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Rob Myers thought the grass looked at least as green on the other side, so he took a leap.

He was on a stable regional banking career path at Wells Fargo & Co. after rising through the ranks to president of the South Orange County market’s retail channel.

“At that point, I realized I needed to try something a little bit different to expand my horizons and learn a different line of business,” Myers says.

With the help of Wells Fargo’s Executive Development Program, Myers went over to business banking, becoming the division manager in Southern California after a year of training.

Some may call it a meandering career path, especially since last August when Myers came back to the retail side as the regional president of Orange County Community Banking. But Myers sees veering off the traditional path — even within the same company — as a growth opportunity. Whether you’re switching business lines, taking a new position or pursuing other development opportunities, career mobility is important for enhancing skills at any level.

“If you’ve only lived that line of business (and) if either the economy dictates a change in that business or if the company dictates a change, then you become very limited in your options,” he says. “But if you expand your horizons … you become more valuable to the company.”

Myers’ development serves as an example to the 1,750 employees he manages in the region, which had $15.7 billion in deposits as of June. He encourages them to individualize their growth goals, even if that means straying from the traditional career path.

“If we are fostering an environment where we’re communicating and celebrating those successes, [like] switching business lines, then I think people realize they have the permission to explore things that will allow them to grow,” Myers says. “They’re not going to be pigeonholed. They’re not going to be stuck. It’s great for the company; it’s great for the team member.”

Plan for development

Myers’ move began with a plan, as all courses of career development should. Working with Wells Fargo since 1994, he realized his passion for small business banking. He actively researched other areas of the company that would allow him to explore that —seeking a position that would align with his passion and enhance his skills instead of just following a predetermined hierarchy.

“You have to be really careful and calculated in when and how you move,” Myers says. “To move for the sake of moving isn’t a benefit. You really have to identify what you’re passionate about and what you have skills for and what you’re doing today that’s transferrable to the job and the line of business you’re looking to go toward.”

Any kind of career development should be part of a long-term strategy around where you want to be and what you want to achieve.

“To go somewhere that isn’t congruent with what you’re doing today or where you want to go doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he says.

To instill a growth culture and help employees view development as an ongoing strategy, Wells Fargo provides tools for plotting career paths. Managers help guide direct reports through the planning process.

“Whatever your course is, if you want to be successful in the job you’re in and stay there, we have different programs and classes and trainings,” Myers says. “If you want to progress, we have made it very clear what the options are. We know that the opportunity to learn and grow and develop is something that keeps people here and keeps them engaged and developed and makes them successful at what they do, and we make it very public what the routes are.”

For example, an aspiring business banker who comes in as a personal banker would need to progress through the ranks to become a business specialist. But because each employee has different aspirations, career paths are more about helping employees get to their destination, wherever that may be.

“Not everyone takes the same route,” Myers says. “It really is about what you’re skilled at, what you enjoy doing and where you want to go. … It really is about helping them achieve whatever they want to achieve. If it’s promotion or just getting really great at the job they’re doing, both are important, and there needs to be development plans in place for both those types of people.”

That’s why it’s important to provide options. Wells Fargo employees periodically re-evaluate their career paths with a flowchart-type diagram that maps out some possibilities, whether a teller wants to pursue branch management or wealth management — or take care of horses for the stagecoach.

By helping employees understand the skill sets necessary in various positions, you can equip them for any direction they take. To determine the skills necessary in each position, Wells Fargo analyzed previous employees, comparing and contrasting key characteristics of both the successful and the unsuccessful to qualify the definition of a natural fit.

“Something that will make you successful in one job may not make you successful in another,” Myers says. “The key is identifying what a successful team member looks like where you’re going, what they do every day, what the characteristics are.”

Align passion and skill

Myers underwent a year of hands-on training for his new position to ensure a fit. Now, as a coach, his challenge is making sure employees align with opportunities.

“The first thing as a manager is to understand what opportunities are available,” Myers says. “The ability to work with partners [to] identify the traits of the successful folks that they have is important for a manager. I want to make sure, as I work with my team member, that if I identify those same characteristics, I know that may be an opportunity.”

This requires a balance of understanding the employees you’re coaching and being aware of opportunities.

Don’t limit mentoring sessions to a couple of times a year. Coaching should be an ongoing effort of continuous conversation. In addition to one-on-one meetings, for example, Myers may observe his direct reports coaching their direct reports to see how they function. That candid observation will help you get to know your mentees better, which will make it easier to match them to open opportunities.

“It’s really hard for a coach to watch the scoreboard without watching the plays,” he says. “If we’re truly in the game watching, we’ll have a better idea of what their strengths are and what they do really well and what the areas of opportunity are. And if we understand what our partners’ groups do, then we’ll be able to say, ‘You have these great skills. I think they’ll be transferable here.’”

Matching employees with opportunities is a matter of closing gaps between their current strengths and the required skills. Sometimes, it’s just not realistic, like when employees don’t possess the skills for the management position that they desire. That’s where you need frank conversation, because pushing a square peg into a round hole won’t benefit you or the employee.

“Sometimes, they want to jump into a position that they’ve always aspired to do,” Myers says. “Well, in observing them, their skills aren’t aligned with that. It takes the courage of a manager to say, ‘Look, this isn’t consistent with what you’re (ready for). You may have a passion to do it, but my goal as a leader is to make sure you have passion and skills. When those two are aligned, only then will you be successful.’”

Good coaching means the door of opportunity doesn’t close there, though. Sometimes, it’s as easy as steering them toward another opportunity that does satisfy both passions and skills. But the perfect position isn’t always available, so a good coach helps employees prepare for the next step of growth — even if that just means suggesting a course or assigning a project to develop untapped skills.

“Show them that you may not be ready for what you’re looking for today, but let me find something within the job you’re doing today that could help you get better prepared for that,” Myers says. “How can I fit someone within the framework of what they do every day today that still has a learning opportunity for them, at the same time helps the company?”

Stay employee-centric

What if, through this extensive career planning and soul-searching, an employee decides that his or her calling is in another field? Is it counterproductive to develop employees right out of your company? At a big company like Wells Fargo with 80 lines of business and 9,000 stores, Myers can usually find something with the organization to suit anyone. But that’s not always the case.

