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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Watch your tone

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. YWCA Greater Cleveland had maintained a program to help victims of domestic violence for 25 years. But it just didn’t fit into the organization’s plan anymore in light of a recession that left it strapped for cash.

“It’s always difficult to give up something that has been part of your work for such a long time,” says Barbara J. Danforth, the 60-employee agency’s president and CEO. “But at the end of the day, it was the right business decision to make.”

The problem was that the program could not be given the full level of support that was needed in light of other initiatives that were part of the YWCA’s Cleveland agency. The challenge for Danforth was that even though it may have been the right decision, it still would come as a shock to her employees.

And a shock was the last thing they needed in 2008.

“When fear infuses the work force, productivity goes down, negativity goes up, so now you have a work force that is beginning to spiral downward,” Danforth says.

“The whole issue of divesting our domestic violence program in one fell swoop could have been devastating. If I had just dropped this on the staff that was delivering the service, that could have been a devastating signal that we were in a great deal of difficulty.”

As the leader, your style and tone of communication becomes even more visible to employees during the lean times.

“I became more intentional in some of the things that I did,” Danforth says. “When times were good and money was flowing, one of the things that my staff criticized me about was not communicating enough. When times are good, why do you have to communicate? Everybody is getting a raise, and everything is going well. But what I recognized was that was a strategy that clearly would not work when times are challenging.”

Danforth says she was conscious of her facial expressions and things she said just walking about the office.

“We all have bad days, whether times are good or bad,” Danforth says. “But I didn’t ever want my unconscious behaviors to be read out of context. I wasn’t trying to be Pollyannaish and say life was fabulous. Life is difficult, but there is always a way out. That’s the message I wanted my staff to understand.”

So Danforth was careful about the way she told employees about the loss of the domestic violence program.

“I tried to deliver it incrementally,” Danforth says. “What I attempted to do was early on, particularly with the staff that was delivering the service, was sit down with them and have a conversation and look at the financial shortfall of the particular program. We were operating that program at a deficit.”

Danforth went through the numbers and showed why it wasn’t working anymore. She explained how another agency that focused on domestic violence could better handle it. And she added that by eliminating the program, the agency would not have to make layoffs.

“It was incremental, and by bringing the staff along with us, by the time we got to the place of divesting and moving our program to another agency, it felt like a win-win for everybody,” Danforth says.

By being public about your decisions and upfront with your employees, you deal a serious blow to the ability of rumors and speculation to take hold.

“Sometimes people who are not in leadership roles of an organization think leaders make random decisions,” Danforth says. “They might think that because they don’t understand how the decision was made. For us to share that information with the staff that was directly involved was very important.”

How to reach: YWCA Greater Cleveland, (216) 881-6878 or www.ywcaofcleveland.org

Get help

It’s OK to ask for help once in awhile, says Joe Heider, president and co-founder of Dawson Wealth Management. When your business is going through a tough time, it’s perfectly natural to seek outside counsel.

“It’s a sign of strength that you recognize that you don’t have all the answers,” Heider says. “Nobody does. It’s why CEOs of companies have boards. If someone is reluctant to do that and they have difficulty doing it, they need to force themselves internally to get over that hurdle.”

In these times of economic recession, many leaders question their future or that of their organization. And they may wonder whether they are making the right call with their business.

Since no leader escapes challenges, they all should have plenty of good advice on how to deal with them.

“Most successful people are willing to help other people,” Heider says. “You can’t underestimate that most people want to help other people. Most people that have success running a business are more than happy to share it. More than likely, somewhere along the line, there was a key mentor that helped them along on the path to success.”

If you’re worried about showing too much vulnerability, get over it.

“If the leader has issues and he is overcoming them and is successful showing the way, I think it’s a way of showing empathy to the people who are working with you and some of the struggles they go through,” Heider says. “They are more willing to work harder for you as a result of it.”

How to reach: Dawson Wealth Management, (440) 333-9000 or www.dawsoncompanies.com

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Building a team

John W. Palazzo wants to make a buck as much as the next guy. He’s watched the cooking oil equipment business he started in 2000, Frontline International Inc., grow by an average of 20 percent each year. But Palazzo doesn’t put profit above everything, and he doesn’t want employees who do either.

“We have had a number of candidates that looked really good, but they were like, ‘I have to make this,’” says the president. “And in this economy, that does not settle well. But more importantly, those people may not be the ones who work out in the long term. You want someone with drive.”

Smart Business spoke with the leader of this 20-employee business about how to build a team that fits your vision.

Q. What is the biggest challenge to building a team?

It comes down to finding the right people and the right team to surround yourself with. That’s not only employees, which is a key part of it, but it is the team outside the company, which would be an accountant, an attorney and a banker. They all have to balance. It starts with good people internally, but as you grow, the external ones become ever so important, as well.

There’s a fair amount of due diligence that needs to be done as you interview or bring someone in for a trial or whatever it might be. It comes down to being able to explain the vision and objectives and goals of the organization and explain where the company is going.

You need to be able to explain the growth you’re anticipating and get them to buy in to the process. You’ve got to be a good communicator. If you’re communicating a vision of where the company is going, you need to be excited about it. It’s sincerity and attitude and energy level. Be passionate about what you do.

Q. How do you make sure your need is clear?

If we’re posting an ad or we’re working with an agency on getting a person, we’ll put a pretty good description out of what we’re looking for. I like to outline all the duties and responsibilities that then would be transferred right over to the job description.

It forces you as a business owner to truly sit down and think about what you want this person to do — what is the day-to-day responsibility and expectation level that you have? You have to sit down and challenge yourself as the superior to make sure you know what you’re looking for.

Q. How do you actually find the right people to interview?

There’s a fair amount of due diligence that needs to be done as you interview or bring someone in for a trial or whatever it might be. The first impression, for me, is going to be their resume and starts before I even see the person in the flesh. Do they have the skill set on paper to meet the requirements?

It’s also format and grammar. Is it easy to read? Is it easy to follow? It’s my first impression before I even bring anybody in. I would never interview anybody without a resume, regardless of the position.

Once I get that piece of paper in front of me, I start assessing. That’s how I make the determination of who to bring in for an interview and who we don’t.

Q. What are some tips for effective interviews?

I ask the person to give me a ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of their experience. You can probably read most of that on the resume, but I find it very interesting to hear people verbalize what they do or what they have done. It forces them to talk about themselves and their positive abilities and skill sets.

