Jim O’Neil learned an important lesson some years ago when he was a 23-year-old engineer who sometimes found himself under the gun to make million-dollar decisions.
In one instance, he had a client impatiently cooling his heels, waiting for a resolution.
O’Neil knew he was on the hot seat ? and there was no one available to call for help.
“When you are on the line like that, you need to make decisions, and you made them,” he says. “They didn’t have cell phones then, the boss might be gone, and you had to make a decision. There was nobody else around. It might have made you uncomfortable, but you did it. You made it.
The firsthand experience of being in control left a lasting impression.
“It’s amazing how much you learn versus letting somebody else make the decisions all the time. And today, everybody is so accessible, if you are in an organization where people don’t want to make decisions, then you’re not empowering your organization,” says O’Neil, CEO of Quanta Services Inc., a company that supplies infrastructure solutions for the electric power, natural gas and pipeline and telecommunication industries.
He knew that empowering people to make decisions was the direction to go.
“I don’t need 1,000 cell calls a day asking me if they can make decisions that are well within their authority and responsibility. In the technological world that we live in today, it’s easy for people to not be accountable and to not want to be empowered.”
Once O’Neil became CEO, he drew up the boundaries employees needed and then encouraged them to adopt an entrepreneurial mind-set to drive business and customer relationships.
“If I could bottle that up and train that to others, you know ? and just move it up through an organization; I think that’s one of the biggest challenges ? to give people the latitude to make decisions.”
Here’s how O’Neil brews up the kind of empowerment at Quanta Services he wants to bottle and serve to employees.
Use collective approaches
When O’Neil arrived on the Quanta Services scene, he had been employed 20 years outside the specialized industry of infrastructure. His employment at Halliburton in oil and gas service had impressed senior management at Quanta Services, as did his record of holding several positions after joining Quanta in 1999. He was named CEO in 2008. Most of the people who had moved up the ladder in the organization were either former owners of companies that were acquired or people who the management put in place to succeed former owners when they decided to retire or leave.
But that only encouraged O’Neil to instill the collective approaches to solving complex problems he desired. He realized it was his role to discourage complacency, to push the organization, be flexible and change with the customers and markets, to be creative and to seize new and/or different opportunities.
In short, he was back in the situation he was earlier ? there was nobody else around to drive employee empowerment, and he had to decide how to formulate and institute a spirit that would persuade employees to feel sovereignty over their jobs.
To O’Neil, empowerment meant a lot of things.
“It’s not only decision-making; it’s go out and develop that relationship, go out and sell services and don’t be afraid to go sell services or sell the company’s total capabilities,” he says.
“You have to empower your employees to make decisions,” O’Neil says. “You set policies and procedures and clearly define a broad range of operating boundaries, and let the employees work within these boundaries. Employees who are properly trained for that position know when and where they need to seek approval authority.
“Employee empowerment is one of the most important aspects of being a successful service company. Once you clearly state the employees’ boundaries to operate, they then are empowered to make decisions to take risks.”
Even though it sounds like a potential Camp Runamuck, part of an effective empowerment plan needs to include the structure that says where decision hand-offs are to be made.
“I think structure within some organizations is good when you set policies and procedures and somebody needs to make a decision,” O’Neil says. “Empowerment is that the people who report to the CEO clearly understand what their roles and responsibilities are and what decisions they can make.
“Through the relationship that you have with them, the working relationship, they know when to come to you and when not to come to you ? even if they have the authority to make certain decisions, they know when to at least bounce an idea off you if they’re not comfortable.”
Direct reports should feel the same way and have that same relationship. The empowerment should probably go down to one or two levels below that.
Another important goal is collaboration, and when you collaborate, everyone is on the same level.
“There is no intimidation by position, you all roll up your sleeves and make the decision,” O’Neil says. “If I need to be involved, I’ll roll up my sleeves and work with the presidents of our operating units out in the field or with some of the leadership in the corporate office.
“It depends upon what the situation is if you want to make sure everybody understands that you are all in this together. We are out for a common goal. There is no stupid question; let’s just work through it together.”
Look at it fairly
While employee-empowerment programs can be elaborate or simple, O’Neil found that simple is best, and he made it easy to commit to memory by using an acronym.
“I call it the FAIR model,” he says, with each letter of the word denoting an action that in effect serves as a type of empowerment mission statement.
“F stands for focusing everyone in the organization on the overall vision and strategy of the company,” O’Neil says.
This takes into account that you have company vision and mission statements already in place. If you don’t have them, it’s time to write them.
“No matter what job position you are in with an organization, you work as hard as you can to make a difference,” he says. “You listen and you learn from those around you. “You contribute where you can contribute thoughtfully to a discussion or a situation and good things will happen to you in the way of advancement and more responsibility.”
“A” stands for holding employees Accountable for their performance.
