And see where your weaknesses are. And be honest with yourself. They are weaknesses, and people don’t change. You have to recognize that about yourself. ‘OK, I see the weakness; I need to work harder on that.’ But in four months you’re still not doing a good job because you have all these other responsibilities.

Find out, if you’re walking into a company with 50-plus employees, find out who runs those areas better than you do. Watch them and see if they are doing a satisfactory job or a spectacular job. Either get them off the bus or help them grow, but give them freedom. You’ve got to give them freedom. If you are going to give somebody responsibility and you look over their shoulder on everything, it’s just a frustration to people. It’s not fair to that person that you gave the authority to because he really doesn’t have any.

Stay in the know. There’s only 22 of us in the office, so I have a pulse on the things that are incredibly important that we have to carry out by deadlines and that sort of thing. I know what those projects are, so when I come in the morning and walk down to my office, I’m hitting it and saying, ‘Where are you on the Web site, what’s happening, why aren’t you done? OK, you IT guys, you’re designing this infrastructure, and I want to know where we are with it and these important things after the infrastructure. What are our deadlines; what are you looking at for timelines on that?’

How to reach: Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., (281) 870-8900 or www.cbac.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Style and substance

Farouk Shami didn’t intend on working in the hair care industry. His goal was to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in education.

But, after waiting tables and attending the University of Arkansas, he dropped out of college and enrolled in cosmetology school. Eventually, he became a salon owner, but developed a deadly allergy to ammonia, which is found in hair dye.

Instead of quitting, he did some research and developed the first ammonia-free hair lightener and coloring system. After patenting that product and many others, Shami is now in charge of Farouk Systems Inc., a billion-dollar hair care and spa product company that he started from scratch.

Sure, Shami, founder and chairman of the company, which produces CHI and BioSilk products, had to roll up his sleeves and lead by example, but he gives credit for the company’s growth to his more than 2,000 employees.

“I started from nothing and hired almost everybody,” he says. “You’re adding one employee at a time, and thank God, most of the people that started with us 20 years ago, they are still here.”

By hiring the best people and listening to their opinions, the company has grown to more than $1 billion in revenue.

“Once you have the right people and there are team leaders, life becomes so easy and so pleasant,” he says. “You’re not working on problems, you are working on progress. So, that’s really the difference from where we started and where we are now. When you have the right people, it’s motivating and I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and come to work.

“At the very beginning, it’s the hardest part. When you’re starting and you’re lacking lots of things, then it’s a challenge, but now, really, it’s a piece of cake.”

Hire the best people

As Shami’s business grew, he didn’t have a hard time letting go, because he knew he hired the right people.

While it may have been a lot of work, Shami had the advantage of interviewing all of his employees in the beginning of the company’s existence.

“I didn’t come to a company that already had 2,000 people,” he says. “I came to a company with no employees.”

Your first step in hiring should be letting human resources do its job and remove the candidates who don’t fit a position or don’t have the experience. Shami advises to look for good experience and notes that you get what you pay for when hiring. But, he also cautions to avoid only hiring the person with the best experience. If you feel someone has the passion and drive to succeed in your company, take a chance on him or her.

“We hire people with no experience,” he says. “You can tell someone is motivated, eager to work, eager to learn. I came to this business with no experience myself — I learned on the job, but I was willing to learn.”

You can find the real person in an interview if you are relaxed and open with the candidate, resulting in a more comfortable situation for both of you.

“Once people feel at ease with you and if you talk face to face with people and not down to people, they open their heart and you get their best in the first interview,” he says.

By hiring the best people, you also set yourself up to have a nice farm system to develop talent and move them up through the ranks. Shami is again looking for motivation in the people he promotes, but he also wants people with optimism and who communicate effectively with the entire organization.

“Lots of those people did not come into their position,” he says. “They grew into that position. We try to hire from within (for) management. That makes our lives much easier when a supervisor (becomes) a director to become a vice president and president.”

Be aware you may lose a talented employee if you promote him or her and it doesn’t work out. Some people may excel in one position but not in another. In one instance, Shami gave a recently promoted vice president about a year to adjust to a new role.

“Normally, what happens, and it happened not too long ago with a vice president, that it becomes over their head,” he says. “So, I reduced their job back and sometimes they feel insulted and they quit.”

These days, Shami takes more of a backseat approach to hiring. He’s comfortable letting the team he put in place decide who is a good fit for the company. Shami will meet with candidates for senior positions, such as supervisors and directors, at the end of the process to get a feel of what the person is like and to fill the candidate in on how he views the company. Those talks can be as short as five minutes and normally don’t exceed 30 minutes.

“I just like to interview them to see their personality and just talk to them,” he says. “It’s a gut feeling. Is this a person who is really going to be a team member or who is not? Sometimes you are right; sometimes you are wrong.”

Delegate

It would be silly to work hard and put a great team in place without empowering team members to make decisions.

Shami is a firm believer in delegation, and he now looks at himself more as a coach whose job it is to make sure departments are communicating with each other.

“Delegation doesn’t happen overnight in my opinion,” he says. “It’s a process. It’s a gut feeling that you would know that this person is capable and you give them responsibility and then a little bit more responsibility. Some people can do more than one job at the same time. Some people can work at one thing at a time. Some people can work at 10 things at a time.”

