Medical Mutual has announced that Ray Mueller has been named executive vice president and CFO. Mueller will be responsible for the company’s finance, treasury, facilities and administration and human resources departments.
Prior to this position, in January 2010, he was appointed the company’s vice president of finance and corporate controller. Mueller was promoted again in January 2012 to senior vice president of finance and corporate controller. Mueller originally joined Medical Mutual in 1986 as a senior financial analyst in the Western Division based in Toledo.
Medical Mutual has also announced that Carol Bushnell has been appointed to vice president, underwriting and chief underwriter. Bushnell will be responsible for core underwriting functions. She will also be in charge of product management.
She joined Medical Mutual in 1987, as supervisor of quality assurance in the internal performance department. After working in large group underwriting, she became manager of underwriting policy in 2003, a position she held for three years until becoming director of underwriting administration. Bushnell was promoted to senior director of large group underwriting, her most recent position, in 2010.
Bruner-Cox LLP recently announced the following promotions:
Jeffrey S. Buckshaw has been promoted to assurance services senior manager. Buckshaw joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2001. He has more than 10 years of experience providing accounting, auditing and corporate and individual tax services to clients in the manufacturing, real estate and not-for-profit industries.
Matthew L. Douglas has been promoted to tax senior associate. Douglas joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2011. He has experience in corporate and individual taxation. Douglas provides services to clients in the manufacturing, wholesale-distribution, construction and real estate industries.
Laura A. King has been promoted to tax senior manager. King joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2003. She has more than 13 years of consulting and taxation experience. King handles personal and corporate taxation with an extensive expertise serving middle-market corporations in the manufacturing and wholesale-distribution industries. King also specializes in expatriate tax matters, assisting
international clients with tax planning and compliance.
Michele M. Monter has been promoted to assurance services director. Monter joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 1989. She has more than 20 years of public accounting experience, providing services for construction and manufacturing clients.
Alliance Solutions Group, a full-service staffing and recruitment agency, has recently expanded its Akron presence by opening a new staffing “hub” facility at 3250 West Market Street, Suite 103, in Akron. This office will offer the company’s full complement of staffing and recruitment services from all nine of its business units.
The Akron office is the third new or expanded office that Alliance Solutions Group has opened in the past year, with earlier expansions taking place in Elyria and Upper Sandusky. Alliance Solutions Group remains on a fast-growth track with 32 percent growth last year — a figure that is three times the national average for staffing companies.
Bober Markey Fedorovich, a regional audit, accounting and business advisory firm with offices in Akron and Cleveland, recently promoted six of its associates to new positions within the firm.
Chad Basquin has been promoted to manager, accounting and auditing department. Jeanine Black has been promoted to supervisor, marketing and public relations. Jessica Tepus has been promoted to supervisor, tax department. Shawn Carlson has been promoted to supervisor, accounting and auditing department. Mindy Marsden has been promoted to supervisor, valuation and transaction services. And Kristopher Brown has been promoted to senior accountant, accounting and auditing department.
Spectrum Surgical Instruments Corp. has announced the appointment of Jim Hoffman to vice president of endoscopy and field operations. Hoffman’s long history of 20 years in the industry
started with the implementation of on-location surgical instrument repair services. He managed sales efforts throughout the Western United States and was directly responsible for repair service quality standards. His experience with group purchasing organizations, educational programs and direct sales was instrumental in growing the business to a national level. <<
Please send your executive-level promotions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For 28 years, the late Fred Krum developed the vision for Akron-Canton Airport (CAK), a vision that changed the relationship between the airport and its customers. It involved low fares and complimentary Wi-Fi and massage chairs for passengers. It called for $250 million to modernize airport facilities. The vision was to create “a better way to go” for airline passengers.
Krum cast the vision, and now Rick McQueen is carrying it forward.
“Every decision we make, we think about how it impacts our customers, and we make sure that that continues to be a positive impact,” says McQueen, who became president and CEO after Krum retired in 2008. “We want to be a good partner for this region and we want to give back.”
First-time visitors may be surprised at the effort a regional airport would put into delighting its customers — for example, furnishing new guests with gift bags upon arrival, filled with handy items such as ChapStick, Purell and a personal note from McQueen — or offering complimentary Cinnabon coupons on customer appreciation days and free shirts on “T-shirt Tuesdays.”
CAK has also made strides to improve travel experiences, from retrofitting its website with innovative, interactive content to leading the industry in its hands-on social media strategies and partnerships with low-fare carriers.
“We do not want for our customers to feel like there are bricks and mortar between us — that there’s pavement between us — but that we are all doing the same to serve this community, to get them where they need to go, on time, at a price that they can afford,” says Kristie VanAuken, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for CAK.
This philosophy has paid dividends and not just for the airport. In addition to breaking passenger records for 12 out of the last 15 years, CAK has gradually grown its annual economic impact in Northeast Ohio to about $400 million and 2,250 jobs. Smart Business spoke with McQueen and VanAuken about how CAK continues to refine the vision of “a better way to go” through innovation around the customer experience.
Q. How do new technologies such as digital and social media complement the airport’s vision?
? KV: There are a couple of reasons why it really makes sense for us, one being because of the broad adoption. Two, because it’s extremely transparent, and we are a very transparent organization by choice and by orientation as being a government agency. And because it’s really cool to be in conversation with our customers and to learn from them what they want and what they like.
The website was very much a product of what we’ve done on the social media front, and then it was figuring out how do we integrate our strong brand voice — this ‘better way to go’ theory’ — which really has deep meaning for all of us here.
? RM: This also goes back to our low-fare commitment. What’s the first thing that you are looking for when you go online to look for an airline ticket — lowest price, right? So if our carriers have the lowest price, and it’s so easy now to go online and check all these different fares, it helps us to have that position where people recognize us.
Q. What were the challenges of building a presence on these new platforms?
? KV: You don’t deliver content on social media the same way you do on the website or in the same way you do in a TV ad, but they all have to make sense together. I often go back to this analogy of a rock band. So it’s not everybody strumming the same instrument and the same tune at the same time, but every instrument has to play its part. And it all has to come together to make beautiful music.
Last year, we spent a lot of time thinking about the integration of our brand voice, how the public relations effort really needs to be in concert with everything — stakeholders, airline relations and all of the ways we communicate the things that matter to the community. It needed to have that familiar voice of the airport, that warm, transparent, authentic voice.
Q. You have such a strong brand focus. How does it translate into your new media strategies?
? KV: It’s not a top-down strategy. The great thing about social media is that it’s all about the customers themselves. We get to go to their space. Social media is all about what matters to them. It’s their space and we are often welcomed into that, and that is a privilege.
We’re honored every time someone even posts something to our wall. Because the way we look at it is, ‘Look, that customer could do anything with those 30 seconds, but they chose to spend those 30 seconds posting something to our wall. It was the most important thing at that moment to them.’ In our minds, that kind of commitment deserves a swift response and deserves our friendly and compassionate answer to whatever it is that they’re going through.
Q. So how does the airport respond to this feedback?
? KV: There are two people on my staff, including myself part-time, who monitor and listen every day to what’s going on in the social media realm. But we’re not trying to supplant our current infrastructure for customer service. We have a customer service manager. If something comes up that needs individualized attention, we bring him in. He’s very skilled at quickly responding to customer needs, working on behalf of a customer who needs to interface with an airline or a car rental company.
Another way to look at it is what do our customers really care about? They tell us all the time, and we respond to that. They want free Wi-Fi. Great, they get it. They really respond to our sparkling clean facilities. They want clean bathrooms. … So we listen. We’re looking at all times for something that we can improve. We’re also listening for areas that maybe we should pay more attention to.
Q. What does it take to stay so responsive?
? RM: It’s another level of dedication that most people don’t realize.
I use the analogy of a house of cards shaped in a pyramid. I’m sitting at the top of the pyramid just because of who I am, but if I don’t do my job, the house of cards will fall. If our custodians and our building maintenance folks and our operations people, middle management folks don’t do theirs, imagine if you just take one card out. What happens is the house of cards falls as well. So we all have to work together.