“You have to hold people accountable and watch for complacency,” O’Neil says. “How do you know whether people are complacent or not? One of the main ways is to set financial targets.
“Also set employee development targets for them to develop talent within their organization. Your customers are a good source to find out complacency issues within your organization. And certainly if you have open dialogue throughout your employee rank, you can get feedback from that way as well.”
“I” is for involving every employee in the mission of the company
“A CEO must always remember that employees are his internal customers,” he says.
“You have to be a good listener. More than 95 percent of all problems brought to my attention deal with the need for better communication. People often require a sounding board to talk it out. Some problems are complex and require a collective approach to a solution.”
If you have employees involved in establishing the vision, it will bring a sense of ownership and stewardship.
“Employee input is valuable, and they must feel like they have a meaningful role in the future of the company,” O’Neil says.
While longevity may bring different levels of comfort, learning doesn’t stop once an employee gains seniority in a company.
“That 40-year-old guy can learn something too,” he says. “Times change, markets change, customers change. The 40-year-old guy has a lot of experience to bring to a discussion, and we typically listen to that person.
“He’s probably the one you can listen to the most when you are trying to do the job or build a project but that person’s ability to listen to input from others, too, is critical because he can learn from others as well. So it’s a team effort.”
R stands for recognizing people for their results.
“It means understanding what each person brings to the table in the way of value, knowing that you may have people at the table who are new, and they are there just to learn,” O’Neil says. “But just the experience of sitting through that type of exercise is invaluable to anyone. I learn every day. It’s a continual process.”
Employees who are involved are more likely to generate ideas in the suggestion box.
“They’ll pretty much tell you if you empower them that, ‘Look, I know I am responsible for this right now, but if I was given the latitude to go out and do this over here … I’m responsible for A, if you let me go pursue B, I think I could improve value to both our organization and the customer,’” O’Neil says.
Quanta has a Chairman’s Challenge program that forms teams of rising stars from across the company to address a variety of opportunities, market dynamics and challenges. It seeks to harvest the best and brightest ideas for implementation.
“It’s really a servant leadership-type of mentality,” O’Neil says. “You’ve got to empower the employees, and they have to give you their input. It’s collaboration. I do that with my direct reports, and my direct reports do that with their direct reports.
“Every employee is your customer. You want them all to be properly trained for the roles that they are in and to understand that your job is to make sure they have those tools and that they are well-equipped to perform those services to your customers.”
Empowering employees to make decisions may be a break from the traditional management plan of some years ago, but a break from the usual is often what is needed to reach new levels of success.
“You may make decisions that might have not brought optimum results,” O’Neil says. “Somebody told me a long time ago that failure is the launching pad for success. You’re going to make mistakes, and you learn from them and you move on. That’s why you invest in people.”
Those who have an entrepreneurial mindset know how to take risks, they have to make decisions, they own their own companies and they grew them from nothing in many cases.
“I think that is a very important aspect of differentiating yourself from people who have an organization that’s matrix reporting ? where nobody wants to make a decision, it’s slow, and typically when you get into that situation, people are running a lot of things and they don’t make the right decisions.
“You want to be in an organization where people are empowered, they learn from their mistakes, and they become a valuable part of your organization when you need to make decisions in a very rapid format for your customers.”
A company that empowers its employees has to think bigger than just responding to calls for bids.
“But bidding is a very important part of what you do,” O’Neil says. “You are never going to get away from that. The more you can move ahead of that process, and partner with your customers to provide solutions ? that’s where you can really differentiate.”
Even if that project would go to bid and you have had discussions with your customer, the customers don’t have to take the lowest price.
“They want the best solution,” he says. “They look at value as well. I think you need to understand where your customers are going as an organization. You need to try to stay one step ahead of them. You can’t live in a rear-view mirror. You need to look at future trends and not only in the direction the market is going, the economy’s going, but the route that your customers are taking.”
Many customers are being forced to reduce costs and improve reliability and many of them aren’t looking for low-cost answers. They are looking for solutions for their problem.
“Because you have that relationship, and you have a reputation for providing services safely, execute projects on time and on budget, customers will continue to share more information with you as you build relationships to try to figure out how to get better,” O’Neal says.
“You want to be part of that solution. And that’s what I call partnering with your customer in order to provide them with a better outcome, and at the end of the day, it will provide you with a better outcome as well.”
With its 17,325 employees and $4 billion in annual revenue, Quanta Services is a Fortune 500 company ? and has many of its projects are now larger in magnitude than the total value of the company when it went public in 1998. Its growth includes 120 acquisitions since its founding. Some 2,500 employees were hired in one quarter in 2011 alone.
O’Neil points to employee empowerment as a key factor in this success.
“The ideas and innovations of the minds in your company are an invaluable resource, and when you tap into it, employees truly feel ? and are ? empowered.”
How to reach: Quanta Services Inc., (713) 629-7600 or www.quantaservices.com
The O’Neil File
Birthplace: New Orleans, La.