Unless it’s clear from an employee’s background that he or she is ready for a certain task, you don’t want to start delegating responsibilities right away. For example, if it’s an engineer who was brought in because of a certain skill set, you have to let him or her do the job that he or she was hired for right away.

However, for the most part, waiting 90 days is what has worked best for Shami.

“I never would have somebody who comes to run the operation who did not know the background of the operation,” he says. “You try and get them to the basics and build on it. You’ve got to have a base to build on it. You can’t just meet someone and delegate a job to them.”

For example, if you’ve hired someone in a marketing role, even though he or she may have succeeded in the past, that person isn’t a sure thing to succeed at your company.

“They need time to understand the company,” he says. “Every company has their own culture and their own thinking and their own mission. So, you need to understand, anybody who comes to a company starting to change things, they will never make it and never succeed, because people first are going to be afraid of change and they’re not going to succeed in that. They will not get the support.

“You need to get with the people, know the people, understand the culture, understand the people, understand what they are doing, and it takes 90 days to really understand company culture at a job.”

Once you delegate a task, don’t go behind the employee’s back to monitor progress.

Shami will check in with the new director or supervisor directly to get a read on how they are progressing. While he wants to leave the new supervisor room to work, Shami asks them not to change anything until they are comfortable with the culture. You have to be hones

t and upfront in these conversations if you want the new employee to succeed.

“We try to be as transparent as possible,” he says. “I always give everybody advice, ‘Please don’t go make changes. Monitor the department, know the department and let’s agree what changes we need to do before we get into that.’”

Create an open environment

While having great employees and delegating to them will get you far, you still need to create an open environment where they feel free to express their ideas.

Shami finds that to be especially true when creating a vision. Though he was responsible for creating the company’s vision in the beginning, the process now involves everyone.

“At the beginning, it’s a one-man show,” he says. “After that, it becomes a team, a round-table team — what do you think, and what I think, and what we come out with and what we all agree with.

“A leader does not want everything to come out as, ‘This is my idea, and this is my vision. I, I, I.’ It’s ‘we’ and ‘us.’ That’s how I see it.”

Vision is just one example where involving others will help you succeed. The same can be said for trying to improve a specific part of your business. While you may feel you and your management team know everything there is to know by just observing, you will get more information by talking to the people that work in that area.

“In our company, if we are making a decision, say building a new machine, you need to involve the people who work on the line and the people who really run the machinery,” he says. “Those people understand it more than the leadership.”

It might be a challenge to get employees to be honest with you because they may be a little guarded when speaking to the boss. It’s up to you to be humble and to show them that you are no more vital than they are to the company.

“Everybody is important,” he says. “You need to let everybody know how important they are to the success of the team and to the company.”

Employees are also afraid to come forward with ideas to managers above them because they are worried they might say the wrong thing or present an idea that won’t work. You have to stress at every opportunity that mistakes are acceptable as long as the employee is trying to better the company.

“I tell (employees) I’ve made more mistakes than all of them,” he says. “That’s why I learned my job. It’s OK to make mistakes as long as we learn from these mistakes and as long as we make more right than wrong. The worst thing is to not make decisions or not to do anything. But, let’s make a decision and let’s see if it works. If not, we know that it’s not working and we have learned something from it. Mistakes are acceptable.”

Shami also achieves open communication by making his rounds weekly, shaking hands and talking to employees.

Since his job requires a lot of travel, he always makes rounds as soon as he returns from a trip. If you are on the road a lot, you have to take every opportunity to be seen by your employees. That could be scheduling a walk-through of a nearby plant or office right after a trip or scheduling face time with your employees on a weekly basis.

“Be visible,” Shami says. “Some CEOs, people don’t see and don’t know. It doesn’t work. You never get loyalty, and you never get support.

“When we have a good year, I’m not complimenting only the top management. You’ve got to meet with all the people in different departments and give them a special lunch for the great achievement or a bonus or extra pay. You reach those people, and you get to know them sooner or later.”

Once you are out in front of people, ideas will begin to work their way up the chain. Even if the idea falls short or needs to be delayed to a later date, look on the bright side of the situation.

“I look at the positive out of every idea,” he says. “If you’re going tell people it’s a bad idea, they’re not going to come to you, even with a good idea. You need to encourage ideas.”

How to reach: Farouk Systems Inc. (800) 237-9175 or www.farouk.com

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

People power

Homeowners Choice Inc. had just taken on a big chunk of business that required mailing 60,000 policyholders. While the initial mailings were handled by another company, the returns, such as undeliverable letters or return correspondences, caused a problem: Nobody’s job description included opening letters.

“But when that challenge arose, people said, ‘Hey, I have time on my hands, I can help out for a couple hours,’” says Paresh Patel, co-founder and chairman of the board.

“All those mailings coming back, all the letters and phone calls and questions that came with that, and this is all with existing staff, so they still had their day jobs to do.”

This was all happening quite fast considering the company did its first dollar of business in July 2007, and by 2008, it posted $109.3 million in gross written premiums.