“If you have someone that you know isn’t engaged and they’re looking to do something else, you keep the team member at the center of what you do — and if it means losing them to a different industry, then so be it,” Myers says. “I think that’s the best thing for the team member. If you don’t do that, you have a team member that’s not engaged, that’s not working for your customer, that’s not doing what they need to be successful and is not happy.”

Stay employee-centric by continually communicating and celebrating development —even for untraditional paths.

“I’ve seen far too many examples of companies that, when someone promotes outside the line of business, it’s frowned upon,” Myers says. “There’s nothing that gives me greater satisfaction than seeing one of my team members grow to a different job — and if it’s outside of the group that I’m in, that’s fantastic. If we’re doing the right things from a succession-planning perspective, we’ll have someone that can jump into that role.”

Being focused on employees isn’t just about creating a warm, fuzzy feeling internally. It really translates into overall business success.

“This is about our team members growing and learning and succeeding,” Myers says. “If we keep the team member at the center of what we do, we’re going to have successful, well-rounded team members in all of our groups. We’re going to have advocates for the company. We’re going to have lower attrition rates.

“If we have really well-engaged, focused team members who are developing, it’s going to result in satisfied and engaged customers and then our stock price goes up, our shareholders are happy, everything works. But it starts with that engaged and developed team member and if you don’t have that, then whatever success you have is going to be short-lived.”

How to reach: Wells Fargo & Co., (800) 858-4062 or www.wellsfargo.com

Making the Move: Tips for scaling the corporate ladder

Whether you’re switching lines of business or exploring a promotion across the country, executive moves are challenging. Rob Myers, who successfully navigated from retail to business banking and back again at Wells Fargo & Co., shares a couple tips.

Do your research. Myers sought key business banking players at community events and meetings to inquire about the job he was jumping in to.

“I approached them not with, ‘I want your job,’ but, ‘I really want to learn more about what you do and how you do it and what you’re looking for in people,’” he says. “I would find out what they liked, what they didn’t like, what their challenges were, what their opportunities were. I identified who the managers were. I found out about career opportunities — not just the job I wanted but: Are people moving? Are they developing? What’s their retention rate?”

On broader scope, also look at the potential job’s viability in the overall marketplace. Myers evaluated economic drivers in Orange County like employers and jobs. He affirmed that many employees work at small businesses, and that Wells Fargo was investing capital in business banking to better serve the owners.

“I’d like to look five years from now and say, ‘OK, is my line of business going to be operating and growing, or is it a line we could and would contract?’” he says. “You have to do a great deal of research into how the business line fits into the community, where you think the economy’s moving, are there any regulations coming down the pike that could impact the business?”

Learn to learn again. The challenge of moving around once you’re in an executive position is that you go from senior council to being a freshman again.

“I knew my business really well and so my learning curve (shifted),” Myers says. “In jumping into a different business, you really have to learn how to learn again — and you’re learning from people that you may be managing, but they know far more than you do. You have to be humble and modest and appreciate what they can contribute and how they can help you and the fact that you’re dependent on them.”

Wells Fargo’s Executive Development Program exposed Myers to most business banking positions so he learned firsthand what was important to employees and how each function drove success.

“I don’t think everybody knows everything about an organization or a job,” he says. “It would be really arrogant of me to think that I do. In any job, I want to make sure I’m serving the team members that are working for me. I realize that they have a lot to offer me. Everybody has the power to learn different things and they can make an impact on our organization.”

The Myers File

Education: B.A. in social psychology from the University of California at Irvine; MBA from Pepperdine University

What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

My first job in the world was delivering pizza when I was in high school. I realized then that whatever I did, I wanted to do really well. I wanted to be the best pizza delivery guy we had, and that was my goal — not to beat everybody, but I wanted to go home at night and say, ‘I did the job well,’ because every job out there is important and we need to approach it with that passion of being successful.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?

I would love to time travel. I’d love to see what the future holds. I’d love to see things that have happened in the past, meet people in the past. I’d love to go back and see Henry Wells and William Fargo and find out what their mindset was in starting the business and tell them what their business has become 150-plus years later. I’d love to meet some of our past leaders, people that are really influential in history. I would love to meet some sports stars; I’d love to witness some previous sporting events.

What was the last book you read?

I started reading a David Baldacci book. I like the mystery, spy and murder books. He’s probably my favorite. Every six months, he comes out with another book; then I know what my vacation reading is.

Published in Orange County

I believe that every CEO, hiring manager and search consultant wishes that there was a defined formula for talent acquisition that could be replicated across all hiring initiatives. Talent acquisition would be so much simpler if we could develop that “special ingredient” that could be sprinkled into every search initiative to guarantee a great outcome. Unfortunately, at the core of hiring is still a human being with unique motivations, goals and challenges.

Systems, methodologies and metrics are all critically important to a business’s success – including those utilized within talent acquisition. This sets the framework for how talent should be identified, attracted, gained and grown. However, as long as the word “human” is in Human Resources, companies need to realize that flexibility, agility and sensitivity are paramount to their ongoing success in talent acquisition. Not only will this help a company’s ability to attract the best talent, but it will also contribute to the company’s overall branding to the talent pool as people hear more and more about their “human” approach to onboarding talent.

When you are conducting a search effort, it is important that every person on the hiring team is on the same page. Your corporate values can’t just be something hanging on the wall; they need to be cemented into your culture. As much as hiring managers are interviewing talent for a role, they also need to have their selling caps on to showcase why their company is truly a special place to work. Once again, this is something that has to be real, not scripted – a “human” touch. Selling needs to include honesty, and hiring manages must be willing to discuss any potential weaknesses. Candidates appreciate this much more than just being sold. They are fully aware that no company is perfect and would like the opportunity to help in the growth of the company.

Be prepared to break protocol based upon the talent you identify for a given role. Having a more senior-level person initially speak with a candidate could be beneficial to the process. Recruiters should have the flexibility and empowerment to quickly turn great talent over to a more senior-level hiring manager who is better suited to talk with the talent – even if the talent has not been fully qualified by the recruiter.

Also keep in mind that the spouse or significant other is a big part of the decision-making process. Taking time offline to meet with the candidate and their spouse can be a nice “human” touch and could assist them in their decision-making process. I have seen instances where candidates reject a more highly compensated position to go with the company that paid them less but was a better cultural fit. This investment of the senior hiring manager’s personal time makes a bold statement to talent looking to come onboard with the company.

