Brooke Bates

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Maximum overdrive

Josh Johnson has plenty of tasks on his to-do list. As president, he has his own responsibilities at Fidelitone Logistics that transcend overseeing others.

But they all come second.

“First things first, you’re a manager,” he says. “You’ve got people working for you. Make sure that those people understand what they’re supposed to be accomplishing and that they’re doing it well and that you’re communicating well. So manage first, work second.”

It’s a tough balance to strike, because managing his 600 employees is a ceaseless task. Especially in this economy, things can change from one day to the next. So now, more than ever, Johnson constantly has to keep track of how his employees are performing.

He likens it to an ever-changing sports roster.

“Just because Jim Thome’s batting fourth as cleanup this year doesn’t mean he will be next year,” Johnson says of the former White Sox slugger. “People go through evolutions in their careers where they work better or play better. You constantly have to be evaluating your personnel. There’s no resting on what happened yesterday.”

Johnson hopes staying in touch as a coach now will help employees to be empowered later. When employees take their careers into their own hands, it makes his job a lot easier. He can move on to the “working” half of being a working manager.

Still, he’s always finding opportunities to empower and develop his employees — which, in turn, helps propel the company, which had 2008 revenue around $350 million.

“No matter what business you’re in, it’s about people,” he says. “They’re your greatest asset or they can be your greatest weakness. Our concentration here is to get them to be our best asset.”

Here’s how Johnson keeps track of his employees and gets the most out of them.

Keep communication rolling

Johnson’s relationship with his employees begins as a steady communication loop.

And that communication often starts as an outgoing message.

“You really have to outwardly communicate to everyone what we’re doing and how things are going so that they have a sense for the business in total,” Johnson says. “You’ve got to communicate outwardly in order to get anything back.”

Johnson has several methods for doing that, from webcasting town-hall meetings to Fidelitone’s 22 locations throughout the country to taking his senior management team out to lunch. There’s also the regular staff meetings and quarterly reviews. But as long as you find ways that work for you, the key is that you’re reaching your employees. How you reach them isn’t that important.

There are a couple of staples that Johnson’s message always includes. Basically, they boil down to two things: whether you’re making money and whether your customers are happy.

Johnson supports those points with statistics. So his messages usually circle around the “ultimate scoreboards” of net income and customer satisfaction ratings.

You can make that data more meaningful to employees by putting it into context. This could mean comparing metrics across time or simply breaking them down to areas that affect employees. For example, Johnson explains profit by comparing this year’s to last and makes the company’s fiscal status more tangible by putting it into terms of hiring or firing.

“You talk to each audience as to what’s important about them,” Johnson says. “You’ve got to know the goals of each department when you’re in front of them. You’ve got to tailor [your message] to what they do every day.”

For example, Fidelitone’s purchasing group is focused on improving customer service through proper inventory levels. So Johnson pulls data out for them about backorders and on-time shipments to help illustrate how their goals feed into the company’s overall mission. If employees understand their role, they’ll be able to make more sense of the company’s progress as a whole — not to mention have a stake in it.

Keeping employees up to date is an important part of establishing communication with them. But really including them in the loop requires silence. In other words, don’t dominate meetings without opening the floor for input.

“I try not to talk at my staff meetings,” Johnson says. “It’s really more of a presentation from the people that work for me to me about what’s going on. I think that’s how you learn how to listen to your business.”

Johnson extends the invitation for input in other ways, too. One of the simplest is his take on the suggestion box. It’s a bucket labeled Coffee Stains, where employees can submit observations of anything in the business, from the way the phone is answered to the way customers are billed to an actual carpet stain defacing the lobby.

While it’s good to have outlets like that for input, an open invitation often isn’t enough. You have to combine that with an active approach to seek it out.

“You’ve got to have a management style that you’re not just sitting on your butt all day behind your desk,” Johnson says. “Getting out and visiting them and shaking people’s hands and looking them in the eye is critical to building that rapport to where they feel comfortable talking to you about the good and the bad.”

Start building those relationships with employees early because it will take time. Johnson sets the foundation as soon as employees are hired by making a point to find out who they are and what they’re doing. When they know you at least know who they are, they’ll be more comfortable sharing in the future.

Johnson keeps information flowing through regular reviews with his department heads, and they, in turn, hold frequent staff meetings to keep their employees in the loop. Ideally, your town-hall meeting won’t bring the first mention of metrics. Employees should already know where they stand, as a company, a department and an individual.

“The interesting thing that I’ve learned about running a business is that it’s not rocket science. It’s about communication,” Johnson says. “You come up with game plans; you talk about how you’re going to do the things that you want to do. Communication is always the goal that you have to have: to communicate with one another what’s going on.”

Empower employees to act

Making the time to communicate with employees is one thing. But obviously, Johnson doesn’t have time to monitor every aspect of each employee’s performance. So part of managing his employees is preparing them to take their jobs into their own hands.

That empowerment process starts as soon as employees join the company. Johnson is always pushing down reminders of their responsibility, with help from Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff’s book, “It’s Your Ship.”

“One of the philosophies we try and hand out is that it’s your job, it’s your career. What do you want to make of it?” Johnson says. “You’ve got to put it out there and say, ‘You know what, it’s your ship.’”

Of course, before you set employees free, you have to clearly outline the goals they’re trying to achieve. That’s why Johnson puts so much effort into regularly communicating metrics with employees. Each meeting should be a r

eminder of the mission and which measurements are going to get you there.

Then you pair that message with some flexibility for how employees achieve it.

“It’s coaching the organization every day about what we’re trying to accomplish,” Johnson says. “It’s continually getting people to make decisions at levels below yourself.”

After you point employees in a direction, you have to step back and let them shoot for it.

“You can’t grow an organization by trying to do everybody’s job for them,” Johnson says. “You’re never going to have great people unless you empower them to make decisions and do their jobs.”

Without micromanaging, you can — and should — keep an eye on their progress. Johnson lives by President Reagan’s famous comment, “Trust, but verify.”

“While people are allowed to do their jobs, you trust them. But you ask them, ‘How are you going to accomplish [this]?’” Johnson says. “You get into that type of a dialogue with them on a regular basis to understand where they’re going.”

By staying in touch with employees throughout the process, you can act as a coach to keep them on the right path. But even if you’ve encountered a similar situation before, your challenge is to guide them to a solution without demanding your way.

“Have you thought about this perspective?” Johnson asks employees. “You challenge them with different ideas versus telling them, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way; I’d do it this way.’ You’ve got to lead them through the process.”