Taking on that extra work is all part of working in a rapidly growing company. Having a flexible staff and culture that will support the growth and go the extra mile will make the process smoother than if you don’t hire correctly and have a negative culture.

“The growth wasn’t a democratic vote,” he says. “Not amongst employees, anyways. Once we walked down that path, they did all rise to the occasion. The other side of that is, of course, in them rising to the occasion, they are also providing the feedback as to what the necessary tools and infrastructure are to keep doing these things.”

Here’s how Patel found the right people and created a culture that could handle rapid growth.

Hire the right people

Patel didn’t wait for growth to happen, and then scramble to find people. He had most of his staff assembled before the major growth hit.

“You don’t stack 100 percent to that need, but you at least make sure you are well on that path,” he says.

But, that method of hiring, at first, created a small problem — employees had nothing to do.

“In some ways, that’s what happens with the pregrowth strategy,” he says. “You end up with people who feel slightly under-utilized until the work flow hits and, at which point, it becomes normalized.”

When things get settled, you want workers who will have a number of talents and skills to get the job done.

“In a perfect world, you want somebody with lots of experience and a tremendous work ethic and great attitude and flexibility,” he says. “Finding that magical employee who has all of those attributes in that one person is tough to do.”

Since those magical employees are so hard to find, you should hire employees who, collectively, will create an organization with all of those attributes.

“They may not all be residing in one particular individual, but it is there in an organization,” he says.

Patel first hired employees with experience in the business and then hired employees who had less experience but a get-up-and-go attitude.

“On the other hand, we don’t hire everybody with just no experience and lots of great get-up-and-go because you need people who have been there and know how to do this,” he says. “So, we try to balance between the two at any given moment in time.”

When hiring, have potential employees meet various people around the organization because different individuals notice different things and that collective feedback is accurate.

“Obviously, depending on the level of position you are hiring for, it’s a different set of people who interview the individual,” he says. “In reality, the other side of this is you try to create a good stable work environment. You want any new people to, in some ways at least, meet the people who are actually going to be their peers.

“In doing so, you very quickly ensure that the people that you bring in fit with the culture that is already here.”

The department the company is hiring for will affect who is interviewing the person. Sometimes a position calls for certain specialties, so people within the department who know how to find that technical expertise will be a part of the interview process.

Positions that are less about technical qualifications and more about personality and aptitude give you a wider range of people you can choose to be a part of the interview process.

If you have a board of directors, you can also look to get it involved in the interview process, especially if you are hiring someone at the senior management level.

“Because they are going to be dealing a lot more with board folks, on those occasions, bring them in.”

Patel and his team will also ask board members to be part of the interview team when the board member shares a similar background with a potential hire.

“To some degree, if we can’t find anybody within the company to interview people, we sort of bring some of the board members in to interview the person,” he says.

Much like the position you are hiring for will affect who is on the interview team, the position will also determine the questions you ask.

“But the other side of this is inevitably when you do interviews, we are trying to get a grasp of an individual,” he says. “We do generally go with the conversation to some degree, as well.”

For example, when the company hired a controller, Patel and his team had very specific conversations with candidates about financial statements and other specifics for that position. But because there were many people applying with that experience, they also wanted an idea of the person’s style and personality.

While there are many variables in hiring, Patel always remembers one thing when hiring.

“Never be afraid to hire people who you feel are more qualified than you are,” he says. “If the team does well and you are their leader, you inherently do well.”

While many companies might not be thinking about growth or hiring right now, don’t let a talented person applying for a job get away.

“Sometimes we interview people and there isn’t quite a job opening for that position yet or for their set of skills,” he says. “If you know you are going to be growing, you can say, ‘Well, this person is a good person; I’d like to add them to the organization.’ The organization will grow into that kind of thing.”

Guide the culture

When hiring people, Patel doesn’t necessarily need someone to fit in with the culture if he or she will be working in a more technical department, because the new hire won’t be interacting with large sections of employees or customers.

“You are much more open to personalities being slightly different,” he says. “When you get into the customer service area, those kinds of things, it pretty much is a team effort, so you have to be a member of the team,” he says.

At Homeowner’s Choice, Patel allows employees to form the culture.

“You are not imposing a culture; you are guiding a culture,” he says. “That’s the nature of it. It’s interesting to watch in terms of how that culture has been developing in the last year or so.”

When the company had only a handful of people, employees would celebrate each person’s birthday. As the company began to grow, there was a birthday cake every week.

Eventually, one of the company’s faster-growing departments decided to have a birthday day every month to celebrate the birthdays for that particular month.

If you see something like this happening in your co mpany, don’t let the opportunity to join in pass you by.

Part of leading a culture is finding good ideas and contributing to them.

“Basically, when the good things have been done, you try to encourage it,” he says.

“In reality, the good stuff, like the cake thing, when we found out about it, (we said), ‘Why don’t we just pay for the cake?’ We don’t have (employees) looking for dollars.”

On the other hand, if you see departments not communicating, you can take a more hands-on role in creating a collaborative environment.

In the early days, the company had offices in St. Petersburg and St. Lucie, and unless you traveled back and forth between the two, the employees in one office had no idea who was working in the other office.

To change that, Patel had some people come over from the St. Petersburg office and work in the St. Lucie office and vice versa.