Education: Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, Tulane University, 1980
What was your very first job?
I turned 18; I worked as a laborer during the summer in a chemical refinery outside of New Orleans between college semesters. It was a great experience for me and taught me the value of hard work ? actually digging ditches and eventually running a survey group as I moved up between my junior and senior year. It was outside with 90-degree heat with 100 percent humidity. I really didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. So it was a great motivator to stay in school. We had to dig ditches by hand. I’m about 6’7” and that wasn’t easy.
What was the best business advice you ever received?
No matter what your job position is within an organization, work as hard as you can to make a difference; you need to enjoy what you are doing, listen and learn from those around you, and good things will happen for you in the way of advancement and more responsibility. I think I’m a good listener. I think that’s probably one of the most important traits that have helped me be successful.
Whom do you admire in business?
Well, I have a lot of respect for CEOs, thought leaders, and the like, but really those I admire the most in business are those I work with and for. I really admire Quanta’s employees who are on making critical operating decisions and interfacing with our customers and our communities because that’s really the face of our organization. Every one of those 17,000 employees represents our company. Without them, we don’t have a company. I myself don’t bring in a dollar of revenue for this company. Our people on the front line do.
What is your definition of business success?
Success is happy shareholders, customers who see the value in our services and employees and potential employees who believe Quanta is the preferred employer in the industries we serve, and world class safety performance is very, very important to me.
That’s my No. 1 objective.
The future is all about digital, and the companies that will come out on top will have the most outstanding user experiences, Amy Buckner Chowdhry says.
Buckner Chowdhry is co-founder and CEO of AnswerLab, a consulting firm that helps many of the world’s leading brands build user experiences across digital platforms.
“We wanted to offer the whole tool kit — that no matter what a client’s business question is when they’re developing a digital product, we wanted to be able to offer the right research methodology to answer it,” Buckner Chowdhry says.
Founded in 2004, the firm of 30 has worked with clients such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Honda.
Smart Business sat down with Buckner Chowdhry at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how AnswerLab works to create and implement user experiences that meet the needs of both company and customer.
How is bringing in an outside firm beneficial to the development process?
In your average organization, you don’t have one person who’s that decision-maker. You have multiple people, and what happens is that the competing needs of each of the groups can result in an experience that gets watered down.
It’s incredible to see how easy the user experience within an organization can go south because there are too many stakeholders — there are too many people involved in making the decision around what gets launched.
When you bring in an outside, independent and objective research firm to help in your process, you can get back to what the voice of the customer is.
How do you engage the customer to identify their needs?
It typically involves recruiting them into a research environment where we’re engaging with them one-on-one or in a group setting.
We can start with a database or a list that our client has of their customers. We reach out to them for a particular research study and maybe do focus groups with them. We may visit them in their homes to watch how they use a product, bring them into the lab environment and watch them behind the mirror as they try to use a product or bring them in to do something on a page to track their eyes to see what they’re looking at on the page. Do they notice the fad or do they not notice the fad?
What process do you have to turn a good idea into a tangible product or service?
The day to day is about getting these projects out the door to clients. That’s what most of our teams focus on. But we need to also be innovative in taking what our services and research are and taking them to the next level. We go through a rigorous strategic planning process where our entire management team meets quarterly.
We do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis, and we sit down and look at what are the opportunities here. When a new product will help address some of the items that come up on our SWOT analysis, we turn that into a strategic priority for the quarter and we track against it.
If we identify that a specific threat may be that a competitor has a competing product, or if we identify that there’s a huge opportunity on the table to basically grab this unmet need from our clients, then that becomes a product or a goal that we drive through as a strategic priority. We take the results of strategic planning process and put it into a one-page plan ... and that’s on every single person’s desk in the office.
We have an online tool that we use. Everyone has to log into on Friday and update it, and it shows our progress toward implementing these strategic priorities. So there’s the goal to get this product launched, and there are all the tasks associated with it and all the people who need to help make sure that happens.
How do you stay motivated and keep creativity flowing for yourself and for your organization?
We focus a lot on trying to ensure that our team can get the right professional development that they want. We have a series of learning luncheons that we set up where we’ll bring in outside speakers to talk with the team and keep them engaged. We’ll watch a ‘Ted talk’ during lunch together. We’ll have individuals within the company present on the work that they’ve been doing.
How to reach: AnswerLab, (415) 814-9910 or www.answerlab.com
Bill McCarthy thinks the construction industry still has some difficult days ahead.
The recent recession really belted the segment on the chin, and in some locations, half of the area’s construction workers were unemployed. Depending on the region, there have been some sparks of activity, but a return to previous levels is still in the distance.
“When people ask, we really don’t see the construction economy returning to some sort of normal until 2014 or 2015,” says McCarthy, president of Pepper Construction Co. of Indiana. “There are still tough times for the industry.”