Even after their decisions are made, you have a pool of coaching opportunities. By discussing their performance in hindsight, you can hone employees’ insight for making better decisions in the future.

So Johnson meets with employees to debrief the highs and lows of certain decisions, discussing what went well and what could improve their performance next time.

“It’s that communication that empowers people to make decisions,” he says.

Check results against goals

As important as people are to Johnson, it’s the business results that matter at the end of the day. So he wants results-oriented employees who can actually meet their goals.

When you’ve been communicating all along what the goal is and slackened the reins to let them achieve it, all you have to do is measure employees against the metrics you’ve been preaching about.

“You really gauge [their success] by performance according back to goals,” Johnson says. “We tend to keep a tight eye on results and talk about results and talk about goals and whether we met them or not. It’s a lot of constant feedback.”

Johnson’s results-focused approach doesn’t mean he ignores other factors. That’s why he stays in constant contact with employees along the way to see how they’re tracking. Aside from being coaching opportunities, those meetings are also Johnson’s way of gauging what effort employees are exerting. Through that interaction, you’ll learn what employees are passionate about — or whether their job is just 40 hours and a paycheck.

Usually, if they’re not trying at all, they won’t reach the results that you are after. But what about the ones that are trying and just not getting the results?

“That really gets down to coaching, teaching and mentoring, and having bosses that are willing to spend time and explain, ‘Hey, here’s what maybe I would do differently. Have you tried this? Have you tried that?’” Johnson says.

He can’t do all of that coaching alone, so he also makes sure his managers are taking the time to guide their employees. Specifically, he asks his direct reports how much time they spend talking with their employees.

If employees continue to miss their marks despite coaching, Johnson looks even further for help, considering external education or training.

You can’t kick out employees the first time they fail, but you can’t keep them around if they keep failing, either.

“I don’t know that there’s a secret sauce or magic formula to know when you’ve reached that point,” Johnson says.

But he has come up with a couple of questions that help him make that decision when an employee is towing the line. Those questions, which usually get posed to the employee’s manager, are: Would you hire that person again? Would you be relieved if he or she left?

“If you don’t want somebody to be there and you wouldn’t hire them again, you kind of answer your own question,” Johnson says. “Or [if you say,] ‘I would hire them again, and I will be scared if they left,’ then you’re not ready to move on. You need to work harder at teaching them what they need to know.”

The extra time you invest in improving employees actually has a much bigger impact than that individual. You’re actually benefiting your company.

“To continually make your company better, you have to continually educate and train people,” Johnson says. “That’s why we’re successful, and it’s why we’re going to be successful tomorrow. It is having good people and continuing to work with them and listen to them.”

How to reach: Fidelitone Logistics, (866) 252-9426 or www.fidelitone.com

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Balancing big and small

You could say Nicholas Saraniti’s company has split personalities. From the inside, it looks like a growing corporation with high-tech systems and structures. But looking in on Commcare Pharmacy from a customer’s perspective, it seems like the same small company it’s always been.

That balance is intentional, and Saraniti’s challenge as CEO is maintaining it so customers can’t see the difference between 2005 revenue of $7.3 million and 2008 revenue of $56.7 million.

“It does you no good to bring on an extra couple million dollars’ worth of business if you can’t continue to provide service at the same level you do today,” says Saraniti, who leads 60 employees at the pharmacy. “You will hurt yourselves in the long run by not providing the high level of service that your clients have come to depend upon.”

Smart Business spoke to Saraniti about balancing the internal structures that growth brings with the personal service only a small company can provide.

Serve like a small company. From your clients’ perspective, they tend to like that small mom-and-pop, family-owned business feel. They think they get better service. People know their names; they put a face on the business. Maintaining that as you grow and expand is probably the most difficult thing we do.

So internally, you’ve added all these controls and you have policy and procedure and regulation that govern how you do certain things. But from the outside, you don’t want it to look like that. You don’t want to look like a big corporate Microsoft. You want to look like the family drugstore on the corner to your customers.

First of all, we give them a dedicated internal contact here. So they have a troubleshooter that works for them inside the pharmacy and they help them navigate the entire process from beginning to end.

Anytime I have a meeting with my staff, I always remind them that in our personal lives, we’ve all been on the other side of health care, and it was horrible, and we were treated like children and nobody told us anything that was going on. We don’t ever want one of our customers leaving here feeling that way, and we reinforce that continuously.

It means maybe making your (corporation) more transparent so your customers aren’t involved in any of the bureaucracy that comes along with that. Here we use a lot of technology to make that happen.

So maybe up on their computer screen when [employees] type in a patient’s name, it pops up all the communication that’s occurred from anybody within our organization and that client within the last couple of months. If their birthday was last month, they could see that immediately and mention that to them. Keeping all that information readily available in one place enables my employees to build those personal relationships.

But one of the things we haven’t done — and we won’t do — is automate our phone system. You never call our business and get some sort of automated voice response attendant. I hate those. Everybody hates those. People use those because they don’t want to talk to their customers.

... We’ve chosen, instead of doing that, to hire more expensive and more employees to answer the phones by hand and physically take those phone calls. From a customer’s perspective, that’s a great thing because they get to talk to another human and explain their problems to another human, not leave it on a voice mail or have to press 16 digits every time they call us.

Improve internal structures. Employees like structure. Typically, they do better if they know exactly what’s expected and exactly what to do. I find that involving them in the process of why the changes are happening makes things go much, much easier, not just delegating these changes to them.

We also use that same kind of technology whenever we have a change in our work flow. We’ll obviously meet with the employees. We’ll explain to them, ‘This is the change; most importantly, this is why we’re making this change.’ And on top of that, we will put some check in place technologywise to ensure that those changes are actually occurring. Maybe it’s as simple as a reminder just saying, ‘Hey, did you put a customer care survey in this box?’ Or maybe it’s something more serious, along the lines of, ‘We’re not even going to let you print a shipping label for this yet because there’s no proof in the system that you’ve talked to this patient yet today.’

We involve our employees in the process as much as we can in the decision-making process. When they ask questions, give them truthful answers. Don’t just tell them to do this and do that. Take the extra time to explain to them, ‘This is why we’re going to do things this way now. This is what we’re hoping to accomplish. Become part of the team and let’s do it together.’

Limit changes. When we’re planning our growth, we look at not only how our process works today but how it would work if we had twice as much business. So we’re not constantly having to go back and redo policy or work flow over and over and over again with employees.