? KV: There are a lot of different ways that we’re trying to use the technology to try to engage people where they are. There’s a lot of give and take. We try to send information out that they would find valuable. But we also like to bring in our people and our family orientation here.
Q. Is it just the marketing team that’s involved?
? KV: We’ve got five in-house bloggers. We feel like there are a lot of viewpoints on the airfield that are interesting, maybe some behind-the-scenes looks that you simply don’t get from the marketing people. I can’t give you the inside track on some cool thing that’s happening on our operations side or even go out there and talk about construction of our new runway because it’s just not in my DNA like it is theirs. Of course, Rick does his ‘Prez says’ once a month, and that’s an open forum for our customers to ask the top dog here any question that they want.
Q. Ever have any really tough questions?
? RM: We’ll have somewhere between 20 to 25 questions each month, and quite frankly, the hardest questions to answer are the ones such as, ‘What’s your favorite airplane?’ Well, that’s hard because I like them all! If it’s just about the operation of the airport — I’ve been here for almost 30 years — those are actually easy for me to answer. But it is great to hear what people have to say, and on occasion, they have suggestions on how we can improve our service, and we’re always interested to hear them. A lot of times, they have new destinations that they’d like to see because they travel there all the time with their families.
Q. How do you reinforce the vision for employees?
? RM: Part of our strategy has always included people or other employees here in the facilities that don’t necessarily even work for us — for instance, the courtesy van drivers. We contract the parking lot out. Those folks don’t directly report to us. But they have to buy in to the idea that we need to be ‘a better way to go’ and that we need to take good care of our customers.
Even the Transportation Security Administration go down and talk to all of their new employees about how we want them to interact with our customers, that our niche as a marketplace is very customer-driven, and we really do live and die by our tagline.
We give away ‘Better Way to Go’ awards on a monthly basis. If someone has gone above and beyond the call of duty, whether they’re our employees or an airline employee or a car rental employee, whoever — we give them an award. They come up, and I get to talk to them for a few minutes, thank them personally. We give them a little tchotchke, which is an airport bag or a watch or something of that nature. So we try to reach out and develop the culture that will permeate the place and keep the message front and center — that we need to be a better way to go and that customer service has to be a priority.
Q. What can other leaders do to make their company more customer-centric?
? RM: You have to make your employees part of the solution and empower them to make decisions and to do things, to buy in and take ownership. I also think it’s key for them to look around their industry and not be afraid to take other people’s ideas and make them your own.
[That applies to] a lot of the customer amenities that people really like here, for instance, a cell phone lot where you can come in, and as long as you stay with your vehicle, you don’t have to go into the paid parking lot. With the advent of the cell phone, people call you and say, ‘Hey, I just got off the airplane … can you swing around and pick me up?’ Our customer service manager saw that at another airport, but we thought it was such as really good idea we incorporated it into our culture as well.
Q. With the recession, ticket price remains a major factor for airline passengers. Will you be able to keep offering low fares?
? RM: It’s interesting because, of course, we don’t set the airfares here — the airlines do. But how we can influence those fares is by the mix of air carriers we have here.
We developed that relationship when AirTran came in 1997, and we’ve been able to keep that leadership as we’ve moved forward. In fact, we just did a study and it shows that currently because of AirTran and now Frontier Airlines, the people in Northeast Ohio are saving about $90 million a year in air travel, because of these low fares.
Q. You also have a new partnership with Southwest Airlines, correct?
? KV: It’s very exciting for us to start thinking about our partnership with Southwest Airlines. They have committed to staying at CAK and growing here. It’s such important news for this community because it means that we can continue to offer low fares.
On the communications side specifically, we’re going to look at other media that are out there. We’re currently experimenting in Google+. We’re looking with great interest at Pinterest. (The company has since started a Pinterest account). We’re already on Foursquare. We’ll keep looking at the ways our customers want to be in a relationship with us.
? RM: We’re in the midst of the master plan right now, which is one of the things that the Federal Aviation Administration asks us to do anyway — but it couldn’t be coming at a better time for us, coming off of record passenger years — one of the key things for me I learned a long time ago from Fred — and that is to always keep abreast of what’s going on out there because we need to be positioned to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes our way. And we don’t know what those opportunities are. <<
How to reach: Akron-Canton Airport, (888) 434 2359 or www.akroncantonairport.com
The CAK Files
President and CEO
Senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer
Rick, born: North Canton, Ohio
Kristie, born: Lansing, Mich.
Rick, education: Walsh University
Kristie, education: Austin College (BA), then Western Michigan University (MPA)
What are some things CAK does to make airline travel more fun for people?
Kristie: We had a wonderful customer appreciation day on Valentine’s Day this year. What we wanted to do is delight and excite them, give them that ‘wow’ experience. But on Customer Appreciation Day, it was for everyone who was in the building. It was our opportunity to say thanks for being our customer … so we just wanted to treat them right. We had cupcakes and we had flowers and cookies and free coffee and Cinnabon treats. We also partnered with Delta Airlines and for its first flight of the day we had customized gift bags for every customer that had a bag coming out on our bag belt. So the first thing that the customers saw were gifts for them, individually named, and it was so cool to be down there and see the delight on their faces as they’re searching for their bags and snapping photos. It just created happiness.
Rick: Another thing we’ve been doing is on our website in order to encourage more participation is free T-shirt Tuesdays. You’d be surprised at how many people I see who say, ‘Hey, I keep entering but when am I going to win a T-shirt?’ It’s amazing what people will do for a T-shirt. But once again it’s fun, and it gives them a chance to feel like they are part of what we’re doing.
Kristie: We’ve given away about 400 T-shirts.
Lee Thomas looks out his 13th floor window of the Huntington Building on Euclid Ave. and East Ninth St. and imagines the view he will have when Ernst & Young’s Cleveland office relocates to its new building along the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway.
Thomas, who is a native Clevelander and a 36-year Ernst & Young veteran, became the Cleveland office managing partner this past January. Ernst & Young, a global, 152,000-employee accounting firm, is the only company he has ever worked for and the legacy the firm has built here in Northeast Ohio is something significant.
As the new managing partner, Thomas plans to keep that legacy going, and the firm’s new office location, which will bear the Ernst & Young name, is a symbol of continuing that legacy here in Cleveland.
“We have a very strong legacy here in Northeast Ohio because back when there was the Big 8, Ernst was the only Big 8 firm headquartered in Cleveland,” Thomas says. “Protecting that legacy and making sure that we continue to provide the right kind of services to the franchise that we have and keeping the brand are the important things that we need to do.”
While Thomas and the firm are excited for a new building in downtown, it’s the firm’s 1,100 employees in Cleveland who will drive that legacy forward among its clients.
Attract and retain talent
In the services industry in which Ernst & Young operates, it’s all about people. The firm’s employees develop many sought-after skills, so Thomas remains focused on recruiting and keeping great talent.
“Attracting and retaining people and helping them get through a changing environment to develop a nice, strong career that they want to be at is the challenge,” he says. “We look for people who have very good social skills, can problem solve and work with teams. It’s a demanding profession so you have to understand how to balance your time, too.”
Thomas is always on the lookout for those talented individuals who could possibly have his job one day.
“No matter who the employer is, we are all looking for certain talents who are going to be part of the succession plan of that business,” he says. “Not everyone needs to be that, but they’re looking for that kind of talent because you don’t find it every day.
“When you do get it, it makes a huge impact on your organization. You grow those people and give them the opportunities and watch them develop because they have the attitude and the skill set to take it to the next level.”
Finding the most talented people for your business is a tough task, but once you have them and they keep getting better at what they do, retaining them in your company is even more difficult.
“Those skills translate very well outside the public accounting arena, and that’s part of the problem we have with retention,” Thomas says. “We lose people because they’re really good, and it’s a great training ground. We want this to be more than just a great training ground though. We want to keep them here, too.”
Ernst & Young prides itself on a good educational program, flexible work schedules and a positive work environment.
“We’re in a rapidly changing environment and making sure we have our people at the top of their game where their specialty is … [and] help continue to build that skill set is important,” he says. “The educational element is very positive in retention.