During a downturn, it’s a chance to learn some things about your company, develop some new strategies, build better relationships with your customers ? and even reinvent yourself.
“What we’ve tried to do is use this opportunity to go back and reinvest in the company so that we are a better company coming out of this economy than we were going into it and positioning ourselves for long-term growth,” he says. “That’s really been our kind of mantra and what we’ve done.”
To start looking at matters from a strategic planning standpoint, McCarthy had a SWOT analysis done at the senior level of the company that involved a significant portion of the employee population, questioning what were the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and posing what should be done about those findings.
“We developed from that a kind of a reinforcement to continue working on some ongoing strategic initiatives and develop some new ones, some of which I’d say are more tactical and short-term things that really look at the challenges that we have right now with the economy and being able to address those in the more immediate term,” he says. “Most of what we do, however, is really focused on the long term.”
Here are some of the major initiatives McCarthy is using to engage employees, weather the tough times and give Pepper Indiana a larger share of the market.
Reinvest in employees
With 150 employees and 2010 revenue of $227 million, McCarthy was feeling the need to groom future leaders from the existing work force. But at the same time, he needed to build up the existing management team if the company was going to grow its market share.
“I was trying to come up with a plan to strengthen and invest in developing emerging leaders,” McCarthy says. “One of our good clients and friends ? Bob and Doug Bowen of Bowen Engineering ? recommended a program.”
McCarthy instituted a leadership development series with their advice. At Bowen, the program had been done three times already and had resulted in phenomenal success.
The heart of the 18-month effort at Pepper was the book and program, “The Leadership Challenge,” created by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. The program takes the approach that when leaders are at their best, they follow five practices: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart.
One of the most effective methods to optimize the benefits of “The Leadership Challenge” was to involve senior management in the teaching efforts.
“We asked pairs of our senior leaders to teach a session, and it was really engaging, very successful,” McCarthy says. “That old idea that you really don’t learn something until you have to teach somebody about it is very powerful.”
In addition, exercises which expand the comfort zone of the participants were beneficial.
“We paired up one of the senior leaders in a better protégé relationship with one of our emerging leaders, so you couldn’t have a direct reporting relationship with that person,” he says. “It was only people who didn’t work directly with each other. The protégés chose the mentors and again ? a highly successful and kind of career development and coaching resulted ? and I think it was really good for our senior managers as well because it indirectly created some accountability for them.”
You might consider driving the program to levels lower that those at the leadership level.
“Also, develop a program as sort of a companion to this for your project assistants, the old word would be secretaries, who are vital communication elements for your projects between your client and all the other superintendants ? they are like the critical hub in all of that and could really benefit from this,” McCarthy says.
Another effort to get employees involved included obtaining a volunteer leadership position. McCarthy adapted this idea from one the Bowens developed. You need a certain size of management if you really want to let everyone do their job and also teach, but with some tinkering, you can find a way that works for your size of company.
“Ask each of the participants to find something they are passionate about in the community and take a volunteer leadership position,” McCarthy says. “It gave people the extra nudge to take that extra step to lead the baseball league.
“You can imagine it’s enriching for the person, it’s great for our company to get our people out in the community, and it was really a nice add-on to that program. You get to put into practice some things that maybe you don’t get an opportunity to do every day in your work life or your personal life.”
Do 360-degree feedback reviews of each participant and map those on the leadership challenge traits to measure those against the key leadership traits that authors Kouzes and Posner developed through their research.
“As we got to the end of the program, we redid the 360 and saw in a composite as we looked at each participant really significant improvements in all the measured areas,” McCarthy says. “For some of the individuals, some outstanding improvements occurred.
“In a competitive work environment, as we come out of this recession, I also think we’ve got people more engaged here than they have been. I’ve got lots of little stories that I’ve seen happen, but for me, it has really helped me in my leadership to go through the program. I think it has really been transformational to our company and will continue to be.”
Use peer teaching
While McCarthy was pleased with the leadership development progress, he needed to find a way to engage more employees to help grow market share. Using the peer-to-peer teaching method again, he put into effect a type of mentoring that would teach junior employees some of the knowledge senior employees have learned.
When some employees suggested a quarterly education session at job sites, McCarthy liked the sound of the idea and furthered reasoned that if a good suggestion such as this was put into play, that very act would help with engagement and buy-in.
This involves the junior employee who is at a job site who would give a mini-seminar to fellow junior employees about a special aspect of the job, or there might be a subcontractor come in and describe a procedure. The education session ? an opportunity to network with fellow younger employees ? is followed by a mixer or other event at the end where some of the more senior employees are invited to join in.
“I love it that these guys had the moxie to come and propose this thing and then go run it,” he says. “We’ve now handed it off because the two guys who thought of it are moving up a little bit, so they recruited two new young guys to do it. It is something that I think has been pretty neat for our company.”
This mentoring type program uses two effective tools to increase knowledge and build better teamwork: the peer method of teaching and the advantages of networking.