The recession caused people to become cautious in their decision-making process. Years of dedicated service, in many cases, were overlooked by employers as the economy spiraled downward and layoffs became prevalent. As a result, candidates now look at the culture of a company and how the company’s values align with their own. Talent looks at balance as much as career advancement and an upside in compensation. They want to enjoy working for their employer and be a part of a team that both challenges them and makes their day enjoyable.

Take time to understand how your company is being perceived by the talent pool. Surveys to candidates who have applied for positions could produce very valuable information to help you improve your corporate cultural branding. Top leadership needs to ensure that corporate values are more than words in a mission statement. They need to live those values and then permeate the culture with these values. Further training with staff will then cement how to better articulate these values within the hiring process – and put the “human” back into Human Resources.

This article was brought to you by Chris Carmon, President of The Carmon Group. You can find out more about The Carmon Group at www.carmongroup.com.

Published in Cleveland
Saturday, 30 April 2011 20:01

Building toward better leadership tactics

Julian K. Hutton, president, Merlin Hospitality Management
Julian K. Hutton, president, Merlin Hospitality Management
During the recession, staff retention programs inevitably took a backseat as every nonessential piece of weight was thrown out of the balloon to keep it flying. With few tempting alternatives out there, keeping the best staff wasn’t much of a worry; even if they weren’t exactly happy, they were grateful to remain employed. But as the business climate has improved, companies that are successful at attracting and retaining key staff have a major competitive advantage.

Surveys consistently demonstrate that less than half of Americans are happy at their job, and that the No. 1 reason that employees leave a company is not for lack of money, poor benefits or unhappiness with what they are doing. The No. 1 reason they leave is because of their immediate supervisor.

The term “immediate supervisor” applies to the chain of management all the way up to board level. The sad fact is that most people in a supervisory position, from housekeeping supervisors in a small hotel to CEOs of major companies, are poor leaders, with little understanding of how to motivate and get the best out of the people they are responsible for. Why?

Lack of proper leadership training. Nobody would ever consider putting someone without any mechanical training into a job repairing cars or someone who was a qualified car mechanic into heading the legal case in a capital trial. Yet people are regularly promoted into leadership positions without knowing much about the science and practice of leadership. They may be the best car mechanic or the best lawyer in the world, and although this can be an important part of being successful in a leadership role, it is only a part and does not in any way guarantee success leading a team of car mechanics or a firm of lawyers.

Like most job skills, leadership is something that can be taught. Certainly, a basic aptitude is important. You’re never going to be a successful lawyer if you can’t pass law school. But the right people can be trained to lead at all levels and improve the working atmosphere and financial performance of their companies. So why do so many companies set themselves up for unhappy employees and the consequent expensive staff turnover when they have the ability to do something about it?

Arrogance and ignorance. All too many senior executives seem to believe that by having an MBA and by holding senior positions in companies, they are “natural leaders” when in actual fact, as their subordinates will attest, they couldn’t lead a horse to water. They themselves do not have a comprehensive understanding of what motivates people, so don’t see why those skills need to be developed throughout their organization. This lack of self-awareness inevitably pervades the whole company. By not taking the issue of leadership training seriously, they are condemning their management chain to frustration and their employees to misery.

So should we forgive all those petty tyrants and little Napoleons making life miserable for their subordinates and conclude they are not intrinsically unpleasant but just out of their depth in a position for which they have had no training and perhaps little aptitude? Are they as much victims as victimizers? That this is the fault of more senior management in not giving them the tools to do their job? Only up to a point. They have a duty to their company, to their staff and to themselves to do their job better, and there is no shortage of literature on the subject of leadership. As Field Marshal William Slim — a decorated British military commander and perhaps among the greatest leaders of men — remarked: “There is nobody who cannot vastly improve their powers of leadership by a little thought and practice.”

Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. He can be reached at jhutton@merlinhospitality.com.

Published in Philadelphia

As president of Generational Equity, Ryan Binkley makes a living helping business owners prepare their organizations for sale. But with the economic challenges over the last couple of years, he’s seen business owners struggle to sell their organizations and potential buyers not be able to get loans necessary to make these transactions. During these tough times, he came to rely on his management and deal-making teams to stay in tune with clients’ needs and help them in the sale-preparation process.

“These are the professionals that work closely with our clients every single day on their exit plan,” he says

This approach by his 250 people helped the firm not only do well the past few years but also earned it a spot on the 2009 Inc. 500 list.

Smart Business spoke with Binkley about how to put together a strong team that can ensure success during tough times.

What’s the key to building a strong management team?

That’s a leadership challenge that’s there in every organization, whether it be private or public, and it’s important for the business owner to continue to have good leaders that can carry on the business in the same manner they do. What we try to do is always have good people that can run their departments at the same level that we could if we weren’t here. That’s the goal for every company, and people need to invest in that instead of solely relying on the business owner to be in a position to be prepared to hand off to someone else.

We built it over time and recruiting good people. We found some people in the industry who had a lot of experience in exit-planning and deal-making. It was a process of coming through and finding the right people that we felt were a cultural fit.

How do you make sure someone is both a professional and a good cultural fit?

It’s through not making a hasty decision and getting to know them a little bit. People are one or the other. A lot of people are one or the other, and it’s spending time with them during the interview process to make sure they share the same values as far as long-term business goals. We just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the client long term and not just the short term and be professional and have the right expertise that’s really needed in the marketplace.

What questions can you ask to get to know them in the interview?

There are two things. You have to have skill, and then you have to have the X factor, which is the leadership and integrity. We need to make sure that somebody fits the technical expertise we have, and that comes through their background as well as looking at some of the examples of the work they’ve done. You can talk to someone about the challenges they’ve had, and they can communicate their expectations there or not.

The other is just do they have that leadership factor that’s so important. In this difficult time, we need people who can really communicate with our clients and help them through the difficult times they’re going through and make proper decisions, and it takes a high-quality individual to get that done.

How do you make sure someone can work with clients really well?

I don’t know that there’s any secret formula other than based on experience, but once you analyze them and get a feel for them and how they’ll handle difficult questions that they’re asked, eventually you just go with the instinct you have as a professional. At the end of the day, if they seem to have the integrity and the leadership skills, you have to just go with your instincts.