You always want to try to think through, can this person do more than what they are being hired for? Can they grow within the organization? That’s also a selling point when you’re interviewing people. ‘Here’s where you’re starting, and if you have the right drive, ability and skill set, here’s the potential because we’re growing. And growing means opportunity.’

I’m not looking for someone who wants to climb the corporate ladder in a year. I need someone that has commitment and buy-in to what we’re trying to do. I’d rather start someone out at the lower end of the spectrum and then get them to move forward on a gradual basis based on performance.

If someone has high aspirations to move forward, they have to really show that they have the ability to take on responsibilities.

Q. How do you get a new employee off to a good start?

The biggest thing is being able to work directly with them and making sure there is a clear-cut job description of what they are supposed to do. It’s very important to identify duties and responsibilities so they know clearly what they have to do when they come in.

It’s really spending time, whether it’s with me directly or with other folks in the organization, to make sure they are oriented to how we do things. Make sure that, as a leader, you’re visible and that they know you’re dedicated to the cause.

I don’t line my pockets. What I’m doing right now is putting a substantial amount, if not all of the profits right back into the business. Employees see that. They know when they are operating a piece of equipment, if something should break down, we don’t waste any time or money getting it repaired.

How to reach: Frontline International Inc., (330) 861-1100 or www.frontlineii.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Learning from a mistake

David Comar didn’t think it could ever happen to him. He recently was looking to hire an employee at Genesis Direct and was completely charmed by the candidate’s personality during a job interview and decided to make the hire.

It turned out to be a mistake — one that Comar hopes he never makes again.

“I’m a little more careful than I was a year-and-a-half ago, and I’m making sure I get a lot more specific,” says Comar, co-founder, co-owner and principal at the private direct marketing company. “At least now I’ll be able to give a better reading on intent and effort and not just someone that speaks well.”

Comar, who also holds the title of vice president, has not changed his tune on the importance of personality and energy. In fact, he wants people who can fit in to the 110-employee company’s high-energy culture. The challenge is to assess the skills, assess the energy and make a good decision on whether to hire a person or not.

Smart Business spoke with Comar about how putting your best foot forward can help you find the right people.

Show your spirit. Folks respect me and respect the leadership of the company. We don’t demand it. They see how hard we work for our clients. They see we’re in the fray. It’s not some direction coming down from on high. It’s someone who is working directly with the client on an ongoing basis and getting the feedback they need to put together the correct programs.

It’s busy. There’s not a lot of downtime. Because of that, folks get involved. We set up good systems, we’re consistent with our message, and we have the right teams in place. Responsibilities are very clear and very measurable about whether folks are doing the job they need to do.

Share spirit with job candidates. Take a step back and ask what makes your company attractive either for a new client or for a new employee. You’re not selling your company; you’re creating a value proposition. It’s a value proposition for your client, and it’s a value proposition for your employee.

If the employees feels there is positive energy, a vision and a plan and all of this has been presented to them and people know where they’re going and there is some level of ongoing growth, hopefully, the employer can show that.

Make sure they talk to the folks of the company who share that same level of positive feel that I would as the owner of the company.

If you’re not able to hire the right employees, I don’t think you’re representing your company the right way. Let’s say the next day you were shutting down your company. Where would you want to go work? Obviously, you worked for someone at some point. Why did you work there? What companies did you feel best about and what did you do?

Employees need to understand their contribution to the company is well-represented in the actual job description. It’s not just, ‘Hey, we need an account manager.’ They need to know that their position is important.

Be specific. You can learn a lot more out by asking extremely specific questions. In other words, from a client services level, I would be asking about specific accounts they handled and specific situations they were in with clients and how they handled them. When they give me the answers, I would ask more specific questions. ‘Well, if that happened, then did this happen?’ They can walk you through the whole process in their own words. The more defined you can get in your questioning and how they handled specific situations, the more you can find out.

When you ask general questions, you get general answers. When we interview here, they see five or six different people. So I get a lot of input, too. People ask the questions that are required from the desk they sit at, and then we get a consensus and move forward.

It’s important that they have been part of the interview and approval process. If it’s like, ‘Here’s Joe; train Joe,’ that’s tough. They have been a part of it. They feel like, ‘I’ve made this decision along with everyone else here; I’m going to make this work.’

Don’t be mean. I’ve had people talk to me, professional interviewers, and tell me that my system is all wrong. And for all I know, it could be. They say ask uncomfortable questions and keep them on edge. I don’t know how to do that.

All I know how to do is give them a comfortable surrounding because that’s what I do for a living. That’s how I interview. You don’t get the answers you would get if they were uncomfortable or on the spot, which I think is what some interviewers say.

But I think I still get there, I just go a different way.

Provide a mentor. We have two or three stars in every single department and I park them with a star. They are going to be part of the team. Let’s say I put someone with an account manager. There’s account managers and production coordinators and folks that work within a team to support a client. So it’s to the advantage of the account manager to get those folks up to speed as quickly as possible.

They need additional resources for their team. So the training that they do is very self-serving. It’s the right thing to do for them. If they don’t get it based on that, that would be a real problem. I would question their future employment here. I think that’s pretty basic stuff. It’s not like you’re training someone to take your place. You’re training someone to be part of your resources and client services.

How to reach: Genesis Direct, (813) 855-4274 or www.genesisdirect.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Charging forward

James S. Cassel makes a concentrated effort to not take things personally on the job at Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc.

“We’re not dating here,” Cassel says. “We’re doing business. Ultimately, the hard decisions have to be made. People walking out of the room shouldn’t take it personally. Now it’s easy to say and hard to do in many cases. It gets back to an individual’s personality.”

Cassel is managing director, vice chairman and head of investment banking at Ladenburg. He joined the financial services firm in 2006 when Ladenburg bought Capitalink LC, a company founded by Cassel.

But the challenge he faces now as a senior leader at Ladenburg is very similar to what he faced running Capitalink.

“It’s no different than the people who work under me versus the people who I work under,” Cassel says. “You make that decision as part of an organization, and once the collective decision has been made, you have a job to carry it out. That’s what an organization is all about. In that internal meeting behind a closed door, you can argue vehemently, and I do on occasion. But once that door is open, it’s my job to carry it out.”

Effective leadership is attained when you are able to convey the issue at hand, gather input from your people and make a decision that everyone can not only live with but support, as well. Here’s how Cassel did so and helped Ladenburg grow its revenue from $96 million in 2007 to $121 million in 2008.

Connect to your people

It’s not always easy being the leader. People are constantly looking at you, waiting for you to solve their problems or waiting for you to tell them what to do next. At least that’s the way it is in a company where the leader hasn’t established a good relationship with his or her people.