The peer method uses employee who are on the same skills levels to help create bridges to span gaps in learning. Since the peer teacher is on the same level, he or she can relate to other peers on a different level than would a manager, using examples that have a relationship with the job at hand.
For the peer teacher, he or she has to have the correct information to teach, and thus benefits are seen from the extra preparation. Formal lines are not likely to exist between peers as they do between a teacher and a student, and with less inhibition, information is more likely to be shared.
The benefits of networking are well-known: making yourself known and learning what others have to offer through a relationship you build and deepen over time.
One example of a mentoring opportunity involves using a tablet computer, such as an iPad, on the job site to check off quality completion points. Instead of sheaves of paper blueprints, builders work with computer files ? and up-and-coming employees as well as any employees can learn the latest methods from a peer tutor.
“Some of our young guys are using a lot of new technology; they have iPads, they have Internet-based programs that they are using to track what’s going on, and it’s just a great opportunity to explain to the other guys what are we doing on this project that could have application to our other jobs,” McCarthy said.
Reward the ideas
In an industry such as construction, there are many opportunities where an operation can be improved or a process can be altered to save time and money. McCarthy wanted to encourage innovations and reward the best ones while also making use of others that were proposed. If the ideas were coming from the frontlines, market share would increase as innovations cut costs and improved efficiency.
A quality group led by two journeyman project managers holds an annual quality concept of the year competition that recognizes the best innovative ideas. Winners are chosen by secret ballot among the employees.
“It says: that’s what happens when you innovate,” McCarthy says.
The competition is open to all employees. This year’s winner was a 25-year-old engineer who designed a device that could be put in windows being replaced from the time the current window is taken out to the time the new window went in to keep the area weather-tight.
While not only recognizing the idea, the process of innovation may open doors to other possibilities.
“Another interesting thing that happened over the course of this, the engineer came to my partner and said, ‘Hey, I would really like to switch career tracks into more of a field supervision career track,’ and I think part of it came from his experience on that project,” McCarthy says. “So we’ve switched him over to working with one of our senior guys on a large project where he’s developing his skills there.”
The winner for the previous year also moved up the ladder. He re-engineered the entire concrete process used at a hospital construction site.
“I remember when he won this thing, he stood up and said, ‘Boy, I think I’m winning an award for messing with something,’” McCarthy says. “So, it was great to see how that went. That guy is now one of our quality leaders. It’s impressive how that develops.”
As for the ideas that don’t win, their value is recognized, and they are distributed throughout the company as alternative valuable concepts. About 50 entries were received this year.
“Even though they didn’t win, they’re good ideas,” he says. “It’s amazing. Many of them were inspired after we had a challenge, after something didn’t work right or what did we do in the face of some adversity or difficult challenges. People are stepping back and saying, ‘OK, what can we learn from this so that we do get better?’”
How to reach: Pepper Construction of Indiana, (317) 681-1000 or www.pepperconstruction.com
The McCarthy File
Pepper Construction Co. of Indiana.
Born: Chicago, Ill. I worked for 15 years for Pepper Construction there. We had started a large hospital project and wanted to really to expand our presence in Indiana, so the CEO of the company at the time, Stan Pepper, asked if I would move here with my family to have a more full-service presence. So I moved here in 1995, and I absolutely love it. We had three boys at the time; we now have four. This is home to us. We absolutely love it. I visit Chicago probably once a month because that’s where our corporate headquarters is, my wife’s family lives there and so forth. But we just love Indiana, and it’s been a wonderful move for us.
Education: University of Illinois, degree in architecture. I also have a master’s in business from Northwestern University, from the Kellogg School of Management.
First job: I was a paperboy at age 11, and I loved it. My first professional job was with Pepper. I started with the company right out of college.
Who do you admire in business?
David Pepper. He is the CEO of our company. He’s a very different kind of leader than I am. I really admire that. To use a ‘Good to Great’ term, he is probably a Level 5 leader. He’s very authentic. He is a humble man, a very humble guy; down to earth. He doesn’t look like he’s a CEO out of central casting, but he’s a terrific leader. I think he does that by empowering others to lead. He always has an opinion on things, but he lets other people say their piece and gets some consensus out there before he puts his foot down on things. I think he does that extremely well. I think he has been a great leader.
What is the best business advice that you ever received?
Probably one of my more admired leaders is Richard Pepper. He has been involved in the company for probably the last 60 years, so he started with the company right out of college. He always says if you focus on the customer and serving the customer, that will lead to repeat business, and repeat business will make sure that you are profitable. It’s such a simple concept, but it’s one that really just says it all. So I would say in tough times that what I think is even more meaningful is to continue that level of commitment to client service.
What is your definition of business success?