“Now, when you have an issue, you are much more likely to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this thing, can you help me with it?’ as opposed to a name on a telephone list.”

Patel also wants to make sure employees feel comfortable calling him or speaking with him in person if they need him.

Instead of just preaching an open-door policy, Patel takes it one step further and has an open office plan. He has a cubicle the same size as everyone else’s and he spends time in there during the workday. This type of action allows Patel to get away from executive-level distractions and focus on the daily operations. It also makes you available to employees who might be intimidated when it comes to knocking on the boss’s door.

“You are now then immersed in what’s (happening) on a day-to-day basis because, in my office, it’s phone calls and meetings and those kinds of things,” he says. “Those are necessary things that need to get done. But the real heart of the business is out in the open plan area.”

If something is going on or somebody has an issue, you can hear about it and do something about it.

“But, that sounds like eavesdropping,” he says. “That isn’t the intent or the idea. If you are there doing some work and then you have a question, you just walk up to the person and ask a question. If I am asking them the question, then they come and ask me, and we get a comfort level with asking questions and talking to each other.”

This also eliminates an employee having to make that long walk to the boss’s office if something went wrong.

“If I am in my office and they have something to say, they’ve got to get up and walk down the hallway,” he says. “Especially if it’s something they think I might not appreciate hearing, it suddenly becomes a long walk. I just say that from having walked in those shoes. It’s all of maybe 30 yards, but it’s a long walk.”

Taking these actions and forming a positive culture can go a long way when things get tough in the business world.

“Once every so often … we get thrown a curveball,” he says. “By having the right corporate culture, you can get everybody in a room and say, ‘This is how this has changed, and we need to do the following.’ And everybody says, ‘OK, this is what I can do to help’ and so on. Lo and behold, we get things done.”

How to reach: Homeowners Choice Inc., (888) 210-5235 or www.hcpci.com

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Input all around

Bill Schrom learned very quickly that anyone in a company could have a good suggestion.

“Myself, my COO and CFO, we worked for a much larger company in the past, but we all worked out in smaller field operations,” he says. “So, we understand that when you are this poor guy just trying to get a job done and all you need is this little thing done for you that … if you do it, it’ll make that person more efficient.”

Schrom hasn’t forgotten that lesson, even though he is CEO of Geotrace Technologies Inc., a reservoir services company that posted $58.4 million in 2008 revenue.

“Our backgrounds have made us very open to thoughts from the guy on the line who is actually performing the work,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Schrom about how to get the most out of your employees and their ideas regardless of their position in the company.

Listen to employees. We have an open-door policy — myself, my COO, my CFO, we have our doors open. We don’t have a secretary brigade blocking people or anything like that. People can come in and voice their opinions, which you’ve got to be cognizant of.

If you want to have a policy where people believe that you are listening, then you’ve got to act like you are listening. You’ve got to be willing to not just say, ‘Well, that won’t work.’ Say, ‘OK, let’s think about that. What about this? What about that?’ You’ve got to have a reasonable amount of discourse with people, and it kind of goes beyond just being open to your own employees.

You’ve got to be open with your customers and listen to what they’re saying because a lot of times they’re trying to say, ‘Guys, this is what we really need. No matter what you’re pushing and trying to sell, this is what I need.’

The other place we get some good feedback is often vendors. (They say), ‘We see you guys are trying to do this. If you want to do it faster, have you thought about doing it like this?’ What I try to get everyone to do is not say, ‘Oh, no, no, you aren’t part of this process.’ I’d rather say, ‘Let’s get your ideas and let’s hear it.’ Because those are often people that I would consider to be out of the box that have a different perspective and a different view.

Choose the best ideas. (You) look at the commercial applicability of it. Then, it may be an idea that may not look profitable on the surface, but is there a way by, if you can say, ‘Is there a market for this? Now, how do I make money with it?’ So first, you’ve got to have some level of demand for it.

People come all the time with ideas, but if nobody’s out there willing to buy them, you’re wasting their time. If somebody is willing to buy them, then you’ve got to start saying, ‘How can I make money with it?’

First, talk to the people who are interested, in terms of your clients. Often, you’ll find that somebody who sees a technology that will solve a problem for them may be willing to pay a little bit more for you to apply that technology in their case.

(Second,) I’ve surrounded myself here with very good people who understand the intricacies of the science and can say, ‘Yes, Bill, we can do this and do it in this kind of time frame.’

Engage employees. When we have a new technology, we’ll get people down into a big conference room and go over, ‘Here’s what we’re doing and here’s why we are doing it. This is the company strategy on this point.’ We do things called ‘lunch and learns’ with the employees where (we say), ‘We’re going to start running this process. Now you come in and we’re going explain it to you.’ We serve them a lunch so they kind of get comfortable with it.

We do a number of events with employees. Last year, we had a few great quarters, and we took everybody to a baseball game — so a lot of the interactions. I don’t sit in my office. I’m not a guy who sits in his office all the time. I like to wander the halls and see what is going on.