Effective leaders are able to build strong lines of communication that allow them to place issues on the table, generate discussion and make informed decisions.

“It’s having an understanding, having a plan and then carrying it forward,” Cassel says. “It’s not that difficult to manage through when you’re listening and communicating.”

There are a lot more people across the firm to hear from and communicate to these days.

Ladenburg acquired Investacorp Inc. in Miami Lakes in late 2007 and Triad Advisors Inc. in Norcross, Ga., in August 2008. This gives Ladenburg a total of nearly 1,200 individuals who work in some capacity for the organization, though many of these people operate as independent broker-dealers.

But large or small, the goal is still the same. You need to find a way to connect with your people. Cassel says you only need to look in the mirror to figure out where to get started in that effort.

“My father told me there was a reason I have two ears and one mouth,” Cassel says. “That is to listen twice as much as I talk. For someone who is a type-A personality, that’s a very important piece of advice.”

It’s why Cassel makes an effort to regularly gather his key people together to discuss issues that face the business.

“We collaborate and see if there is a consensus decision and then we carry it out,” Cassel says. “At Ladenburg, there are constantly issues and philosophies that, to a certain extent, are different from my personal view or how I might do it if I was still on my own. But it’s taking into account what is a different and larger organization with, in some cases, different priorities from a financial and business standpoint.”

In some ways, the transition that Cassel has gone through moving from Capitalink to Ladenburg has opened his eyes to some of the things that employees think about when their leader is speaking to them.

“You can almost look at it from a military standpoint,” Cassel says. “The commander-in-chief makes the ultimate decisions, but as you go down the line, people need to be empowered. They need to understand what the policy is. Then they can help come up with the best way.”

Being better at conveying what you need or want to your people comes down to your own ability to know what you want.

“I think I’ve developed my style and part of your style depends on your personality,” Cassel says. “There are some people who are low-key and laid-back. And there are others who lead with a charge. Everybody is a little different, but it doesn’t just come out of a book. It isn’t one-size-fits-all. If it was, everybody coming out of GE would have wanted to be just like Jack Welch, who they all perceived to be a great leader.”

In addition to thinking before you speak, take the time after a meeting or a presentation to reflect on what you just said.

“You always try to do better,” Cassel says. “When we make decisions or carry something out, I always try to take a step back and say, ‘What could I have done to make that more effective or better?’ I obviously do it daily. I get some quiet time in the car. I don’t make return phone calls right away. You always want some time to take a step back to sort of think about what you’re doing and plan. You need some of that quiet time every now and then.”

Put it on the table

So what do you do when an important issue is on the table and nobody wants to talk about it? You usually don’t need years of business training to solve this problem. Just tell them to speak up.

“There are certain people who just don’t want to say much at meetings,” Cassel says. “Those people, you need to specifically ask them, because they will answer. Sometimes you need to take them offline, not in front of the group, and say, ‘In order to make this effective, you need to open your mouth.’ You learn each person’s management style or learning style and you try to take advantage of it and put them in the right place.”

Just as an effective meeting can energize employees to get things done, a bad meeting can leave them scrambling to figure out what to do next. You have a lot to say about which direction the meeting goes.

“You want to set the agenda and set the tone,” Cassel says. “There are times when absolutely I speak first and there are times when I put something on the table and don’t speak first. Part of that is just something you develop over time. I don’t know if I can say there is any magic to it. It really depends on the meeting.”

At this stage, it’s about establishing a framework for the meeting that allows free-flowing discussion, within the parameters of the topic at hand. Ultimately, it could come down to you to step up and make a decision, but for now, you want opinions to be voiced.

Those people who are reluctant to speak need to see your words of encouragement backed up by action.

“You have to let them give their opinion,” Cassel says. “You let everybody hear it and you discuss it. You have to hear them out. You can’t be patronizing. Hear them out and have that debate.”

In order to keep some control on the meeting, make sure you set a time limit for when you want it to wrap up. And work to ensure things aren’t being repeated over and over again.

“Have a finite amount of time that you’re going to allot to the meeting to let everybody give their inpu

t so you have all the facts on the table,” Cassel says. “When you get all those facts, let people know that it’s not necessary to constantly reiterate. One of the things that you see in meetings is one person says something and the next four people repeat it. That’s not necessary. You can just say, ‘I agree with so-and-so. That’s enough.’

“I think it’s keeping on point and making sure when people go off on a tangent, try to bring it back. Sometimes issues come up at a meeting with multiple people that are really not germane to the whole group. Table that issue, put it to the side and deal with it one on one so you don’t expend everybody’s time on it.”

Make it clear through constant reminders that you want people to bring to your attention concerns they might have about the direction being considered or the way things are being done.

“If they have a problem with me, they know they can come in my office,” Cassel says. “They know they can close the door and say anything they want. I may get upset, but generally, the next day, I’m over it and on to the next thing. People who keep a list or hold a grudge are a problem on both sides of that management style.”

Make a decision

Cassel is not one to make rash decisions, a trait that his team likes to remind him of from time to time.

“Sometimes they joke with me here when I tell people I want to sleep on a decision because I want to spend the night thinking about it, and then the next morning, make a decision,” Cassel says. “It’s very important to make a decision because no decision is, in fact, a decision.”

Cassel says he recognizes the importance of making a decision and uses the extra time to be in the best position to do so. Ideally, the burden of deciding which way to turn does not rest entirely on your shoulders but is the product of a comprehensive review with your people.

“I think the key is having the right people working with you and empowering them, not micromanaging them,” Cassel says. “You hope they are honest with you. There is only so much you can do.”

Make sure you work out the conflict and disputes in the meeting room because once a decision is made and the doors open, you need to remember you’re on the same team.

“Part of it is discussions with those who you have to communicate with to make sure the decisions you are making are consistent with the overall strategy and plan,” Cassel says. “Part of it is being empowered to make those decisions. And then to have the benefit of success, or if it’s not successful, to suffer the consequences or to take responsibility.”

Taking responsibility when a mistake is made is crucial to earning the loyalty of your people.

“If it turns out that you find out relatively quickly that your decision is wrong, it’s OK to change it,” Cassel says. “I think many people make a decision and realize it’s wrong fairly quickly, but they don’t change it. Once you realize your decision is wrong, there is no benefit to continuing down that path. It’s actually a real negative.

“If there is some advice I can give to people, it’s that it’s OK to be wrong, but it’s not OK to be wrong and not do something about it just because you made a decision. We’re all human.”