Doing the right thing and meeting and exceeding the expectation of our clients. A job well done, win or lose, is what counts. We try to make sure that regardless of our challenges in meeting their expectations or meeting our own financial requirements that we first deliver the best job we can for them, because I think that’s what we owe everybody. Sometimes, even on a job that is a very successful job for us, there are other jobs I can think of that financially weren’t very successful but the client viewed them as successful.
President Lisa Faller sees client loyalty as a direct reflection of her company’s commitment to going above and beyond for clients. Today, FKQ Advertising + Marketing’s client list includes numerous relationships that span decades.
“That speaks volumes about our focus on generating the client’s desired result,” says Faller, whose family founded the Clearwater-based firm in 1961. “You can do a really good job and you can deliver and please a lot of people, but at the end of the day, if you are not year over year making that happen, then your tenure is probably short lived.”
FKQ’s self-defining philosophy of “whatever it takes” is splashed all over the company’s website, and there’s a reason. On the client side, Faller says the company’s associates are relentless in pursuing and achieving every client’s success goals, which she adds are often fairly aggressive. The continuing challenge is not just recruiting candidates that have this drive, but maintaining a company culture where its 82 employees can pursue ambitious ideas and new ways of thinking.
“For our people, it’s about empowering everyone at FKQ to really control their own destinies by creating an environment where the best ideas always flourish,” she says.
One way is by using both large and small group environments to draw out people’s insights and opinions.
“When you are in a large group setting, some people may not feel as comfortable offering up what are no question great ideas to put into play and have everyone benefit from,” Faller says.
Offering a mix of communication channels for people to discuss ideas gives them the opportunity to share in either setting, encouraging more contributions and collaborations. This, on top of daily positive reinforcement of good work is what gives employees the confidence to deliver their top performance.
“That leads to facilitating the best thinking, because then people are confident and positive in terms of what they are able to do,” Faller says. “That helps them in being able to facilitate greater, bigger thinking on a consistent basis.”
Another way to further a results-oriented culture is by getting people to focus on positive outcomes. So as a mentor and motivator, Faller is always acting as the cheerleader for optimism and enthusiasm.
“You have to keep people feeling very good about not only what they are delivering to the client, but just being happy in general,” she says.
“It’s really a lot about a consistent focus on thinking positive, seeing the glass half full and never dwelling on uncontrollable negative influences.”
While clients provide the inspiration in keeping employees motivated about new opportunities and challenges to think through, Faller says a leader needs to provide the context in the vision to motivate the culture as whole.
“You’re identifying what the overall goals are, and then you have to make sure that you articulate that to all of your respective team members so that you have that unified commitment, and that focus and everybody collectively achieving those desired goals,” she says.
Faller also uses employee motivation efforts such as having FKQ-sponsored events or serving up special food offerings. The more mass appeal it has, the more effective it is.
“You need to be open to be making sure that whatever continues to please the masses is something that we focus on,” Faller says. “That keeps people in a charged up fashion to deliver for our brands.”
By solidifying this strong team spirit and unity, she supports a culture where people believe they can make anything happen. An example is when FKQ completed a billboard for McDonald’s McCafe espresso products in downtown Tampa, which had three-dimensional coffee cups and real steam coming off the board. The groundbreaking advertisement not only drove customers to McDonald’s, but was hailed in the industry as a best practice because of its environmentally friendly construction.
“We’re always about how can we resolve this or make this better,” Faller says.
“You have to have that universal spirit. If everybody understands that and every action is guided by that, it’s incredible what that total unity can make happen on behalf of the clients that we serve.”
How to reach: FKQ Advertising + Marketing, (727) 539-8800 or www.fkq.com
Finding rock stars
For companies with a long track record of exceeding clients’ expectations, the biggest challenge is often just finding more rock star talent to feed the growing machine. Lisa Faller, president of FKQ Advertising + Marketing, continues to use a twofold approach to recruit people who fit with the company’s brand character.
“Growing up in the business, I just saw how we had done it successfully for so long,” Faller says. “We just continued to evolve and grow upon what has worked well for this company and been able to infuse even new, younger viewpoints.”
First, the company uses its longtime referral program as a targeted means of recruiting.
“Who better to advocate our brand than those people who actually embody and live it each and every day?” she says.
“That often leads to greater retention because when birds of a feather flock together, not only do you get better candidates in the door, those are the people who typically have the long-term tenure, which is a trademark of FKQ.”
Secondly, the company works with the best HR professionals that it has come in contact with over the decades. These people specialize in the disciplines FKQ offers for employees, which creates a pipeline of new talent.
“We’re bringing in the best talent that keeps our FKQ fire burning, the juices flowing and that spark that fuels the energy that keeps this agency bursting at the seams throughout our 50-year tenure,” Faller says.
Many executives have asked me what our firm’s secret is to maintaining a long-term, high-performing staff. My response is this: the combination of finding the right cultural fit and supporting new employees through an integrated orientation process. This has proven to be an effective means for my firm to optimize our resources.