I always try to engage people, talk to them, give them the opportunity to give me their thoughts. We’ve had a number of times when a great suggestion has come from just a routine guy who’s just trying to do his job. I’ll walk in to somebody’s office, and they’ll be struggling with something, and they say, ‘Gosh, if I had two terminals in here, I could see this data better and do this better.’ We usually respond to that kind of stuff. Most people have multiple terminals on their desk. It’s not because I decided that. It’s because they said, ‘I could do my job more efficiently if I had it.’

Stay positive. There’s a few people here who see me in a pretty bad mood at times. But, generally, if I am out walking the halls, I’m upbeat and positive and willing to talk to somebody. I guess I’ve got a good memory in terms of people’s names, spouses’ names or children’s names. So, it’s nice that you know a little bit about them.

We do a number of employee events and you get to know the people. I’m sure at some stage, if we become a $200 million company, it will be tough to know. But when I go to our offices overseas, I spend some time, every visit, walking around, sitting down with people trying to understand what they are doing and how they feel about the company and telling them what the company is doing and telling them about, ‘Here is where we are trying to go. Here’s what we are doing, and here is why.’

How to reach: Geotrace Technologies Inc., (281) 497-8440 or www.geotrace.com

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Unlocked

Lois M. LeMenager is happy to have an open-door policy. However, that means she sometimes has to take her work home with her as founder, chairman and CEO of Marketing Innovators International Inc.

But LeMenager doesn’t mind doing that because the open-door policy creates a positive work culture at the people performance management and measurement organization, which posted approximately $200 million in 2008 revenue.

“You are working at night, and I don’t think there is a good CEO that doesn’t,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with LeMenager about how to use an open-door policy and how to talk to employees.

Q. How do you communicate that you have an open-door policy?

I think it trickles down from the management. They realize that the managers can come in and be comfortable. I don’t think I’d like anything more than to have a suggestion box full of suggestions from everybody in the company because those people are the people that know their jobs. Maybe we are overlooking what should be done or what should be improved.

In this company, we have pretty much a feeling that everybody knows they can say something and they are heard.

Q. What advice would you have to establish an open-door policy?

You need to have some corporate meetings. You need to bring in the people that are the worker bees. I think you need a good HR understanding and share the corporate goals all the time — you keep them informed about that. We have corporate meetings, and we have celebrations once a month, and we (bring) people in once a month with anniversaries and birthdays. They are all in the same room and talk. You make sure they realize that this is kind of a relaxed situation in here, where they can say things, and you know what, they do.

Q. How do you get employees to open up?

You need to be a walking-around CEO. You have to show yourself, make yourself present, make sure you attend all the affairs, participate and make sure that they know that you believe in them and you are concerned about them.

The first thing is to make them feel comfortable. Ask about their family or, ‘How are you doing? What are you doing? Glad to have you.’ If they are new employees, ‘What can we do to help you be comfortable? Do you need training?’ I think that’s a big thing. We should make sure that we know what they need.

We offer them training … and that we are sensitive to their family affairs, if they needed time off to attend school meetings. We are pretty flexible, and I think you have to do it that way. Of course, you never, ever want to be stuck up with your employees.

Q. What is a pitfall to avoid when trying to show an open-door policy?

If (you) are going to keep an open-door policy, always have time to stop and listen when they come in if they want to see you. No matter how busy you are, unless you are on a conference call you can’t interrupt, and they would know better than that. But, you have to make time for them. That’s the big deal. That’s when you are going to show them that you care.

Sometimes, I can put off a call or do something if there is something dramatically wrong or when I know there is a situation that needs to be handled. Then other times, I’ll say, ‘OK, come back in five minutes. I’ll be finished here, and I will see you here before I leave.’

Q. How do you motivate people to share feedback?

That has to start from the management team really. The management team has to accept the executive team and interface with them [so] that the management and their people want to interface. So, we have to show them how to do it. We have to make sure that they see that that way. We want to hear from these people.

Q. With this kind of culture, how do you find the best people to fit in?

You have to make the best effort you can. You have to look at their backgrounds, and we like to (see) that they have so much college education. I’m kind of perplexed with that because I only finished high school. If you have self-learners and self-starters, sometimes you have to give those people a chance. But we need to have people that are happy with themselves.

They have to be somebody that has a good attitude, that can learn, that can be trained, and not just somebody that comes in at 8 o’clock and flies out the door at 5. You pretty much, in the first month, can tell who those people are.

Q. How do you tell that you have the right fit during an interview?

I don’t think you can absolutely make sure. When we are looking for somebody, we have two or three people interview them, and they get together and they (say), ‘What did you find? What did you think? What do you think?’ Somebody interviews tremendously well, and then they are a flop. Some people are a flop at the interview and are marvelous people. You have to take your chance — get the gut feeling, take the chance, and then in 90 days, you are going to know.

How to reach: Marketing Innovators International Inc., (800) 543-7373 or www.marketinginnovators.com

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

Helping hands

You don’t need to tell Richard H.Satcher about the importance of hiringthe right people. With a background inhuman resources, Satcher has experienced the time it takes to find the rightperson for a job, and he has fought theurge to take the first decent candidatethat comes along.

“Probably the first critical point inrecruiting talent is to not get caught upin what in human resource areas werefer to as the ‘warm body syndrome,’ orjust having somebody in the position isbetter than the position being open,”says Satcher, president and CEO ofLargo Medical Center. “A lot of timesthat comes back to bite you more than itdoes to help you.”