How to reach: Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc., (305) 572-4100 or www.ladenburg.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Reaching higher

It’s not that John Stewart is disappointed to be named the top cardiac care hospital in all of Indiana for the fifth year in a row. He just wants to make sure he’s not the one at the helm when the streak ends for St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana.

“One thing that keeps me awake now is that when you have been named by multiple sources as the leading program in the state for so many years, you don’t want your team to become complacent,” says Stewart, the company’s president and CEO.

“The good thing about transparency of data in health care these days is that your competition knows a lot more information about you, as does the general public, and that’s wonderful. But it causes everybody to do better. You can never rest on your laurels.”

Stewart was one of the lead consultants when the Heart Center first opened in 2000. He returned five years ago as president and CEO and faced the challenge of streamlining an operation that is now spread across multiple venues for its parent, St.Vincent Health.

The recent accolades show that the hospital is doing a lot of things right, but Stewart says there is always room for improvement. One area that needed to be bolstered was the camaraderie of employees spread across many different locations.

“I’m responsible for really cardiovascular care not only at both Indianapolis (Heart Center) locations but also all 18 of the ministries within St.Vincent Health,” Stewart says. “When you are working with multiple facilities, it’s only natural that people will focus on their own initiatives and less on the system’s initiatives.”

Stewart needed to get his 408 employees more focused thinking about what was best for the company as a whole.

“How do you keep educating individuals that they all play a part in it?” Stewart says. “How do you coach your leadership team so they understand and focus and stay away from the barriers to success? Typically, when you run barriers, it’s because people allow personalities and personal differences to get involved.”

Stewart had to show his employees the value of working together.

“We wanted to have the highest-quality, patient-centered cardiovascular care that we could deliver with the highest guest satisfaction,” Stewart says. “And we wanted to do it in an environment that was less about bureaucracy and hierarchy and more about the culture of teamwork.”

Here are some of the ways Stewart made it happen and, in so doing, helped St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana earn $133.6 million in fiscal 2009 revenue and its fifth straight honor as the best heart hospital in the Hoosier State.

Get out there

When Stewart got his first management job, he was continually impressed by the level of knowledge his CEO possessed.

“It always amazed me that the CEO never seemed to be surprised,” Stewart says.

In order to have a deep knowledge of what is happening in your company so you can keep moving to the next level, you have to get out there and talk to your people.

“That’s one of the things that I find challenging for me these days since I’m focused on so many different locations,” Stewart says.

It doesn’t change the need to get out of your office and get in communication with your employees, however.

“You’ve got a lot of people that are more than willing to tell you what’s going on,” Stewart says. “You have to create an environment that it’s OK for that to happen. So you take what you hear informally. You go out and you ask questions. I ask, ‘How are your leaders doing? What are you and your co-workers working on? What processes are you focusing on today?’ Sometimes, just by walking around and asking the questions informally, it will either validate the information you are getting directly from your leadership team or tell you that somebody is connecting the dots in the wrong direction. That’s when you start digging further.”

You need to create an environment where employees feel comfortable raising ideas that might not make everyone happy.

“You have to set the tone day one that everybody is important to us fulfilling our mission and our goals,” Stewart says. “Help them understand what their part is and how they need to help each other. When they identify barriers to things that need to be improved, they have to feel that they can bring that to the table, including meeting with me directly. They have to know there will be no retaliation from me or from their immediate supervisor. You’ve got to have openness and a culture of safety.”

You also need to approach your interactions with your people with the right frame of mind.

“When it becomes all about you, then you shut down the ability to effectively communicate and motivate,” Stewart says. “One of the most important things I think everybody agrees upon is humility. When personal ego is the leading factor and when people make decisions just because it will better them or their career or their income rather than the values of the organization, that’s when people get into trouble.”

So take a moment once in a while to remind yourself, very simply, that it’s not all about you.

“You have to learn that you can’t do it all and it’s not healthy for the organization that you do it all,” Stewart says. “I’m finding that my passion is more fulfilled by helping train others and teaching others than by my individual successes.”

Set clear expectations

You need to work with employees to develop expectations so that both leader and employee are clear about what needs to be done to keep improving.

“You always start by identifying the perceived problem or the opportunity for improvement,” Stewart says. “You develop a mutually agreed-upon plan on how you are going to resolve that or improve performance. You offer them whatever time you can or is necessary to make sure they feel comfortable in asking you for help.”

It’s all about servant leadership, and that’s where you really rely on your other leaders in the organization.

“Leaders are here to serve those who serve others,” Stewart says. “Sometimes, there are things that that person needs to learn or develop that may very well be outside my skill set. In that case, you’ll either work with them to identify another mentor that they can work [with] or, in some cases, I’ll pull in outside help to help those individuals.”

Whether it’s you or another leader, there needs to be collaboration in developing the work plans.

“For a mutual agreement to be effective, it’s no different than when you choose to get married and you have a mutual agreement with your spouse,” Stewart says. “The most successful relationships or marriages or employee relationships are when you have clear definitions of expectations from both sides. We have certain behavioral standards that every new team member signs when they come to work so they understand.”

Start setting expectations from day one.

“Even when I’m interviewing for an executive-level position, one of the first questions I’ll always ask in an interview is, ‘Are you clear of the expectations for this position and what do you understand them to be?’” Ste wart says.

Then you need to reinforce the importance of the plan by checking in on it on a regular basis.

“I would say minimally halfway through the year, sit down and say, ‘OK, this is what I’m seeing,” Stewart says. “How are you feeling? What do you feel you’re doing well? What do you feel you need to be doing better? What are the things that we need to readjust today so that we’re back on course by the end of the year?’”

This effort will pay dividends as employees see that you care about their growth in the company.

“It’s amazing how once you start and work though a couple key initiatives and they start realizing, ‘Yes, we can influence change; our input is respected, desired and even required,’ they see the outcomes from that and the positive energy and it starts to create synergy in the organization that is almost palpable,” Stewart says.

Focus on quality

If you’re going to use data to track how well your company is doing in terms of meeting goals and expectations, you need to know what the data is trying to tell you if you are going to keep getting better.

“That sounds more simple than it is,” Stewart says. “When cardiovascular clinical databases first started coming into existence back in the ’90s, when a physician sees their data for the first time, there are always two arguments that you have to go through. One is that the data is flawed and the second is, ‘My patients are sicker.’”

The key is to not focus on the data but on what it is you want to accomplish. In the case of St.Vincent Heart Center, the goal is to provide quality service.