“We also offer things like flexible work arrangements. We have a lot of people who want to have families, and one of the biggest struggles that the profession has is that it’s very demanding and you never know when the next call is going to be from a client where you have to go do something that’s not in your schedule.”
The firm allows people to have flexible work arrangements where they can work a 70 percent schedule for a couple of years. With today’s technology, it has become much easier for people to also work remotely.
“Flexibility is pretty big today,” he says. “We’re everywhere, and we have to be mobile because our business is conducted where our clients are. So giving your people the flexibility to do what they can do effectively and serve their customer, whether it be internal or external, is really important.”
Another aspect Thomas focuses on to retain his employees is making sure they are challenged and receive new opportunities.
“When we lose people, sometimes it’s because they didn’t get the challenges they wanted,” he says. “That’s the big thing is giving people great challenges and letting them have their chance to succeed. That builds a lot of loyalty within the organization if it’s a challenge that they liked and they achieved and they were successful at.”
As important as your employees are to your business, without clients a company wouldn’t be able to support a workforce. Thomas makes sure the Cleveland office is always client-focused.
“The real key is having a good listening ear to what our clients’ needs are and what do we have that could help them achieve those needs,” he says. “You have to corral it around the things you can do.
“We can’t do everything, and we have to be one of the first ones to say, ‘We can’t help you there,’ but it would be nice if we could know somebody that can help them there. You have to satisfy your client and they have to know you care what their issues are and want to help them solve them.”
The way Ernst & Young does that is with good people. The firm works with its employees on listening, hearing and understanding what the clients’ issues are.
“If you don’t have those listening ears and don’t understand what you do as a business, that becomes another challenge,” Thomas says. “We do so many things; do our people totally understand all the different things we can do? That’s why we continue to educate our people on that and have our different service lines work with each other and meet with each other and understand them better.”
A critical part of understanding your clients is developing a close relationship so you each have knowledge of one another’s business.
“If you go to a client, you can’t just pop ideas onto them without first understanding what their issues or concerns are,” he says. “It doesn’t work. We have a bunch of products we can go and sell, but that’s not the way you develop a relationship and develop trust and confidence. You understand what their needs are and then you say, ‘How can we help them?’
“It’s making sure our people build relationships and build connections so that those people and our clients feel open with us to talk about what their problems and issues are.”
Thomas doesn’t expect his employees to have a solution for every problem or issue that arises, but he expects that they know how to go about finding the answer.
“They need to understand, ‘Ah, here’s the issue. Where can I go to in the firm with that issue and say how can we help?’” he says.
It has been this relationship mentality within the firm that has helped Ernst & Young grow in Northeast Ohio and become the dominant practice in the area.
“I know our people are proud of that,” Thomas says. “Every day, I get ready for the day at Ernst & Young and on my mind is making sure that our people are challenged and satisfied and that we have clients that are happy with what we do. It’s kind of a simple approach, but if we do that, we’re going to have a very successful firm.
“I always want to make sure that we’re maintaining the legacy that we have here. When I started in 1976 at the firm, I walked right into these offices, and it was Ernst & Ernst world headquarters, and I remember that and would hate to let that down.” <<
How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (216) 861-5000 or www.ey.com
Michael Siegal isn’t someone who is satisfied by achieving one goal — no matter how lofty. When Olympic Steel Inc. passed $1 billion in sales (it reached $1.26 billion in 2011), the chairman and CEO of the national metals service center set his sights on growing the company into one capable of reaching $4 billion in sales. To achieve that growth, Siegal has implemented strategies focusing on an environment that fosters sustainability and growth, as well as one that attracts and maintains the right kind of people.
“The challenge of Olympic Steel always is we’ve never been where we’ve been before,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, everybody expects you to continue to drive forward, but every time we drive forward, it’s into an area where we’ve never been. “Therefore, strategy and buy-in is very important. It’s a lot easier to go from $20 million to $50 million in sales, although it’s a doubling of your business, than it is to go from $1 billion to $4 billion, because you’re dealing with different implications and risks.”
Those implications and risks are why Siegal places the spotlight on Olympic’s environment and its employees in order to succeed. “It’s all about people,” Siegal says. “There’s no other challenge. Have you hired the right people? Do you have an environment that can foster growth and motivate and retain existing employees? You have to balance the expectation between employees who want a great career and customers who continually want lower pricing.”
Here’s how Michael Siegal is doubling Olympic Steel through strategy and fostering an environment that supports employees and company growth.
Put people first
To achieve the strategies that will get Olympic Steel moving toward $4 billion in sales, Siegal put his focus on his 1,750 employees. The work environment has to be one in which employees enjoy what they do and where they work.
“We do what we have to do to try to foster the environment where an employee can succeed,” Siegal says. “You set a certain level of value structure and you adhere to it. You want to be consistent, reliable and living up to the value system that you have in your organization.”
The key to creating a positive work environment is having an established value structure and being accountable toward those values.
“If you’re accountable and you hold your managers at the highest level to the consistent level of performing at those values, then ultimately you create an environment where people can at least respect the environment that they work in,” he says. “If you have the commitment of the ongoing education of the employee, the betterment of the employee, the safety of the employee and you have growth, there’s no reason for them to go someplace else other than the money.”
Olympic Steel operates in a commodity industry that is very volatile and unregulated. The same value structure that the company applies to its employees is crucial for customers as well.
“We try to create a value structure for our customers that imbeds us with them regardless of the volatility of the marketplace,” he says. “By adding that value to the commodity we find ourselves to be better positioned to have a level of competitiveness, as well as sustainability with the customer in spite of the volatility of what goes on in steel pricing.”
To overcome volatility in the market you have to look at the customer you serve and the industry you’re in. You have to look at long-term sustainability and growth for your company.
“There’s never standing still in the marketplace — there’s going forward or falling back,” Siegal says. “You control your own destiny to a certain degree by the decisions that you make. You have to understand all business takes risk. You have to define the aptitude for your risk company by company and individual by individual. Are you always swimming upstream, or sometimes are you going downstream? You really have to look at the environment that you’re in and then say, ‘How do I differentiate myself from the pack?’”
When looking to grow your organization, there are financial metrics that are acceptable. It’s the CEO who ultimately decides what levels they are willing to go to in order to create leverage for growth.
“Some people are never comfortable with that,” Siegal says. “Some people are so risky that they ignore the financial metrics and go beyond what is safe just to roll the dice. Within a certain structure of what your outlook is for the future, people expect those in my position to be conservatively aggressive.”
Achieving growth within your business is what ultimately helps to create an environment where employees are excited to come to work.
“You have to create growth because employees want personal growth in their career,” he says. “If you as the company are not growing, it’s going to be difficult to promote your young talent into areas where they see a future for themselves as opposed to having to leave to get ahead. So you have to create the environment of growth. You have to create the environment of promoting from within, not to say that you can’t hire from the outside, but do you really have the environment where people are excited to come to work because they see the company doing well and the opportunity for them to be of significance?”
Create a growth environment
Establishing an atmosphere where your employees are happy and supportive of the company and its direction comes back to core values and not being hypocritical about them.
“If I said I am supportive of employee’s educational growth, I can’t turn them down when they come and say, ‘I’d like to take these courses that will better myself in the job,’” Siegal says. “Even though the financial environment may be difficult, you still have to be committed to the employee. You have to be consistent. You can do it within a certain degree of discretion, but for those who have been identified as high-performers within your own organization, are you really investing in their future as much as they are investing in their job?”
The consistency of being able to listen, create the environment in which education is valued and execute on those structural elements to the betterment of the individuals in your company is crucial.
“You have to do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “If you say it and don’t do it, it’s hypocritical, and people will see that and they’ll lose hope and that’s when they’ll answer all the head-hunter calls.”
Olympic makes sure it has ways for employees to express themselves by bringing up issues or submitting ideas. The company has luncheons for new employees and regular gatherings where they’re allowed to share ideas. Olympic encourages ideas and rewards ideas through its FE Award of Excellence program. The company gives employees opportunities to come up with ideas that will help streamline the business, increase safety, work smarter, save money and be collaborative.