Satcher avoids getting caught up in thepanic of the position being open andfocuses a lot of time and energy on theinterviewing process, which includesmultiple interviews with candidates.

He wants to make sure he finds theright people for each position at his1,400-employee organization. When youhire someone that isn’t a good fit, theperson typically leaves to find a betterposition. Satcher wants to prevent thatfrom happening by doing his best in thehiring process to make sure the peoplehe chooses stay with the 456-bed facility.

“There’s an old human resource adagethat says selection is everything,” hesays. “Get that right, and everything iseasy. Get that wrong, and everything elseis correction.”

Since Satcher came on board as president and CEO in January 2006, revenuewent from more than $675 million thatyear to more than $750 million in 2007.

No doubt, having a thorough hiringprocess played a role in the organization’s growth.

“If you select the right person and youget the right person the first time around,it saves the organization a lot of pain andsuffering and time to come,” he says.

“Secondly, recruiting people is notinexpensive. It’s an expensive processthat you go through to get candidatesidentified, to get them on-site and getthem interviewed. So, you want to be agood steward of the resources of yourfacility.”

Form interview teams

While Satcher says it’s his job as theleader to paint the picture of what theideal candidate is for a position, hewants a lot of input from his organization on the candidates being interviewed.

He wants the candidate to interviewwith an array of people in the organization in order to get a broad perspective.

“Those people could be peers of theposition, they could be people reportingto the position, or they could be peoplethe position reports to. In someinstances, I’ve even used physicians aspart of the interview team.”

Satcher says he is always amazed atcandidates who interview differently infront of different groups. If they areinterviewing with their peers, they maycarry themselves one way and then actcompletely different when they interview with the people that report to them.

“You can really pick up on some (disingenuous) personalities and managementstyles through that process,” he says.“That’s probably the most critical thing Ilook for.

“It’s a phenomenal process, and you getcandidates who will tell one group onething and they’ll tell another groupanother. You think there’s no way anyone would be dumb enough to do that,but they do.”

One way to find solid performers tomake up your interview team is to simply look at the best areas in yourorganization.

“I look at departments that don’t havehigh turnover,” he says. “Those are probably the directors I want interviewingmy people. I don’t necessarily want thedepartment director that is having trouble with turnover or who’s had a historyof selection issues.”

If Satcher wants someone to be on aninterview team, he makes sure that person knows what is expected of him orher and what he or she should be lookingfor before the person joins the team.That comes back to painting the pictureof the ideal candidate before starting theselection process.

“You can’t just turn people loose without any type of direction,” he says.

While you may have assembled a solidinterview team that you are comfortablewith, you have to stress that the teamneeds to be just as comfortable with you.That’s why you have to be clear whencommunicating with everyone you wanton your interview team.

Satcher emphasizes he wants an individual’s honest feedback if he or she isgoing to take part and that any feedbackSatcher receives about a job candidatewill remain confidential.

“So, when I have a candidate, I first ofall ask, ‘Are you willing to do this? Willyou commit the time to do this? Second,are you comfortable in giving me yourfeedback? Thirdly, here’s what I want inthis person. Here’s what the picturelooks like and this is what I need youassessing these individuals against,’” hesays. “‘This isn’t an open-ended search,guys. This is a search looking for a particular set of skills, a particular personality, a particular fit, and I need you towork from the same framework that Iam working from.’”

It also can be beneficial to have a couple of people on the team who will goagainst the grain and will challenge thenorm.

“I’ve got a couple directors that othersmight consider to be a little contrarian,but I kind of like that,” he says. “They’renot going to get caught up in groupthinkor mob rule.”

Even though Satcher doesn’t participate in all parts of the interview process,he will have someone he trusts in theroom.

“In every organization, there’s what Iwill call your go-to people,” he says.“These are the people when you’ve gotsomething you need done, you can give

it to them (and) you know they are going to get it done,” hesays. “Typically, all my go-to people are on my interviewteams.”

You can even take this process one step further and team upa rising star with one of your go-to people.

“If I have someone that, say maybe, I think has the potentialto develop to that level, I try to pair them up with a go-to person,” he says. “So, what I try to do is I try to make sure whenthe schedules are set, I know I’ve got at least one of those goto people in that room. So, if I’ve got somebody in that room[who] I may not know quite as well but I feel good about, I doknow that I have at least somebody in there that is going toexhibit the kind of behavior I want the other people to see.”

Gather opinions

In order to receive feedback in an orderly fashion, Satcherhas his interview team complete an evaluation form on eachcandidate immediately after the interview. The evaluation features five to six questions that have to do with such categoriesas the candidate’s appearance, interaction with the interviewer, knowledge and experience.

Satcher asks them to circle a number between 1 and 4 to givehim an idea of what each person thought of the candidate. Heuses a four-point scale to avoid getting middle-of-the-roadresults. By using a scale of 1 to 4, those choosing have to thinkbefore circling a 2 or a 3, which would show Satcher that theevaluator leaned toward it being a good or bad interview.

“I try to force them to either get to the upper end or the lowerend,” he says.