How to reach: Generational Equity, (877) 213-1792 or www.genequityco.com

Published in Dallas
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

People vs. profit

In this hyper-competitive economy, everything is about speed. How quickly can you get a new product out the door? How fast can you deliver a service to a client? How long until that report is done? No one needs anything now; they needed it 30 minutes ago.

The result is an environment that demands ultra efficiency at every level. Companies of every size have been turned into machines, with senior managers tasked with fine-tuning them to the specifications set by the CEOs. If a particular part of the machine is slowing it down, that part needs to be changed out for a better, more efficient one. The moral dilemma comes when you start looking at the parts — they are people, not pieces of metal. Too many CEOs are looking at people as a means to an end, rather than human beings.

It’s a danger of our capitalist society that some leaders look at just the numbers, forgetting that there are many names and faces behind each line on the budget. You can be torn between building a cash reserve or achieving maximum profitability to please investors and being fair to the people who may not be performing up to the standards you would like to see. The question is, what do you do about it?

The easiest solution is to simply get rid of the people who you think are holding you back. This was Jack Welch’s philosophy — chuck the bottom 10 percent each year and your machine will continue to get better. There’s no room in business for having a soft spot for underachievers and there is no time to bother with them, so out they go.

While this model may be best for the short-term finances, is it really the best way to go? How many of those people had potential, but didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing? How many of them simply needed clear goals they could strive for? And was productivity hurt as people in the middle continually fretted about where they ranked within the organization? Also, at some point, your organization would be as efficient as it could be, meaning those in the bottom 10 percent might be pretty good employees — and you might be hard-pressed to do better when you go to replace them.

The tougher solution, at least from a straight business perspective because of the cost in time and money, is to invest in the people who aren’t allowing you to reach peak efficiency. This could range from making sure they understand their goals and the company objectives to investing in training and development so they have the right skill set to do their job in the best way.

If given the time and the opportunity to improve, many of the people on the low end of the performance scale will improve, and a select few will even blossom into full-blown superstars.

The new economy isn’t just a rat race; it’s a digital rat race with speeds increasing exponentially each year. You may want to invest in people, but your competitive environment may simply not allow you the time to do so.

Each business is unique, and there are pros and cons to both strategies. But what’s most important is that, regardless of which direction you choose, you never lose sight of the fact that there are people behind the numbers, and people are what matter most.

Published in Akron/Canton

A lot of CEOs try to keep two feet planted on the ground. Bob Fishman tries to keep about 240.

It’s part of his philosophy on organizational management. The founder and CEO of Resources for Human Development believes large organizations are at their best when the people in the field, at the customer interface point, are enabled to spend money and make decisions.

Armed with that philosophy, Fishman has dozens of representatives pounding the pavement in 14 states, gathering information that will help Fishman’s organization better serve its customers.

Resources for Human Development is a nonprofit entity that provides services to people with developmental disabilities, substance addictions and mental illness. The nonprofit, which employs 4,500, also operates various for-profit business ventures in the human services field.

With operations in multiple states, a large work force, governmental partnerships and a large range of services offered, the challenges facing Fishman are far closer to those of a Fortune 500 CEO than the director of a neighborhood social services program, which is why he makes delegation of power a guiding principle.

“The biggest challenge is the continually maintaining of constant diversification of the corporation, while holding to central values of interpersonal behavior in the managers and the supervisory staff,” Fishman says. “The values of the organization being the central part, while focusing on and achieving continued diversification in terms of the markets we reach, the services we deliver and the opening of new service areas.

“The diversification is achieved by having over 120 people at any one point in time out there looking to satisfy the customer base. The same thing is true for nonprofits and for profits — there is a customer base, and for us, they are all state and local governments. So you need many people out there constantly satisfying the customer, the governmental people and their various bureaucracies, and looking for new things we can do for them.”

It’s why Fishman needs a ground-level view on the needs that exist in each of his markets and why he entrusts his people in each market to keep corporate leadership informed.

Trust your people

To build a decentralized organization, you need people to whom you can delegate power and responsibility. You also need to develop a willingness to hand over that responsibility to the people you have deemed worthy and capable.

In other words, you have to be willing to trust people.

Leaders sometimes equate trust with blind loyalty and gullibility. Allowing yourself to become too trusting is supposed to be bad business. You’re supposed to be a chronic skeptic and force others to earn your trust.

Fishman sees it a little differently. To him, there is a not-so-fine line between trust and gullibility. As a leader, you owe it to your people to trust them until you have a reason not to.

“You start out with an assumption that most people are good and can be trusted,” Fishman says. “Very few people that we hire, less than 1 percent, will actually abuse the trust. It happens, but it is such a small percentage that you can start to set up a very different system of empowerment of people to make decisions to run local budgets, to hire people locally, purchase locally.”

It doesn’t mean that you give your people carte blanche to do whatever they want with no regard for consistency or standards. But it does mean that you need to properly train your people, educate them in your standards and culture, and give them the freedom to prove that they can live up to those standards.

“For example, we have $14 million in contracts being managed by our head of operations in New Orleans,” Fishman says. “So she and a series of people are continually reviewing how we’re doing in terms of budgets being negotiated. Is it working out, do we have to look at anything being renegotiated?

“She has local people assisting her, the financial oversight people. Then we have a financial and programmatic oversight in the corporate office here in Philadelphia. There are different levels of oversight, but she is the one who makes the decisions with her staff in New Orleans.”

To drive decision-making power downward while still promoting uniform standards across all of your departments and geographies, you need to be able to set the example from your perch. Fishman consistently models the behavior he wants his leadership in all of his organization’s markets to emulate.

Fishman has branded Resources for Human Development as a “common good corporation.” Anyone who works for Fishman must embrace the concept of working for the greater good. You might be in business for personal gain, but in order to run a completely healthy company, you and your team have to work toward something larger than personal goals.

“We have a bill of rights and responsibilities,” Fishman says. “We have values that need to be valued and learned by all employees, in terms of knowing the budgets of all the units, all the salaries being open, all data being open. I have a management team of 10 people around me, and sometimes, occasionally, we have made an adjustment to the management team’s salary. But we also work in a head office with 290 people, and our pattern is we don’t take bonuses unless everyone gets the same bonus. If my secretary can’t get the bonus, I can’t get the bonus. That is what is called leveling economically.