Going from one physical business to two locations was a huge jump for us, and we made lots of changes to accommodate for a second location. When we made lots of those changes, we didn’t account for ever needing a third location. So we basically had to go back and redo everything we had just done. So when we added that third one then, we made sure that as we added future ones on, the systems were in place so that they wouldn’t have to be redesigned.

Just [take] a couple extra days or a couple extra weeks, a little extra thought before you actually implement something. Look at how it would work if you had twice as much business as you do today or twice as many locations as you do today, and take that into account.

How to reach: Commcare Pharmacy, (954) 332-6170 or www.commcarepharmacy.com

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

The power within

You’d probably think Tom Vadnais’ search for successors means that he’s ready to retire and usher in his replacement. Right?

Wrong. It’s just always been one of his priorities to propel employees up their career paths. In fact, it was one of the earliest tasks he tackled when he became CEO at ValueClick Inc. in May 2007.

“One of the first things I do in any company is learn who are the top performers in that business,” he says. “I try to develop them so they’ll be ready to take my job when I move to something else.”

Vadnais joined ValueClick when it acquired Mediaplex, where he was president and CEO, in October 2001. He stayed on as the general manager of the subsidiary. He later took a similar role to integrate another acquisition into the online marketing company — but not before promoting one of his employees to replace him. When he moved on from that division, he bumped another employee into that lead role, as well.

But if his commitment to internal promotion ended there, the successful chain of replacements would fizzle out. Instead, by cascading his philosophy down to his managers, Vadnais makes his focus on employee development part of the culture at ValueClick. It creates an environment where employees are driven to set goals and motivated to constantly improve.

Some leaders might take that as a threat. Some would look cautiously over their shoulder, anxious about someone sneaking up on their title.

“You just can’t worry about that,” Vadnais says. “If you’re worried about that, you’re too insecure to do the job well.”

Instead, he focuses on honing his employees’ leadership skills to make ValueClick better and position it to keep getting better in the future.

“Everybody knows pretty well that the way I function is promotion from within,” he says. “It’s our job to be developing people so they’re ready for these jobs.”

Find potential leaders

First, you have to know who your top performers are so you can prepare them for advancement. To get an accurate picture of your employees’ performance and capabilities, you have to measure them on various scales and from multiple perspectives.

“You try to have a blend of both quantitative objectives and the more subjective sorts of judgments and roll all those together to determine the overall performance level,” Vadnais says.

You want to evaluate employees’ current leadership abilities to deduce their future capabilities. For Vadnais, this starts with an evaluation of their problem-solving skills.

Consider how often employees ask for assistance in their current role. If they need frequent oversight to make decisions for 15 people, they’re probably not ready to handle 50. Your future leaders, however, can work independently and confidently without hand-holding.

Knowing how important communication is in his role, Vadnais also evaluates employees’ communication skills by watching how comfortable they are delivering messages.

“You may ask them to give a speech at the next company meeting about the new product that they just announced,” Vadnais says. “You see how they perform there: Were they effective? Were they convincing? Did the audience buy in to what they were doing?”

You should also look for employees who are highly motivated to advance. Sometimes, the search becomes a two-way street because these people may approach you.

“Those are the people that many times come to you and say, ‘Hey, what do I have to do to get ahead here?’” Vadnais says. “If they’re motivated to get ahead, then they become good students, good listeners, good learners of the skills necessary to do that.”

But you can’t base decisions solely on your opinion of people’s traits. When Vadnais examines managers, he also turns to their employees, gathering input through anonymous surveys that ask them to evaluate their leaders. Sure, those ratings are still subjective, but they’re more measurable than your independent appraisal.

“You’re always finding something that you can look at to try to assess what that performance is, as opposed to just being totally subjective,” he says. “You always want to try to find some metrics that give you some support to that.”

The results of an employee’s department are a good starting point to measure their performance objectively. But unless a position is specifically tied to achieving certain revenue, for example, you usually can’t hold one person responsible for the business results.

You also have to understand the context of those metrics by weighing results against the rest of the company and the marketplace. You have to know what employees are up against, because especially in this economy, financial downtrends shouldn’t automatically infer poor leadership.

“Everybody can do well when the environment is good,” Vadnais says. “But when the environment is not so good, you sometimes find out who your best leaders are because they’re the people who make the best out of a not particularly good situation.”

Prepare employees for leadership

It doesn’t do much good if you just identify your top performers and then sit on the sidelines. The next step is polishing their skills to prepare them for leadership positions down the road.

First, of course, you need to let them know they’re on your radar. Acknowledge their potential and find out what they want to achieve so you can help them achieve it. Although this goal setting is a mutual process, you can’t set career goals for someone else. It has to start with the employees, so begin by asking what they would like to be doing in three, five and 10 years.

“If I don’t know what their goals are, I can’t do that much to help them,” Vadnais says. “Once you have that feedback, then [your] job is to give them feedback on how they could achieve those goals.”

Your appraisal of employees’ leadership potential should have already signaled their strengths and weaknesses. Match those against the skills and capabilities required in the positions they’re eyeing. Then you can either discuss the areas they need to improve or suggest roles that may be a better fit. And, of course, let them know what kind of training is available.

“Once you understand those goals, it’s important then that you communicate with your employee as to what you’re doing to help them achieve those goals,” Vadnais says, adding that feedback and training are the best tools you have to develop employees.

Of course, that means you have to keep tabs on the employees to see whether they’re actively improving those skills. You have to stay in touch with them and keep measuring them with the scales you used to first identify them.

The key is staying in sync on their goals and their progress toward achieving them.

“You’ve had that kind of dialogue, so one day, you call them into your office and say, ‘Congratulations, I’m promoting you to this position,’” Vadnais says. “That shouldn’t be a big surprise.”

Encourage managers to follow suit

To support your focus on promoting from within, you need to cascade it through the company.

Start by b

eing consistent with your commitment to it. Vadnais’ track record shows proof of his preference for promoting from within, especially when it comes to management positions.

That kind of consistency will back up the message when you encourage managers to follow your lead and prepare their employees.

“It has to start with an awareness and recognition of the need to develop people,” Vadnais says. “When I talk to my general managers, for example, I will ask them, ‘How is so-and-so doing?’ Or if I don’t know their people that well, I would say, ‘Tell me who your best person is in this department or in this function.’”