“We recognize it with a certain degree of reward, documentation and financial remuneration,” he says. “Within the whole organization someone can be nominated, including self-nomination, for going over and beyond their every day job by devising better ideas. We do that both on the corporate level and a local level as well. Some things are not great for all of Olympic Steel, but it may be great for your individual unit.”
These kinds of initiatives are important because they demonstrate respect for the employees.
“The hardest thing in America today, it seems, is, ‘How do I earn and get respect?’” he says. “So within the construct of what we try to do is not disrespect anyone. Most people just want to be heard. You don’t have to agree, but you have to give them the opportunity to be listened to. “We have a very personal connection with our employees. People here understand that if they have something to say most of my management will listen.”
Olympic employees take full advantage of opportunities to submit an idea or bring up an issue. From little things such as, “How do I burn the material a little bit better, faster or quicker?” to keeping processes in-house that will save money, employees are willing to be vocal to support the company.
“If you foster the environment where your ideas are listened to and respected, more ideas come from that,” Siegal says. “It is creating the environment where people are not threatened, disrespected or embarrassed by the fact that they may have an idea which won’t be accepted. You can’t say, ‘That’s a terrible idea’ or humiliate them by saying, ‘That’s stupid.’ You have to be sensitive to the fact that when people come forward that you give them the appropriate time to listen to their ideas even if the idea isn’t a good idea, because you don’t know if you don’t listen.”
Strategize for growth
Putting people first and creating a solid environment within Olympic Steel has helped the company and Siegal in the effort to become a $4 billion business. Having that reinforcement helps the buy-in stage when implementing new growth strategies.
“As we make decisions in management, we have to have more buy-in today from a bigger group of people to execute on those strategies than we did when we were smaller,” Siegal says. “The challenge is how do you communicate effectively to a broader group of people who may not have the full picture at hand and then expect them to execute well. Communication becomes more of a challenge as you get bigger.”
When communicating a new strategy, it is important to inform employees of how that new strategy will impact them.
“You’re always trying to look at the other side of the equation when you’re executing a strategy,” he says. “It’s the person on the other side of the table saying, ‘What does this mean to me? Does that mean I’ve got to work harder? Does that mean I’m going to be traveling more? Does that mean I’m going to get more money or more work for the same amount of money?’ ‘What does this mean to me’ is always an indication of fear and resistance. So what we try to do is understand that we’re not going to get 2,000 people to buy in. We need 20 people to buy in and that cascades down to the rest.”
It is nearly impossible to get a unanimous decision surrounding a new strategy, but leadership is about somebody ultimately having the final say and the responsibility.
“You want people to understand why we’re going this direction and answering the question of what this means to you,” he says. “I can answer what it means to the organization, but if that doesn’t somehow correlate to how I think it benefits me, maybe I’ll say yes, but I don’t mean yes. So we are always very sensitive to creating strategies on the expectation that this will be better for everyone if we do it. To make sure that everybody is on board to those philosophies takes a much longer time of communication and education to the change of strategy.”
Gaining buy-in for a new direction is crucial. While you don’t need everyone on board, you want to have a large majority behind your new direction.
“You have to keep everything pretty rational,” he says. “We’re going to go from here if we do these things and here’s where we’re going to get to. If we get there, this is what it means and this is why it’s better. Now you may not believe we can go from here to there, but if we go from here to there, isn’t this truly better? By and large, it’s about the destination.”
Siegal compares strategy buy-in to getting on a bus. When you get on a bus, you’ve got to know where the bus is going to take you. You choose to get on the bus to go to the destination because you’ve got to get off the bus at a certain point. If you just get on a bus and you don’t know where it’s going to go, then you’re just riding around all day hoping that something happens.
“We’ve got to be very concise in terms of where the destination is,” he says. “If you tell people, ‘Here’s the destination. Forget the journey. Here’s our starting point and here’s the destination.’ There may be different tangential ways in which we can get to the ultimate destination, but if we all agree that this destination is a better spot, I don’t find that people say, ‘No, that destination is going to be worse than where we’re at or it’s going to be too risky.’ If you tell them the destination, they’ll get on the bus with you.”
When planning a strategy Olympic typically looks out five years. Siegal says there isn’t necessarily a time frame that’s too forward-looking, but there are things that are too risky in strategizing and having a goal is vital.
“You have to have targets and goals in business,” Siegal says. “There has to be a way in which you’re trying to create the future. The goal is important to articulate. There can be lots of tactics to get you to the goal, and tactics may differ by location, process and customer. The tactics aren’t universal, but the goal has got to be. If you don’t have that same goal, you’ll be driving around in a circle.”
Siegal’s goal to grow Olympic to $4 billion is part of his strategy to double the business and then double it again.
“Outside of natural growth, there is always this construct in the back of your mind that says, ‘Double and then double again,’” Siegal says. “So if you’re at $50 million, you want to get to $200 million. If you’re a $1 billion company, you could say, ‘Let’s go buy a $3 billion company.’ But you don’t have the skill set to run it. The question is how do you get from $1 [billion] to $2 and from $2 [billion] to $4.”
Almost every CEO who doubles the sales would want to keep that growth going and see how far it can be taken. You have to ride that momentum in order to double business again.
“It will take you a lot shorter time frame to get to the second billion in sales than it took you for the first billion in sales,” he says. “Once you’re there, you understand how to maintain that level of business. It’s not hard to see the doubling. It’s hard to see the doubling again.”
Within the construct of the leadership, you have to keep everybody realistic. It’s not sensible to have an objective of going from $1 billion to $4 billion without getting to $2 billion first.
“If you have the strategies to get to ($2 billion) and you actually execute on those strategies, it’s going to propel you way past ($2 billion), because it doesn’t stop,” Siegal says. “Those things that you will do strategically to double your business will continue to foster additional growth beyond that. I find that to be a useful way to create a certain degree of momentum for growth.”
Over the last three years since the recession, Olympic has deployed a significant amount of capital into the marketplace for growth. Now the company has to focus on the execution of the growth initiatives that it’s begun.
“We’ve deployed the biggest capital that we ever have in the last three years over any 10-year period, and we have to make sure that we make that stuff work,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, it’s about succession management. Are we populating the next level of management capable of running the organization? Do we have the good strategy initiatives and the balance sheet and capital structure to do that? You have a lot of headwinds in terms of your plans, and what you have to do is make sure that your foundation is secure based upon the things that you’ve done.”
Ultimately, it’s really about performance.
“As people look at Olympic Steel over the next couple of years, I think you’ll see a company that has positioned itself for growth, and now we’ll be executing on the growth initiatives,” he says.
How to Reach: Olympic Steel Inc., (216) 292-3800 or www.olysteel.com
Make employees your No. 1 priority.
Create an environment that fosters growth.
Implement strategies to drive your business forward.
When I was a young Marine officer, I observed that otherwise ordinary people could perform amazing feats. All they needed was training, tools, a clear goal and motivation. My job was to make the most of those four things.
Leaders in the business world are trying to do the same thing. But increasingly, I see them falling short, often because they’re not clear enough about the objective or not committed enough to achieving it. Yet others miss the mark because they have disconnected from their teams personally and emotionally, and that is what I want to focus on now.
Leadership is a messy business, in the sense that all meaningful human relationships are messy. Rewarding relationships last; the rest fail. So part of a leader’s primary responsibility is to ensure that there is a rewarding relationship between his or her subordinates and their work. The more rewarding the subordinate finds the relationship, the more latitude the leader has in sculpting and directing the team.
The problem I see increasingly in Silicon Valley — though it is by no means confined to this area — is that too many leaders are behaving as if the only meaningful rewards are financial, whether cash or stock options. In fact, the most effective motivational tools don’t cost the company anything, except a talented leader’s salary. They include incentives such recognition, praise, inclusion, important assignments, respect, status and the satisfaction of having produced impressive results.
The business press talks a lot about “customer care,” but the best leaders focus maniacally on “team care” because it is the team that will ultimately care for the customer. And the team will care about its responsibilities to the degree they perceive the leader is personally engaged with the team, its work and its members.