“What I’m touching on is both in terms of behavior and monetary rewards, we’re following as much as we can, we know what we’re doing and it’s very successful. While other corporations say, ‘How do we survive?’ we’re saying, ‘Step back and look at your culture, look at who is making the decisions, who is being empowered for success.’ Do you basically trust, or do you basically distrust?”

Make your decision

Because of the philosophical differences, it’s difficult to convert from a centralized to a decentralized organizational structure. If you’ve made up your mind to delegate decisions downward, you have to write it onto your company’s DNA. It’s something that everyone has to believe. You have to produce rules by which everyone in the company can play.

Fishman says you need to answer two overarching questions: First, what are your personal values and attitudes about people? And second, are you willing to admit that you can’t have all the answers needed to run a successful enterprise?

“The first thing is you have to face a number of value questions,” he says. “The central one is, do they believe that people are basically trustworthy? If you can’t say that, you can’t do what we’ve done. Not that everyone is totally trustworthy, but basically trustworthy, so that most people will be able to operate within a financial and ethical system.”

You need to remember that that people in the field sometimes need the least watching. Often, if dishonesty or a failure to meet standards becomes evident, the scene of the cultural crime could be right under your nose.

“Most corporations are undermined not by people in the field, but by people in the central office,” Fishman says. “The biggest theft in terms of theft or destruction of reputation has been proven to exist with the people who make the rules and represent the corporation at the center. It was true with Enron and it is true of every other corporation. You reverse that and say, ‘Let’s set up standards for how to use money and decentralize within budgets and agreements;’ you start out assuming that you have good people and they want to do a decent job.”

Your willingness to let others answer the big questions is a lesson you need to learn in two parts. First, can you let someone else be the authority on a matter? And second, can you accept that your team might find multiple ways to arrive at a satisfactory answer to a question or problem?

“Can you accept the idea as an administrator that you don’t have to know everything?” Fishman says. “People are not founders of organizations, because they know the answers to the future. They’re not gods or goddesses. People tend to look toward the center of the organization for the answers to complex questions that can only be worked out by many people in a complex system. There needs to be somebody at whom the buck stops, but to be in that role is different than saying you know all the answers.

“Within that is another assumption that you can arrive at many possible answers, that they don’t have to be arrived at by someone in charge of the services in the corporate office. That allows you, as the corporate head, to say, ‘You decide how to spend the money within the budget, and within the local legislation and agreements that you understand the best.’”

Hire for your culture

How do you hire for a decentralized culture? Fishman says it can be frustrating. You can go through rounds of interviews, review references and resumes, and ultimately, your research will lead you to the right hire the vast majority of the time. But you can’t know for sure until you’ve seen a person at work.

“You can’t know who you’re hiring in advance,” Fishman says. “You can tell people what their job is, what your culture is, what they’re going to be trusted with, and how we expect them to behave and not to behave with money, power and status.”

Though you might want to allow decision-making power to trickle down, you have to give new hires a well-defined set of guidelines and values that will govern them from the first day on the job. If you put those standards in place from the beginning, you stand a much better chance of developing trustworthy people who make decisions that are in the best interest of your company and customers.

“For example, in our system, we decided that no one employed in our corporation can have a private office,” Fishman says. “We might have someone who figures they are now the head of a big division, so I’d like a private space of my own. So we tell them all the things we do and don’t want to see, and correct them as rapidly as we hear about it.”

Ultimately, if you’ve involved enough people in the hiring process, you can usually gain the perspective necessary to make the right hire with the raw materials needed to become the type of employee you can trust with the decisions that will impact your company’s future.

“We make a group decision,” Fishman says. “That person needs to be hired by a group of people, and the people they’re going to supervise. We do appoint people, but often they’re hired from a group interview setting. There needs to be a group buy-in on the process that leads to the decision.”

How to reach: Resources for Human Development, (215) 951-0300 or www.rhd.org

Bob Fishman, CEO, Resources for Human Development

Born: Brooklyn, New York

Education: Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology, Brooklyn College; master’s degree in clinical social work, Columbia University

First job: As a kid during (World War II), I’d go around to houses in Brooklyn to buy the fat renderings collected in kitchens. I’d pay a few cents for a can of fat, then take it to the butcher’s store, where they collected it to use in an armament function of some kind. I was a retail buyer and wholesale seller of fat renderings as a kid.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

People are basically good, but people have separated that from an economic model. My business lesson is that is can be combined with a viable business model and flourish.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

One of the hardest things for me is to find out something I don’t have to know. It’s a hard skill, that you don’t have to know and you don’t have to have answers. You have answers for yourself personally, but others have different answers. You have to know what you don’t know.

What is your definition of success?

In a leader of any corporate entity, there is the economic answer that you need to bring in more money than you expend. That is the countable part of success. But the other part for me has been to develop and operate an organization that builds on the strengths of human beings and adds to a culture’s health, rather than taking out of it. I feel I’ve been able to do that within the model I have been able to develop. It’s that duality that allows me to consider my life’s work a success.

Published in Philadelphia

Though the trading floor is bustling and intense when the markets are open, the scene in Chopper Trading’s break room is quite the opposite when they close. There, in the 3,000-square-foot spaciousness, you’ll find some of Chopper’s 150 employees lifting weights or winding down with some table tennis or poker. After working hours, they usually go out together, maybe taking advantage of the company’s season tickets to cheer on the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs or Sox.

The nature of the business can be stressful enough. CEO Raj Fernando wants to keep the surrounding atmosphere as pleasant as possible to counter that, so it’s crucial that his employees get along.

So when it comes to hiring, he doesn’t approach it like some of his competitors, who may bring in 30 potentials, push them through a training program and come out with three hires and 27 fires on the other end. His hiring process is quite the opposite — lengthy and involved, with the purpose of bringing employees on board who will some day retire from the company.

In 2002, when Fernando founded Chopper, he established one rule for bringing employees on board.

“We don’t care how much money somebody’s going to make us; if they’re going to make all of us miserable, we don’t want them here,” he says.

And that has to go both ways.