“If you focus on quality, you inherently are going to be more efficient because you’re going to make less mistakes and your patient throughput is going to be shorter. By focusing on quality and putting the focus on that and what’s right for the patient first, inherently you will see a better and stronger financial performance.”

That doesn’t mean data should be ignored. But if you’re going to share it with your people, you need to do it in such a way that everyone understands what it means.

“You have to synthesize it down to what are the most critical and important items that we need to communicate,” Stewart says.

Break the data down into smaller groups so that it’s targeted to groups and numbers that the employees would care most about. Use all the standard forms of communication, but don’t forget about the spoken word.

“It’s a responsibility of all of leadership to walk around and verbally communicate, even in much smaller groups, as to what the important issues are,” Stewart says. “It can’t be just top down. It has to be a network that you have to have other individuals and multiple layers of management.”

One of the challenges in working through areas that need improvement is the reluctance to confrontation that can occur.

“People go into health care, more often than not, out of a personal sense of mission of wanting to provide care to others,” Stewart says. “Individuals of that personality type, it’s very hard for them to confront another. The only way you can do it is to start from an educational standpoint. Start using opportunities and almost create, for the lack of a better term, constructive abrasiveness.”

It’s through this kind of dialogue that you build trust.

“Every time you run into a barrier or an area of conflict, it gives you an opportunity to work through it and by working through it, you start to gain trust,” Stewart says. “You have to have some patience and allow time for the trust to develop.”

Stewart is pleased with the efforts of his team thus far, but he always sees room for more improvement.

“It takes a lot of hard work and effort,” Stewart says. “You have to make sure you have the right leadership in place. You have to make sure you’re developing your leadership and your team members to prepare them for what’s coming. It takes all hands on deck to make it happen.”

How to reach: St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana, (317) 338-2345 or www.theheartcenter.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Making connections

If you ask Dan Rooney to tell you the last time he completely unplugged himself from his role as the leader of SCI Engineered Materials Inc., he’ll probably just start to laugh.

“I don’t think a CEO ever has a break,” says Rooney, who holds the title of chairman, president and CEO at SCI. “If you go away for a week or two weeks and shut off communication totally, there is such a pile of communications and e-mails waiting for you, you’ll just never get caught up.”

This doesn’t mean, however, that Rooney doesn’t trust his people at the manufacturing company, which has 25 employees and 2008 revenue of $9.6 million.

Smart Business spoke with Rooney about how to develop a sense of trust with your employees.

Q. What are some keys to reaching your people?

Have a fair amount of face contact with your direct management and management at least one level under you. I usually have a few prepared notes and some bullet points. I’m not a great person at speaking off a sheet of paper. That, for me, doesn’t work. For me, it’s bullet points and then talking to those bullet points.

When you talk to your people, take a fair number of questions. If I’m not getting any questions, my gut tells me I haven’t communicated very well. A lack of questions is more a lack of understanding than anything else. If you’re getting questions, you have people probing and looking for clarity of some of the things you brought up.

When I’m not getting questions, I’ll start to ask questions. I’ll ask questions starting with senior people, then moving possibly down a level to begin getting their input into things in some of the more difficult areas. Then that starts to generate more questions from the audience.

Q. How do you deal with difficult topics?

Communication is a key. When someone screws up, and we all have, we get it up on the table in a hurry, we deal with it, and we put corrective actions in place. Hopefully some of those things never happen again, and we move forward.

I’m not going to say we don’t hold people accountable, we certainly do. We do understand that there is some level of error made by everyone. We like to deal with it and not punish too severely. If you do that, any time there is a mistake, all that is done is people try to hide it, which is really detrimental.

The key is when you make a mistake, be the first to admit you made a mistake. That’s one of the things I do. Everything I do sends signals to other people in the company about what’s the appropriate behavior.

If you begin to identify that you have people who are trying to blame other people, you have a very serious conversation with them about why that’s not appropriate. Or you determine that they do not fit in with the group dynamic you’re trying to develop and you replace them.

Q. How do you keep everyone moving forward?

That’s one of the biggest problems in management is dwelling on what isn’t done right or what’s done really badly in the company. Not that you don’t have to focus time on that, but there’s usually key issues on those. So fixing those problems quickly is key so you can get back to what you do well.

It’s a case of identifying them early on and then making decisions. Revisiting the same HR problem 12 times in the course of a year because it comes up every single month is not a benefit to you.

That’s not moving you forward as a company. If you have a piece of equipment that has chronic downtime and you’ve brought in outside support and you’ve done your own maintenance and it doesn’t perform the way you want it to be performing, you have to make a decision what to do with that piece of equipment.

Every item has to be analyzed on how it contributes to the company and moves you forward or not.

If you have weak product lines or weak employees, you have to make decisions fairly early on whether you can bring those product lines up to speed or those employees. Make those decisions and then move on.

Q. How do you help your people to get better?

We reward our people appropriately and give them positive feedback, not just negative feedback but a fair amount of positive feedback. If all you’re doing is measuring them and beating them up to a set of numbers or using the numbers as a stick, that’s exactly what people will feel like they are.

Numbers are out there and they are a measurement tool, but they are not designed to be a baseball bat to beat you over the head and shoulders with.

Anybody who comes into an evaluation without a fairly good idea ahead of time of how they have performed or if they go away with a surprise from the meeting, the managers have not done a very good job of communicating to the employees how they were doing all through the year.

It’s more a matter of ongoing communication and dialogue. What are your expectations? How have they changed from quarter to quarter? What are folks doing well? What are they not doing well? It’s an ongoing effort in communications.

How to reach: SCI Engineered Materials Inc., (800) 346-6567 or www.sciengineeredmaterials.com

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Tool time

Tim O’Toole hates to see an employee walk out the door and never come back to VITAS Innovative Hospice Care. It’s more than just the lost training and effort he and his leadership team have put in trying to develop employee skills to serve the company’s hospice patients.

It’s the bonds that develop between caregiver and patient and between the caregiver and the patient’s loved ones that can’t be easily replaced.

“Our patients are taken care of mainly at their home,” O’Toole says. “Any time we lose a caregiver, that patient loses the connection with their caregiver.”

Those bonds are critical in the highly emotional times that come about during a person’s last stages of life. But as O’Toole looked at his company and reviewed internal employee surveys, he didn’t feel VITAS was doing enough to help its employees or to encourage them to grow in the organization.

“One of the main reasons why a caregiver leaves a company is they were not feeling appreciated or treated fairly by their manager,” says O’Toole, CEO since 2004 at the company, which is part of Chemed Corp. “We want our employees to think that they work for a place that cares about them because we do. It’s important to the culture and important to the quality of service we provide our patients.”