Because ValueClick is part of a high-growth field, the company is frequently hiring — and moving people around internally — to fill new positions. Though the economy has slowed that cycle, the general pattern of growth necessitates that management stay aware of candidates who are ready for the next level.

When managers keep an eye on future leaders, they’ll make their jobs easier down the road. If you have candidates in mind for certain positions — and prepare them by developing their skills — you won’t have to worry about bringing future hires up to speed with the business or wonder whether they’ll perform like their resumes suggest.

“When we have a management opening, the first question I always ask is, ‘Who in your organization is the most qualified person for us to promote into that position?’” Vadnais says. “And it’s rare that I get an answer of, ‘We don’t have anybody.’”

Vadnais tries to visit ValueClick’s various offices as often as he can to interact with employees and gather both objective and subjective data about their performance. But with 1,200 employees worldwide, he can’t identify all the potential in the company by himself.

“You may have an opinion of an individual because you see them twice a year in a meeting or you talk to them once a month on the phone, but that opinion is not enough to make a key business decision on,” Vadnais says. “So if you don’t spend enough time with them to know them well, then you should be getting a lot of advice before you make a decision.”

Because your managers are closer to their employees than you may be, they’re a better judge of who’s ready for a promotion. But when you encourage managers to prepare future leaders, you also have to trust them to do so.

First, recognize that your managers may not be measuring employees against the same scales you would. They have a better idea of the skills necessary to run their division, so they may value different traits in their future replacements.

“I don’t expect them to use every tool that I use or think the way I think,” Vadnais says. “What I’m more concerned with is: Will that person be the right person for the job in that division? If the general manager is convinced, unless I have some very strong evidence to the contrary, I’m going to side with them.”

Still, you should test why the manager is making that choice. Don’t just take his or her word for it; ask the manager to explain what the employee has done that indicates superior performance and leadership potential.

If you consistently identify top performers and attentively develop their skills — and encourage your managers to do the same — you’ll not only create a domino effect of internal promotions but you’ll also foster a culture where employees strive to be those top performers and to improve themselves.

“This is part of the way that we operate,” says Vadnais, whose company reported 2008 revenue of $625.8 million. “That never changes. They know there will be goals. They know we will measure those goals. They know we will recognize the leaders who achieve their objectives at the highest level.”

How to reach: ValueClick Inc., (818) 575-4500 or www.valueclick.com

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

The voice of change

The path that carried BullsEye Telecom Inc. to its 10-year milestone this year has been full of dips, twists and turns. But Bill Oberlin, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, relies on his customers like a compass, using their feedback to reveal new directions for the telecommunications solutions provider.

“If you ask people around here what’s the real constant, they would probably say change,” Oberlin says. “We have to adapt [to make] the customers happy.”

When Oberlin monitors how his 140 employees interact with customers, he tackles two tasks at once. He listens to the customers to gauge their satisfaction and to the employees to measure the service they provide. Then he tries to bridge the gap.

“Ensure your customers are satisfied,” he says. “Do everything you can to make them satisfied, because it costs too much to replace them.”

Oberlin’s approach has kept the company nimble and led it to 2008 revenue of about $65 million.

Smart Business spoke with Oberlin about staying in touch with your customers through your employees.

Monitor customer service. The major thing that any company should be watching is their own customers and the degree of customer satisfaction that they have. You have to listen every day to your customers.

Our executive staff — including me and directors, plus the people who are managing these accounts — all monitor calls. Every month, we have a different person we monitor. What we’re looking for there is what is it that we’re doing to satisfy customers and what could we do to impact it?

Not only do we pick up teeny little issues that we ought to have some training done on — how to present a new feature or something like that — but we pick up what customers are saying they need. Instead of getting it washed down by staff as it bubbles through the organization, it’s much better for us to get closer to the customer.

Are we formal enough with them, even though they may know their first name and be close to them [or] may have handled them for five years? [Do we] still treat them with respect? They’re our customers. Make sure that we thank them for their business. Make sure we tell them what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it.

My big thing is if you tell a customer you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do it for some reason, at least you should tell the customer. Tell them that you haven’t forgotten about them, that you’re following up. The worst thing for a customer is to expect something to be done and then they don’t hear anything. It does two things: No. 1, they think you’re not doing anything. And No. 2, it causes another call, and then you’re right back to where you started. I call it closing the loop. Make sure that we do what we say we’re going to do, and we do it on time.

Pinpoint problems. We hear what the customers hear, but we might find a problem with it. Like, ‘I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow,’ doesn’t sound bad to the customer. But it is bad if they should have known the answer to the question. So we pick up a lot in monitoring that we want to add to training. We want to isolate that for the whole group because it’s a question we’ve heard more than once or twice.

It’s highlighted by monitoring as to whether or not the whole group needs training on a new product or down to the individual level, where we heard something that says this person really doesn’t know how this works. We know that just from the repetition of monitoring. If it comes up all the time, you know it’s a problem that everybody needs to be trained on.

If it’s something we hear constantly, more likely a product or something that we’re not able to give them quickly via our system, we’ll say, ‘Hey, we need to enhance the system to make sure that our customers are satisfied right then and there on the phone.’

[If] we see that all of our account managers are having trouble describing this new product or how we do this particular thing, this way of processing an order, we’ll make that part of training.

It comes down to either [that or] it’s an individual issue that we hear on monitoring, and we’ll give them remedial training. Sometimes it is as simple as, ‘There are a lot of long pauses where you’re probably looking in the system or you’re thinking about something. But you’re spending time with a customer that you don’t need to. In those cases, maybe it’s better if you do call them back with an answer if you can’t get it right away.’

Share your results. For the top staff in the company to spend the time listening, it really helps. Not only does it help what we’re trying to do, which is customer satisfaction, but the people that are in finance, they very rarely know what customers are saying. It’s really an eye-opener for them. It really allows them to understand customers more.

We go over these monitorings in our meetings. Now, not everybody will listen to the whole monitoring, because that might have been 30 minutes or more. But everybody [hears], ‘This is what we need to work on.’ That’s what gets passed into training.

We don’t take all these monitorings and share it with the whole company so that Sally Jones’ bad call is shared by everybody. What we do is I find out that Sally Jones doesn’t know something about a product. That gets to account management, and they’ll talk to that employee or they’ll add training.

We are sending the monitoring down lower and lower in the company so more people can hear it. Not enough people in the company understand the value of a customer, what customers are saying, what customers want, and how hard it is to match up what customers want and what we provide.