“It’s a marriage,” he says. “We want them to want us. We do not want turnover. We try to weed everything out at the interview stage.”

Paint a picture

Chopper’s recruiting team attends job fairs at the top schools in the country. At this first stage of hiring, that team usually includes recruiters, traders, programmers and top executives — even Fernando himself. But he’s careful not to come off as too executive.

“We’re not a bunch of salesmen,” he says. “We’re not coming there in three-piece suits and $200 ties and trying to impress them. We’re ourselves when we go out there.”

That’s key, considering he’s not just looking for a candidate that fits the organization. He wants to make sure Chopper is a fit for the candidate, as well, so a crucial part of the interview process is painting an accurate picture of the firm to make sure he’s attracting the right crowd.

“It’s important that they know what they’re getting into because after a few months of interviewing and they turn down 15 other jobs, we don’t want them to come here and realize this isn’t what they thought they’d be doing,” Fernando says. “We’re very straight with them upfront on letting them know, ‘Hey, here’s the job.’”

Traders like John Sizemore travel to recruit and interview new trading assistants, then take the successful candidates on office tours to show them the environment they’d be working in. For example, the lack of walls between desks is an invitation for him to talk about the team atmosphere and open lines of communication. And the giant break room exemplifies the company culture, so Sizemore explains how employees deal with stress.

“Yes, we’re trying to spend a lot of time with the person so that we can get a good feel for what they’re like,” Sizemore says. “But also, we really want people to have a good idea of what they’re getting into so that there’s no surprise when it comes time to actually start work. We’re trying to hire people to retire here, and that being the case, we want people to really know what company is and what the company’s about and what it’s like to work here.”

Take your time

In trading, as in most industries, there’s not a list of certain traits that would make an employee successful. It’s more of a subjective intersection of technical skills and personality traits.

“There’s no specific background that prepares you for it,” Sizemore says. “There’s no major that we look for. There are no specifics of any kind that you can say, ‘Definitely, this person can make it and this person can’t, based on something that can be found on a resume.’

“Our interview process is really lengthy, and the reason for that is that we’re not able to really say specifically we’re looking for these five things. It’s more about trying to get a feel for whether or not the person across the table from you has that confluence of factors, has that mental makeup.”

Of course, Fernando has some basic technical expectations across the board, like math competency. But because his expertise is in trading, he turns programming candidates over to the chief technology officer or current programmers for technical evaluation.

“The programmers these guys like, I’ll definitely talk to them and give them my two cents on the company itself and a little bit about us and why it’s a fun place to work,” Fernando says. “I’ll tell them how important the programming is for our firm, but I won’t tell them anything technical about it.”

He has more general conversations with candidates, including brainteasers to see how they think on their toes and business-oriented questions to gauge their interest and knowledge.

“One strategy that you can use is to continually ask follow-up questions, particularly if they express an interest or say they follow the market,” Sizemore says. “You can start asking them about their level of understanding in the market and why they think things are happening, and generally you can see how they handle themselves.”

Gauging their interest may be the most important piece of the equation. It separates job hunters from career seekers.

“In the last few years, when the job market wasn’t that good, some of these guys (have been) just looking for a job,” Fernando says. “They might be interviewing investment banking companies; they might be interviewing at consulting companies. We really want guys that know what they’re getting into and really want to do that because this isn’t a small decision — a career. We hope they retire from our company.”

It’s a red flag if candidates don’t have genuine interest in your industry, your company, and the position. Their industry knowledge can indicate how genuine they are, but that doesn’t necessarily equate interest. That’s where observation comes in.

“I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that you can judge a person’s reaction to questions about their interests in something,” Sizemore says. “Generally, when someone has a passion for something and you see them talking about it, you can pick up on that passion without necessarily having to delve deep into their psyche. When someone is talking about something excitedly, you can tell that they have a genuine interest and a passion for it versus someone who’s just trying to put on a good face for an interview.”

A lengthy interview process helps you make that distinction, because the more time you have with candidates, the better you get to know them. Chopper’s recruiters start talking with college students as much as a year and a half before graduation — ample time to cut through interview personas to assess the true personalities beneath.

Plus, when you commit that much time to a new hire, you’re illustrating your investment in their success.

“What we ask of them is a pretty big commitment, but on the flip side of things, we’re trying to show them that we are going to be equally committed to what their career goals are,” Sizemore says. “It’s a two-sided coin.”

Turn employees into interviewers

As candidates move further through Chopper’s interview process, they interact with more employees in more areas — a sort of funnel effect.

“The more people that talk to him, the better it is,” Fernando says. “We try to take care of all the hiring process in the interview process. That’s why we don’t have a lot of turnover.”

Fernando will involve dozens of employees, from ones who used to have that position to ones who are currently in training, all the way to the top of the company. Current employees know better than anyone what it takes for employees to be successful at your company.

“We know what the people who work here are like and what it takes to get along,” Sizemore says. “We know what it takes to be successful as a trader, and we know what it takes to fit in with the company. Even though two different people might see a candidate differently, they both would more than likely be able to agree on whether or not that person is going to fit in with the culture of the company.”

A multitude of perspectives gives you a better understanding of the candidate. It becomes a group effort, where someone may pick up on something others missed.

“Because it is a subjective call, all of us as interviewers have our specific things that we’re looking for that we might place a little more importance on than somebody else does,” Sizemore says. “By getting a wide variety of opinions on someone, we feel like we get to know them pretty well.”

Because Fernando trusts the employee input he receives throughout the interview process, it makes his job easier when the candidate comes back around to him.

“By the time it comes to me, maybe 12 or 20 people have already talked to him,” he says. “And if these guys all liked him, the kid’s got to be pretty impressive. … It’s definitely a team effort in weeding them out.

“It’s not just ability; it’s also: Is it someone they want to work with and be next to 10, 12 hours a day for the next 10, 15 years? These guys hang out after work. You don’t work that much with someone and hang out afterward if you don’t like them. Personalities are very important.”

That’s not to say everyone needs the same personality. That’s another benefit of involving several interviewers — you understand each candidate’s overall demeanor as opposed to specific traits, so you can better identify pleasant personalities.

When decision time comes, get everyone’s opinions and observations on the table. You’re not looking for pure consensus, but ideally, most of the group will think positively of the candidate and no one will see major reasons not to hire.