Often when we look to fill roles, we look for the outside experts, the stars that will come in with their worldly experience and solve all of our challenges. After watching a series of experts struggle, I determined that two things were major contributors to their demise, a mismatch between the employee and the corporate culture and an inability to quickly absorb corporate “tribal knowledge.”
The most common obstacle is an indifference to or a lack of understanding of the real corporate culture. Like dating, companies often present a different face during the interview process and the honeymoon, and it is several months into employment before your newcomer gets a real look at the way your company works.
The other obstacle is a lack of tribal knowledge. Whatever your company’s challenges, you have assets, practices and knowledge that have made you the success that you are. These are sometimes downplayed or entirely disregarded in the quest to bring in new competencies. New experts that are brought into your organization generally get started making changes right away, and therefore, they often completely miss cultural and knowledge content. As a result, they frequently make impractical recommendations with disastrous consequences. Alternatively, the people that are more conscious of the barriers may hang back and appear ineffective.
One takeaway from all of this is that carefully structuring the entry of new experts into the company can improve success. My firm has found that implementing a few basic methods helps management find employees that fit the corporate culture and assist them in gaining tribal knowledge quickly.
When we interview candidates, we provide ample opportunities for them to learn about our corporate culture. We spend time discussing our mission, values and corporate objectives with each candidate in an effort to ensure that they understand the culture of the firm. During each interview we explain the importance we place on growing and fostering our culture so candidates understand how critical our culture is to our business. Then, it’s important to ask several questions during the interview process to ascertain whether or not each candidate shares a similar corporate cultural mindset.
Once a candidate is hired, we address the challenge of passing on tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge, or the learning curve, happens quickly in our firm. Employees that understand the processes, procedures and internal workings of the firm tend to be more successful than those that do not. We created an employee orientation program to help new employees acclimate to our firm. Our orientation program connects new employees with other staff while simultaneously integrating technical, cultural and management objectives. One unique aspect of the program is that all levels of new employees meet with someone in senior management during their first month of hire. The job of senior management is to reiterate our corporate vision, values and objectives as well as to check in on the employees overall orientation process. We’ve found that our orientation process helps employees immediately feel connected with the company, which helps to yield a long-term, satisfied staff.
I’ve always worked with growing companies, so effective staffing is a challenge that has always been a regular part of my management repertoire. As companies right size, I’ve found that optimizing your current staff can add enormous value to your firm.
Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, the picture of St. Mary’s Medical Center is much different than when I first walked through its doors as CEO four years ago. We have improved many areas, including programs, services, medical staff, quality, patient services, employee morale and financial stability.
It took a hospitalwide movement to shift St. Mary’s into the hospital that stands today, as well as a lot of hard work and dedication from the executive leadership team, medical staff, board and employees. As I reflect on the many changes that we’ve implemented to turn around the hospital, I can identify four key elements that drove our success: embracing change, engaging employees, building upon strengths and inspiring innovation.
In today’s market, change has to be the executive’s friend. We live in a constantly changing environment and when internal and external forces evolve, businesses need to do the same. For any organization considering a new direction, it’s important to refocus the executive leadership team to evaluate where improvements can be made in the current business model and develop a strategy for action. This often involves creating a new brand or image for your organization that reflects both the legacy of the organization and its new vision.
The next critical element is employee engagement. It’s vital to understand employees’ perspectives and discover what they need to be satisfied in their work. To reflect a new image, employees must be actively involved. They must feel engaged and take pride in the organization for which they work. At St. Mary’s, we immediately established an employee relations program with a designated employee relations staff member. Directors and managers should also be encouraged to boost morale by positively reinforcing employees that exemplify a job well done. With these resources, we were able to develop specific programs to improve our employee and physician satisfaction as well as more organizationwide celebrations and activities, consistently recognizing employees for their merit within the organization.
When implementing change, you also have to secure the support of all the people who make the organization tick. As a hospital, St. Mary’s dedicated a lot of resources to expanding our physician relations program and to supporting a medical leadership that had our patients, the hospital and its legacy’s best interests in mind. We increased communication with physicians to get them more invested in our hospital’s success. We also developed a new governing board that could evolve the medical staff leadership into a more cohesive, cooperative group that worked together to envision the St. Mary’s of the future.
With a strong and dedicated workforce, an organization has the tools to better execute its strategy for growth and development. But when deciding how to prioritize and manage strategic capital investments, it’s always important to make sure they are realistic and within your organization’s resources. At St. Mary’s we are equipped to care for very high-risk patients with our trauma center, Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Children’s Hospital. Therefore, we set out to grow and expand services that support this infrastructure, such as our Advanced Orthopedics Institute, Neuroscience Program and our Comprehensive Stroke Program.