How to reach: BullsEye Telecom Inc., (877) 438-2855 or www.bullseyetelecom.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Striving to be better

When Tony Argiz was rising through the ranks of his accounting and consulting firm, he took every evaluation seriously. If just one employee criticized him, he would devote the next year to improving that aspect of his leadership style.

Now as CEO and managing partner of Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra LLP, he encourages his 261 employees to seek progress in their career paths, as well.

“Obviously, they’re our No. 1 asset. It starts with our employees,” says Argiz, who led the company to fiscal 2008 revenue of $60.2 million. “If our employees aren’t happy and they’re not developing, we can’t really grow, and clients are going to not be satisfied.”

Argiz uses employees’ personality profiles to pair them with mentors and to deliver their evaluations. All the while, he stays in touch on a personal level to see how they’re tracking.

Smart Business spoke to Argiz about guiding your employees toward development.

Match mentors by personality. At the time of hire, we do a personality index on the individual. It’s called a predictive index. From 120 questions, it gives you four main components of the employees: whether they have leadership skills, whether they’re introverted or extroverted, whether they’re multitasked, and whether they’re detailed.

We determine: Is she going to be a business development person? Is it someone that is going to be more technical? We look at their strengths and try to gear them in developing their careers based on that personality index.

You use the input from the mentor’s PI and you also look at the new employee’s PI to match them based on personality. If their predictive index indicates that that employee is quite extroverted, that might be someone that we could develop as a business development [person]. They’re going to try to match that person with a mentor that’s been successful in the business development area. Or if that employee shows that they’re very detailed and multitasked and introverted, they might go to someone that’s highly technical.

One supervisor might have five mentees. They will go to lunch with them once a month and try to give them ideas: ‘What are your problems? What are you doing to succeed in your career? Are you getting your MBA? Are you studying for your CPA exam? Do you want to develop in other areas?’ Try to get that information upfront so that employees’ development path can be monitored and assisted.

We do it on a 12-month basis, so they have the ability every year to select someone else that they feel might have more of their traits. The only rules are that it be in the same department. You don’t want a mentor for an auditor to be in the tax department, because they really don’t work with each other. It has to be a supervisor that’s constantly working with that employee so they can help them through their careers on a day-to-day basis.

Evaluate employees’ progress. We try to make sure that they’re evaluated after each job and that that evaluation is discussed with them. Beyond that, at the annual basis, there’s a self-evaluation and also you evaluate your supervisors, and they evaluate you. It’s important information to read and stay up to date with so you can react and make adjustments.

As an example, for communication skills, the leadership evaluation [asks], ‘Keeps my team and others informed. Expresses thoughts clearly and forcefully. Is an active listener seeking to fully understand the meanings of others’ communication.’ Every supervisor and manager is graded on a possible score of 4 to a 1.

Say a supervisor ranks very low in the communication skills. You’re going to sit with them and get some feedback from the employees that work with that manager: How can the communication skills of that manager improve?

Say, ‘If I were to do this next time around, these are some of the techniques that I would use.’ Do it through a learning experience. Sit with that individual and give them some feedback as to how they can become more efficient and effective in doing that work next year. You’ve got to be constructive, but be honest with the individual, too. Ask them what they did [and] what they should be doing.

If a person’s got the leadership trait when they do the predictive index, you’re going to let them take it on their own a lot easier than if you’re talking to someone that draws on the left of the axis when it comes to leadership. They’re more of a follower. Knowing the strength of that individual on the predictive index, you’re going to go, ‘This person’s a leader,’ you just feed them the information. The person that’s more to the left of the axis on the leadership trait, you’re going to sit with them and go, ‘Here’s how it should be done.’ They want you to give them the road map.

Stay in touch. A lot of the problems with the employees don’t necessarily come up to the top. You don’t want them dying at the employee level. [It takes] constant communication with the employees to get that feedback. Don’t play the CEO role; play a humble role and communicate with the employee so you can fully understand what their problems are.

Lunch is probably one of the best places to really get them free of stress and let them open up. I try to … not have a meeting that’s set up on a certain time and ends by another time. Let people have a constant communication and jump around in questioning so you can, at the end of the conversation — however long it lasts — get a true feeling of how that employee feels about the firm and their progress.

It’s important to take it out of the office. In the office, you’ve got the phone, the e-mail, various things that are going to draw your attention, so outside of the office is always critical to get the employees relaxed and feel that you’re giving them 100 percent of your time.

How to reach: Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra LLP, (305) 373-5500 or www.mbafcpa.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

A living example

The 10-year trek from manager to investor to owner hasn’t bloated Stacy Hastie’s ego. He knows he can get further by leading his team laterally than he can by charging ahead.

Since Hastie took control of Environmental Operations Inc. in 2002, he personalized the company’s mission. To him, “We do what we say we’ll do,” means he does what he asks employees to do.

He works side by side with employees to set an example at the company, which provides environmental consulting and contracting services as well as demolition and waste management.

“I walk in every day with a can-do attitude,” says the chairman and CEO. “That’s the only way to keep reminding them. You have to live it every day.”

The work force has grown to 150 people from 60 in 2002. And since 2004, revenue has rocketed from $7 million to more than $50 million.

Smart Business spoke with Hastie about setting an example for your company culture and bringing employees on board with passion.

Lead with passion. You all have to share in the same mission. If you don’t have buy-in from 100 percent, it’s next to impossible to grow a company. You need universal buy-in.

First of all, you’ve got to be able to sell it. And you can’t sell it by just speaking it. You have to live it, and they have to see you living it.

You have to lose a few, and they have to see you losing a few to really believe it. They’ve seen me lose a few where we lost pretty big dollars. But we still did what we said we would do. They need to see you in the bad times, too, not just the good times.

You need to stay positive. I’ve been calling the last few months, instead of an economic downturn, this is opportunity for us. So I’m kind of spinning it and they’re seeing it.

You don’t lose sight of your mission. You remain passionate and persistent. And you have to do that day in and day out. If you’re starting to second-guess yourself, it will start trickling down.

You can’t tell them you’re passionate. They have to sense and see you being passionate. You have to be sincere about it. They just see how excited I get when we come up with a good solution on a challenging project or how active our company is and I am in the community.

Work side by side. Secondly, you also have to do your best to train them and work side by side with them. Not just you and them one on one, but you and them with your client, maybe with the financial institution, with all parties involved in a transaction so they can see how you react in a meeting and how you read people and how you ask questions.

You need to know what the hot buttons are, and you need to understand how to ask the right questions to get the answers that you need so you can get that understanding. That just comes from experience. So I try to share my experience with everybody.