If you reflect in a calm, quiet moment on your working relationship with each of your subordinates, one by one, name by name, you’ll know in your heart whether you are leading them or just playing at it. If you’re not engaged with each of them and their work or not doing it as well as you could be, then changing the compensation scheme shouldn’t be your first move to improve performance.
Instead, change your behavior. It requires no budget increase or sign-off from above, and it will allow you to change the behaviors of your team more effectively and more sustainably than any other management concept, cash included. That’s because, no matter what tomorrow may bring, your team will be prepared to weather storms and seize opportunities, and you’ll be prepared to lead the way.
I understand that creating and deploying these nonfinancial incentives takes a lot more time, energy, thought, humility, humanity and maintenance than simply goosing the compensation plan. But there is simply no substitute for this harder work, which is frankly the essence of the leader’s job. Trying to sidestep it with cash is to abdicate a leader’s core responsibility.
Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.
As a 36-year veteran of the auto industry, Warren Zinn has spent most of his life working around cars. From the time he learned to talk, he could rattle off the different brands: Mercedes, Jaguar and Lamborghini. And at age 21, he turned that passion into a lifelong career.
But Zinn also knows that passion isn’t everything. As the president and CEO of Warren Henry Automotive Group, he readily admits that his nine dealerships and more than 300 employees would not be in business today if the company hadn’t taken some tough steps to adapt to consumer needs.
“We like to think we’re in the front of the pack, but every day, we have to do more to stay in front of the pack,” he says. “We’re really only as strong as our dumbest competitor.”
In late 2007, Zinn began to see signs that the business was falling behind. People weren’t focused on results, and while there were a lot of reasons, the one that stood out to Zinn was the company’s loose structure and lack of process. Without these things, it was becoming harder for employees to deliver the kind of service consistency and responsiveness that customers now expected.
“It was the manner in which things were becoming so automated, computerized, the process that needed to take place because the way the business was changing,” Zinn says. “It was all becoming very electronic. So it was just a big change for us — the Internet, the world was changing.”
It was then that Zinn decided his company needed to change, too.
Zinn knew that it would take a big transformation to bring structure to the company’s operations. The problem was that the prevailing mentality at the auto dealerships was hardly one that embraced change. At the time, the company’s average employee tenure was about 16 years, and many of the more experienced employees were used to certain ways of doing things.
While having long-term people was great to build customer service relationships, it presented a challenge when it came to change management.
“Part of our success, which was also part of the problem, was familiar faces,” Zinn says.
Before making any changes, Zinn really needed to convince long-term employees to accept a new way of doing things.
“We needed to follow a process, and everybody had to be going in the same direction to get there,” Zinn says. “Nobody could take a shortcut to get to where we needed to go.”
So he and the company’s upper management held meetings with employees to discuss the process implementation, the reasons for doing it and how it would affect different areas of the business. The goal was to share the new direction but also help people overcome their reluctance to change.
After holding those meetings, Zinn and his leadership team were disappointed to find that only about one-third of the people seemed interested in the new direction.
“Very few people honestly were excited about it,” Zinn says.
“We had a lot of people here in different positions for a long stretch of time that had shown good initiative, knew what their job was and did it well. But at some point in time, when you are no longer able to have the people who have the same type of initiative — you really can’t teach initiative.”
As a leader, you need to communicate your reasons for taking your company in a certain direction. But once you do, you also must make it clear that the company is moving forward with people who embrace this direction.
So Zinn was also very upfront with employees about the fact that the company would only be moving forward with people who could get on board with the new processes.
“I had always known we needed to do this, but I really had to put my foot down and get it done,” he says.
“I had to convince people, in the best way that I could, that this is the way the company is going to go, and you’ve got to come along with us. And if you can’t make the process work — if it just doesn’t work for you — we’re going to have to part company, and that while it’s been a great relationship and we’ve worked together for a long time, this is the way that we have to go about doing things.”
Bring in new blood
After parting ways with a number of employees, the company was left to fill the empty positions before moving forward with the process implementation. But Zinn was hesitant to hire more experienced, automotive professionals, having seen the reluctance of his own long-term employees to accept a new way of doing things.
“I knew that if I hired somebody with experience, I could get the same individual that tells me everything I want to hear, but when it’s all said and done it’s, ‘Look, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I know what I’m doing,’” Zinn says. “And that was dangerous."
Instead, he decided to take the talent search outside the automotive industry.
“We found that in order for us to do what we needed to do and to initiate the change that we needed to put in place here, it was easiest for us and most effective for us with people who came from outside the industry, rather than people who come from the industry.”
So Zinn and his team began recruiting individuals with no automotive experience at all. Largely relying on referrals, they sought out people who were articulate and expressed themselves well — real estate agents, stockbrokers, lawyers and marketers — to be trained in a variety of industry positions.
Zinn says he looked for the kind of people who inspired confidence, people who “if they looked at you and said, ‘I can take care of this,’ you would believe them.”
As the new team members came on board, he explained to them what the company was trying to accomplish with its process-driven operations, how it would go about doing it and how it would help and support them as they entered into the unfamiliar business.
What he found is that that the inexperienced people were not only much more eager to embrace the changes than long-term employees, but they also had a better attitude in making the new processes successful.
“It’s very, very easy to get people who haven’t done this before to learn what we expect,” he says.
“It’s easy for them to absorb. It’s easy for them to do, and they embrace it. Then they become very effective in what they do.”
Create a ‘focus’ group
Because the company historically lacked structure in its operations, Zinn and his leadership team felt they needed to make the new processes simple if employees were going to execute them consistently and willingly. They decided that it would be best to implement them one department at a time, beginning with parts and services.
The parts and services department focuses on two areas in particular: greeting and inspecting. So after putting together the “best and simplest” guidelines for the new processes, Zinn and the department leadership spent time explaining the benefits to employees. They described how new processes would make customer interactions more efficient, for example, saving time by creating electronic reports on vehicles being serviced or allowing customers to make appointments electronically, so people wouldn’t have to constantly man the phones.
“I looked at what appeared to be the easiest to do, the easiest to be understood, the way that if someone who had been doing this for a long time — if they wanted to — could change to be able to do it,” he says.
Zinn especially wanted long-term employees to understand how consistent, automated processes would make the business more efficient in its customer service.
“It gives more structure,” Zinn says. “Everybody should be in the same place as to how we go about greeting a customer, how we go about selling cars, how we go about servicing cars.”
Recognizing that training would also be important in achieving process consistency, Zinn also gave employees the opportunity to shadow other experienced colleagues.
By shadowing team members in three different areas, they could master the different processes, one at a time, and then review them once more with the help of an experienced supervisor before trying them on their own. The company continues to use this “1-2-3” training process.
“So all that really changed is that there’s a manner and order in which we go about getting our job done,” he says. “We have a consistency in which, if you go to different people, they may have a little bit of a different style, but the steps and the processes it takes to get there are the same.”
Once the company implemented the changes in the parts and service business, Zinn moved on to new and used car sales department. By focusing on one department at a time, he and his top leaders were able to be much more hands-on as they went through the implementation. It also allowed them to take a lessons-learned approach as they faced similar issues or employee concerns on a larger scale.
“The key is to take care of [the problem] while making sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he says. “That’s what process is all about.
Stick with it
As luck would have it, soon after the new processes were in place, the economic recession sent the auto industry into a tailspin, and few businesses were immune. Despite the financial challenges, Zinn and his top leaders have continued to work hard, keeping employees focused on executing the new processes.
“Those were some very, very difficult times — some of the most difficult times in this industry ever,” Zinn says.
“You just have to keep your head down and make certain that it happens — because it works. I’d say if we didn’t embrace this, I don’t know if we’d still be in business today. I don’t think so. We couldn’t continue to do things without having established firm processes in place.”
One built-in benefit of the process automation was that it gave the company the ability to measure and monitor business metrics in areas such as sales, customer satisfaction and customer retention.
Zinn says that giving everyone in the company access to these results, including individuals, department heads and upper management, has helped motivate employees by holding them accountable to continuous improvement.