Lastly, it’s essential to have an organization that embraces innovation from the top down. St. Mary’s has achieved great success in the last four years; however, there’s much more to come. It’s my job to first get people thinking, and second, get people motivated for action. I’m constantly asking questions and proposing new ideas and new ways to look inside our hospital and within our very competitive market. This insight helps us predict what might affect us in the future so we can shift our business plan accordingly. Innovation drives us to look ahead, embrace change and continue to evolve.
Davide Carbone has been CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center and the Children's Hospital at St. Mary's since 2006. Prior to assuming his role at SMMC, he served as vice president of operations and market initiatives for the Hospital Corporation of America, and CEO of Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Aventura, Florida. Reach Davide at (561) 844-6300.
First e-commerce revised the need for brick and mortar, then Web 2.0 redefined the voice of the customer. Now the rise of mobile technology and online collaboration has killed the dream of work-life balance, which has a direct impact on employee engagement.
A study of 80 global companies, conducted by Paul DeYoung and Tracy Shamas and several colleagues from Towers Watson, reveals that employees need new competencies and behaviors to manage their personal obligations with the demands of today’s 24/7 work environment. Instead of striving for balance, employees must learn to harmonize work and play so companies can reap the benefits of our connected world without sacrificing employees’ discretionary effort.
“Compartmentalizing our activities doesn’t fit today’s digital world,” says Paul DeYoung, Southern California director of Talent Management and Organizational Alignment for Towers Watson. “Employees need to harmonize their work and personal pursuits, because doing so exponentially increases engagement and the bottom line.”
Smart Business spoke with DeYoung about the demise of work-life balance and how replacing it with harmonious integration can exponentially increase and sustain employee engagement.
What is exponential engagement (EE) and why is it important?
Thanks to a growing body of evidence, executives have embraced the notion that employee engagement has a significant impact on an organization’s financial results. But after combing through the data, we’ve identified two factors that influence an employee’s desire and willingness to contribute discretionary effort toward their job. The first is enablement, which exists when employees have the necessary support and tools to work efficiently and effectively over time; the second is energy, which comes from a healthful work environment that supports employees’ physical, social and emotional well-being. When these elements converge, the result is EE, which is capable of lifting a company to even greater financial heights.
How is EE impacted by harmonious integration?
Harmonious integration describes an employee’s ability to manage the demands of the modern work environment with his or her personal commitments, which is integral to emotional well-being. When companies are too focused on the bottom line and continue to raise the bar, the ensuing stress can sap employees’ energy, and, in our surveys, a better work environment and culture has supplanted compensation as the top reason for changing jobs among stressed employees. And when employees don’t have the financial resources or tools to sustain high levels of performance, frustration sets in and they ultimately burn out and check out.
How does EE influence business results?
Towers Watson studied the impact of engagement, enablement and energy across 50 global companies and found that those firms with EE had operating margins three times greater than companies optimizing only one of the contributing elements. To perform at their best, employees need positive and healthy working environments that help sustain high energy levels. For example, clear priorities, effective teams, respectful colleagues, and a balance between performance expectations and job pressures all contribute to employees’ sense of well-being on the job. In turn, positive well-being generates energy and supports sustained effort. On the other hand, motivation driven by the fear of losing your job or recessionary-induced pressures is unsustainable.
How can companies help employees learn the art of harmonious integration?
Employers can solicit feedback through employee opinion surveys and then initiate changes and offer courses to help employees increase their ability to deal with the pressure. But the best way to teach the behaviors that lead to harmonious integration is through mentoring and modeling. For example, our research shows that individuals who achieve harmony are good time managers, they know when it’s time to turn off the infiltration of e-mail and text messages and they have the ability to transition between work and personal commitments without getting frazzled. The best way to become effective at this new skill is to study others who are good at it and get feedback either through a coach or mentor. It’s also critical that executives recognize the problem and support change, before engagement erodes.
How can executives support, encourage and model harmonious integration?
Executives need to be cognizant of their own behaviors, because they impact everyone around them. In fact, based on our research, we’ve revised our executive Competency Atlas (Towers Watson’s competency dictionary) by adding ‘work and personal harmony’ to the list of must-have leadership characteristics and values. Let’s see how you stack up. First, do you send e-mails in the middle of the night? Do you require employees to be accessible on weekends or during vacations? Be conscious of the message you’re sending through your actions and respect others’ need for harmony when scheduling meetings and conference calls. Second, make sure your expectations are proportional and appropriate. It’s OK to have high expectations for your fellow executives, but don’t expect them to answer off-hour calls just because you happen to be available. Third, be a catalyst for change by endorsing training and mentoring programs and making cultural modifications based upon the feedback from employee surveys. Finally, if you’ve had the pedal to the metal during the recession, the early recovery period may be the perfect time to make additional hires and reduce organizational stress so employees can cope with the loss of work-life balance. And while doing that, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Paul DeYoung is the Southern California director of Talent Management and Organizational Alignment for Towers Watson. Reach him at (949) 253-5215 or email@example.com.