[You build trust] by not asking them to do something that you will not do. They see me working as hard as they do, if not harder, leading by example.

Our executive team, all of them have been in front of me with multiple clients. I call it baptism by fire. I make sure that they’re very active in the process. I don’t try to dominate it. You want to give them ownership. The first deal that they enhanced and facilitated, it’s a rewarding feeling for me because it’s very rewarding for them.

Gauge buy-in by attitude. Seeing is believing. They need to work side by side with you — at least on a few deals, I mean five, 10, 20 — and see how we approach the project. You can sit there and tell them what to do all day long, but the only way is to show them and let them experience it personally, sitting next to you. Then they see how it works, and it’s like a light bulb goes off all of a sudden.

It’s easy to tell by their performance, first of all, and it’s easy to tell if they have buy-in just by their overall attitude on a daily basis.

I evaluate the solutions that they’re bringing to me. You can tell a lot by those solutions.

If they’re coming in with a solution that is very expensive and it’s pretty obvious that there’s a less costly solution that may not make as much money for our company but it would save the client more money, they’re not bought in.

You can only work with them so long. If that type of performance continues, they don’t belong here. Do we kick them out the door the first time or two? No. You have to evaluate the person’s personality, their attitude, what you believe their capability is. That factors into how long you’re going to keep them here. Somebody you may give 90 days to buy in; somebody you may give three years to buy in.

Maybe they didn’t come up with the best solution but once you bring it up, they run with it gladly. You’re going to give that person a little more time. The person that fights you and doesn’t appreciate your critical analysis and doesn’t look at it as learning, that person’s going to be short-lived here.

Let them go. I don’t know how you can grow and micromanage. If you do grow and micromanage, I don’t know how you’re going to sustain growth or be successful.

You make sure they’re prepared before you release them. Once you release them, you’ve got to let them do it. You’ve got to let them make their own mistakes, and you’ve got to let them make their own successes.

Of course, if there’s a gross mistake going on, you need to bring it up and discuss it with your staff or the individual that’s working on it. But you’ve got to let them go with it, no matter how hard that is. Otherwise, you’re not going to continue to grow your entire organization.

How to reach: Environmental Operations Inc., (314) 241-0900 or www.environmentalops.com

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Helping employees help you

Lynne Wines wants to develop her employees, but there’s a catch.

They have to help her grow, too.

So the CEO of CNLBank’s South Florida region, which claims 32 of the company’s 225 employees, looks for team players. She expects them to call out her mistakes, just like she does to help them improve.

She cultivates that culture by setting an example. Although she’s not perfect, she relies on her team members to fill in the gaps.

“Look for mentors on every level,” says Wines, whose region has $275 million in deposits as of June 30. “You can learn from people that are a lot more experienced than you, and you can learn from people that work for you. Being open to that process is an important part of my development.”

Smart Business spoke to Wines about setting the pace for your culture of teamwork and interdependence — and improving yourself in the process.

Find team players. Having the right people around you that tell you when you’re crazy or tell you when you’re wrong is very important. From my husband and my son to the people that I’ve worked with for a long time, I count on them to tell me when I’m wrong or when I’m not seeing the whole picture or when I’m not necessarily thinking clearly and I’m maybe thinking too emotionally or haven’t looked at all the facts. I count on all the people I work with to point that out to me. Part of their responsibility is to tell me when I miss something.

I’ve always been a big believer in building a team that complements each other but that are not necessarily alike, so we create interdependence amongst each other. We create an environment where we rely on each other to cover our backs. You find that by figuring out … who’s self-serving and who’s a servant leader.

If somebody tells you about their mentor, you can usually tell if they are willing to credit somebody else with some of their success or whether they have to own all the credit. Generally, if somebody has to own all the credit, they’re not going to be willing to mentor others or be mentored by others or be a good team player. So that’s a good question to ask, ‘How have you been mentored?’

Build interdependence. That comes by building the right culture of open communication and respect for each other. So I wouldn’t call anybody else out in public and embarrass them, and I wouldn’t expect somebody to do that to me. But if I thought one of my employees made a mistake, I have a responsibility to point it out to them because I have a responsibility to try to teach them to grow and improve. They have that same responsibility to me. It’s really building a culture of respect and interdependence and teamwork.

It absolutely starts at the top. If somebody comes to me with a solution, I will say, ‘Have you checked with the other three people on the team?’ Over time, they get that they’re not even going to bother to come to me with a suggestion or a solution until they’ve already checked with the other three people. That’s how you build teamwork. They start to learn that they’re going to be more successful if they work as a team than if they work independently.

Set the pace for your culture. Most people are reluctant, particularly if they’ve come from an organization where that wasn’t the culture. Culture takes time to develop; you don’t turn on a light switch and say, ‘OK, now we have a new culture.’ Over time, you open the door to communication.

I’ve done it by sometimes revealing things about myself — not necessarily terribly intimate but just admitting your own mistakes. I usually let people know that I have made a lot of mistakes and I’m not going to kill anybody for making a mistake.

[When someone makes a mistake], I might find an opportunity to talk casually and maybe mention that I did that the same thing once and this is how I went about changing it or this is what I learned from it. Making somebody feel bad doesn’t do anybody any good and doesn’t help the organization.

It’s just letting people know that you’ve got their back as much as expecting them to have your back. If they do make a mistake, you know what? We’ve made the mistake together because we’re a team, and we’re going to fix it together, and we’re going to figure out how to move on together.

It’s passing down credit. Pushing credit for successes down into the organization — and not owning credit yourself — breeds more success.

Make yourself approachable. We’re big believers in the five-minute walk around the office rule. You get as much accomplished by stopping in and asking someone how their weekend was and leaning against their doorway as you do in formal meetings.

I try to remember their kids’ names. If they don’t have kids, I try to remember their pets’ names. That’s what’s important to people. It breaks down barriers when you use people’s names as opposed to just, ‘How’s the kid?’ or something.

I just try to, without being intrusive and certainly not asking anything about anybody’s personal life, sometimes share something about my weekend, which would make somebody open up more about their weekend.

I’m actually a very private person and my nature is to be very introverted. But part of my job is to be more of an extrovert, so that’s something that I work at very diligently: to try to be open. It can be whatever we did over the weekend; it can be a restaurant that was good, anything that just breaks down barriers and makes you human.