“We hold ourselves and each other responsible,” he says.
“If we get a great report, I shoot off an email to the individual, the department head or the whole department and tell them what a great job that they’re doing or tell them that we need to pick it up.”
Today, the company is much more efficient and spends significantly less time “putting out fires” thanks to the new processes, Zinn says. At the same time, he believes that it’s the focus on results, “not reasons,” that will keep the company innovative and competitive in the future.
In fact, if you ask Zinn what is the biggest difference between his company today and five years ago, he won’t hesitate to tell you that it’s accountability.
“We have to feel like we’re looking for constant improvement,” he says. “We have to feel like we’re all on the same team. This is the direction that we’re going to go, and you follow the captain or you don’t.”
And that’s one thing you can’t teach. <<
How to reach: Warren Henry Automotive Group, (888) 856-3113 or www.warrenhenryauto.com
- Get the right people on board.
- Hire people who can support change.
- Keep the focus on improvement.
The Zinn File
Warren Henry Zinn
President and CEO
Warren Henry Automotive Group
Born: New York City, but moved to Florida when 6 months old
Education: Northwood University in Michigan
Role model for success: I admire Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Co. Mulally saw what was coming, put a plan together and stuck with. He saved the company without taking help from the government unlike other U.S. auto manufacturers, and he has been extremely successful since.
One part of his daily routine that he wouldn’t change: I wouldn’t change my communications with my department heads. To be a successful CEO, you must stay right in the thick of it — be involved with your staff, always have an open mind, and listen to what everyone has to say.
Why do people like working for you?
I’m available to people. I sit in my office with my door open. I move around from dealership to dealership on different days, and of course, I make people feel like they are part of something very important. They’re not on the outside. They’re on the inside.
What do you like most about your industry?
It’s something that I’ve always liked. I like seeing the new cars that continually come out. I like seeing people get excited when they get a car, happy about having their car, happy about the experience that they’ve had with their car. And I’m happiest when they come back and they get another car.
? The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Achieving and Sustaining Excellence
Larry E. Fast
Productivity Press, 266 pages
“The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence” provides a practical approach for implementing and sustaining business strategies that promote manufacturing excellence. The author explains how to inspire top-notch performance while creating an atmosphere that encourages leadership and mentoring.
He provides examples that illustrate how companies have achieved vertical and horizontal alignment, he explains how to instill a culture that sustains high-quality and world-class performance via 12 principles of manufacturing excellence, and he provides methods to track progress by plant and by function, emphasizing lean manufacturing and Six Sigma tools to improve manufacturing operations.
? The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development
Jeffrey Liker, Gary Convis
McGraw-Hill, 272 pages
Many companies across the globe have adopted lean manufacturing practices but few have attained or maintained the levels of excellence that Toyota has. “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” sheds light on some of the reasons for this.
Liker and Convis (the former is the author of the popular “Toyota Way” series, the latter a former executive VP and managing officer of Toyota) offer practical ways for executives to spur their employees to focus their efforts on collaborating with co-workers to drive continuous improvement throughout the organization. Case studies demonstrate the methods Toyota uses to produce powerful, capable lean leadership.
? Supply Chain Transformation: Building and Executing an Integrated Supply Chain Strategy
J. Paul Dittmann
McGraw-Hill, 256 pages
As manufacturers expand their offerings and look for new ways to lower their cost structures, the complexity of their supply chain naturally increases. “Supply Chain Transformation” tackles this issue head-on, introducing a strategic framework aimed at helping manufacturers develop a first-class supply chain strategy.
Dittmann presents nine clear, concise steps for manufacturing executives to follow as they retool to improve their company’s management of supply chain dynamics. The book contains numerous real-world examples that illustrate the difficulties inherent in gaining organizational support for the major investments involved in reworking a company’s supply chain strategy. <<
Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.
? Roger Ebert, film critic
The 2012 State of St. Louis Workforce Report says that the No. 1 shortcoming of recent hires is the “lack of communication or interpersonal skills.” Also in the top 10 were a “lack of teamwork and collaboration” and “lack of willingness and ability to learn.”
Commissioned by Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College and conducted in partnership with the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the report seems to suggest that elements of what we often call emotional intelligence are valued but lacking in recent hires.
Why is this important to leaders? There are several reasons.
First, it should give us pause to examine how well we as leaders stack up. Are we exhibiting the qualities we deem lacking in others?
Secondly, it suggests that we should seriously think about whether or not these are the talent deficits we see in our business. If these are the deficits, what will we do about them? How do our attraction efforts need to change? How do our employee development initiatives need to change?
What is emotional intelligence?
In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, the authors’ definition of “how leaders handle themselves and their relationships” is expanded through the explanation of four domains of emotional intelligence and their associated competencies.
At this point, some leaders may think that while this is interesting, they still just need to hire smart leaders who want to work hard.
Fair enough, as we certainly need to do that. But, the authors suggest that emotional intelligence “contributes 80 to 90 percent of the competencies that distinguish outstanding from average leaders — and sometimes more.”
They admit that this is a “rule of thumb” and a precise measure is dependent on many factors. But we know, as leaders, that we’ve seen great ideas flounder or die because advocates weren’t aware of how they were coming across or hadn’t built up the people capital necessary to support the idea.
Regardless of the ratios involved, the authors are onto something: Emotional intelligence is a significant aspect of leadership.
So, how does one incorporate recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence into leadership development efforts? If a leader needs to develop an aspect of emotional intelligence, is it even possible for that person to change?
What are emotional styles?
Dr. Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, authors of “The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live — and How You Can Change Them,” suggest that it is possible for people to adapt certain emotional patterns.
Using his 30 years of research in affective neuroscience, Davidson has identified six “emotional styles.”
Resilience: How rapidly or slowly does one recover from adversity?
Outlook: How long does positive emotion persist following a joyful event?
Social Intuition: How accurate is one in detecting the non-verbal social cues of others?
Context: How well do you regulate your emotions to take your context into account?
Self-Awareness: How aware are you of bodily signals that constitute emotion?
Attention: How focused are you?
Even a cursory review of the six emotional styles will lead one to see connections to important dimensions of emotional intelligence. What if you could help your team members bounce back more quickly from setbacks? What if you could keep a positive attitude that helps keep the troops motivated and promotes creativity? How could you become either more focused or less single-minded? Each point should have relevance to you. Would that be worth some time and effort for you to explore?
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to use the principles of neuroscience to promote better organizational alignment, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
Adam Miller could not afford to waste any more time at Cornerstone OnDemand Inc. He had just become a father, and if he was going to spend time away from his first child, he decided that it had better be time well spent.
“I realized while I was out with the baby that we could keep trudging along or we could try to make this into something meaningful,” says Miller, the company’s founder, president and CEO. “It was at that point that I decided we were going to try to really grow the business and not just limp along.”
Cornerstone was launched in 1999 as a technology company and now provides cloud-based talent management software solutions to users in 180 countries. The company grew gross revenue from $10.9 million in 2007 to $75.5 million in 2011.
It’s been a success story, going from 150,000 subscribers to 8.2 million. But it took the birth of Miller’s son in 2005 to get him to realize that, up to that point, his company had not lived up to its full potential.
“You have to say you’re either going to do this or you’re not going to do this,” Miller says. “It was pretty severe. We made a lot of changes to the business in that year. We kept the same basic format of what we were doing and we kept the same product, but we made a lot of organizational changes, and those are things that we would not have done had this not happened.”
One of the biggest changes was a complete replacement of the company’s sales team.
“It was just the wrong people for what we were trying to sell,” Miller says. “We realized to be effective, we needed to be doing solution-selling, and we didn’t have the right skills or people to do that kind of solution-selling.”
So what’s the key to taking the big idea and the significant changes that you have in your head and making them a reality in your business? Miller says it comes down to making sure you don’t blindside your people, even when you’re doing something as big as replacing your entire sales team.
“If you suddenly come in one day and you start acting completely differently and you start making all these changes without conveying why you’re doing it or how it’s happening, all you’re going to do is create massive confusion and create essentially a culture of fear,” Miller says. “People won’t know what’s going on or why it’s happening. You don’t want to do that. You want people to be supportive of what you’re doing.”