Yet, even on a four-point scale, team members will still writein 2.5, instead of choosing 2 or 3.< /p>

That’s why Satcher leaves room for comments on the form.You can get a better idea on how the middle-of-the-road peoplefelt about a candidate if they can explain themselves.

On top of giving a numeric rating and leaving comments, healso asks the interview team to make one of three choices: recommend the candidate, recommend the candidate with reservation and explain the reservation, or do not recommend thecandidate and explain.

“It’s worked well for me because what I’m able to do is, firstof all, tabulate a numeric number,” he says. “I can tabulate thenumeric number by class of interviewee. I pull out scores forthe senior management. I pull out scores for the directors, andif I have any base-level employees, I pull out those scores. So,I can look how the senior team scores them, I can look at howthe directors scored them — I can break it out any way.

“So, I can tell that there is a disparity between those publics.I also can tabulate the do not recommends, recommends, recommend with reservation, so I can first of all get a numericalpicture of how people felt about the candidate and kind of geta feel for what’s the order of priority — who is top choice overall, who is the top choice among the senior managers.”

Armed with that information, Satcher can drill down into theverbatim comments and use the comments as a litmus test onhow good the feedback is matching up. If he’s got people whorated a candidate great on appearance, but some team members wrote negative comments about the candidate’s appearance, then he knows there is a disconnect somewhere.

“So it’s a combination of those two,” he says. “Then, ofcourse, I take that information and I then measure it up againstmy impression of the candidate. What’s matching? I’ve had situations where candidates interview real well with the seniormanagers. You can see it in the scores, you can see it in thefeedback, but they interviewed very poorly when it came to thedirectors.

“It’s a very fluid process. What I’ve tried to do, because somuch about choosing people is subjective, not objective — I’vetried to infuse a little bit of objectivity in it by using this scale.It works pretty well for me.”

On occasion, if two pieces of feedback are contradictory,Satcher will meet with the two who gave the feedback and askabout it.

“The feedback helps me determine where I need to put myinvestigative efforts,” he says.

After all the information is tabulated, Satcher will meet withthe entire team to let them know he is going to be making anoffer to a candidate.

“My position there is they gave me their time, and they gaveme their energy and their efforts, [so] I owe them the courtesyof letting them know what that time and effort let me decide,”he says.

While Satcher says taking the time to have an in-depth interview process is important to a company’s success, he doeswarn against taking too long to fill a position. If you are takingthe process beyond 60 days, then you start to get into the period where the process is just dragging. Some complicated positions may require more time, but try to limit most searches to60 days. He recommends if you have an applicant pool ofbetween four to eight people, cut it down to the strongest threeor four and stop looking.

“Once you get out there and start getting feedback, I see people make the mistake of trying to interview too many people,”he says. “That can just get confusing. Particularly in my model,if I throw too many candidates at (multiple people), it’s hard tosustain that kind of momentum in getting people together allthe time to interview.”

In the end, Satcher says he will make the decision when hehas to, but he still wants his employees’ feedback.

“That’s what they pay me to do,” he says. “But as much inputand involvement as I can have in helping come to that conclusion, I’ll take advantage of.”

HOW TO REACH: Largo Medical Center, www.largomedical.com or (727) 588-5200

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

The American way

Craig J. Snyder wants his employees to know that they are more than just people working for him at America Group Retirement Strategy Centers. For example, if he hears an employee has a son playing in an all-star baseball game, he’ll write it down to remind himself to ask the employee about it.

“I think that helps build more loyalty and more credibility of them liking where they are because they aren’t just a worker bee, but they are part of something,” says the president of the financial services group, which posted 2007 revenue of about $9 million.

Smart Business spoke with Snyder about how to create an honest and open work environment where your employees will want to stay.

Q. How do you show employees you are honest?

It’s what you do. I don’t know if there is a process. I think it’s just in your everyday actions — how you handle yourself and how you handle and work with others. People will pick up whether they think you have those qualities or not.

I think as in any relationship, not just business relationships, you have to have open lines of communication because it isn’t always 100 percent perceived by some people that you are being that. I think if that perception presented itself, that it is essential as a leader that you sit that person down and you have a conversation as to why they may perceive that something is different than what it really is.

Q. How do you know if someone perceives you in the wrong way?

You’ll pick up on a tenseness or an attitude. I just had that happen last week. Someone’s not smiling, someone is dropping their eyes, someone’s walking down the hallway without communicating or saying ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ at night, which is out of their normal, hopefully happy, routine because hopefully people you are around enjoy being around you.

I think it’s up to you to go up to them and say, ‘What’s going on?’ and talk it out. It’s no different in any relationship. I don’t care if you’re talking about marriage or a business relationship, an employee relationship, there will always be times when something gets frayed from an emotional perspective or a lack of perception.

If you don’t talk it out — and I would say it’s very true in marriage, but it’s particularly true in business — then what happens is that the festering starts to become more of a problem. Then it starts getting blown out of proportion and then it starts getting into a lunch conversation, and now you’ve tainted two or three or four people on an issue that wasn’t correct, that was a misperception.

Q. How do you get people to let down their guard and talk to you about the problem?

‘You’re not your normal happy person, what’s the problem?’ or, ‘I’ve noticed a change in your attitude, what’s going on?’ I don’t talk to them any differently than I talk to a family member or my brother.