Employees rated the feeling of being valued higher on the surveys than how much they were being paid. But O’Toole decided it was more than just a pat on the back that his employees needed.

They were looking for direction and looking for a means of growing and learning how to do their jobs better. And that’s how the VITAS Retention Tool Kit was born.

“The service you provide is only as good as the employee who is providing it,” O’Toole says. “We wanted to make sure that we were doing the right type of hiring with the right people and then training them and educating them about their job and then giving them very good management oversight.”

The tool kit is built around helping managers in their efforts to hire, manage, reward and retain productive employees.

“We put in some practices under an initiative where we tried to teach our managers to coach and assist and reward employees for their future successes and I think that’s helped a lot,” O’Toole says.

Here’s how O’Toole sold the idea of the tool kit to his employees and used it to keep them from leaving the $808 million company.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken

O’Toole thought VITAS was doing a lot of things right in the way that employees helped patients and went about doing their jobs. So he refrained from using the word “change” to describe his plans for the company.

“My own view is that change is a word that people are not comfortable with in many cases when they feel they are currently being successful,” O’Toole says. “Absent a particular issue that’s been identified that’s broken and needs to be fixed, I would prefer to use the words ‘continuous improvement’ as opposed to change. My style is to focus on every identifiable issue in the company as far as systems, products and procedures we use and brainstorm in a collaborative group about how they might be a little bit better.

“When you talk to people and you tell them, ‘What I am seeking is to analyze everything you do to constantly make it a little bit better,’ it’s better received than if you tell people, ‘We need to make a change.’”

So that’s the approach O’Toole took in presenting his plan to his management team, right from the moment it was introduced.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel in a lot of cases,” O’Toole says. “We just did a lot of research about what best practices are and issues surrounding management and relationships between management and staff. We identified certain areas we learned from the survey and certain areas we learned from exit interviews that we do with every employee that leaves as far as where their concerns were. We tried to address those concerns and learn from other companies and build common-sense initiatives.”

When O’Toole was creating the tool kit, he wanted feedback from his managers about what they felt they needed to best work with their employees as well as to provide an opportunity for O’Toole to see what was missing.

“You need to have a culture where people feel comfortable speaking two ways in your company,” O’Toole says.

He found a way to put himself in each of his company’s locations, all at the same time, to encourage employees to speak with him.

“We put life-sized posters of me out in each office with cards where they could communicate with me about any questions they would have and we would respond to those,” O’Toole says of the program, which was dubbed “Talk to Tim.”

“You must respond to people when you get questions or it becomes a negative and not a positive. I put in my communication that this is an important initiative of mine and that I will be following up throughout the future of the organization to make sure this initiative is being complied with. It’s an important part of how we operate in the field with our caregivers.”

O’Toole constantly reiterated through the selling process that this project was about continuous improvement and not about a complete overhaul. He sought to create an air of collaboration by meshing what had made VITAS great before with the things that would make it even better in the future.

“I replaced the founder of the company, Hugh Westbrook, who was the founder in the early 1980s and a leader in the hospice industry,” O’Toole says. “I tried to build on the success that he had and I tried to build from what I learned about him [and] about the business. But I would also tell people to be your own person and reinforce the qualities you can bring to the job.”

Aim for consistency

O’Toole thought one of the most important aspects of the tool kit would be consistency. Mixed signals or confusion from leadership about direction is often a factor in an employee’s decision to leave an organization.

“You want consistency across the entity because you don’t want people making it up on their own,” O’Toole says. “You don’t want good practices to not be known across the organization.”

The tool kit would be an opportunity to create a common way of doing things throughout the organization.

“It’s highlighting areas we do have in the company for recognition and reward and satisfaction and coaching and managing difficult employees through situations,” O’Toole says. “It was put together in a written document, which means they could share the whole document and program with new managers that come in from time to time or with individuals that feel they need to be refreshed on it. If a manager is not having success with turnover or an employee has a complaint against them, they have a kit that can tell them, ‘This is probably something you’re not using as well as you should.’”

For example, one of the points in the employee retention booklet, which is in the tool kit, talks about the importance of giving employees meaningful work to perform.

“Allow employees to express and create themselves through their work,” the booklet reads. “Give employees challenging assignments a

nd reward them with praise and recognition. Engage employees in conversation about their career goals and aspirations. Ask and listen. You’ll be surprised what you may learn.”

The section goes on to list questions that can help the manager and employee analyze whether an employee feels like he or she is getting the most out of his or her talents.

O’Toole says role-playing is another method that is strongly emphasized in the tool kit.

The point is to put together a common way of training your employees so that no matter who is doing the training or when they are doing it, it is being done in a consistent manner.

“Issues that we historically had coached and trained people to utilize just had not been packaged together under a communication effort,” O’Toole says.

While emphasizing consistency, he also reiterated throughout the planning process that the tool kit was not being written in stone.

“It’s like anything else, you don’t want to work on it forever,” O’Toole says. “You can always keep working on something and make it a little better. It allows that tool kit to be a living document that can be improved and modified from time to time as the situations change over the years.”

The booklets that make up the tool kit are kept in a binder. This leaves room for new booklets to be added or for older booklets to be replaced by versions with updated policies and procedures.

The company uses a checklist to make sure the tool kit is being used and O’Toole takes it upon himself to monitor this checklist and talk to his employees about the tool kit on a regular basis.

“As a CEO, it’s my job to shake the tree a little bit and follow up with them on areas they are working on and just remind myself to say, ‘Hey, what’s been going on with the tool kit?’” O’Toole says. “’What new things do we need to add? Give me your thoughts.’ Hopefully, you get that from management, and if not, you need to ring their bell a little bit.”

Track your progress

As O’Toole began to circulate the tool kit to his managers for them to use, he took stock of the environment into which it was being introduced.

“When there is no crisis occurring and you’re just trying to improve, there’s no urgency necessarily,” O’Toole says. “When you’re looking at a situation where there is more of a problem or a crisis developing, then you’re going to want to accelerate the program to implement change or improvement. We’re reinforcing what we’re already doing, so that’s not scary to people.”

While the urgency was not high, O’Toole wanted the tool kit to be used and wanted to know how effectively it was fulfilling its goal. Doing so often comes down to simple common sense.

“What are the data points it affects?” O’Toole says. “If you’re working on employee satisfaction, you would look at turnover. If you’re looking at your training programs, you might look at whether the training programs you’ve accelerated have improved the area of productivity that maybe you were training about. Just a lot of common sense and connect-the-dots logical analysis of what the business metrics are that should be impacted by the area you’re focused on.