Here are some of the things Miller did to get people to support his plan and help take Cornerstone to greater heights than it had ever achieved.
Don’t take shortcuts
It may seem like it takes too much time to sit down and talk with people about your ideas, especially when you’re so charged up to put those ideas in place to see how they work out. But it’s something you’ve got to make the time to do if you want a cohesive team.
“A big part of leadership is taking the time to get the buy-in to support your objectives, even when you don’t have a lot of time and it seems like perhaps a waste of your time or an inefficient use of your time,” Miller says. “In the long run, it’s an excellent use of your time. If you take shortcuts at the beginning of that kind of change or strategic reorganization or reprioritization, you’re going to pay for it over the long term. If you take the time, you get the benefit over the long term.”
That doesn’t mean you have to talk to every last person in your organization. If you have a smaller business and that’s possible, go for it. But if not, focus on the key people who hold positions of influence in your company in the areas you’re looking to affect change.
“Those could be the direct reports to the CEO or those could be people much further down in the organization who have pivotal positions or are somehow critical to the organization, but it’s incredibly important to take the time to get buy-in from all of the key players,” Miller says.
“That is typically the critical mistake people make. They don’t take the time to get buy-in and people don’t understand why changes are being made or feel like the management team is being arbitrary and that leads to lack of support, lack of focus and ultimately lack of execution, which causes the strategies to fail.”
When you sit down with people, don’t just make it about whether or not they like your plan. Talk to them about how it might affect them and use the opportunity to gauge how they feel about their role in the company at that point in time.
“You have to know enough about the person to understand how to have that conversation,” Miller says. “You have to know, what are their personal interests in what you’re talking about? What are their career aspirations? How does what they want connect to what you’re talking about? How does what you’re working on connect to what they’re working on? How do they fit into this model that you’re proposing?”
You’ve got to take the time to show employees what’s in it for them. Don’t just make it about the company and how your idea is going to help your company make more money. Even if you try to have a culture in which it’s not your company, but it’s their company, you’ve still got to make it personal for your people.
“You need to understand the employee’s motivations,” Miller says. “Why would they support the idea? How does it impact them? Does it mean that they have to work harder or less hard? Does it mean they’ll be able to move closer to their career aspiration? Or does it take them further away from that? If you’re talking about reorganization, did one of their peers get promoted and they did not. Do they view that as something good for another person or bad for them?
“There are a lot of different and often competing motivations and perceptions that people will have about something. Trying to walk in their shoes and understand how it’s going to really impact them helps you to better present what you are proposing.”
It was more of a symbolic move than anything else, but it did send just the right message to his employees. As Miller embarked on his big change plan for Cornerstone, he began by firing himself as CEO.
“I came in one day and said, ‘Let’s pretend that I’m the new CEO,’ even though I was also the old CEO,” Miller says. “But I started thinking about the business as if it was my first day on the job with no preconceived notions, loyalties, expectations, anything. At that point, I was able to really transform the business because everything was up for grabs.”
Miller didn’t want the perception to be out there that he was blaming his employees for the company’s complacency. He wanted them to know that he held himself as responsible as anyone for what the company had failed to achieve.
So his move to fire himself drove home the message of Miller admitting his faults and looking for a second chance to succeed. And it helped make him more approachable in the eyes of his people.
“You need the organization to support what you’re doing or you won’t be successful,” Miller says. “There are some organizations that succeed in spite of their leader. But a true leader is able to get buy-in and commitment to achieve their vision.”
That commitment is achieved when you take steps to make people feel more comfortable about coming up to you and talking to you about their jobs or the business as a whole.
So if you request a meeting with an employee, don’t be mysterious about what you want to talk to them about.
“If you IM somebody to come into your office, it’s like getting called to the principal’s office,” Miller says. “It creates panic. Explain in the IM why you’re asking them to come to your office.
“Spend the time to get to know your people and also listen. Hear the feedback. Understand what other people think about things.
“Some of buy-in is letting them participate in the strategy and participate in the tactics and objectives of what you’re trying to do. At the end of the day, no company is run by a single person.”
You’ll also go a long way toward earning support from your employees if you follow up with them and show that their meeting with you wasn’t just for show, but that it actually meant something to you.
“Follow up,” Miller says. “Check in. Sometimes a check-in can be very quick and simple: a quick email or a phone call or drop by in person just to ensure that the people are still committed and to answer any questions or get any feedback on ideas.”
If you take the mindset that your people are there to help you and your business and that they have talents that can help you, you’ll be a lot better off.
“Everybody, regardless of their position, can have good ideas and have creative suggestions that can be very useful,” Miller says. “So everybody’s input is important. Just because somebody is in a junior role doesn’t mean they don’t understand the business or the strategy or can’t contribute to the business or the strategy. A lot of it is just about respect.”
As much as you focus on respect, you’ve also got to bring your enthusiasm to the office every day.
“It’s impossible to be an entrepreneur and not be an optimist,” Miller says. “So you have to remember the reason you started the business and the reason you’ve had the success you’ve had is because you’ve been able to maintain discipline and stay positive, even when things looked a little more difficult or even when everyone else says no.
“Being able to stay positive is a key factor of success because not only do you have to stay positive, but you have to keep your people positive. If you’re going to have doubts, you should have those doubts in private. Keep people focused on the potential for success.”
Hopefully, those setbacks are few and you have more opportunities to demonstrate enthusiasm and use that positive energy to sell your plan.
“Persuasiveness is an incredibly important job of a leader, to get people to buy in to the strategy and buy in to the tactics to get it done,” Miller says. “I just view that as fundamental to leadership — being able to paint a vision for people and getting them to support that vision.” <<
How to reach: Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., (888) 365-2763 or www.cornerstoneondemand.com
The Miller File
Adam Miller, co-founder, president and CEO, Cornerstone OnDemand Inc.
Born: New York
Education: Bachelor of science degree, Wharton School; Bachelor of arts degree, University of Pennsylvania; juris doctorate degree, UCLA School of Law; MBA, Anderson School of Business; certified public accountant
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?
I was a stock boy at A&P, the grocery store. I was 16. The summer before I went to college, my dad was a controller at a steel company. He had me work in the steel factory so that I knew what would happen if I didn’t do well in school.
It was a very interesting experience. I got really involved on the labor side and became a big advocate for the workers in the factory. I thought that was a really interesting experience. That taught me a lot about everybody being important to the organization.
Who has been the biggest influence on you?
I would probably say my parents, but I haven’t had a single mentor the way I think some people do. My parents have always been extremely supportive and that’s given me both the sense of optimism that is important in being an entrepreneur and the willingness to take risks.
What would you say has been the best part of being a father?
I love being a father. I have three kids, two boys and a girl. My favorite part is watching them learn and being a part of their learning and experience.
Don’t be afraid to make dramatic changes.
Get feedback on your plan.
Make sure your people know where they stand.
Victor Ciardelli had become accustomed to fast growth and all of the challenges that come with it: hiring new people, finding new office space, making sure everyone has a working computer and phone line. It’s all part of the deal when your company is taking off.
And then along came 2012.
“This year is when we really exploded,” says Ciardelli, president and CEO of Guaranteed Rate Inc. “We took over multiple companies in the past 24 months. We went from having 30 to 40 offices to now we have 130 offices across the country.”
Revenue jumped from $180 million in 2011 to an anticipated $400 million this year. Ciardelli found himself in charge of a mortgage company that was bursting at the seams with more than 1,500 current employees. Nowhere was the growth more evident than with personnel.
“Hiring is a major, major issue,” Ciardelli says. “The struggle is when you’re hiring at this pace, you have to make sure you can continue to keep up the hiring process. You’ve got to hire quality people that fit your culture. And then once you hire them, another huge struggle is the training process and making sure that you have the on-boarding process working well.”
When you’re hiring 25 new salespeople a month and attempting to train them from scratch, it may not always be easy to stick to your protocols. You want them to get in and get going as quickly as possible because there is plenty of work for everybody to do.