I just really did have that situation last week. It turned out to be, it’s a 20-minute conversation where it really ended up being, ‘Well, you did this with one person, and you didn’t do that with me.’ I said, ‘Well, how could you think that? Let’s talk about that first. What you are saying didn’t even cross my mind, but it crossed yours. How could that happen? We don’t do that here; we don’t think that way.’

A lot of times, it’s baggage from another employer or position that they’re bringing with them or distrust. Actually, that happens a lot.

Q. What advice would you have for a leader who’s not picking up on those signs?

Usually, it’s because the leader is not being part of everybody else. You’ve drawn a line where employees are at this level, and management is at this level, and the owner is at this level.

In my opinion, that’s not a good way to run a business. I think the owner needs to participate and be with all levels.

If you do that, No. 1, it’s good for morale. No. 2, if you put yourself in a position where every employee — no matter what the position that they’re in — will communicate to you what they think is in the best interest of the business because they perceive it’s their business, they perceive they are part of the team, then your business will move further ahead. ... (Instead of) where you have certain levels, and the president doesn’t ever go out with the employees and the management, they don’t ever eat lunch in the lunch-room. I think that is wrong.

Like today, I have everybody whose birthday is in a certain month. I take them all out together. It’s a special thing, and I do that every single month. So, not only does it put people together that maybe wouldn’t normally hang out together (to) be together to break bread, but I think it’s a recognition of everybody.

HOW TO REACH: America Group Retirement Strategy Centers, (248) 353-6570 or www.americagrouprsc.com

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

Return on investment

Jim Lynch is passionate about having a culture that empowers employees and says that is a key to retaining people and maintaining a solid company.

“If internally, we are constantly adding people and losing people, that the culture is such that folks don’t think that they are valued and their contribution is valued ... then you’ve always got stops and starts, and you’re not going to have any level of continuity,” says the founder, president and CEO of Leaders Bank, which posted 2007 revenue of about $30.5 million.

Smart Business spoke with Lynch about how to create a positive culture that makes employees want to stay.

Q. How do you create a culture that helps you retain employees?

First thing is that we hire, first and foremost, for fit. I’ve had an opportunity, probably a half dozen times, to hire people that I think would have been terrific new business developers for us but wouldn’t fit. They might run roughshod over the administrative folks, and I’ve never hired one of those folks.

It’s important we hire for fit. In the hiring process, I speak with everybody that is potentially going to join us and talk to them about how passionate we are about culture, how we treat each other, how we treat our customers.

I suppose it’s not too strong to use this word — I warn them if they’re not passionate about that, that’s OK, but then they shouldn’t work here because we talk about culture a lot, and we work on it a lot. If you’re not passionate about it, you’re going to be rolling your eyes and you’re going to say, ‘Oh, there they go again talking about culture.’

Well, it’s important to us. As I said, we do work on it. So, we make sure, first and foremost, that we hire for fit.

Then we do a number of things to make sure that we work hard on the culture.

As an example, everybody knows here that the rules are, use your head and think, and then do what you think is right for the culture. I reserve the right to go back to our people after the fact if I disagree with a decision they made, just so I can understand it.

We’re open eight-plus years, and I’ve never had that conversation with any of our people because our experience tells us when you hire adults and you treat them as adults, they act like adults.

Q. What advice would you have for someone who wanted to implement a similar culture?

In my experience, I’ve worked for people who are ... very accusatory, and they like to point fingers and shift the blame to somebody else — ‘That wasn’t me.’

Well, that doesn’t foster a really good team environment. It has the opposite effect of what you are trying to accomplish. That is ... you are trying to allow people to use their head and make proper decisions, when, in fact, you scold them publicly for making a mistake, which, of course, everybody makes.

You make them more reti-cent to making decisions down the road, and that will ultimately cripple the organization because you don’t want one person or just a handful of people making decisions. That’s fine if you want to be a five-employee organization, but if you want to grow, you have to empower people to use their head and make decisions. There’s no other way to do it.

If somebody chooses to point fingers and to publicly rebuke folks for making mistakes, that’s a toxic culture. I doubt that person could change. The only way to change that culture is to get rid of the people that think that way.

Q. How do you create an environment where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes?

We’ve been talking about this from the day I opened the bank in May of 2000. That is, here are the rules. You think, use your head, and after you think through a situation, you do what’s best for the customer. That’s what I’ve told everybody from day one, and that’s how people operate, No. 1.

No. 2, they have never seen me rebuke anybody or correct anybody in public. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had tough conversations with employees over time, over the years from time to time, on a number of issues. But, if I do that, I do that privately. I do it in my office, and I make sure nobody is embarrassed.

Lastly, no one has ever been fired here just for making a mistake. People have been let go for performance issues, and everybody understands that. So, the actual practice is, they’ve never seen it happen and ... I can say until I’m blue in the face, ‘Go ahead and use your head and make decisions.’

But, if somebody does that and I lose my temper and chop their head off in public, well, actions speak louder than words.

HOW TO REACH: Leaders Bank, (630) 572-5323 or www.leadersbank.com