“You know when the business has been performing well over the years and you know what those data points are. If those data points move in a different direction, you need to understand why. Analyze the way the business is running through the information you can glean when it’s doing well. You use those to benchmark against. When there are variations against the benchmarking, you can get into it.

“Look at areas of your company where your gut tells you you can have improvement and then look for processes or systems to put in over top of them that will train individuals to avoid mistakes whenever possible.”

The tool kit has led to a reduction in employee turnover, dropping from 28 percent when the project was introduced in 2007 to 20 percent currently, its lowest level in six years.

O’Toole says the key is to keep these types of initiatives fresh in the minds of your people and regularly remind them of why they are important to the company’s success.

“If you don’t train people as to what the expectation is for the tools that we want them to use, you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t use them,” O’Toole says.

How to reach: VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, (866) 418-4827 or www.vitas.com

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Staying focused

James R. Klein is a firm believer that every CEO needs a “Radar O’Reilly,” just like the one Col. Potter had on the old TV series, “M*A*S*H.” Radar was always there to deflect some of the less important obligations to allow his boss to focus on what truly mattered at that moment, says the CEO of Finance Fund, a 24-employee nonprofit financial services firm.

“It’s somebody who manages your day-to-day schedule and becomes the triage that moves some of those pieces of minutiae somewhere else to a part of the system that wants to deal with it,” Klein says.

When you have that person in place, you can focus on the business and on keeping everyone in step with what it is you do best.

Smart Business spoke with Klein about how to keep your company aligned with its vision.

Q. What is the biggest hurdle to staying on track with your vision?

The main job of a leader is to be able to have a broader view of what is happening in your corporation. The complexity of this whole thing can be brought down to simple principles: Remember who you are. Know what you’re all about and what you’re trying to do and trying to accomplish. In organizational management, that’s called question zero. It’s the question you ask before you do anything else. You need to ask yourself that periodically, maybe like every morning.

Then you need to figure out what your role is. Have a good idea of who is working with you. Who is on your staff? What are their skills? What is their thought process like? You need to be able to have people you trust and give them specific tasks that you don’t have to micromanage.

What I mean by trust is, you need to be able to trust that what they are telling you is the truth. You don’t want people that are going to tell you what you want to hear. You want them to be able to tell you what the reality is whether you like it or not. You have to establish an environment that fosters that kind of reality.

If you don’t, you head off on a path that’s not real and you’ll find yourself in trouble.

Q. How do you engage these people in your vision?

Create an environment that entices employees to act on their own. If you’re a leader type that needs to be in on every decision, you create an environment that tests the edges of patience for everyone. The corporation becomes inflexible.

Have a number of different teams that have team leaders that have the job of directing thought and activity around certain parameters that you establish. Then you drive yourself to the next step.

Supervisors are encouraged to do things that attempt to maintain the entrepreneurial character of every position. We do that by just talking about it a lot and by looking for people who come with definite skill sets who are able to handle work tasking of particular positions.

But we also want people who have a broader view. They understand what the mission of the organization is or they are willing to listen and learn and get on board.

You can tell when an employee has a role that is changing from a job to a career. It seems as though their passion blooms. You can just begin to see how the passion for the mission begins to impact how they do their job.

Q. How do you ensure that your people really do hear you?

Those leaders that I have observed that are very good at it work hard at it. They establish relationships. They develop a reputation of knowing what they are talking about and being truthful and caring with their staff.

They are willing to concede that the staff is part of the whole mission you are presenting. They are not just an afterthought, but what they are is an essential piece of what you do. Leaders make them feel as though they do an important thing, whether they are putting labels on envelopes or they are saving lives, they all feel part of the whole.

What makes one leader go that way or one leader go a different direction? I think it’s a mix of personality and intelligence and really being able to be brutally honest with yourself.

I’ll tell you the honest truth. I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my time as a leader. There are some things I just wish I hadn’t done. You need to be brutally honest with yourself, admit those mistakes, learn from them and put your face to the wind again.

Q. What’s the secret to being a good communicator?

There is a distinct tendency to be insulated from what’s actually happening so the vision gets tied up in me and everybody else doesn’t get to hear about it.

I try to write every week into a blog that talks about where we are and what we are doing and how we’re thinking about things. That’s connected to everybody. It’s public, and we urge our staff to look at that. I also do writings that move to the staff about things that are coming up, ways we operate as a corporation, different strategies we would like to pursue.

I would like to have an environment that is free and open and trusting, but the environment becomes what it is. I have to put trust in certain leaders within my organization to move this message.

How to reach: Finance Fund, (614) 221-1114 or www.financefund.org

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Don’t hide

Andrew Logan hears people talk about the importance of transparency during these tough economic times and he can only chuckle. It’s something that’s been regular practice at Logan Clutch Corp. for as long as he can remember.

The Flash Report is posted weekly in the company cafeteria, giving employees a regular look at sales data, open quotes, the status of deliveries and productivity levels.

“This level of communication makes it easy for people within the organization to understand when and why the company has to scale back to get through rough economic situations,” Logan says. “The best way to keep your team inspired, during a strong or weak economy, is to keep them informed and involved. Who wants to be on a team that doesn’t set goals or record wins and losses?”

It’s this regular posting of information that heads off panic decisions because everyone knows what’s happening in the business at all times, says Logan, president and CEO at the 26-employee manufacturer of clutch and brake products.

“If you’ve been a straight shooter with them in good times, they will follow your lead through the challenging times, as well,” Logan says. “The buy-in comes when their thoughts and ideas are taken seriously and put into motion.”

Logan cites the example of a request made in January in which all employees were asked to make a list of tasks and projects they could take on to reduce waste and increase value for the company.

“Each week, we post small success stories in the cafeteria where the company has saved money on material, administrative or packaging costs or on a new manufacturing method,” Logan says. “It gives the people the opportunity to make a difference, which is a great motivator and contributes to our goal of weathering the economic downturn.”

The key is to provide opportunities that engage your entire employee base.

“It’s important to make sure everyone in your organization ... knows what the company’s strategy is to get through the current business/market conditions,” Logan says. “Second, each person has to know what their role is in the strategy and what they can do to improve the situation.”

Of course, watching the numbers, tracking the data and putting up charts isn’t enough to keep your business thriving through a recession. You need to have a plan of action for how to engage your people in what needs to be done to get through the bump in the road.