But if you want that fast growth to lead to more fast growth and enduring success, you’ve got to find the time to do it the right way. If you don’t take the time to make sure everyone is meshing and is working for common goals and common objectives, it can all come crashing down in a heap much faster than you think.
Know what you do
Fortunately for Ciardelli, he thrives on pressure and frenetic activity. He loves the fact that Guaranteed Rate is hiring 15 to 20 new people every week and is constantly looking for more space to quickly put them to work.
It’s not just his personality that allows him to stay calm during extended periods of hyper-growth. Ciardelli takes confidence from the fact that he has a plan for his business. He wants Guaranteed Rate to be the best mortgage company in the industry with top loan officers who can provide the best service to customers.
No matter how quickly the business grows, he’s got that plan. From there, it just becomes a matter of making sure everybody he’s bringing on board knows what it is.
“I started my first company when I was 24 years old,” Ciardelli says. “I didn’t know anything about the mortgage business. I was hiring pretty much anybody who would agree to come and work for me. I had to build it up from that and then continue to keep upgrading. It was awfully painful.”
Ciardelli soon learned that prospective employees, at least the ones worth hiring, are interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them. They want to be part of a winning team with a leader who has a clear sense of where he wants to take the business.
“You have to have the right core business principles and you have to build your culture and build your company,” Ciardelli says. “Everything about it has to be about the right thing for your customers. It’s all got to be around excellence in order to be able to attract the right people. If you do not have the right core business, you cannot attract the right people.”
It begins with knowing your customer. You’ve got to know who that is and what it is you’re offering them so that your employees know it when they’re out contacting potential customers on your behalf. If they don’t know that, it’s not going to reflect well on you or your business.
It’s got to be something that your people both can and want to get behind.
“There are numerous businesses that are out there and they are struggling to survive because what their offer is to the customer is not the best,” Ciardelli says. “It doesn’t have the best value proposition for the customer as their competitors and that’s why they are struggling.”
Ciardelli brings up successful companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon as examples of businesses that have clear value propositions and consistently strive to be the best at what they do.
“They are offering the best product and best service to their customer and the best price compared to any of their competitors,” Ciardelli says. “Because they are doing that, the best employees out there want to work with the best. So it’s the whole best of the best philosophy and best of the best model. To try to find employees who are winners, you have to have a winning formula in order to attract winners.”
You take that formula and tout it when you’re talking to people whom you’re interested in hiring. Sell them on what you do and how well you do it and back it up with data that shows you’re not just making it all up.
“You have to sell the company and you have to sell the position,” Ciardelli says.
Know who you want
Hiring obviously is a regular topic of discussion these days at Guaranteed Rate. Ciardelli meets with his managers and department heads regularly to talk about personnel needs and what will need to be done in the month ahead to meet those needs.
“I’ll be in a room with 40 people every other week and we talk through what we need to do,” Ciardelli says. “We talk about volume and how we stay up on it. How many people do we need to hire? Do we have the right management structure? What kind of service are we providing to our employees as well as to our customers?”
With his goal of being the best established as the backdrop, Ciardelli and his team can move forward to identify how many people they need to hire. For him, it’s important that the number be precise.
“We definitely lean toward knowing the specific position we want to fill and then looking for somebody to fill that position,” Ciardelli says. “You’re clear on what you’re being hired for and when you come in, you know exactly what the expectations are.”
Ciardelli says he believes it’s inefficient to simply collect talent and find a place for it later, as some entrepreneurs try to do.
“I just don’t have time to do that,” Ciardelli says.
It really comes down to a matter of time. You can invest much time searching sources for potential candidates to work for you. You could then engage in a series of interviews to learn about the candidates and see who you like and whittle it down to a smaller group before you make your selection.
But when you’re a fast-growing business, do you really have the time to do that? It’s Ciardelli’s belief that you probably don’t, and more importantly, you don’t even need all that time to make a good decision.
“Most good CEOs and department heads can identify a strong candidate within minutes of an interview versus hours of talking to somebody,” Ciardelli says.
It’s an ability that you should be able to find in others on your management team as well so you don’t even have to conduct those interviews. Take the time during those regular meetings to make sure people are clear on what you’re looking for.
Use the same detailed approach to provide information to job candidates. Those who are worthy of being hired will take heed and be ready to deliver what they’re all about in a brief and concise manner.
“They are coming in ready to go and ready to deliver whatever they want to say within the interview,” Ciardelli says.
Help your new people
Guaranteed Rate has about 600 employees in its corporate office, and as was stated earlier, it is adding more than a dozen new people every week. It would be easy for those new people to get lost in the shuffle of those who already know what they’re doing and those still looking to find their place.
It’s for that reason that Ciardelli started a concierge service that provides new employees with a place to go for answers to any questions that they might have.
“Every time there is a new hire, they reach out to them and greet them into the company and make sure they have everything that they need,” Ciardelli says. “They give them an idea of what it’s going to be like when they come in.”
The key to making this kind of system work is having people on the concierge team who are well-connected and know who to contact for answers when there is a problem.
“Those people who are on the on-boarding process know everybody,” Ciardelli says. “So they would just pick up the phone and go, ‘Oh, no problem. Let me call marketing and make sure they take care of that for you. And I’ll make sure they call you and get back to you.’ They’re not necessarily doing the work themselves. They are just making sure that the person is taken care of. From an employee standpoint, it makes them feel better.”
Like everything else, Ciardelli says success in employee integration is all about having a plan and then following through on it. You and your team need to each constantly have that vision in mind of the goal you’re striving to reach and stay in touch about how to reach it.
“Evolution on your management team, building structure and continuing to add people and structure to your management team is absolutely critical to take you from being a small company to a midsized company to larger than a midsized company,” Ciardelli says. “If you don’t have that and you don’t have the managers within your departments that have your cultural beliefs and have your vision and have your back, you need to get rid of them. They are the wrong people.”
Thus far, the numbers would suggest that Ciardelli has made some wise personnel moves. His company continues to grow and he continues to look for more space to put all of the new people.
“What I’d love to do is find one 100,000-square-foot or 150,000-square-foot building where I could move everybody into,” Ciardelli says. “So I am looking for a long-term solution.”
In the meantime, he will continue to rely on his goals and the dedication of his team to reach those goals to keep the company moving up.
“Constant communication with your employees and letting them know about your success and your growth and where you’re going and what your intentions are is so important,” Ciardelli says.
“Communication with your management team and with all your employees and, most importantly, the people really driving your business, your top salespeople or whoever it might be in that company — communication with those individuals is critical so you can withstand bumps and bruises if you have to.” <<
How to reach: Guaranteed Rate Inc., (866) 934-7283 or www.guaranteedrate.com
The Ciardelli File
Victor Ciardelli, president and CEO, Guaranteed Rate Inc.
Education: Majored in business, minored in history, Columbia College, Columbia, Mo.
What was your very first job?
I was a busboy at the Carlisle Banquet Center. You’re carrying out trays of the salads for the servers to serve. You’re cleaning up, busing tables and taking stuff back and forth. A real glamorous job. I was a young kid and wanted to make money at an early age.
Who has been the most influential on your life?
The person that I feel I connect with more so than any CEO is Jack Welch from GE. When I read his books, philosophically we are exactly on the same page. How he manages and how he deals with people connects completely with me.
The other person would be Wayne Huizenga. My dad bought our house from Wayne in Oakbrook, Ill. when Wayne lived out there when he was building Waste Management.
There is a massive influence of Wayne on my life.
The thing that kept resonating with me was seeing what Wayne was able to do from being a garbage man to building not only one massive organization in Waste Management, but then going over and doing it with Blockbuster Video, with Auto Nation USA, with Discovery Zone and all these other businesses. He was definitely an inspiration. I figured if he could do it, why can’t I?
Who would like to meet or have met from the past and why?
My grandfather on my father’s side. I never met him. He was born in Italy, fought for the Italians in World War II. He seemed like an extremely interesting gu, and I would love to have met him and know more about him.
Have a clear plan.
Don’t go to excess interviewing.
Help new people off to a good start.