It comes from practice. It also comes from having people around you that you trust, which I’m very fortunate to have. You put yourself out there and you force yourself to be in positions where you may not be totally comfortable. But it’s part of the learning. It’s part of challenging yourself.

How to reach: CNLBank, (561) 961-2460 or www.cnlbank.com

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

On the same page

Michael J. Brunner knows his clients feel the pinch of the economy. And he wants to avoid their cutting-room floors.

So the CEO of Brunner, an advertising agency with 185 employees, needs to make sure he’s meeting clients’ needs. That comes from aligning his efforts with their expectations.

“Every client has different needs,” says Brunner, whose company saw $24 million in 2008 revenue. “So it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we are doing the best job we can to make sure we know exactly what those needs are.”

Smart Business spoke to Brunner about aligning yourself with your clients’ needs.

Q. How do you stay aware of clients’ needs?

It’s always a discussion. If we can’t get it to be crystal clear, we will keep asking questions. We will ask them, ‘What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? What do you want your marketing to do? Where do you feel that it has come up short?’ Those are all exploratory questions, which will ultimately lead us to what we are trying to do. The whole point of this discussion is to be connected to them at that point.

And, of course, everything’s annualized. So I’m not talking [about] the vision of the company, ‘Where do you want to be in three years?’ That’s helpful in a discussion, but what I’m focusing on is this year — what is it that you need to do; what is it that you want to do?

Q. How do you align yourself with your clients’ needs?

It significantly improves the relationship if you both have the same objectives. So what we try to do is link part of our compensation to the company’s main objective or initiative. In doing so, you have perfect alignment and you’re not cross-purposed.

Part of that compensation is based exactly on how we have performed for you. It’s two-way; they rate us, and we rate them. A relationship is just that — it’s more than one person. If the evaluation just goes in one direction, I don’t think it’s nearly as beneficial. That allows for constructive criticism from each side, and that’s a way of definitely improving how you work.

When we first start working with the client, we explain our approach. So it’s not as though we get into this and then it’s a curveball and they’re not familiar with it. You could define service a hundred different ways, so what if your definition and my definition are extremely far apart? It forces you to have that discussion upfront about what is it that we’re trying to accomplish. The more you can align your organization against that, the better chance you have for success.

We cannot go in with our [evaluation] tool, our information, our system and say, ‘Let’s work together.’ That doesn’t sound like an us — that sounds like a me. But if I sit down with you and I say, ‘Let’s work together. Here’s a tool. Here’s a starting point. What do you think works; what do you think doesn’t?’ And then we come to an agreement about each of the areas; you’ve got a stake in the game.

Sometimes we would throw that out the window and we would start based on whatever’s important to the organization that we’re working with.

You have to agree on [the metrics]. There is really no chance for misalignment because before you can measure it, you have to develop what they are. We have to know what we’re trying to achieve.

Q. How does that evaluation work?

We break the service aspect down into a number of different attributes. Those attributes are rated and then there’s an opportunity for added comments. Then they’re tallied, they’re charted, and we sit down and we discuss it. We do the same thing going the other way.

It’s one thing writing it and sending it over in an e-mail. It’s a completely different thing when you have to say, ‘Can you share where we did not meet your standard based on this comment or these results?’ It’s as simple as, ‘Why did we get a 3 here?’ ‘Well, here’s why you got a 3.’ Without the tool: ‘How are we doing?’ ‘You’re doing fine.’ That’s usually not a good signal.

It’s not wrapped around a person — it’s wrapped around that subject. You have a chance to talk about it: ‘Well, how can we improve this? How can we make this better?’

Q. How do you establish an open-evaluation environment?

The first thing you do is you lead the way, meaning [dishonesty and personal attacks] are out of bounds for you. We can’t do that if we don’t want you to do that.

The entire operating premise is building on a valuable long-term relationship. If the other side is not interested in that, then forget this. This won’t work. So I already have a long-term mindset. If you don’t, this won’t work. But I can get you to think that there’s value to this because people don’t want to be working with a different agency every other day.

This has to be a relationship built on trust; there has to be information supplied. I have to know that sales were down last month; we are not accomplishing what we need to accomplish. I’ll know that because I’ll be monitoring that at the same time you are, therefore I can do something about it.

But without the clearly mutually agreed and specific objectives upfront, those things cannot happen. It’s a whole lot better to sit down at the beginning of the year and lay out the specifics so they know and you know.

How to reach: Brunner, (412) 995-9500 or www.brunnerworks.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Knocking down walls

Jeffrey Foreman is never too far from his BlackBerry. So if one of his lawyers who is working from home calls him with an urgent question in the middle of the night, he’s accessible.

Foreman, president and one of the founding partners of Maltzman Foreman PA, strives to make himself approachable. To do that, he’s torn down the ivory tower that sometimes separates employees from their leaders.

“As soon as you start isolating yourself from your employees, then you become vulnerable,” says Foreman, who guided the law firm to 2008 revenue of $6 million.

Foreman gets on the same level as his 45 employees by holding himself to the same expectations, staying accessible and interacting socially outside of the office.

Additionally, when there’s a dispute, Foreman avoids stepping in to dictate the resolution. Instead, he lets employees handle it themselves.

Through it all, he maintains an environment of open communication at the firm.

Smart Business spoke with Foreman about how to knock down the walls of hierarchy and be approachable to your employees.

Lead by example. First of all, we show them the vision and show that it’s achievable and show them our achievements. [I do this by] leading by example and never asking an employee to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. If I’m not willing to do it myself, then I shouldn’t expect others to do it. If I expect somebody to bill 2,000 hours, then I’m going to bill 2,000 hours.

So by me setting the bar, it shows that that bar can be accomplished by somebody. I’m not asking somebody to do something that’s incapable of being accomplished, and I show that by doing it myself.

I’m not going to not come into work or bill no time and expect my employees to do all the work. It makes it hard to ask them to do something and creates resentment.

So when you have a new employee, if they were to say, ‘Well, I can’t bill that many hours,’ you say, ‘Well, you can because I do it, and everybody else here does it.’

Keep the lines of communication open. I have an open-door policy. I am accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except if I’m on an airplane when I don’t have access to my phone or BlackBerry. Anybody that works with me knows that they can pretty much get me. As long as somebody’s not calling me at 2 in the morning to say hello but they’re calling me at 2 in the morning because they have a question that’s work-related, I don’t mind being woken up if I happen to be sleeping.

To have a successful firm that is essentially dealing with clients around the world, I recognize that you have to be accessible and sometimes provide answers at any hour of the day.