If there are concerns, determine how serious they are.

“If it is the case that someone in the group sees a major red flag, we’ll talk about it,” Sizemore says. “We’ll say, ‘Look, I said this to this person and this was their response. I didn’t like for these reasons. Do you guys agree or not agree?’

“I’ve been a part of more than one of those conversations, on both sides of the coin, and generally we’re able to come to a decision, saying, ‘OK, yeah, you’re right. I felt that too,’ or, ‘You know, I really didn’t pick up on that, and even if that is true, I’m OK with that. I’m willing to move forward with this person.’ It’s not necessarily pure consensus, but generally we don’t hire people that one of the members of the group has a major red flag on.”

Though the hiring process involves some fun — like going out to dinner or shooting pool — the decision requires diligence.

“We’re not trying to wine and dine people to bring them in,” Fernando says. “As much fun and kidding around as we do, this is a serious process. The new lifeblood is everything to the company.”

Thanks to that attitude, Chopper boasts zero turnover and Fernando says he has never lost a successful trader. By devoting time and effort to the interview process, he’s able to hire future retirees, not just employees.

“It’s not just a job,” Fernando says. “Life’s too short to do things you don’t want to do or be with people you don’t want to be with. We like the people we work with, and it makes all the difference.”

How to reach: Chopper Trading, 312-628-3500 or www.choppertrading.com

Raj Fernando, CEO, Chopper Trading

The Fernando file

Born: Denmark

When did you come to the states?

When I was 1. The story behind it is my dad was a Fulbright scholar from NYU when my mom was studying at Juilliard. For Fulbright scholars, after your term is done, you leave the country for two years and you come back and you get your citizenship. So my older sister was actually born in New York.

Education: Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., with bachelor’s degrees in economics and history

The story behind the company name: Chopper is my eldest dog, a collie mix. He’s from anti-cruelty along with his little sister. A few of us were sitting at Smith & Wollensky [Steakhouse] having a few bottles of wine, trying to come up with a name. After about a half hour, I brought up, ‘How about Chopper Trading?’ and it stuck.

In the community: Fernando is a governing member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He also actively supports the Steppenwolf Theatre, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and the Illinois Holocaust Museum, among other organizations.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

I was Hillary Clinton’s Illini finance chair, and in the course of the campaign, I met a lot of literal billionaires and they all said kind of the same thing: Surround yourself with the best and brightest people you possibly can.

What’s your favorite way to relieve stress?

I like playing guitar and a little bit of drums. Exercise is good but lately I haven’t been doing as much as I should. I like going out with friends and people from work.

Published in Chicago
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

Virginia Albanese

Building a leadership team should be at the forefront of developing and implementing business strategy. While the strategy sets the direction of a company, the executive leadership team and those in the manager and supervisory roles are key factors of a company’s future success or failure.

To get it right, start by taking an inventory of your leadership team’s current skills, abilities and experiences, and then match the inventory results to what is required for your strategy. This exercise will reveal any large gaps in talent, or it will display how well your team is aligned to the strategy. In most cases, the findings will be somewhere in between, with many excellent matches and a few people who need retooling for new job positions or opportunities. The key here is to take an honest and realistic view of your leadership team so you can determine where you need to strengthen your talent pool.

Your work does not stop there. Take this same approach with every level of the organization. Leaders at each level must be prepared with the right technical, managerial and leadership skills for executing the strategy with confidence while assuming accountability for the results. The managerial and supervisory positions will likely be the implementers of strategy and change. They can have the greatest impact on achieving your company’s strategic success.

When conducting the talent review inventory, look closely at the team’s diversity. This not only means the traditional gender, race, orientation and age characteristics but also diversity of opinions, perspectives and work styles.

For example, at our company, we use a variety of tools for determining a team member’s development strengths and opportunities. A few years ago, our leaders completed an assessment for improving personal and professional effectiveness. The results gave us valuable insight into how the differing work styles impacted others in the organization. We discovered some leaders loved detail; the more data and analysis the better. They could be counted on to ask lots of questions and needed time to come to a conclusion or take action. In contrast, some leaders trusted their gut feelings and were quick to take action with little data. We had a mix of leaders who required high involvement with others and leaders who preferred an individual work style.

While diversity in style can cause frustrating moments, with education and reinforcement, you can capitalize on the power of having such a diverse group of leaders who complement and appreciate each other.

In addition to examining your leadership pool, you must also plan for the future. This involves more than putting words to a page; it has to involve your people. While you need to develop an actionable strategy with company revenues and profits that project into the next three to five years, oftentimes, a forgotten step is working with the human resources leader. He or she can help build a foundation through succession planning and employee development programs.

I am proud to say that our company has taken succession planning and organizational design to a new level by identifying pivotal jobs necessary for our company’s strategy. While this level of detail is led by human resources, succession planning must be owned by the executive leadership team; they are accountable for the current and future success of the organization.

Upfront work on establishing the right team is a vital first step for achieving the company’s vision and mission. Planning for the future includes staying focused on business metrics, which includes generating revenue, building a strong talent pool and valuing diversity in leadership and work styles. These are the components that pay off in excellent company results and the achievement of your strategic initiatives.

Virginia Albanese is president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, North America’s largest critical-shipment carrier. The company provides 24/7 service throughout the United States, Canada and internationally, delivering hundreds of thousands of critical shipments each year. She is also the chairwoman of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and serves on a number of other boards to benefit the Northeast Ohio community, including Akron Children’s Hospital and The Boys and Girls Club of the Western Reserve.

Published in Akron/Canton

Chris Blase never intended to go into the cleaning business as his career. It was something he decided to do with a couple buddies to supplement his full-time job.

Then he and his buddies lost their full-time jobs and the cleaning business suddenly became a lot more important.

“I thought it would be a pretty simple, straightforward business to start, and I found out it was a lot more difficult,” Blase says. “The biggest challenge by far was recruiting people that were motivated to do a good job. I hired and fired over 1,000 people over a five-year period.”

What followed was a time of stress, struggle and, ultimately, satisfaction as Blase learned what it took to find the right people and build a business that could thrive.?He says his first lesson was to stop trying to be all things to all people.

“I was getting to the point where it was not unusual for me to work straight through the night,” Blase says. “I was doing things like driving away from the gas station with the hose still in my car. And I walked out of my apartment one day and I hadn’t put my pants on.”