“It is imperative for small and large businesses to have an evasive action plan already in place when a market craters or significant market share is lost to the competition,” Logan says. “The biggest mistake a leader can make in a tough economy or downturn is to panic. Poor decisions made in seemingly drastic conditions can do more harm to a company and its people than any economic downturn.”

So what happens if trouble hits and you don’t have that emergency action plan in place?

“Don’t panic,” Logan says. “It’s very, very rare for a business to disappear overnight. Economic downturns are more of a death by a thousand cuts. Every business has a natural dashboard or a key measure of indicators that tells them what is and isn’t working.”

Meet with your key finance people and get a quick analysis of the most important numbers. Gather your management team and do a fast analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to get a priority list together.

Once you’ve spoken with everyone and have some kind of plan put together, present it to your employees with action items and deadlines.

“The plan should be a solid foundation or framework and adaptable to change as the market changes,” Logan says. “If you’ve done a good job, you’re 70 percent on your way to success with the final 30 percent outcome determined by your day-to-day leadership and market conditions.”

Keep talking

Andrew Logan makes it a point to keep employees informed about what’s happening at Logan Clutch Corp. But he steps it up even a bit more when the times turn tough.

“The message has to be clear, consistent and based on the facts that you’ve gathered from your key customers, salespeople, suppliers, managers, supervisors and other people in the trenches,” says the company’s president and CEO. “In the best of situations, it would be ideal to gather the company together in the office or factory floor and explain the situation and convey the company’s short-term strategy and the role each area of the company will play in getting through the immediate issues of the crisis.”

The key is to stress the immediate issues and warn of the tough times that may lie ahead.

“Conclude the meeting by stating that there will undoubtedly be some longer range challenges and tough sledding ahead,” Logan says. “(You can add) that you are personally available to discuss any issues with them in smaller group settings after they have had some time to think through the situation.”

In addition to maintaining open lines with your employees, you need to stay in touch with your customers to be prepared for when things turn around.

“With your team, take a look at your top 50 to 100 customers and assess how you won their business,” Logan says. “Is the business profitable? Do they pay their bills on time? Were they easy to work with or did they consume your organization, sending more profitable prospects to the competition? Questions like these will lead you in directions that will help you decide what markets to attract.”

How to reach: Logan Clutch Corp., (440) 808-4258 or www.loganclutch.com 

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Go for the gold

If Jacob Beckel has the opportunity to bring in talent to help AnazaoHealth Corp. do its job more effectively, he’s going to do it.

“I always ask my team, ‘If you’re a professional basketball team and you’re the coach and you have an opportunity to pick Michael Jordan, are you going to pick him or are you going to play in that spot?’” says the founder, chairman and CEO. “The question is, ‘Do you want to win or not?’ If the response is, ‘No, I just want to play,’ OK, then you’re not going to be a world championship team.”

The lesson is hard to grasp for leaders who feel easily threatened by others with unique abilities.

“That A player brings people that can potentially be A players up to the A level,” Beckel says. “The question is, ‘How do you attract them?’”

Beckel needs strong players who can help AnazaoHealth in its mission, which is to create better ways for medication to help people. The 140-employee company took in $30 million in 2008.

Smart Business spoke with Beckel about how to find talent and use it effectively.

Bring in the best. I grew up in northern Minnesota. There was a football coach named Bud Grant who coached the Vikings and almost every year they’d have a winning season, and the question they always asked Bud Grant was, ‘What is your philosophy on picking players?’ His theory was, ‘I’ll pick the best player available.’ He might have five linebackers and the next guy in the draft was a linebacker and he’d pick him. And they’d go, ‘You don’t need a linebacker.’ And he’d say, ‘I don’t today, but he was the best person available.’ And sure enough, six months later in the season, someone would go down or he would trade that linebacker for a tight end or somebody. It would always look like, ‘How did he know to do that?’

People will come to me looking for a job and I’ll say, ‘You know, I really don’t have that opening,’ but I knew the guy or girl was a really good team member and I would hire them in a different position, knowing they would eventually end up in a position I needed them in.

Find the A player first. When Tony Dungy built his whole defense around Warren Sapp, that’s basically what I have done. I found that one key person. He came in as chief operating officer, but now is the president and chief operating officer, and he had skill sets that I did not have at all.

We built the team around his skill set. I had not done that in prior companies properly. First of all, they have the skill set, but No. 2, they are morally and ethically on the same page with you.

A company prior, I had a guy with the skill set, but he was morally and ethically bankrupt, and ultimately, that absolutely destroys a company when times go bad, and it did. That was my mistake. I blame no one but myself for that. That hire was the key hire.

Mold your team. What I’ve tried to do is sit down with the individual as they come in and say, ‘This is the vision for the company. It’s not lip service. This is really where we want to go and what we want to do.’

Probably in this job market, that new employee just wants a job and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, OK, I’ll play the game.’ That will be the toughest thing to discern. Is that employee genuine or not? Are they just on the team because they need a job or do they really buy in to what that job is? Time will really tell.

You don’t know until you see the interplay of the team how someone is going to work out. You have to hire for the talent, but long term, you keep them because they buy in to the vision and the goals and they fit on the team.

Support your team. There have been decisions by the team that have been made that I’ve gone along with when I thought it was probably not the best decision at the time. And it has sometimes turned out that I probably should have steered it in a slightly different way.

But the flip side is when the senior management team buys in to a decision, everybody starts rowing in that direction. The team going in the same direction is more important than getting the exact nuance of what I may have thought would have been the best way to get there. That has happened numerous times.

You have to let the team learn. Sometimes they can make a wrong decision and it’s not going to damage the company too much and you say, ‘All right, let’s see where that goes.’ If it would have really been an important thing, you would have said, ‘No, we’re not going there.’

Learn to hold back. Early in the game, I would put too much input into the team. This was four years ago. They would say, ‘OK, Jake wants to go in this direction; we have to do that.’ I had to learn to back out of putting my decisions on the table until the very end. I pretty much let the team decide now what’s going on.

I will add input because occasionally there are some pieces either from past experience that I’ve had that they didn’t know or they didn’t have anyone else on the team that could put those couple of pieces in.

When we’re doing an acquisition, because I’ve done a lot of them personally, there are some skill sets that I have that no one else on the table really has. Do you understand this could be a potential issue or this could be a potential regulatory issue or this could be something else? But I really don’t want to skew the input unless it’s going in a really crazy direction that isn’t going anywhere good for anybody.

I tend to sit back and let the interplay of the team members decide the direction. They come up with some great solutions.

How to reach: AnazaoHealth Corp., (800) 995-4363 or www.anazaohealth.com