Interact outside of the office. Some people build a wall and there’s that fictitious wall where somebody may feel that it’s inappropriate to contact the CEO. So I think that interacting, even on a social level with all of the employees regardless of their social position, [is key].

So even if it’s sitting down in the employee cafeteria and eating lunch with them, it’s building the relationship and making them feel comfortable first talking to you face to face. Then that builds the comfort and the assurance that they can call you whenever they need to if there’s a problem.

One of the things that we do, for example, with our lawyers is we might take them on a retreat out of town so we’re out of the office and we build that comfort with them. It could be anything, whether it’s taking them out on a boat on a weekend and letting them know that it’s OK to joke around, to drop the formalities. If they feel comfortable with you, they’ll feel comfortable talking to you.

You spend so much time working with the people around you. I just think that it’s better if you know where everybody’s coming from, their life outside of the office. It makes it easier to understand each individual and what makes them tick.

Don’t butt in to disputes. Occasionally, there may be a difference of opinion, difference of personality. Let’s say an associate would come to me and say, ‘I can’t work with Partner A anymore.’ What we would try and do is if we felt that that individual was a good talent, if we couldn’t reconcile the two of them, then we might consider making a change.

But everything is not done arbitrarily. I don’t just say, ‘OK, this is what’s going to be.’ I listen.

Being a good listener means keeping an open mind, hearing what the employees are saying to you, whether it means acknowledging what they’re saying during the conversation, whether it means contemplating it and then thereafter making a change.

I sit down and listen to what everybody has to say, and I usually will try and get everybody else to come up with a solution. If everybody else signs on or buys in to that decision, then they’re going to be happier than if I just say, ‘OK, you’re going to work here and you’re going to work there, like it or not.’

[To get] everybody to talk out in the open, ask them, ‘What would you like? What would you like? What’s the solution?’ If it’s something that works for the firm, then they’ve made the decision.

If you are arbitrarily making decisions that affect others within the company, then inevitably you’re opening the door for unhappiness. Somebody is going to be unhappy with the decision.

If you [let] all that are involved come up with a resolution with my assistance or on their own, you’re going to have less unhappiness, less dissension. I think that they appreciate it more than me just saying, ‘Look, I heard you. I’m going to side with him,’ or, ‘I’m not going to side with you,’ or, ‘I’m not going to side with either of you. This is what’s going to be.’ Then you have unhappiness.

It comes down to, ‘If you guys can’t work it out amongst yourselves, then we’re going to have to make a decision, myself or the firm’s executive committee.’

How to reach: Maltzman Foreman PA, (305) 358-6555 or www.mflegal.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote PC sticks together

James R. Miller is trying to keep up with a rapidly growing family.

When he joined Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote PC in 1974, the law firm claimed about a dozen attorneys.

Now, as chairman, president and CEO, Miller presides over 378 employees and eight satellite offices.

“It was almost like a family,” he says. “I try to still make it feel like we are a close-knit group. I don’t think you can as much as you would like, but it may be a trickle-down effect.”

Smart Business spoke with Miller about how to keep a family environment as your company grows.

Q. How do you connect with employees?

I try to do it by letting them know that I’m just like them and I was a young associate at one time. I try to make them feel at ease and let them know that they shouldn’t view me as the senior shareholder or president of the law firm; I’m someone who has gone through what they’re going through and understands it. I try to put them at ease so we can communicate on a one-to-one level.

It’s maybe some initial talk about things other than the law or what areas you’re focusing in on, knowing their likes or dislikes and connecting on a more personal level. The other thing is having an outing for the employees and their families outside the work environment. For example, we have a Kennywood day [every] July. You get to know people outside the work environment, and you get to communicate and interact with their families.

Q. How do you communicate with employees?

One of the things that I’ve learned being the president and CEO is that even making the most basic decisions, there always seems to be some unexpected or unintended reaction or take on what you’ve done or suggested. What you need to do is be totally honest and communicate directly the rationale for the decision. Try to make sense to them about the decision, and try to erase any doubts or concerns that might crop up in their mind.

Every month, we have our shareholder meeting on one day and then we have our associates meeting the next evening and then a social hour after that. It’s something where you can communicate important decisions of the company or provide important or interesting information to them.

For example, we discuss our financial situation with them, we discuss important decisions. So it’s not just, ‘Come to this meeting,’ but it’s making them feel like they’re a part of the overall fabric of the firm. I give them meaningful information that allows them to understand what the company’s doing and what our vision is in the future.

There has to be a willingness to have a dialogue. It shouldn’t just be shareholders or owners or officers speaking to the younger employees, but there needs to be a willingness to have a give-and-take and respond to their questions and their concerns in an honest matter.

Q. What are the keys to getting messages through the whole company?

I’ve tried to be hands-on as much as I can be. I attend meetings of our various committees. But I also recognize that with some 378 people, that can’t always be done effectively. So I certainly rely on my other leaders in the firm ... to communicate directly with people that are on their committees.

The key is to be as direct and personal as possible, but recognize your limitations and then utilize the structure of the firm to take up where you can’t be.

I would directly meet with those leaders and express my thoughts and decisions so that they can know for sure what I’m thinking and how I’m approaching the situation. So I would have certainly directly communicated with them before they would meet with their committee members. I don’t expect them to take what I say word-by-word to their committee members, but what I want them to communicate is the general message. They would always have latitude to do it in the way in which they see fit.

Q. Who do you empower to carry on your messages?

People are either recognized as leaders by titles or by their work ethic and their abilities. So I certainly would not hesitate to go to somebody in the firm who might not be on the executive committee but whom I know has good communication skills and ask them, for example, to chair a meeting of associates to discuss various matters. It’s recognizing abilities and leadership qualities and not just titles.

Your perception that that person is recognized by co-workers as somebody who understands and excels in his position — that would be one way to identify such a person. But also if you could couple that with communication skills, that would be also a large part of the decision-making. Imparting decisions or thought processes about where the company’s going can be best suited to somebody who is good in communicating to others.

Language skills — how to present ideas and thoughts to a group of people — are very important. But also, I envision that there would be a back and forth, perhaps question and answer. So [look for] somebody who has not just the ability to give the initial message but somebody who understands the vision of the company and can respond to questions that are posed by other employees.

... Over time, you get a sense for people who have the abilities to communicate, understand concepts and then pass those concepts along to others.

How to reach: Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote PC, (800) 243-5412 or www.dmclaw.com