Blase was taking all comers as clients, no matter the size or location, and it was burning him out. After selling the business and working for a couple other companies that were suffering from the same problems, Blase decided to strike out on his own again. This time, however, he took a different approach.?He quit trying to do it all and focused on a specific segment, office buildings between 50,000 and 300,000 square feet.

Just as importantly, he made it a point to bring in motivated managers who could help him lead and grow his business. Buildingstars Inc. now provides cleaning services for more than 1,400 customers and took in $20 million in 2009.

“If you can find a way for your key managers to have a vested interest in the company, you’re going to get a totally different attitude toward work and just a totally different approach,” says Blase, the 48-employee franchise cleaning company’s founder and president. “Especially if you’re expanding on a large scale.”

Blase decided to get into franchising. And lest you think this story suddenly doesn’t apply to you anymore, Blase says, ‘Think again.’

“In theory, almost any business is franchiseable,” Blase says. “Companies are going to be faced with a decision where, ‘I’m happy here in St. Louis. I really don’t want to expand beyond this because I don’t want to make the investment and manage remotely.’ They should be asking the question: Would that make sense under a franchise model?”

Blase says franchising is a much more comfortable way to manage people.

“It’s like working with supporting partners versus managing employees,” Blase says.

So the next question is: How do you find people to fill these important roles of leading your franchise units?

“The key is not really looking to sell a franchise,” Blase says. “It’s more based on qualifying or recruiting a franchise owner that’s qualified. It’s not all about the initial investment. It’s more about the recruiting process. You should turn the process around and look at qualifying that person just as strong as you would when you’re bringing on a manager in your company.”

Blase says the difference in providing someone with equity and a stake in the business versus just being another employee in the company can be immense.

“I was able to attract a totally different type of individual that maybe wouldn’t normally go to work for a cleaning company,” Blase says. “It’s all about creating the right kind of management and development system for your key people.”

Put in the time

One of the first things Chris Blase does when he’s looking at a prospective franchisee is ask the person to put together a business plan.

“Have the prospective franchisee go through a very in-depth process to prove that they are competent or capable of managing that unit,” says Blase, founder and president at Buildingstars Inc. “The biggest mistake that companies make is they base the decision on that person’s ability to invest versus their ability to perform.”

The 48-employee franchise cleaning company has more than 1,700 customers and took in $20 million in 2009 revenue.?If you find that you’re not recruiting effective leaders for your business, assess your recruiting style and the questions that you’re asking.

“Am I identifying the same skills and using the same criteria that I would use in hiring a competent manager?” Blase says.

Set aside the investment aspect of franchising and focus on the basics of leadership skill and competence. Make it clear that you want to work with the person to help them grow.?At the same time, you need to stay in touch with customers to get their feedback on how your leader is doing.

“It’s important to be in touch with the perceptions of the customers and hear their positive viewpoints and negative viewpoints,” Blase says.

How to reach: Buildingstars Inc., (866) 991-3356 or www.buildingstars.com.

Published in St. Louis
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 11:51

The Tax Credit Co. hires right

Brandon Edwards is proud to be a geek about a boring industry. In fact, being passionate about tax credits has helped him build a team of likeminded stars.

“We’re tax credit geeks. It’s all we think about,” says the president and CEO of the appropriately named The Tax Credit Co. “One of the reasons we’ve been so successful is that we’ve been able to attract people into the company that think like that.”

Edwards’ previous experience in a recruitment outsourcing business also helped hone his hiring process to bring in the right 47 employees.

“We’re only as good as our people,” he says. “The difference between one really good person and one person that’s not necessarily a fit is tremendous in a company.”

Recruit with purpose. It’s not just about the interviewing. The recruitment process is critical to finding (the right) people.

First of all, when we write an ad for a job, it’s got a lot of personality in it. We are passionate about it, so that almost irreverent, fun-loving personality comes out. Not only is that helpful to attract good people, but it attracts the right people. They’ll say, ‘Wow, I was looking at all these ads, and these people look like my kind of people.’

From the very beginning, we try to find out about the person — who they are, not just what’s on their resume — so we ask for a cover letter. We put specific traits in the ad. For a documentation specialist, we’ll say, ‘Are you the type of person that every single drawer in your house is completely organized? Are you the type of person that gets bent out of shape if something on the wall is tilted?’ We’ll put fun things in there, but we’re looking for certain traits about people that are going to make them good fits for the job. That’s No. 1.

Interview people, not positions. We’re talking about a combination of what they’ve done in the past but also who they are. One of the keys to bringing in great people is to find out what that person is about. Finding out who that person is, I think, is more important than who they worked for and what they did. What’s the track record that they demonstrated that we could apply to what they’d be doing in the position: what they like, what they don’t like, what they get excited about, what drives them, what they get annoyed at, their attitudes on work in general?

The way you ask questions is very important. I’ll ask questions like, ‘What would your supervisor say about you?’ They would (answer) from that perspective, and you find out what would they say the good things are, what would they say the things that you could improve on would be. You’ll see an indication of a potential issue that you can explore from there.

You’re not looking for 100 percent adherence to all the job duties. You want to find out the core points of success or failure in that job. You say, ‘If a person had these traits, these skills, then they would be very successful. If they didn’t have these, then they would have problems.’ You want to specifically go after those in an interview.

We’re always looking for the person, not the position, and we’re always keeping in mind that this person may not stay in that position that long. So while we’re looking at the critical factors for that position, we’re also trying to test: ‘Is this a high-quality person in general? What are the make it or break it characteristics of the people that are successful in your company — the personality, the attitude, the work ethic?’

Remain objective. If you like somebody straight off, try to find something wrong. And if you don’t like somebody straight off, try to find something right. You don’t want your emotions to guide you in that process, because this is a snippet of your potential relationship with the person. Even if you go through extensive interviews, the entire process could represent less than a whole day of interaction with that person.

You need to make sure that you’re as objective as possible and not skimming over areas just because you really like the person. If you just focus on the areas that you like about them and you’re judging them based on that gut feel, then you can potentially miss some big issues.

How to reach: The Tax Credit Co., (800) 481-0669 or www.taxcreditcompany.com.

Published in Los Angeles